Flipping the Script on Audio Description Part Two – Voice matters

Continuing with the question; When it comes to Audio Description, are we listening between the lines?

In this episode I’m joined by some extremely talented Voice Over Artists who are also lending their voice to some of your favorite Audio Description projects.

Allyson Johnson, Bill Larson, Inger Tudor and Tansy Alexander.

Each of our guests have more to say than what’s on the script

How important is voice? Not just the quality and tone, but what else is implied by what is heard? Is the voice indicative of an entire group of people. Can a woman’s voice fit a specific genre of film? Is there really a Black voice? Let’s flip the script and find out.

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Transcript

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— Music begins – pulsating bright funky beat!

TR:

Greetings! Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
The podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

Audio: The beat comes to a stop after a record scratch “Hold Up!” DJ Cool from “Let Me Clear My throat”

I need to jump in with an amendment to my opening in order to acknowledge that yes, I should have posted this episode last week. However, last Tuesday was Election Day in the U.S and I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do.

Maybe it was an over analysis on my part, but if anyone actually missed the episode, I apologize. I just wasn’t in that space.

then yesterday, Saturday November 7, my wife yelled down to me, they called it for Joe!

Music: “A Brand New Day” The Wiz

So we took some time to celebrate and for a moment at least feel hopeful!

— Breathes in deep and exhales

That really does feel good!

Now back to my original opening.

Bring that beat back!

— DJ Scratch and then the pulsating bright funky music resumes!

Today we continue Flipping the Script on Audio Description and focus a bit on voices.
You can say voice matters. Or Voice Matters! Voice, matters!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

#Intros

Inger:

My name is Inger Tudor. I am an African American woman , middle age, we’ll leave it at that. And I live in Los Angeles. I am a Voice Over Actor, I also do film, theater, television. I do some hosting, announcing and all that kind of fun stuff. Is there anything else you wanted me to tell you?

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

Did you say Audio Description?

Inger:

I didn’t because I was like oh that’s the assumed, but you’re right, I do Audio Description and audio books too.

— Music Begins – Upbeat Hip Hop beat

TR:

Earlier this year I had the chance to speak with several talented AD Narrators. I’ll tell you exactly where you heard them but go ahead and see if you recognize the voice or name.

Tansy:

Hi I’m Tansy Alexander. I’m a Caucasian woman. I’m five foot seven, I have Auburn hair. I’m very athletic and active. I do all variety from narration to audio books, to commercials, promos trailers, IVR phone systems. I’ve done pretty much it all.

Bill:

My name is Bill Larson I actually am a Voice Over artist. I do commercials, I do different types of announcing and so forth.
And I also do Audio Description.

Allyson:

My name is Allyson Johnson. I have been a professional Voice Artist for about 2 3 years. I’m about five foot five, a hundred and five to a hundred and seven pounds, I’m pretty thin. Now see here’s when I need an actual Audio Description writer because there so much better at this than I am. I read what they write and I think that is fantastic, but if I have to write it I’m like how do I describe my skin tone. Well, it’s kind of I would say, cafe ole. If you took coffee and you put a whole bunch of half and half in it, that’s my skin tone. I have people would say dark blonde, some people would say light brown ringlet curls. I wear glasses there like a brick red and black modeled polymer plastic frame. What else? Are there things that I’m leaving out?

[TR in conversation with Allyson:]

No, no you probably did more than most did. (Laughs) That’s why I left it vague, I just want to see what you do. Laughs.

Allyson:

Laughs… So that’s me!

TR:

Well, there’s way more to her than that! And we’ll get there, but first I know what you’re thinking. Thomas, that’s messed up, you didn’t ask Bill to describe himself.

He’s sort of off on his own.

Bill was one of the earlier interviews and the idea was not presented until after. However, stay tuned I’ll be sure to ask him more about himself during our conversation.

Each of our narrators share a few things in common. They’re all experienced Voice Over Artists who have either acting backgrounds, radio and even a bit of television. Of course, they each have great voices and know how to use them.

Inger Tudor used hers as a DJ at her college radio station. After graduating Harvard Law she put it to use as a litigator.

While working at a mid-size law firm in Boston, Inger was in conversation with another attorney who side gigged as a studio musician. She asked Inger an important question.

Inger:
What is it that you like about law?

I told her what I liked and why I wanted to be a lawyer. She said,
(– Music ends.)
you like acting in a courtroom, go act. You’re not married, you don’t have kids you don’t have a mortgage do it now, because you’re going to wake up and go okay, I want to do it and you’ve got all these things that keep you from doing something you can actually do. I thought about it and I prayed about it and I was like you know what, she is absolutely right!

