Abby Interviews Roy Samuelson
Hey, guys. It’s me, Abby, I hope everyone is continuing to do well as we begin to ease restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today I have a real treat for you. I recently had the honor of interviewing an extraordinary person who is extremely passionate about the work he does. As a top Hollywood voiceover artist, today’s guest is also a tireless advocate for the blind and low vision community and an overall nice guy. I can barely wait to get started. You can listen to our interview, read the transcript, or do both. Enjoy!
Abby: Hey everybody this is Abby and I’m hanging out with one of the coolest guys that I know. And you’re thinking who is that? I’m going to tell you who it is: I’m hanging out with Roy Samuelson. And who is that you say? He is an Audio Descriptor Narrator who I’m crazy about. He is just awesome and he’s done so much work and he’s totally, totally fun to watch movies with and talk about things and boy I just had the best time this morning hanging out and chatting. How are you today?
Roy: Doing great Abby, thanks so much for having me, this is cool!
Abby: You’ve taught me so much about audio description and like what it means to you and what it is so can you please share it with others because I want everybody to know what we’ve talked about.
Roy: Yes, audio description is a way for a narration track that you listen to talking about what’s happening on screen so the visual elements of a movie or tv show and it’s a way to bring access to those, to someone who might be blind or low vision or other people who might not be looking at the screen right now.
Abby: And let me tell you guys, it’s super exciting for me because you know I’m into everything and I mean everything. So when I got to actually watch this movie and know what’s happening without having to interrupt my friends I’m like oh my gosh what’s happening now because there’s a visual scene gosh what you do is really brings it to life can you talk about how you make that happen?
Roy: Sure, so it’s a big process it’s not just me there’s audio description has been around for decades believe it or not and now it’s at the point where companies bring in a special writer who writes a special audio description script based on what’s happening on screen. And I don’t get involved in the writing, it’s a really specialized skill and those people bring the script to life by watching the movie or tv show and they sometimes get a shooting script. So there’s a lot of research that’s done even before it’s in my hands. People look it over and make sure it’s edited right, make sure the timing is right so that when I get the script that I know when to come in between lines of dialogue. There’s all sorts of really specific decisions that are made before it even gets to me. And then when I get it I read a script into a mic and sometimes I’m directed and told what to do as far as making sure I’m matching the emotional tone of the scene and then it’s edited and mixed and sent out to along with a movie or tv show.
Abby: That for you is like art to me and you know why? Because I have all these friends that can see and a friend of mine that used to be able to see and she can’t see now and she’s comparing what it was like to watch a movie before like when she could see because there’s so many takes to it. You had mentioned when we talked about this too like a picture is worth a thousand words which has so stuck with me and getting the right narration into that to bring a piece to life when there’s so much going on in those clips, has to be really, is it crazy hard to do?
Roy: Well, I bring a lot of my voiceover experience to audio description. So it is called audio description narration, but what I like to do, there’s a bunch of training that I’ve had for voiceover work. Whether it’s commercial work or doing video games or animation or even taking an improv class or an acting class that helps inform what I bring to audio description. So yeah, I’m a narrator but I’m playing the role of your friend that’s sitting next to you and making sure that I’m not getting in the way of the story. And what I try to do is make sure that I bring that emotional nuance to the scene so that I don’t get in the way but you can stay fully immersed in it. So, in that sense yeah, it is an art and a craft, [laughs] arts and crafts that you can go shopping at Michael’s for…
Roy: but it’s something that you can bring, that I love to bring to the script. For me it’s a little more than just reading the words.
Abby: What I wanted to know is when you are working with doing all of this like, you’ve talked about all of your background you’ve brought to this. When did you get so excited about audio description? What made you think ‘hey this is what I want to do?’
Roy: Oh, there’s like three levels to it. There were three phases, like when I first found out about it, I had an audition and I went in and I recorded a scene from a movie with an audio description script. And at the end of it, you know normally when I do an audition I’m like ‘oh I hope I book it.’ In this case, that feeling of ‘oh, I hope I book it’ was there but there was this extra element and it was this excitement of [dramatic voice] ‘I’ve never heard of this before, this is amazing!’ And it combines so many different elements of what I was doing in voiceover in such a beautiful way that, that passion; so like on the technical side was really high. And then maybe a few years ago I started connecting with our audiences on social media and learning what they want and how they would love to have audio description and it became this extra phase where it’s like ‘oh okay I can do this, and finding out how to bring the story to life in a way that the audiences want. And that’s been the most rewarding part. And now it sounds like being part of the overall conversation, there were over 4,100 audio description tracks available as of early May 2020, that’s…
Roy: so exciting! And it keeps on growing that these streaming services are opting into it outside of the FCC mandates, so they recognize the value.
Abby: You’re talking about people that are blind or vision impaired, are they involved in any of the work you do?
