Including “Audio Description” in your production will enable the 26 million blind audiences in the US to enjoy your movie. We talk with Roy Samuelson, who narrates audio description for films like First Man & Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Including “Audio Description” in your production will enable the 26 million blind audiences in the US to enjoy your movie. We talk with Roy Samuelson, who narrates audio description for films like First Man & Spider-Man: Homecoming.
We spoke to voice-over extraordinaire Roy Samuelson. We were intrigued to talk to Roy about his career in voice-over and about the emerging service in the entertainment industry, Audio Description. When we learned how this game-changing service was enhancing the entertainment experience for blind and low vision audiences, we had to learn more. But then we also discovered it was positively impacting the experiences for all audiences and we were even more excited to talk to Roy.
Without seeing facial expressions (smile, scowl, arch of an eyebrow), no body language, no use of your hands just hearing your voice and the inflection of the same. Voice-over performers; “live and die” by their voice. The ability to captivate and stimulate the imagination and to tell a story solely based on your voice, now that is talent. Roy has that voice. Roy has that talent. Trust us we spoke to him. His voice is smooth, melodious, enticing and versatile. Roy told us right off the bat more than anything when he is working he wants the audience, “Fully immersed in the story and going along for the ride.” Interviewing Roy was a fun ride all its own! We discussed Roy’s background, his career and then he enlightened us on this still relatively unknown yet important service so now we can enlighten you.
The average child is talking by the age of two. We all have a voice. But how does one recognize they have the voice? How does one know they have a voice for voice overwork? Roy is like me, old-school. We reminisced about the days of a voice recorder machine. He loved to play around with his. It was this old school machine that first introduced Roy to his own voice. Roy had cousins who were from New York. And Roy loved their “cool” New York accents. Roy would have what he described as, “A kind of Mister Rogers Neighborhood Show. I’d record myself sounding like them. I called it the New York Ghost. It was a rambling mess if you listen to it now. But it was so much fun to record. I guess that was my first show. It had an audience of zero.” Laughter.
Roy’s audience first increased when he got, what he called his start in the voice-over industry when he worked at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. He was a narrator on a scene park ride. How many of us have been on a theme park ride with a narrator? A lot of us for sure. Well this routine experience for us was anything but for Roy. His job as a narrator for Walt Disney World catapulted a twenty-something and counting year career as one of the most sought after voice-over artists. “Everybody’s got a different way of getting into voice over, mine came from a scene park ride in Orlando. I was the narrator at the Great Movie Ride in Walt Disney World. It’s no longer there. Maybe 60 different guests would get inside these theater cars and go to the movies with all sorts of animatronic robots. The ride had certain timing queues, audio cues, and visual cues. As the host, I would point out the different things that we were going through. I also played the gangster which was really fun. I took over the ride, shot the bad guys and got blown up over and over again. To do the show over and over again was great practice. It was also a benefit to be able to watch how the audience reacted based on what I said or how I said it and how to use the microphone to tell a story.”
Roy has been telling stories ever since. Roy has narrated in blockbuster movies such as; Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Spiderman: Far From Home, Jordan Peele’s US, Get Out, Jason Bourne, Pacific Rim. His television Audio Description includes Criminal Minds, Lethal Weapon, Blue Bloods. This upcoming fall we will hear Roy on NCIS as he has been heard for the past four seasons. And he will also work on Criminal Minds‘ final season. He has been the voice-over in commercials for Intel, Toyota and McDonald’s. Roy’s credits are extensive and impressive.
By speaking to so many actors we have learned that some things essential to the craft of acting are; know your mark, watch your lighting, timing and of course know your lines. What is one of the most important things for a voice over artist to learn? We wanted to know. “This is my favorite example because it hit me so personally when I first discovered this. You know how the first time you record a voice mail greeting and then you listen back; you are like, who is that? That’s not me. We all hear ourselves from our own bodies. But everybody else hears that same voice from outside the body obviously. Everybody is used to hearing your voice but you. So I think it’s really important when it comes to voice over to learn what you really sound like.” So true! I distinctly remember the first time I heard my own voice on tape. I thought that’s not me. I don’t sound like that! It is amazing the difference of the sound of your voice when you hear it on tape versus out of your own mouth!”
Roy is also an actor. He has done film and live theater. But without question, “Voice over is the thing that makes me the happiest.” Roy’s love for what he does has contributed to his excitement and investment in the industry’s move to provide this entertainment enhancing service to the blind and low vision audience. We are the new of the newbies in learning about this groundbreaking service, Audio Description; so, we will let Roy and only Roy tell you all about it. “This is so exciting what is happening in the entertainment industry. What we do is called audio description. It is a special audio track that goes on top of a movie or TV show. It is specifically for blind or low version audiences to experience what the film or TV is without having to see it. The audio script is a special script that is written based on what most people see.”
Roy provided this practical example to further explain. “It’s like when you’re listening to a game on the radio like a baseball game. There is an announcer that might mention the weather or say something about the city where the game is being played but for the most part, they are there to give you a play by play of the game. They are giving you a vision of what is happening. And that is what I do as an Audio Descriptionist narrator. I give a listener a sense of what’s happening visually.”