TR:

She began taking classes and working in the field. This included voice acting. Boston happened to be a good market for her to get her start and SAG or Screen Actors Guild card. This gave her greater access to opportunities. Moving to New York city gave her even more. By the time she moved out to LA she was acting full time and no longer doing any law related work. Staying in touch with a playwright helped lead to her first AD opportunity.

Inger:

About five years ago he contacted me and said oh, I forgot that you do voice over. Would you come in and audition for me. I work in a department where we do descriptive narration for film and television.

TR:

And today!

Inger:

I do a lot of recording for the Media Access Group which is a subsidiary of WGBH the PBS station out of Boston.

TR:

Tansy’s introduction to VO felt more like that Hollywood story.

Tansy

I was out with my friend who did Voice Over, my friend Steve. We were at lunch at a restaurant and we were chatting about Voice Over and other things and a few minutes later a gentleman came over, a very distinguished gentleman, and said, do you do radio or voice over and I said well, not yet but my friend is trying to tell me to do it. He said well when you’re ready give me a call. He’s one of the partners in Abrams Rubleoff.

I never did sign with them but things did go from there because that was the impetus I needed to take it seriously and get things going.

TR:

And indeed things started going. Tansy intro to AD came after volunteering for a radio reading service in Los Angeles.

Tansy:

AIRS LA.

They would have us reading articles out of magazines and so forth then I decided since I am an actress as well to cover the entertainment portion which was really fun. I did that for a few years and then out of the blue this other opportunity came around not related, to continue to be of service to the Blind community through doing Audio Description.

TR:

Allyson’s first AD project came through her friend who owned a post-production company. He was approached by the producers of another film who were interested in including AD on their film and wondered who would be right to narrate. Why not an audio book narrator, he thought?

Allyson:

My first Audio Description was for the movie that he was working on which was the major motion picture Arrival. I left that session and I thought this is fantastic. I sort of went on my own journey and found Audio Description Training Retreats in North Carolina, Jan and Colleen who teach this wonderful program. That’s how I learned. It was within the year of me doing that film.

TR:

Bill’s introduction to AD?

Bill:

It was by accident. I used to work at Best Buy. We had this demonstration room where you could go in and experience what a home theater would sound like.

It wasn’t working right. We actually had a Blue Ray in there to demo for people but to get the normal audio that you would hear on a Blue Ray to play you had to cycle through at that time all of the other audio channels; French German, Chinese, the whole bit. The last track was Audio Description. When I heard somebody’s voice start to speak; (in his AD Narrator delivery)

“A plane flies over head” I listened to this and I said I need to do this. This is important.

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Do you remember what movie that was?

Bill:

Yes I do, Kong, Skull Island.

TR:

Bill grabbed some more DVD’s and researched more about AD. He learned of the American Council of the Blind AD Project and headed out to the conference that year.

Bill:

That conference was in St. Louis that year. I was lucky enough to meet people who do and produce Audio Description. Did a demo for them and the rest is history.

TR:

Voice Over and AD fall into the entertainment industry which definitely has a history.

Allyson:

When I started out in this business, when I was still doing demo tapes on cassette, the sort of common acceptance was you would do a demo tape without your photo on it for the most part. Certainly in commercial voice over world which is where I started. They didn’t necessarily want to know what you looked like and you as the voice talent didn’t want people to know what you looked like either because you wanted them to make a decision about whether or not to cast you based on your voice. If you already been cast in something you wanted the listener to be able to create their own image of who you were based on what you sounded like so it sort of wasn’t relevant what you looked like. In some ways it could be either distracting or could give someone the wrong idea because sighted people tend to make very quick judgements when they look at someone. And if you don’t look like what you sound like in the voice over world that’s a whole other kind of issue.

Bill:

I have worked with different casting people and they look at my picture and have their own preconceived notions of how I sound.
[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Could you describe yourself?

Bill:

Are you of age to know Al B Sure?

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Yeah!

Bill:

(Singing)

“I can tell you how I feel about you night and day!”

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Laughing… I’m keeping this!

Bill:

I know you are, that’s alright though.

(Singing in his Al B Sure impression)

“Oh, Girl!”

Al B Sure was the bane of my existence in high school. Oh my God you look like Al B Sure.

TR:

If you don’t know Al B Sure, well he’s an R&B singer from the 80’s. He was something of a heart throb who had lots of female fans.

In case you’re listening Al, don’t worry Bill isn’t planning on leaving his day job any time soon.

