Blind Centered Audio Description Chat: – Becoming Critical Part Two

In this part two episode we present the second half of a two part conversation from April 5, 2023.
We speak with John Stark, a Blind film critic who reviews films both with and without AD, in order to highlight the need for audio description.
And now, let’s jump into this latest Blind Centered Audio Description Chat!

Join Us Live

The BCAD Live Chats can take place on a variety of platforms including Twitter and Linked In.

To stay up to date with the latest information and join us live follow:
* Nefertiti Matos Olivares
* Cheryl Green
* Thomas Reid

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Transcript – Created By Cheryl Green

Show the transcript

Music begins
THOMAS: Welcome to the Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats. These are the edited recordings of the Blind-Centered Audio Description Live Chats!
CHERYL: The live is the most fun part! We get together, we start with a question, and then we invite up anybody from the audience who wants to come and chat with us, agree, disagree, shed light on something that we hadn’t thought about before, which is Nefertiti’s favorite. [electric whoosh]
NEFERTITI: I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and I’m a bilingual professional voiceover artist who specializes in audio description narration! I’m also a fervent cultural access advocate and a community organizer.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Green, an access artist, audio describer and captioner.
THOMAS: And I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer Reid My Mind Radio, voice artist, audio description narrator, consultant, and advocate.
Hey, Nef, why don’t you tell people how they could join the live recording?
NEFERTITI: That’s really simple. Just follow us on social media to keep up with important details, such as dates, times, and what platform will be using. On Twitter, I’m @NefMatOli. Cheryl?
CHERYL: I’m @WhoAmIToStopIt.
THOMAS: I’m @TSRied, you know, R to the E I D.

EDITORS Note:
THOMAS: The following is the second half of a two part conversation from April 5, 2023.
We’re calling it, Becoming Critical. In part two, we speak with John Stark, a Blind film critic who reviews films both with and without AD, in order to highlight the need for audio description.
And now, let’s jump into this latest Blind Centered Audio Description Chat!

[smartphone selection beeps]
CHERYL: Recording now!