This concept would appear to be so “simple” we wondered why this wasn’t done many years ago. The ability has been around for 10-20 years. But it is the technology that has made it much more accessible. Only now people are beginning to talk about it. And not just audiences but the networks, streaming services, and Hollywood. There is a special headset to see a first-run movie. This headset isn’t for the hearing impaired (to make the movie louder). It is for blind and low vision people so they can experience the show or movie without the visuals. It works for streaming services as well. The audio is merely a few taps away.
Things were starkly different before the dawn of this technology. Before, Roy would work in a pretty isolated environment. Basically, Roy would get hired, go into a small area, read a script and that was pretty much it. Roy did his job and did it well but still felt disconnected. But he wanted to be and feel connected to his audience. What was the best way to start? Roy started talking to people. And when he did a whole new world opened up. As he started learning about accessibility, disability, and how others dealt with things; his eyes were opened. It gave him insight into how he could literally use his voice to help others.
Blind and low vision audiences now have access to movies and TV shows where they can watch it with their families and have an equally entertaining experience. These audiences can now also engage in conversations at work or anywhere outside the home, sharing their own full experience of a TV show or movie. This concept has also uncovered an untapped market for producers, creators, directors, and showrunners to increase their market share. And able-bodied audiences can enjoy it too. Roy gave us a few suggestions on how. “It’s not just for blind people or low vision people. You can listen to these stories or shows while you are stuck in traffic, when you are cooking or maybe you have spent the whole day staring at your computer or iPhone and just want to relax, you can turn on the Audio Description. Also, the more able-bodied people that use it will help blind and low vision people. The more demand will improve the quality and will increase the accessibility as more people use it.” Roy also encouraged us if we find a show without Audio Description to take a moment to contact the network or the streaming service and ask for audio vision services.
The more Roy talked about this subject the more excited he became and for good reason. If you want to learn more, you can Google “The Audio Description Project.” It will give you all the shows, networks, streaming services and movies that have it. You can also learn more about it and about its history. If you want to, there is a lively and engaging Facebook group with a wide range of people, blind, low vision, narrators, producers called “Audio Description Discussion.”
Even twenty years in, Roy says there is always something new for him to learn. He continues to learn, research and work with coaches and plans to never stop learning. In addition, he is at the forefront of this description narration revolution leading the charge.
We learned so much and thank Roy for taking the time to teach us about this valuable, life-changing service!
see updated article link here
Voice-Over Artist Helps the Blind Experience Movies
By Timothy Parker Hollywood
PUBLISHED 10:42 AM ET Jul. 30, 2019 UPDATED 10:54 AM ET Jul. 30, 2019
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Roy Samuelson is a voice-over artist who provides audio description for the blind and visually impaired during TV shows and movies. His voice describes what people with vision can see.
“If someone’s blind or low vision, they go into a movie theatre and ask for a special audio description headset,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson describes the wireless headset as a device they put on their ears, but it doesn’t make the audio louder. The headset provides a special audio track with a narrator explaining what is happening visually in the movie.
Samuelson has provided this service for many blockbuster movies including Get Out, Jurassic World, and the new Spiderman franchise.
“There’s a real personal satisfaction of getting the timing right because of you’ve got to get the script in within three seconds, and there’s audio cues and video cues that has to fit usually, between the dialogue,” Samuelson said.
It is all worth it for a man who has been in the business for decades, in a job where he is completely in the shadows.
“If the spotlight’s on me and someone says ‘You did a great job narrating,’ I didn’t do my job right,” Samuelson said.
Ultimately, Samuelson says his job has made him more compassionate to those with disabilities.
“And how I can be a better advocate to help, specifically with awareness of what this particular work is and also in other ways too,” Samuelson said.
Ultimately, he uses his words to help movies come to life for everyone.
Audio description is also available for many TV shows. You can access it by using your remote control much like a SAP button.
Text transcript below the link to the audio interview
RC: Today we are speaking with Roy Samuelson, voice actor extraordinaire known for being one of the voices on the NPR, He’s Raphael in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game. He has been on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” show, as Lightening Return on Grand Theft Auto and a whole host of other things. How are you today?
ROY: Hey I’m doing great RC, great to be talking with you.
RC: You’ve got this new project that you’re doing right now where you’re doing narration for blind, essentially on hit TV shows.
ROY: Yeah blind and low vision audiences have a special way to access tv shows and movies and it’s called Audio Description.
RC: How did you come into this – what was the catalyst to get you here with this version of voice acting?
