ROY SAMUELSON, THE VOICE OF HOLLYWOOD
By Vic Gerami
October is ‘Blind Awareness Month.’ Many people in the Hollywood Industry, including film and television creators do not even realize that there is a service that films and television shows can offer that enable some estimated 26,000,000 Americans in the blind and sight impaired communities to enjoy their favorite programs. It is called Audio Description!
Roy Samuelson is leading the way as one of the top Audio Description Narrators in film and television today. His resume in this area includes the films Spiderman: Far From Home, Spiderman: Homecoming, Jurassic Park: Forgotten Kingdom, Jordan Peele’s US, First Man, Glass, Get Out, Atomic Blonde, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw and many more. His television Audio Description credits include NCIS, Bosch, Criminal Minds, Lethal Weapon, Marvel’s Runaways and more. In addition to his work in Audio Description Narration, Samuelson has been heard in national commercial television spots for Target, Ford, McDonald’s, State Farm, Direct TV, Quaker and more. He is also one of the main promo voices for LA’s KCRW/PBS Radio.
I was not very familiar with the inner workings of the industry, so I interviewed Roy to find out about his work, the industry and this other aspect of Hollywood.
‘Blind and low vision people are from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, and tastes’
Modesty aside, how do you describe yourself?
A curious and driven work in progress.
Before we get to specifics, please tell me what you want the readers to know about the blind and sight-impaired people?
People who are blind and low vision are first and foremost people. Blind and low vision people are from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, and tastes. And as with sighted people, blind and low vision audiences can smell condescension, and are particularly aware when treated as a yes-or-no box to check on an accessibility requirement. As a sighted person, I don’t speak for blind people, but I make sure when I do talk about my audience, it’s from my perspective, which includes the great opportunities for excellence and quality work.
What are the top stereotypes and generalizations about the blind and sight-impaired? How do you manage them in your personal life, as well as your career?
I think the biggest stereotype and generalization is that our blind and low vision audiences can sometimes be treated as if they are a charity, or to be pitied, or healed, or – particularly when specifically, not asking for help, thinking they “need help.” But when I speak with people who are blind or low vision, it’s speaking with another human, and it’s not discounting their disabilities either. I personally have had, and still have, many assumptions and stereotypes, and the more I engage and learn from people who are blind and low vision, I’m grateful to break my own assumptions and reduce generalizations.
‘One interviewer called it “conscious posting’
For those who are not familiar, what is Audio Description?
You hear Audio Description along with a movie or TV show. It narrates the visual intent. It’s like a sports announcer on the radio, giving the play by play of what’s happening on screen.
Audio Description is an audio track that is placed over the completed audio track so a narrator can be heard describing all which a blind person can’t see. The Audio Description is careful not to disrupt or interfere with the dialogue or any important sounds within the scene. Many movie theaters provide special Audio Description headsets for this service. At home, Audio Description can be utilized via special settings options on televisions and computers.
How did you come to be one of the top artists doing this type of work?
My voice over background and training, along with some lucky breaks, led me to this deeply complex world. Each time I’ve narrated a show or movie, I do my best to be a little bit better than I was last time. I’ve narrated over 400 movies and tv shows, and continue to focus on narrating the story, with excellence and quality. I also continue to study and work with some of the best in the business.
What changes have you seen in the industry in the last 10+ years pertaining to Audio Description? How have they effected your work?
Audio Description has evolved from a “it has it or it doesn’t have it” to a more nuanced appreciation of the emotional performance. Audiences have their favorite narrators, and are speaking up about quality, access, and even sound as far as the mix goes. Regardless, as for the narration performance itself, it’s a fine emotional line to dance along with. Too flat, or too much, and it takes the audience out of the emotional sense of the scene. I’ve found that as long as I ride that by focusing on the story, I’m able to give a performance that allows our audience to immerse themselves in the story.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start in this industry?
There are thousands of opportunities. A few simple steps (that are literally win-wins for everyone): when on social media, describe images or videos in the alt text. Instagram, twitter, and facebook provide that with just a few clicks away, and allows blind and low vision followers to understand what you are sharing. It helps you get a sense of why you are posting. One interviewer called it “conscious posting” and that sits really well with me!). This gets you into the mindset of describing visuals. You can also go to YouDescribe and find hundreds of youtube videos that need to be described. Follow along with audio description groups or hashtags. And continue to study – I particularly find cold reading and improv essential for voice over in general, as well as this kind of work.