Bill:

I have worked very hard on my voice. First of all I come from Chicago. I had to work the Chicago out of my voice, but at the same time I wanted my voice to be universal. I didn’t want somebody looking at me and making an assumption about me and that actually speaks to what’s going on right now in the world. I don’t want them to say oh well he looks Black so he must sound Black so I’m only going to give him the voice work for Black actors. I know the business enough to know what sound somebody is looking for for something. I would never, never ever say to use me if my voice is not appropriate for something.

TR:

Bill recalled one particular time when he went out for a role that helped him come to an understanding.

Bill:

Because of how I looked they wanted me to sound more ethnic. They didn’t want me to be my natural self. Because my natural self sounds like this. I am a bi-racial Black man in this country. There is no denying that. So when you see me as they did, they saw a voice in their head that was counter to how I actually speak. the product I thought sounded like crap because I was trying to be something that I wasn’t based on the notion of what they wanted me to sound like. I wasn’t me I wasn’t my authentic self. But more than that, there are other actors out there especially actors of color, announcers of color who would have given them exactly what they were looking for. So I thought to myself I’m never going to do that again. When you’re in this business, you’re always looking for work , I just don’t ever want to take the work out of somebody’s hands who could deliver what somebody’s vision is.

TR:

The goal of a fair selection process is to remove pre-judgement and create a system based on merit. In Voice Over that means the best voice for the role wins. Yet that’s subjective from the start. Meanwhile we know there are many ways to pre-judge.

Inger:

Inger is Scandinavian and Tudor is Welsh. There usually not expecting someone African American. Depending on who I’m talking to and how I’m talking, they can’t necessarily tell what ethnicity I am over the phone. It can become a funny thing or sometimes a frustrating thing.

TR:

Although not specific to the sort of Voice Over acting she does today, Inger shared a story about a time when she interviewed for a telemarketing position. Let’s be honest, the best telemarketers are truly acting!

Inger:
The initial interview was over the phone because they need to see how you sound. I’m talking in my corporate voice and how I would talk if I was talking to someone for a survey or what have you. I show up for the first day of training. Actually it happened to be a fairly diverse group of people but they couldn’t figure out why I was there. I said Oh, I’m here for the job interview and they all look at me like well who are you? I said I’m Inger Tudor and then I literally see like five or six heads all turn to each other with this look like what, huh? And I went “Ya, ya, you expecting someone Swedish, ya!” (Said in accent) So they all started laughing, because they were!
My name can work for me or it can work against me. Knowing my ethnicity can work for me or against me.

TR:

If we really think about it, the impact goes beyond the individual.

Voice Over agents for example. Pre-judgements can limit opportunities not only for the clients, but also the agents as they receive percentage of the work they find.

Inger freelances with two separate agents.

Inger:

One of them only brings me in for Black Voice Overs. the other one will bring me in for things that are a lower register or someone that’s middle age or an authoritative voice. Things that fit the type of characters I would play. And they bring me in for the Black characters as well.

TR:
Casting a project is often more than just voice. A narrator familiar with the culture for example, can provide insight into a project that those outside may have never realized they were lacking.

Allyson:

I did the Audio Description for If Beale Street Could Talk. What a glorious film that was and the description was so beautiful. I think it was the description for something that Regina’s character was putting on or taking off. Something with her hair.

TR:

Here’s a culturally competent moment for you. Those in the know, heard that and paused. Those who don’t know, well, we’ll just get back to the conversation.

Allyson:

I don’t know what the word was that they used to describe it but I was like I don’t know what that word is but that is not what we would call it and I don’t think anyone who’s listening to this would understand what you mean when you say it.

— Music Begins – slow dark Hip Hop beat

[TR in conversation with Allyson:]

Now you said that’s not what we call it. Who was the we; women, Black women?

Allyson:

I think in that situation it was Black people.

TR:

Issues of race and identity aren’t new, right?

Allyson:

There were no phrases like bi-racial, nontraditional casting, ethnically ambiguous. We didn’t have ethnically ambiguous back then (laughs) I mean we did because I am it but we didn’t call it anything.

[TR in conversation with Allyson:]

(Laughing) Right!

TR:

A natural extension of voice acting especially for commercials is on screen acting. The casting process there often begins with the image. If you’re interested in auditioning for a specific role, well your look will need to match the casting director’s or any other decision maker’s perception of that role.

Allyson

Whatever the category was they thought I might fit in, I probably wouldn’t fit.

Voice Over made more sense to me because nobody was necessarily thinking about it.

TR:

Necessarily!

Allyson:

They would use phrases in the specs like we’re looking for an urban – urban was always buzz word. It’s like ok, so you want Black.