ROY: I spent about maybe ten years with a group in Los Angeles that was mainly made up of writers, and they bring in 25 pages of their scripts every week so there’d be four writers every week for pretty much every Monday night for the ten years that I joined them. They’re still going on. It was all produced by writers who brought really quality stuff and they’d throw scripts in our faces and say “here you go.” It was really great cold reading practice and even more importantly than the practice it helped me focus on the actual story they were telling — because the feedback was all about the writing. And you know, I’d do my one line, and sometimes I was the main character and sometime supporting and, “Oh great, that was a lot of fun”. Then the feedback was all about the story and then I’d think, “oh I get it now”. The spotlight kind of changed from being on the performer to being on the story and that really helped shape lots. I know this is kind of a tangent, but to bring it back to Audio Description, the focus in Audio Description is all about the story. When I’m narrating the action that’s happening on screen, it’s almost like a radio announcer for a sportscast. What I’m doing is trying to do my best to be a part of the story, and not stand out. So in other words if an audience member is listening to me and saying “oh what a great performance Roy did”, I didn’t do my job. It’s gotta be about the story. And if they’re saying “oh wow that was such an amazing story — I can’t believe what happened with these characters”, then I did my job right.
RC: Well that fantastic. When I first heard the description of this I was laughing a little bit. Not because you know because I don’t want to insult anybody, but because it reminded me of something that happened in college. I was at the movie theater and this guy was on his cellphone giving the play by play of what was going on in the film.
RC: So that was the first thing that popped in my head going “yeah baby, the killer’s upstairs but he doesn’t know the killer’s upstairs so he’s going slow” and I’m like we all paid our twelve bucks to get in here man, you know save the play by play for later you know. This is something that is actually needed.
ROY: Yeah and it’s funny. You’re right. It’s almost unnerving for sighted audiences because it’s almost redundant. What a great example with that cellphone conversation. But the funny thing about it is the sighted audiences can actually enjoy it in a bunch of different ways. Now obviously the movie theater isn’t the best place to be experiencing that cause your eyes are on the screen but you know but for people who are commuting, especially in Los Angeles, you’ve got the 405 and some patches of the 101 where you know you’re back and forth. Just like a podcast or even just like an audio book, you can fully immerse yourself in a story that’s a tv show or a movie. People talk about it using it for cooking when they’re trying to keep their eyes on the on blender and the recipe, and even after a full day of staring at screens all day still want some entertainment, just by kind of close your eyes and adjust in so but you’ve got a really good point, I’m gonna call it redundant because sighted audiences use their eyes and then they’re hearing it, it can almost be too much.
RC: Yeah would it be great for cellphone addicts that are you know sitting there and supposedly in the moment, watching the movie but while scrolling through Instagram and Twitter?
ROY: That’s another thing. I think that’s a great example. I’m thinking off the top of my head. Your attention is kind of divided if you’re looking at images of one thing but hearing images of another. That might be…I’m trying to see how that would work, almost like an episode of Drunk History but for sense bombardment.
RC: Right. How do we avoid sensory overload when we have, you know, for the sighted crowd that’s watching with their, you know, seeing impaired relatives or friends?
ROY: Its kind of neat. There’s a couple of different ways. There’s a company called Actiview that has an app that syncs up with some movies so basically the blind or low vision audience member opens the app, the app hears the screen and if it’s one of those movies, it will automatically sync the audience description. So it’s kind of a great way for people to enjoy together a movie or tv show. As far as the Audio Description function? There are ways that you can turn it on. You know the same way I sometimes watch a movie with a friend on Netflix who has a tough time hearing. He turns on Closed Captioning and you know the first few minutes it’s like “ugh these words are distracting” but it’s amazing how quickly I get used to it. But with Audio Description it’s different. With Audio Description you’re literally hearing the voice of a narrator. It’s a little different than Closed Captioning. One thing that I imagine is a family of four people. If a parent has a child that has got low vision, this is a way that everybody can enjoy the experience together And there’s a way to do this. I see a future in Audio Description where it can be tailored to each individual. One person might have the Closed Captioning on, one person might have Audio Description on and one person might have just the original audio and original video.
RC: Right, Roy I just wanted to touch real quick hat you are cutting out a little bit, so I just wanted to let you know ahead of time.
ROY: Thanks so much. Yeah, I appreciate that.
RC: Yeah. My issue with the Closed Captioning was is that I’ll know be listening to the show and then I’ll start reading the captions and the captions don’t always match what’s happening on the screen and that always drives me a little nuts with the closed captioning. But with audio narration you’re not necessary you know giving the dialogue but you’re describing the scenery, the sounds, the rustling of the trees, that sort of thing?
ROY: Right, and it’s a little more specific. The only dialogue that I will narrate is subtitles. So for example if a character is speaking in a foreign language, I do English Audio Descriptions. If a character’s dialogue is in a language other than English I, translate those. But for the most part the Audio Description is of the essential elements of the story. So I guess back to the first analogy of when you’re listening to the play by play radio . The announcer’s probably going to be talking about the first quarter of the game, how they’re starting off, what’s happening in the game. The goal of Audio Description, is to basically give the audience what’s happening on the screen, and give them access to the visuals that are essential to the story. So there might be some leaves rustling if there was like a dinosaur about to come around the corner and its breathing on it, but for the most part it might give maybe just a brush stroke but, it’s pretty story centric.
RC: And how much emotion can you put into the description, is it very monotone low affect, or is it like they’re running through the woods and you’re adding to the drama because they can’t necessarily see it?