As one of the most working voice over artists in Descriptive Narration, Samuelson has become an advocate for this service and for the community that his talent is benefiting. He actively engages on-line and on social media with those who rely on his voice to experience their favorite programs. He has become a liaison of sorts between the audience and the Hollywood Industry. For those without sight, Samuelson is as important to a film or television show as are actors like Brad Pitt and Emma Stone.
What change(s), if any, would you want to see within the industry, as well as the community at large to create more and better opportunities for the blind and sight-impaired?
The changes are already happening! One streaming service requires all Audio Description vendors to list the name of the vendor, writer, and narrator. Other streaming platforms are opting in to provide Audio Description above and beyond requirements. Auditions are becoming more common, which tells me that distinguishing quality – either the sound of the narrator, and/or the skills of the narrator, are coming into account. 250 of my imdb credits were removed because I didn’t appear in the visual credits, but I’m hopeful that will change as more narrators are able to list their credits there, as well as the Audio Description Narrators of America. New services coming out are not only providing Audio Description but also in multiple languages. And more producers, directors, distributors, and other decision makers are noticing that ignoring the 26 million American blind and low vision audiences are leaving money on the table.
‘Specifically, on social media, I personally believe providing text descriptions of images, videos, or links, which only takes a few seconds, makes our connection with blind and low vision friends normal’
What can the general public do?
Specifically, on social media, I personally believe providing text descriptions of images, videos, or links, which only takes a few seconds, makes our connection with blind and low vision friends normal. I’d suggest sighted commuters, people who cook, or need a break from staring at screens all day can give Audio Description a try. What is the experience like? How easy is it to turn it on or off? What could be better about it? And making requests that production and services provide Audio Description.
What is RIGHT in the industry?
I believe the more quality and excellence in Audio Description, the ease of accessing it, and the awareness of it are all moving in the right direction. Technology is already here and becoming more streamlined. The gaps are starting to close in in a good way. I was recently nominated for a SOVAS Voice Arts Award in the Narration category – this is the first time an Audio Description Narrator has had that kind of acknowledgement outside of the blind and low vision communities.
Who in Hollywood would you like to work with that you haven’t done so yet?
Oprah. Ang Lee. Jane Campion. Regina King. James Lassiter. Guillermo del Toro. Tom Hanks. Donald Glover. Charlie Brooker. Ben Vereen. Bryan Cranston. Shonda. Can I go on, please?
Any last thoughts?
Follow along with the facebook group “Audio Description Discussion” for lively conversations from audiences, narrators, writers, and decision makers. The Audio Description Project has thousands of listings, access instructions, and more information. Search #KnowYourNarrator and #AudioDescription on Twitter. And I shamelessly suggest visiting RoySamuelson.com.
MORE ABOUT ROY SAMUELSON
“I know that voice!” “That voice is so familiar!” Over billions of ears have heard the voice of Roy Samuelson, a leading and well-respected Hollywood voice-over artist. For over two decades, his deep, soulful and commanding vocal skills have garnered him incredible success behind the microphone, contributing to literally thousands of vocal promos on Los Angeles’ NPR station KCRW. Video Game credits include Nickelodeon’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES as ‘Raphael’, XCOM: ENEMY UNKNOWN and FINAL FANTASY: LIGHTNING RETURNS. Notable voice-over television credits include LAST WEEK TONIGHT, LIBRARIANS with John Laroquette and AMERICAN HORROR STORY opposite Jessica Lange. In other television and film projects, he often provides voice matches for top Hollywood stars.
Commercially, Samuelson has voiced Intel Tags during the SUPER BOWL and the ACADEMY AWARDS. Major brands work includes QUAKER, STATE FARM, DIRECT TV, FORD, TARGET, multiple spots for MCDONALDS and countless more. With vocal gifts only a select few possess, he can easily adjust the purpose of his voice – in STAND UP TO CANCER campaigns, he sounds like the warm voice of reason. For RENT A CENTER, he is your best friend. For SKETCHERS, he is your father.
