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!