In terms of Audio Description, I have been hired to do Audio Description for shows that are primarily dealing with Black topics or set in a place where the majority of characters on the screen are all Black. And I know that I’m being hired because they want a person of color to do the Audio Description. So in that sense it does play a factor that I happen to be a Black Audio Describer. It’s more of them just wanting to be sensitive to the content and to the material. You and I both know everybody needs a little bit more representation.

##Tansy:

And if I may broach this subject, I do think that we need to see more inclusiveness on the narrator side.

I get plenty of work, but I still think there’s a gender bias in the industry for males to succeed.

It’s the same it’s been for the whole spectrum of Voice Over since I started over twenty years ago, the belief that a male will sell it better. For whatever reason; the voice will cut through or people listen more to a man than a woman. These are stereotypes that probably aren’t true at all. These decisions to use a man or a woman are extraordinarily subjective.

TR:

Narrating for over ten years, Tansy had the opportunity to help in the early stages of multiple AD production companies.

Tansy:

I used to do a lot of action, landing on the moon, war movies, I’ve done a few last year. I can do a romantic comedy, I can do a children’s thing, I can get in there and get gritty. But all of a sudden they decide oh well for all the Marvel we need to have men.

TR:

Tansy noted some growth in opportunities expansion with the advent of female lead characters.

Bias we know goes beyond race and gender.

Bill:

I am double the man I used to be. (Laughs) So there was a time when I lost a tremendous amount of weight. But I don’t look like that anymore. When you’re in the professional acting and voice over field it’s best if you don’t misrepresent yourself. Now a days they call it Catfishing. If you’re cast for something based on an old picture and when you get to set and they realize you are double the size or your size card is out of date or your voice changes, then they’re probably going to dismiss you and not hire you again. I know how I sound. I want people to hire me. (Pause) And I love the look on their faces when I walk in the studio too. (Laughing )

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Laughing

TR:

Representation really is serious business.

Have you ever really considered who you expect to hear narrating action movies or thrillers versus dramas or romance films? What about those films based in or on communities of color?

. For closing arguments I’ll call the litigator.

Inger:

Yes, we should be voicing the characters of color, but don’t Ghetto-ize us and make that the only things you give us to do. Cast me also because of the quality of my voice. If you’re looking for something that has a particular quality and ethnicity is not important to what the character is then I should be considered as well as a white actress. You shouldn’t just assume that it has to be someone white if that’s not important to the story.

TR:

I know some people hear this and say, why should it matter? Shouldn’t anyone with a suitable clear voice just be able to voice characters or narrate films no matter their race, ethnicity, gender etc.?

Inger:

Hold on a minute. Four hundred years, we haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of stuff, take a seat for a moment because I guarantee you your seat for a moment will not end up being four hundred years. Then when we get to the place where everybody can do everything that’s fine, but we’re not there yet and we need to catch up so give us a minute, ok?

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

There it is!

— Music ends with a base drop that pulsates and slowly fades out.

TR:

Did you recognize anyone? Here’s some of the projects our narrators voiced.

Allyson:

Arrival was my first. It sort of made me realize what I now know I like about description. The guys who wrote that script were not “Description Writers,” but they were the sound guys. They knew that movie backwards and forwards. They’d seen it over thirty times so they knew what was important to put in the copy. I only know that now looking back.

Audio: Allyson narrating Queen Sono

TR:

Allyson also narrated If beale Street Could Talk and can be heard on Queen Sono on Netflix.

Just this past spring, ESPN premiered The Last Dance. A documentary about The reign of the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s. I’m not really a sports fan, but I do love a good sports documentary. Unfortunately, it did not include AD. That is until it was released on Netflix this summer.

Audio: Bill narrating The Last Dance

Bill:

being from Chicago, growing up in that time knowing that the Bulls were that championship team and we had two three peats. That was amazing to me.

TR:

It just so happens, Bill has a connection to sports.

Bill:

If you happen to attend a Philadelphia Eagles football game, I’m one of the in stadium announcers there.

I’m not announcing the game, that’s actually the guy next to me. We’re not on radio, we are in stadium only. Whenever the teams go to a TV timeout, that’s when I speak because people in the stadium hear commercials or see promotions and I announce those.

TR:

In addition to The Last Dance on Netflix you can hear Bill on Money Heist and Project Power.

Audio: Inger narrating Hanna on Amazon Prime

If you’re familiar with The Neighborhood, Amazon’s Jack Ryan, Proud Mary or Once Upon A time in Hollywood then you probably heard Inger as she narrated these projects.