Currently, Samuelson is gaining critical praise and garnering much work in the ever-growing area of Audio Description. Audio Description makes television programs, movies and other visual media accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired. The narrator provides descriptions of key elements without interfering with the audio or dialogue of a program or movie. There is now a push in the entertainment industry to market Audio Description outside of the visually impaired community where fans can listen to their favorite films and television, much like listening to books on tape. Samuelson is leading the charge of this emerging concept. To date, he has recorded narration for over 150 network television episodes and countless dozens of blockbuster films.
Samuelson’s impressive resume of Audio Description includes blockbuster features like VENOM, FIRST MAN, GET OUT, JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING, SKYSCRAPER, EQUALIZER 2, SUPERFLY, PACIFIC RIM, UPRISING, INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, THE MUMMY, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, BABY DRIVER, FATE OF THE FURIOUS, ATOMIC BLONDE, KRAMPUS, STEVE JOBS, EVEREST, SINISER 2, JASON BOURNE, FURY and the IMAX features BACKYARD WILDERNESS, EARTHFLIGHT and BEAUTIFUL PLANET. He has also lent his vocal skills to the narration for such popular television programs as CRIMINAL MINDS, NCIS, LETHAL WEAPON, BLUE BLOODS and more.
Roy Samuelson may not be a name and face whose is easily recognized outside of the Hollywood entertainment industry, but his voice is one that most people have heard over and over. Whether narrating for the visually impaired for a film or series, delivering promos on the radio, adding his voice to scenes on your favorite program, Samuelson’s talent embodies the pinnacle of success in the Hollywood world of voice-over artists.
(Image link description: A recording studio with engineers, equipement, and two narrators behind glass in front of a mic)
Many years ago, I worked The Great Movie Ride in Walt Disney World, where guests would go through movie scenes with audio animatronics. I narrated the scenes as a host – and later, as a gangster who gets blown up. In a sense, this was my first experience with audio description.
For movies and TV shows, audio description (also known as video description) is a special audio track where a narrator voices the visuals relevant to the plot. It’s intended for blind and low-vision audiences to experience the film or TV show by hearing what’s happening on-screen, usually with narration in between lines of dialogue.
It works like a sports announcer on the radio, giving the play-by-play of what’s happening on screen. The narration describes visual elements, such as actions, settings, body language, graphics and subtitles.
I started working in audio description a little more than five years ago, narrating some IMAX and Disney short form titles, like Toy Story of Terror. Since then, I’ve recorded the latest two Spider-Man movies, Hobbs & Shaw, Glass, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and several network and streaming series like NCIS, Marvel Runaways, and Amazon’s Bosch.
What Happens Behind the Scenes?
My experience as a narrator is limited to being in a booth recording into a microphone. I watch the TV show or movie on a screen and hear the audio in a headset, and read from a script. The script is written by describers. Those describers take the original film and watch it, noting the essential plot points that are visual. They find the best words that don’t get in the way of the scene, and find the best place in the scene to put those words.
I arrive to the studio, I’m given the audio description script, and we start rolling. I’m reading the script having never seen it before.
While I know the general gist of the movie or TV show, I’m also along for the ride. My goal as a narrator is to get out of the way to not distract the audience from immersing themselves emotionally. In other words, if an audience is aware of me, I’m not serving the story. To serve the story, I need to ride the emotional elements, but not too much or not too little. I also have to keep an eye out for timing issues, reading quickly at some parts, and slowing down on others. And any surprises need to be revealed in a way that a sighted audience person would experience it.
Advocating for Audio Description
I’ve recently been connecting with blind and low-vision audiences and others, through the Facebook group Audio Description Discussion, the Audio Description Project, connecting on Twitter, and advocating for those producers or directors unaware of audio description. For those who aren’t aware, I find they lean in, with curiosity and wonder.
This is a market share of our industry that can reward all those who participate in it, and I do my best to find the positive steps being taken.
Roy Samuelson is a top Hollywood voiceover artist who has been heard in television commercial spots for Quaker, State Farm, Direct TV, Ford, Target, McDonald’s and more. He has been featured in hundreds of spots for Los Angeles’ KCRW-PBS Radio. Currently he is one of the leading voiceover artists leading the industry in Descriptive Narration, enabling members of the blind and visually impaired to enjoy film and television. You can learn more about his work on his website, RoySamuelson.com and follow him on Twitter.