Roy: Yeah, especially now that, oh gosh, there’s so many different directions to go here. Our blind and low vision audiences have definitely been speaking up about what they want that the conversation has changed from ‘does it have it or not?’ which is such an important conversation, being able to make sure that audio description is as ubiquitous and everywhere as closed captioning, that is a huge element. The other thing that’s happening is the quality, the excellence of audio description that a lot of companies that provide audio description are going above and beyond to provide the best they can. And with that, it’s making sure that blind and low vision audiences and advisors and guides are involved in at least some part of the creation. There’s a company that is owned by a blind owner and he’s been very clear about making sure that he hires disabled actors to do the narration; blind, low vision or otherwise, and that kind of inclusion is starting to happen. The other companies are also making sure that their scripts have advisors so that, it’s a different experience it’s not a sighted person putting on a blindfold for an hour and a half and saying ‘oh that’s good.’ There’s something else that comes into it and this is something I think is really important is that for our audiences. You know, “nothing about us without us” is more than just checking a box or a token “gift” it’s an actual necessity to bring the quality of this work to the standard that our audiences deserve.
Abby: What do you learn from the blind community?
Roy: Great question and I’m going to do a little segue but to answer your question about teaching narration for audio description
Abby: Oh yes
Roy: So when I taught classes it’s mostly voiceover talents who are really excited to learn about it and learn the nuance and what sort of things to technically bring their performance to life for an audience. And that’s the perfect time to bring in a blind or low vision advisor. So they join us usually on like some sort of audio call where they’re listening in to the samples that the talents are giving and it’s such a beautiful two-way street. Beautiful in the sense that the voice talents are getting instant feedback about ‘oh you know that was a little too much, you were too into it’ or ‘that was a little too flat’ or ‘that really didn’t match the scene’ or ‘I was taken out of the…’ so that kind of feedback; the advisor is the director in that sense. So my role outside of giving some very general basics in the technical side is to facilitate the teaching of the talent, the voiceover talent being taught by our guide by our advisor. And it’s, the feedback that I’m getting from all sides has been this is what we want and it checks so many boxes for everyone.
Abby: I’ll tell you, my creator, Steph, you know like she’s so awesome right. What I love about her is like not only has she totally brought me to life which is super fun and we get to be this you know, expressive showing so much but she’s vision impaired which everyone knows and she’s so many things and she’s so open. She’s an African American woman, she’s over 55 and she encompasses all this creativity and she built Bold Blind Beauty and she’s bringing women of every type and men cause you know this year we’re doing Men In Motion. And the reason I bring this up is how do you see diversity in more than one way than just blindness in this field?
Roy: Sure, so I’m a sighted white narrator; that’s what I bring to the table and with that I’m learning alot more about diversity. There is a great event that happened I think in 2019 at the television academy where it was a panel on performers with disabilities and it was also the casting people making decisions to bring in people with disabilities, not exclusively for storylines about disability but about this is a person with a disability who’s playing a character who happens to have a disability. The story wasn’t about the disability it was framed in this panel one of the best panels on disability that I’ve seen so that is one aspect of diversity. I think another aspect of disability that we can even talk about in the world of audio description is that there are other narrators who are people of color, women of color, and all sorts of things. I think that in that world of representation if you’re a blind or low vision audience member you’re going to be listening to this voice for all the things that are happening and that makes a difference. Being able to hear representation of yourself in that voice of the narrator is super important. I can’t speak to much detail about that but I’m a big proponent of more diversity in this world because it is representation and it’s a representation that is happening. I don’t know specifically the percentage, it’d be fascinating to find that out but what I do know is that the more diversity the better and that nobody loses out on that. One of the things that I’m learning is it’s these little steps that do make a difference it’s not like this big 180-degree turn. It’s like even this conversation right now I’ve changed a little bit it’s like ‘oh yeah, okay that’s another way we can approach this’ or little tiny steps and as more people choose to make those steps it becomes like a really big wave in a way that helps everybody out. It not just helps, it makes it more diverse in such a beautiful way.
Abby: If people want to get in touch with you to learn more about what you’re doing, how can they do that?
Roy: There’s a few ways; I’m on social media so Twitter is @RoySamuelson. I’m also on Instagram @RoySamuelson and I do Alt text on both of those. On Facebook, I’m pretty active in the Audio Description Discussion Group which is a really lively and engaging kind of positive group of pretty close to 500 people that are both narrators, writers, and consumers, audience members. It’s a really great place to learn more about audio description and see the discussion and how it’s growing. There’s a lot of great things happening there and of course, there’s other places that I like to refer people to The Audio Description Narrators of America which is theadna.org, it’s like an IMBD list of audio description narrators based on contributions from our audiences when they hear someone. Those are the main places I like to refer people to.
Abby: I’m Abby with Bold Blind Beauty, it’s been awesome hanging out with you guys and Roy. And keep in touch and we’re going to keep you guys rocking with some more fun stuff and we’ll post the links that Roy also references so you can keep in touch if you have questions. Have a great one. Hey, make sure you have your stilettos on and your canes tapping.
Roy Samuelson Bio:
Roy Samuelson can be heard on the current season of Westworld as Dolores’ virtual assistant. In the world of Audio Description, he narrates Hulu’s The Great, CBS All-Access’ Star Trek: Picard, Sony’s Bloodshot, Universal’s 1917, and Spider-Man: Far From Home, among 600+ other blockbusters and series titles. He loves connecting TV, film, and streaming decision-makers with audiences who are blind or low vision.
Roy looks into the camera wearing a blue shirt.