ROY: That’s a great question. I personally have my own opinion on this. The focus is on being in the story. There’s a character that celebrating something you know a big victory at the end of the movie, if I read it monotone and flat, it probably may take the audience member out. So I do turn up the emotional notches, maybe three or four, if you notice it, if I’m like “Yeah! He did it, he raises his hand in celebration”, you know that’s gonna be too much. But if it’s just “raises his hand in celebration” that’s also gonna be too much on the other extreme. It’s gotta be just right. So the comparison that I’ve started to use, is with foley. If you hear the footsteps, and it’s too loud, that’s going to take away from the story, but on the other extreme if there are no footsteps, you’re going to be like “why is that person walking so quietly?”. So anything that takes you out of the story is distracting. So, back to Audio Description. I think it’s important to find that emotional balance. And another extreme is if a character is dying on screen, I’m not going to say “he looks sad and looks in her face!” Saying that with a smile would almost be humorous because it would take you out of the story so sharply I think.
RC: Would also be sadistic if you were smiling through the she’s dying on the screen portion of the show
ROY: Yes, and I would say even in a Quentin Tarantino film, it’s probably a little too much.
RC: Now how far would we go with this, because you know, television is so much more prevalent and streaming sites are basically taking over the film industry, do we go all the way back to the 1950s with the Honeymooners and I Love Lucy, or is it just for recent TV series or Netflix shows, Hulu etc.?
ROY: I think it’s all of the above. And I don’t know the strategy of the companies that are making those decisions as far as distribution goes. There are two examples with Closed Captioning. Pretty much everything is now Closed Captioned, and for the most part, hopefully, the Closed Caption system is pretty accurate. The companies that I’ve worked for are pretty particular making sure that it’s not just that there aren’t typos or mistakes like you had mentioned earlier. There’s a lot of care that’s put into it. And it is. I think it is a skill with closed captions. Audio Description in evolving. I believe in England they have a very good system. I think it’s a mandate that everything has to have Audio Description if it’s airing on BBC. Don’t quote me on that as I need to double check the specifics of it, but they’re far ahead of us. The cool thing that’s happening now is that we have an FCC mandate that’s a very slow roll out. But it is a roll out so the network stations have a certain mandate where they have to have X amount of hours every quarter of prime time television that has to be audio described. There’s Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, that are pretty good about their original products having an audio description, and there’s a bunch of companies that are helping them with that as vendors. So, as far as the historical shows back to the Honeymooners, I’m not sure about that show specifically, but there have been been some pretty well known feature films that have been pulled from the archives that do have Audio Description, so it’s kind of cool. The focus is spread out in a good way.
RC: Now, did the notion of this come from director commentary on DVD and then Blu-Rays?
ROY: no the source, if that was it but it is very similar to that, the experience. There’s a, it’s called the Audio Description Project. If you Google it you’ll find a website that has the entire history of how it was created. There’s been some really strong advocates that have helped move this forward. Again the goal is to have blind and low vision audience members enjoy the experience that sighted audience members get to have, specifically with the intent of the story, like what story wants to be told. With this being such a visual medium, it’s important to include. I think there are 26 million blind Americans that can now experience this. So, it’s kind of a really neat history to the Audio Description Project.
RC: what is the technology has finally caught up to society.
ROY: (laughs) Yes.
RC: What I would find really interesting is if it went all the way back to George Millie and Charlie Chaplin films and did audio description of silent films.
ROY: Yes, of course! And that could be back to back Audio Description. That could literally just turn into being an audiobook.
RC: Yeah. How did you come into this? You know, was this something you had to audition for? Was this something you were in on the ground level with and were like oh this would be phenomenal, you know, I have a cousin or a friend or someone who has sight problems?
ROY: Oh gotcha. There’s two different sides to it. In addition to that screenplay workshop that I was talking about, my job at Disney World was pretty much live Audio Description. There were microphones. There were scenes we would go through movies, and each time I would kind of tone the message. I was telling the story. So that’s kind of the background. As far as getting the job, when I found out about it and learned about it I was 100% into it. It became this thing that was just, “Gosh, I have to do it.” And I was persistent. Hopefully not shovey persistent but I was like, “I really want to do this, this is something that’s in my wheelhouse and I’m really passionate about it.” One of my friends, who recently passed away, was sighted and he lost his vision during the last year or so of his life. And knowing that he was able to experience his favorite shows with Audio Description I think was the more personal experience that I had with it. It upped my level as far as my connection with this work goes.
RC: And this is something that seems like it should’ve been a no-brainer a long time ago. Why do you think that it took such a long time to get here?
ROY: Oh that’s a good question. I think it’s education. There are a lot of people in the industry, both on the consumer side (the blind and low vision audience members) as well as the people who are making content, who are just learning about it. My experience is that when I talk about what I do, who I speak to, whether it’s producers, directors or some of the net execs, they are kind of open just a little bit more. They’re more engaged in the conversation and it becomes “wait, tell me more about this. What is this again?” and there’s a real interest and a real kind of excitement for an opportunity they haven’t seen before. Now, obviously, there are companies that are already aware of it. I’m only talking about the people who may not. So I think as consumers of Audio Description, as well as people who provide it, become aware of it then it’s simply education and knowing about it.