Victoria G: What inspired you to become a voice actor?
Roy Samuelson: I enjoyed recording on tape as a kid. Once when I was doing an announcement for a performance, I learned about how I could use my voice to be clearer. Enunciation was something I never thought about. That blew my little mind. Then I learned about acting and improv. It all came together with a few different voice over workout groups in Santa Monica. I loved practicing, and stretching, and trying new things.
VG: What was your first voice acting job?
RS: In Disneyworld, I was on the Great Movie Ride. I had a mic and I read off a script. Does that count?
VG: What is your favorite project you have done?
RS: I just finished Audio Description narration for a documentary called “House Of Cardin” – it was filled with subtitles, which the narrator reads. It’s not dubbing, but there does have to be some distinguishing characteristics of the voice, especially when two people are talking to each other. I really enjoyed the challenge of that movie.
VG: What do you love most about Audio Description?
RS: Technically, I love to get in the zone, where the timing of the cues in between dialogue just flows like a dance. I get such satisfaction in being a part of the story like that. I also enjoy learning about better ways to serve our audiences, blind, low vision, or even sighted, and I do my best to make sure all audiences who hear my work are fully immersed in the story.
VG: Do you have any hidden talents?
RS: My superpower is seeing different people’s perspectives of the same thing. And I love to find the good.
VG: What was the hardest voice for you to do?
RS: My own. Hear me out! Most people only hear their own voice inside their head, and it can be jarring to hear one’s own voice on a voicemail greeting or listening back to some kind of audio. We are so used to hearing ourselves from inside our bodies, but everyone else hears us from outside our bodies! So that’s an adjustment that I’ve gotten used to years ago. Then there are words given to me that I have to make my own. Playing a character is fascinating, and I love studying different ways of doing that, following along with the intentions of what’s happening in a story or a scene. But to do my own voice, especially using other people’s words, it’s taken a lot of time and practice to be authentic and still get the story through.
VG: How would you describe yourself in three words?
RS: Curious. Driven. Sincere.
VG: What are your social media handles?
RS: twitter & insta @roysamuelson — facebook is @roysamuelsonbiz
VG: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
RS: My favorite part of this question is looking back at my life from 10 years ago and not even having the imagination to know where I’d be! But there are a few things that I found I was striving for, so I’ll answer like that: I see myself living a life that is filled with good consistency and surprises, growing into more deep and loving relationships with friends and family, and delivering my best work I can when I can. That sounds so esoteric, so I’ll add I’d like to swim with some otters and dolphins.
VG: What are three qualities every voice actor should have?
RS: Ongoing craft development. Human interaction skills. Business sense. (I still work on all three.)
VG: Do you have any advice for an aspiring voice actor?
RS: Yes! Do voice acting. You can use your smart phone and record yourself reading along to something and listen back. Visit social media groups who are focused on the kind of voice actor you want to be. Connect with working voice actors and get the lay of the land from them. Watch where things are headed in different markets. The opportunities are there to grow and it’s up to the person to take action.
VG: What’s next for you?
RS: I’m looking to find pockets of rest in the midst of a few different areas. I’m still working on advocating strongly for Audio Description, and growing that message. And the Audio Description series and movies are a whirlwind of opportunities to help boost that message. I also have a few video games that I’m voicing that I can’t wait to share.
VG: RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS What’s your favorite animated movie?
RS: The Point. The dog Arrow is my zen guide.
VG: What’s your favorite song?
RS: Ke$ha “Woman”. My cousin and I sing it quite loud and she can dance better than I do anyway.
VG: Do you have any pets?
RS: My muttweiler Steve and I had 7 great years together; even though he’s no longer here, he still brings me calm, kindness, and a gentle strength.
VG: Can you play any instruments?
RS: I haven’t picked up a trumpet since 12th grade. I bet I shouldn’t.
VG: Who’s your favorite Ninja Turtle?
RS: I’m partial to Raphael.
VG: What’s your favorite weather?
RS: Snowing outside the window near the fireplace. That summer cool breeze on the hammock in the woods.
VG: What’s your favorite pastime?
RS: Trapeze. I’ve only done that a few times, though, so stargazing.