Audio: Tansy narrating See on Apple TV

Did you recognize Tansy’s voice?

As I mentioned to her, technically this is her second time on the podcast as her voice opened my episode with Joe Strechay and his involvement with Apple TV’s See.

Tansy:

Oh my God, well thank you, thank you very much. (Laughs)

Well, that’s interesting, ok, so now I have a question for you. If you watched See did you not know that was me by listening to me talk right now.

TR:

Ok, well, I didn’t. To be fair, yes, I could have had her full bio for the interview, but the interview wasn’t about specific projects. Tansy Alexander has voiced hundreds of projects over the years including Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things and she’s even doing live narration for the WWE. or World Wrestling Entertainment.

When I asked her if any stand out she struggled a bit but mentioned one

Tansy:

Switched at birth series.

We are doing a show with Audio Description but we’ve got a daughter in the show who can’t hear so we got sign language going on. We also have to describe any sub titles. It’s all fascinating how it works together. One of the episodes was completely done in sign language, so there was no talking what so ever in this whole episode so we had to bring in other people to do some of the reading of their sub titles because I couldn’t do them all it was just too many. It would sound stupid nobody would know what’s going on.

TR:
Having people know what’s going on is important to Tansy.

Tansy:

A person who is not able to see what’s going on is left out of the discussion. You can access the show but you can’t access the whole content. It’s not fair. I’m about equity.

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

Why AD? Why do you enjoy Audio Description? And I’m assuming you enjoy Audio Description.

Inger:

Oh, I do actually!

It’s a number of things.

One, I’ve always liked reading aloud. It was actually how I got into acting was in grade school, when we had to read aloud in class I would get so into doing it and giving the different characters different voices that they started sticking me in plays.

When you have the opportunity to see how it effects people like when you actually have an audience or if you’re reading to a group of people, you can gauge how your words are affecting them. If you change the tone, change the pitch, if you change the pace. What that does to how they’re receiving it, how they’re taking it in how they’re being emotionally effected by what you say.

TR:

yet, there’s little immediate feedback in Audio Description.

Inger:

I like the aspect of knowing everything I’m doing in terms of entertainment or acting just being about being on stage. There is some part of it that you want to be service, you want what you’re doing to help somebody in some way. Whether you’re helping them to see something different about themselves or about how they view the world or particular groups of people or what have you. One of the things I appreciate about the descriptive narration is you feel like you’re at least doing something that you know directly helps a particular group of people have access to something that they might not otherwise have access to. To being able to more fully enjoy a television show or a film because you’re describing the action that’s going on. So it’s one of those areas where you can feel like you’re entertainment and service are merging.

Bill:

I take this very seriously and I want you as a consumer of Audio Description to know that. Audio Description is a responsibility. Someone is watching this movie or this TV show. If you don’t take that craft, if you don’t take what you do seriously enough then the person who’s listening to it is not going to have a good experience and they’re marginalized even more. Just because it’s provided doesn’t mean it’s very good. And I always strive for it to be good.

— Music begins – A driving upbeat Hip Hop beat

TR:

Ladies & gentlemen, join me in saluting:
Allyson Johnson;

Allyson:

My social media handle is the same on everything @AllysonsVoice And that’s AllysonsVoice (spelled out)

TR:

Mr. Bill Larson

Bill:

On Insta Gram @BillIvoryLarson. Hit me up! let’s have a conversation.

TR:

Tansy Alexander

Tansy:

There’s links on my website TansyAlexander.com. TansyAlexander (spelled out)

And last but definitely not least, Inger Tudor. By the way, during the pandemic Inger began a cool project during the pandemic. The name really does capture the mission.

Inger:

“A Poem A Day Art and Love in the Time of Corona”

TR:

She continues to bring you exactly that. Every day a new poem read aloud. You can find it on her social media, Facebook, twitter and Insta Gram all @IngerTudor.

Inger:

IngerTudor (Spelled out)

TR:

Occasionally she’s even dropping some of her own original work.

Inger:

If you do check it out feel free to leave a comment about a poem or a poet or a topic you would like me to do a poem on.

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

Oh, you’re taking requests? (Laughs)

Inger:

I take requests!

TR:

As do I! Ahem!

— Music ends.

Four Voice Over Artists
Become Narrators for what we know as AD
they get interviewed for a podcast
And now become Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Audio: Air Horns

Audio: “It’s official!”

TR:

I salute you all!

— Music begins – A driving upbeat Hip Hop beat

TR:

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And , you know I told you this before and I’m going to tell you every single time… ReidMyMind.com is R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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