RC: it’s kind of heartbreaking, let’s be honest, I mean. You’d think that this would be simple, yet I think people are waking up to it because, you know, we’ve had blind people and vision impaired people with us all throughout human history. I’m glad that we have closed captioning for the hearing impaired and now everything is getting there and I love the people are intrigued by this.
ROY: You know, even on the technical side, the difference between Closed Captioning and Audio Description is significant. A lot of people do make the comparison, and I’ve used the comparison a few times this interview. On the technical side, Closed Captioning is text. With Audio Description, it’s basically a fully produced audiobook. There is a script that has to be written, and it’s based on watching the content. It’s based on maybe even using the original shooting script, and then writing your own script on top of that. And those writers are called describers. That can be a little confusing because I’m describing as a narrator. But those writers really spend a lot of time to make sure that they are telling the story in a way that is the intent of the production. And then it gets passed to an editor, who goes through it again, and it gets quality controlled. Then then it comes to me, and I basically get the script shoved in front of my face, and we start rolling immediately. It’s a cold reading. And there’s an engineer who’s making sure that the levels are correct. There’s a director who is making sure that there aren’t any things that are coming across as strange. You know… homonyms. You can write a word and then you can read it with your eyes, but if you hear a word it can be misinterpreted. I can’t think of any examples of the top of my head. Wait, one had to do with the word awe, A-W-E. The way it read out loud just didn’t make sense, so they had to change it. But there are a lot of really committed people that are outside of the narrator, that are providing incredible quality work. And again, this is not to diminish the closed captioning, but the work of audio description is much more involved.
RC: It makes sense that it would be more involved, you know because where you have a one person describing the entire series or film, so much would go into it. What are the scripts like when you first get them? Because you said it’s a cold read. But do you get retakes, do you ever get dinged for other annunciation other than the word “awe”, and how it comes across on the screen?
ROY: Sure, and with that exmple, they re-wrote it, so that it was a ”look of awe”. Originally, they had it as, “she looked awed.” That was the example. So the text was, “She looked awed.” A-W-E-D, but when I said it, it sounded like O-D-D. so they had to re-phrase it. But yeah because it is a cold reading, you know, there are sometimes when it’s back-to-back action. And with that, there are going to be mistakes. And that’s just the nature of the business. So what they do with that, is they stop and they roll it back, and they give a little pre-roll, and then I just pick right up.
RC: And has there been a project that’s really stuck out, where are you were like, “Wow, I’m really happy to be on this one.” I mean every project you are happy to get as an actor, but like, sometimes something just sticks out even more, and you’re like “Yes, I get to be a part of this big event.”
ROY: Absolutely. And like you said, any opportunity to provide Audio Description is a great opportunity. And I do have my favorites. There’s a handful that I could name. Most recently, there’s a new Marvel movie that came out, with Spider-Man. And that was thrilling to be a part of because Sony pictures provided Audio Description for it. This is a film that a lot of people are aware of, and it’s great to be able to say, “Hey, this film has Audio Description.” Hopefully people can learn about it and say, “Oh, OK, this is something I can kind of make a connection to.” So here is this movie is that has Audio Description, and I know this movie. It kind of helps people understand a little more about what it is, and again, I think this goes back to education.
RC: and how do we get people more educated about this?
ROY: I think that there are a few calls to action that I like to talk about. The first is, if you know anyone who is blind or low vision, or who is commuting, or just complaining about staring at screens all day, that’s a great time to ask them, “Have you heard about Audio Description?” If there is anyone in the TV or film industry that you know, I’ve enjoyed it just going up and asking, “Hey, there’s this thing that I do, are you aware of it?” And sometimes it’s like, “Oh yeah, I am aware of it, but I’m not really sure how it works. Can you tell me some more?” These kinds of conversations build awareness in a way that benefits the blind and low vision community. You know, the FCC is making it a mandate, so it’s a requirement that has to be met, but understanding the reasons behind that requirement helps make the message less of an obligation and more of an opportunity.
RC: And for older people who aren’t text savvy, that can’t get the app, is there a special box that they can add to their television set at home?
ROY: Absolutely. There is a bunch of different ways to access Audio Description. And the Audio Description Project has a pretty lengthy list. So there are cable boxes that have settings that can be turned on or off, and even on over-the-air broadcasts—it’s called the SAP, Secondary Audio Program. That can be used for different languages outside of English, like Spanish, and it can also turn on the Audio Description. And that’s straight on the TV. The apps themselves? It’s usually just a tap or two away. And if people have different ways of streaming, once you are aware that it exists, it’s like, OK, it might take two or three minutes to figure out.” I think the companies are being very proactive about not making these settings menu list after menu list. So I think the Audio Description Project is the best place to go for a step-by-step description of how to do it. Someone who is starting to suffer from lower vision can call their cable company and say, “Hey, I’d like to find out more about Audio Description.” That can be a pretty straightforward phone call. So there are a lot of ways.
RC: OK. I mean, I’m interested in this, and just sitting down and giving it a shot myself, just to see whether I would enjoy it in the car, or whether it would be a distraction if I were at home, you know, multitasking, anything of that sort.
ROY: (laughs) Exactly. You know, I think about the times when I’m scrolling through video on social media, and I read the Closed Captioning and that kind of stops me and interrupts my flow, and I’m like, “Oh, I’m reading the Closed Captioning. And like you say, if you’re doing things around the house or commuting, hopefully it won’t be like the experience you had in the movie theater with cell phone neighbor, but by seeing it as, “Oh, here’s something else I could use it for,” instead of as, “Oh, this is so annoying. I’m already seeing it, why do I have to hear it?” Use that to your advantage.
RC: Well, that doesn’t bother me about hearing it as I’m watching it, it’s just the fact that it was opening night at the midnight showing, and here’s a guy giving the play-by-play to his girlfriend who was at work, who couldn’t make it to the theater. Why didn’t you just wait for her?
ROY: (laughs) Yeah, exactly, exactly!
RC: I mean, I eventually told the guy to shut up. I mean, he called me rude, but it’s still funny.
ROY: He called you rude?
RC: Yeah. (laughs) would something like this be full immersion in a movie theater? Like what would there be movie theaters that they do this in? Because, you know, people still love the movie theater experience, and if you really go when you don’t really see what’s going on, what’s the point of spending the $15?
ROY: Exactly. And Audio Description is available in most major movie theaters. It’s labeled with the logo A.D., and the distinction is, a lot of headsets are given out to people with low hearing, so sometimes when someone says, “Hey, can I have an Audio Description headset?” They might accidentally give an amplifier, which basically makes everything louder. Audio Description, obviously, is not for hearing, it’s for the visual elements. So basically every theater has it. It’s built in, and you ask for Audio Description headsets. There have been a few times movie theaters are not aware of it, and they’re becoming more aware of it, so simply by asking, that helps build awareness even for the theater companies themselves.
RC: I had absolutely no idea. This is fascinating.
ROY: It’s kind of cool, isn’t it?
RC: It’s totally cool, and I’m glad that inclusion is a part of this. Because it’s so weird that, like I said earlier, I would have assumed that this was a no brainer, for getting the Audio Description DVDs that should have been on Toy Story 3, since Toy Story 4 is out in theaters now. But I’m just so surprised that now it’s catching on.
ROY: Yeah, and this is been going on for more than a decade. I’ve only really started to advocate it in the last few years. I’m relatively new to the game, and I’m loving learning every day. Right now there are even advocates for video games, where people who are blind or low vision have video games they played that narrators provide giving special audio cues for them about certain elements of the game that allow them to play the way a sighted player can play.
RC: Wow. So like, audio cues that say, hit the X button here, hit the Y button here? Or, whatever, but for the Xbox or anything?
ROY: Yeah, and Microsoft I think just won an Xbox live audio description award, literally in the last few hours. So there is a lot of inclusion that’s happening on the gaming front as well and not limited to movies, TV shows and live performances.
RC: That would be really humbling, to get beat in a video game by a blind guy.
ROY: It’s like playing any other person. It’s great. That’s the point. I think you nailed it, because this is how everyone can experience something in a way that’s accessible. That’s great.
RC: Well, it’s all right, I got beaten up by a blind guy. When I was in college, I was training in judo, and our head Sensei was team USA’s Olympic coach back in 96. And so he brought the blind team to train with us and they beat the hell out of us. So we got beat up by blind Olympians, so that something, but when he told you he could feel the pressure on the mat shift, and he could realize that you were going to attempt something and he could counter it, I was like “Well that’s impressive.” Video thing on top of that is going to be even more impressive.
ROY: Absolutely, yeah. It’s great to hear of all of these examples of disability and how those are becoming a different kind of experience now. It’s great.
RC: Yeah. So the term, “differently abled”, I think, has become the norm, and I kind of like it, actually, because we all have different abilities. I just wish certain aspects of society would realize that. How do we go about, besides just education, just socially, how do we sit there and say, it’s a part of life, without having to hammer each other over the head with a Harley Quinn-sized mallet?
ROY: Sure. I am a sighted person, so I can see with my eyes, so my advocacy is coming from that perspective. I can’t speak for blind people or low vision people. But what I am doing is engaging on Twitter and other forms of social media to connect with blind and low vision audiences. The more I learn, the more assumptions are challenged. I have found that when I do speak with someone, my intention is to remember that it’s not that person’s job to educate me. If they would like to you, and they are open to it, I want to make sure that they know that’s their choice not something that I’m asking that of them. And for some reason, that’s an important thing. Also, to your point of the term “differently abled,” has become a new term. Disabled has become a term to almost embrace, in the sense that, “Hey, this is a disability, and there doesn’t need to be a stigma to it. You know, I don’t have use of my eyes but I do you have the use of other ways of dealing with things.” And again, I have to be really careful but I am not speaking on behalf of blind and low vision people. This is just one sighted person who’s learning as he goes along, the best way to communicate this message that is useful and helpful and, like you said with Harley Quinn example, isn’t beating the non-disabled over the head? There’s got to be a way to keep the message positive and still get accomplished what I think everyone wants to get accomplished, which is inclusion in a way that’s fair for everybody.
RC: Right. And my thing is, you know we’ll make a hypothetical person. Let’s say Tony his vision impaired. Well I don’t care that Tony is vision impaired, I just care that Tony isn’t a jerk. Is Tony cool? Can he hang with us cool then we can bring Tony along.
ROY: (laughs). Perfect. Exactly. And what a great message. It’s one aspect of it. It’s great!
RC: I thought we were like that for a while, until now everyone has to point out every single difference of our lives, and I think that’s kind of driving me crazy more so than anything. So the fact that you’re doing this without making it a point of, but this is for this group, and it’s only for this group, and you can’t enjoy it. What’s the point? You know? And I was going to say, we’re just all one big community.
ROY: Finding that that community does include differences, and finding ways to address that, that are kind of effortless. And I think of the example of the Americans With Disabilities Act, that requires all buildings have wheelchair ramps. Historically, I’m not sure how many decades ago, there was a time when a piece of wood was put on three or four steps and that was called a wheelchair ramp. But now, it’s a part of the building. And there are some beautiful designs where the wheelchair ramp is the focus and the steps are built around it. And it is gorgeous. These are not limitations, these are opportunities for incredible creativity. And I’m just using the wheelchair example as one thing. I think it applies to, as you said, Close Captioning or even Audio Description. I think there are other uses for it and it can only help those who appreciate it.
RC: I think you’re right. And it’s a no brainer but it was 35, 40 years ago when it became mandatory. So it’s just interesting to see how people are finally waking up to things that should have just been there from the beginning.
ROY: Exactly. That’s a great way of putting it. And again, the mandates are there, and it’s got to be happening. I think to your point, there are some other real advantages to this. This is a huge segment of our population that can have access to things that they might not have appreciated as much. I can’t help but think that’s an opportunity.
RC: And in doing this type of work, what have you become more appreciative of? Whether socially, culturally, or just in general with humanity?
ROY: That’s a great question asking one of my favorite experiences that I’ve had personally, with advocating for Audio Description for TV shows and movies. And like I said earlier– a quick tangent– you know, there is Audio Description for live action stuff? Live theatre has Audio Description options so it’s not just limited to TV shows and movies. But my specific focus has been on Audio Description for TV shows and movies. I have my own assumptions about what it means for a blind or low vision person to experience Audio Description. Sometimes I happen to be correct, but a lot of times I find that it’s really nuanced in a way that I might not have understood had I not really started to explore it. So in that little, tiny, very specific world of Audio Description for TV shows and movies that I’m advocating for, my experience of inclusion of the disability community in general, or even greater, has changed my assumptions in a way that I enjoy life more, overall, because of this exploring. So there are things that I might like to ask other people, that might not be disabled, and ask, “What are you curious about exploring?” Then I’d just dive into that very specific thing. And I can’t help but think that’s going to open up some other things in general. And again, this is just my experience. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it’s been so exciting. I really enjoy it.
RC: What I’m glad is that you’re enjoying it without joining the rage culture movement. You’re like, “Wow this is so fascinating, we should have done this before, let’s move forward,” rather than, “Wow, this is great, I love being a part of this, and now let’s shame everybody for not being a part of the movement because they had no idea about it.”
ROY: I can’t remember the exact quote, but there is something about what you’re saying that’s one of my favorite quotes, and it has to do with what you’re saying. And I got to say that a lot of people find fear and shame effective. I think it makes a blip. I don’t think it makes a tsunami wave. My approach is to not shame the shamers. What I’ve found effective for me is, though I may not get immediate results, the work that I’m doing is necessarily slow. I don’t think that I’m alone on this; there are hundreds of people advocating for this that are blind, that are low vision and those who are sighted. There are a lot of great advocates here. Each time someone takes just a small step– those little steps are building up the quality of the Audio Description, the excellence of it, and also allowing for more inclusion in the greater sense. I think that kind of slow boil in a good sense, for me, is effective. Again, I don’t want to shame the shamers. I just can’t do it that way. It doesn’t work for me.
RC: I mean, there are certain things I understand shame-wise, and there are other things, like, all right, let’s be a little more subtle about it. But I love your approach, especially in this regard. To slightly turn focus away from what you’re doing now. You’ve been one of the voices of NPR, you’ve done multiple video games and animation, other station ideas and commercials. How has what you’re doing now affected your work in those other areas?
ROY: What a great question. You know, my focus is on Audio Description. In the back of my mind, originally, I thought I’d start to be pigeonholed. In a sense, I am, which is fine. However this year alone, I’ve got a campaign for Toyota on a commercial. There have been more opportunities for booking, and as far as the voiceover work that I do myself, I’ve noticed my own shift, seeing the process from a different perspective by being involved in Audio Description. I’ve been learning about how the writers write the scripts that I read and learning about how the editors edit the scripts. Learning from the engineer what helps them. Explaining what the director needs. Learning from the vendors. How do you like to be communicated with? This is kind of– again with the microcosm instead of the big picture—when I submit auditions, I’m now sending them in a different way because of these little lessons that I’ve learned. You know, there are tons of really great books about voiceover. There are great resources online, podcasts, people blogging, There are forums for how to fix audio, and how to do voiceover performance. All of those contribute to a lot of growth in the quality of the voiceover industry specifically. I found that by learning those things and also applying them, and doing things that they talk about that it certainly helped me. And I thank my own experience with Audio Description. I’m honored to say that I was able to do 300 different TV shows and movies. In each of those experiences, I’m focused on, “How can I do better?” It’s a competition against myself? How can I compete against myself since this next project is even better than the last project I did? So the focus isn’t on the other people doing it. I’m supporting them as much as I’m supporting me. I really value all of our narrators. I’m competing against myself. And I think that that has helped better my own performances. And the results are showing in the other voiceover work that I am doing. And again, I don’t mean to say this as, “look how great I am”, the message that I really want to make clear is that that focus in that one direction has helped my voiceover career in a way that I never imagined.
RC: That’s fantastic, I’m glad to hear all of this. How many other narrators are involved with you in this field?
ROY: I don’t know all of them. I’d say I’ve connected with maybe a dozen. And they all have different experiences and backgrounds and commitments, and different ways of looking at it. So there isn’t really one way that everyone sees this work. There’s a lot of steps that are being taken with those narrators, that I think is increasing the quality of the work, and they’re committed to that, and that’s been really exciting to see.
RC: That’s fantastic. I mean this is such a great thing that, again, that has been neglected for far too long. I’m looking forward to bringing attention to what’s going on around me more so than before. Because we get so sucked into our own devices that we don’t even pay attention to the external world anymore. What’s one thing that you would tell somebody who has perfect sight or corrective sight with glasses and contacts about people with vision impairment that they should just be mindful of?
ROY: I think it goes back to treating people as people. Not making assumptions. There’s been one friend that I’ve connected with who started a Facebook group called the Audio Description Discussion. Just by talking with him on the phone and learning more about his experience, allowed me to kind of tailor the questions that I ask in a different way that. I don’t want to ask a question that’s based on my own personal sighted assumptions. I think that when it comes to engaging with anyone who has a disability or otherwise, it’s important to come from a place of asking questions that aren’t preemptively set from a certain perspective. I’m not good at this. I’m still working on this. I’ve done this, asking questions from a certain perspective, a lot of times and I’ve seen others do the same. Thankfully , I’ve got a lot of friends who can call me on it. And again, it’s not in a way that shaming me. It’s, “Hey, this is how that came across.” I think language does matter. I’ve made a career out of using words that other people write for me. and being able to explore how I can use my own words in a way that is supportive and kind, helps everybody along. I am a work in progress on that and I love the adventure of that. I’m not sure if I answered your question, though.
RC: No, you have actually. And a follow-up to that would be, what’s either a stereotype or just an assumption that you had that was shattered in working in this form voiceover?
ROY: I think I’m going to name two examples: One on the Voiceover side and also on the blind and low vision audience side. On the Voiceover side, I think it was going back to the focus on the story. And remembering that this is all about the story and that I, as a narrator, do my best work when I’m a part of that story. It’s not how great of a narrator I can be, but how great can I help tell this story. That is, bar none, the most important thing that I’m constantly striving for. As far as the audiences who are blind and low vision, I think the best way for me to answer the question is with one example that I’m thinking of, and I’m trying to figure out how to best summarize it in twenty seconds. I found it making sure that in the way that interact with anyone, whether they are blind, low vision, or sighted, is to treat them with respect that I like to be treated. Do unto to others as you would have them do unto to you. And that’s so easy to forget. It’s such a simple thing, but practical application can be a little tricky. And I think it’s engaging in that way. That kind of boils it down.
RC: That’s fantastic. Roy, it’s been a pleasure talking to you today. I’m greatly thrilled that we got to cover this topic, and I can’t wait to find out more about it. Where can we find you on social media if we want to connect with you?
ROY: I’ve got twitter, roysamuelson, on Facebook, Roy Samuelson Biz, and on Instagram I do use alternate text to describe the photos I post. And that’s also @roysamuelson. And I’d love to do another shoutout to my friend Kevin’s Facebook Group, the Audio Description Discussion.
RC: Okay, perfect. Roy Samuelson, it’s been a great pleasure speaking with you today. Hopefully we can meet up for coffee sometime soon and talk more about this, and just everyday life I guess. Thanks again for talking to me.
ROY: Pleasure. Thanks so much for talking to me.
RC: You got it. Take care.
That Blind Tech Show: The Return of Roy! Audio Describer and Voice Artist Roy Samuelson is in the Studio