THOMAS: Tell me about your first experience with movies in general, not audio description, movies in general.
JOHN: I mean, I’ve been watching movies my entire life. I’ve always loved movies in sort of like an obsessive way. I remember as a little kid, I actually used to cut, back in the day when they used to put the ads in the papers and they had little posters of the movies, I used to actually cut those out. I was like five or six, and I collected them. [laughing] So, just like obsessed with movies! But I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to watch movies. I think Jurassic Park was kind of maybe the big turning point for me. I’ve never really wanted to make movies. I started reviewing as a critic. I used to live in a small town, and our small-town newspaper didn’t have a critic, so I actually convinced them to let me write for them in middle school. So, that was kind of cool. I got to write for a couple years until they ended up picking up a movie critic out of syndication and decided they didn’t want a, you know, 13-year-old writing reviews for them anymore. I guess they didn’t like the fact that I gave Power Rangers four stars.
But yeah, I used to be able to see, so I enjoyed a lot of films that way. And I eventually grew and started doing stuff online. And I’ve tried to bounce around on sites, trying to review wherever I can, eventually getting, you know, getting it all together to have my own site and post my own reviews and then my own YouTube channel. But I do have a degree in Cinema Studies; it’s what I went to school for. And then around 2017, I found out that I was losing my vision, and it went pretty fast. So, I kinda stopped for a little while ‘cause nobody told me right away about an audio description! And as soon as I found out about it, I dove like head first. And I was like, “Oh, what is this amazing thing?!”
THOMAS: How did you find out about it? How did you find out about AD?
JOHN: To be totally honest, when I went blind, when I started joining all these Facebook groups, at first, nobody was talking about it. I would try to talk about movies and television shows, like, “Hey, what do you guys watch?” And pretty much everybody was watching reruns, you know, of stuff that they were familiar with. But eventually one day, I don’t know, somebody just mentioned audio description. They were like, “Hey, do you know about this?” And I was like, “What?! Tell me how do I turn this on? Where is this amazing feature?!”
THOMAS: [chuckles]
JOHN: And I really, I mean, I knew it existed ‘cause I had worked in movie theaters, but I didn’t know that it existed in the, at least in the proliferation and like, how to turn it on and that it was on all these apps, and I could have it on my phone, and I could have it on my Roku. I just, I just didn’t know. And as soon as I did, I haven’t stopped.
THOMAS: So, what was your—
JOHN: I felt like I had to catch up on everything.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: So, I feel like I’ve just been watching non-stop.
THOMAS: Do you remember your first experience with AD?
JOHN: Oh. I don’t. I wanna say it might’ve been when, like, a new season of Stranger Things was coming out.
THOMAS: Oh, really?
JOHN: Probably like, around when Season Three of Stranger Things, I think, hit.
THOMAS: Ah!
JOHN: ‘Cause I think I went back ‘cause I didn’t get a chance to watch Season Two. And I remember I had to watch Season Two before Season Three. That’s about the time that I remember hearing about it.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: Yeah, and that’s probably the best memory I have because Stranger Things is such a visual show that I was so happy to have that audio description and feel like I, you know, I knew this world, and I knew the crazy special effects and everything that were going on, and it was great. And, yeah, I just, I would get disappointed after that every time a film didn’t have audio description. And when new things came out, and I couldn’t understand them, I was like, “Why? How do I tell somebody that this is unacceptable? You know, why doesn’t this film have audio description?” So, I joined the community, this audio description community, and just started listening, paying attention and calling and arguing with streaming services to try to get audio description on titles and fighting with them. And I just wanted to sort of help those out there who don’t know about audio description to try to help other blind people find titles that work for them, to talk about titles that don’t have audio description. And is it sort of watchable if you have to watch it? Is it not watchable? Like, what level of it is it, and why is it that way? Why can’t we follow this?
THOMAS: With the audio description specifically, how long did it take you to sort of get your own determination of what is good audio description and what is bad audio description?
JOHN: A lot of different things for a lot of different companies. And ‘cause everybody kinda does things differently.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: And for me watching, you have to watch every genre, too, because it’s different for genres. I think there’s, there are different expectations with everything. I notice with a lot of TV sitcoms that really just kind of nobody stops talking, the audio description is very light. Whereas there are other programs where almost nobody’s talking, so the audio description narration fills in a lot. I mean, you get everything. You get costumes, you get hair, you get people’s facial reactions because there’s nothing there to, you know, to talk over, to accidentally. I understand you don’t trample the dialogue. It’s comparing them. It’s seeing who does it differently. It’s hearing conversations.
I remember when I started reviewing, I went pretty hard on how I felt about Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers and that audio description because I thought it was pointless. It didn’t do what it was supposed to do, which is bridge the gap for blind and visually impaired users because it didn’t include basically every single cameo that they had in the film. There’s YouTube videos going over like 300+ cameos in that film of other animated characters. And it was like the audio description went out of its way, even on characters where it did reference, it described what they looked like instead of saying what characters they were. So, you had to guess based on the description. And meanwhile, if I was able to see, I would’ve instantly recognized all these characters as all the sighted people did! So, come to find out that was actually Disney requested that. So, I don’t understand why Disney requested that. I don’t know why they wanted us to have half the experience, but that was definitely a moment for me where I was learning from the community as I was reviewing.
THOMAS: Mm.
JOHN: And I try to pay attention. I try to come to meetings like this and learn as much as I can so that that way, I know what it is I’m criticizing, like, what the parameters are, what’s possible for audio description, and so that I’m not demanding something that is impossible or cannot be done. And I think I’m doing that? But I don’t really know.
THOMAS: It takes a while for folks to get used to listening to films with audio description and get their own bearings on what is good and what is bad. Take us through your process in critiquing a film. How do you do that with the AD? ‘Cause you do with and without AD, is that correct?
JOHN: Yeah, I do with and without. ‘Cause I tried to call out a film. I actually had that really interesting experience where I worked with a producer—we can talk about that later—of an Oscar-nominated short where her film didn’t have AD, and she saw my review. And then we ended up getting the film AD.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: So, that was a cool experience for me. But in general, first of all, the question is, can I understand it?
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: Did the audio description, was I lost? Could I not follow the film? Most of the time, the answer to that question is yes. Most of the time I am able to follow. It gets a little bit trickier the more you get into like, action, sci-fi, and horror, because there’s a lot of things happening. And I think especially with horror films I’ve seen, that’s probably where the audio description gets the most tricky because I’ve seen audio description that leans away from horror and gore and doesn’t describe it. Which sort of defeats the purpose of the genre.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
JOHN: But then again, I go back to the thing about contracts, and I don’t know whether or not the studio is saying, “Please don’t describe this.” So, and sometimes things are described sort of generically, and you don’t really get the scare of the scene. It’s really hard to be scared anyway. I mean, I used to be kind of a baby about horror movies. Now I find myself watching anything because it’s like, well, if I don’t, if I can’t see it, good luck scaring me. And so far, that’s proven to be largely true. I can be grossed out a little bit, definitely. But jump scares and everything have a completely [laughing] different effect when you can’t see the thing that’s lunging out at you on screen, and it’s just like sound or something. Just, I don’t know, for some reason it’s not as scary. But yeah, it’s stuff like that. Is it effective for the genre? Did I understand? Did a character die, and they forgot to tell me about it? [laughing] You know, did I miss something?
THOMAS: Hmm.
JOHN: Was somebody referred to as the wrong thing? When I get to review a film that I did see visually, and then now I’m watching it again as a blind person, that’s when it gets really interesting. ‘Cause then I’m like, okay, I actually got to see this, and now I’m blind. What’s my experience like now?
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: Those are interesting comparisons for me because I do know what I’m missing. With audio description, I have to guess what I’m missing. And sometimes I don’t even know. Like recently with Tetris, there’s a scene that’s like an 8-bit car chase scene that just is kind of described as a regular car chase scene. But when I heard another critic describe it, it sounds like I totally did not get that scene described to me the way that at least they’re describing it in their review. So, that happens a lot. I don’t actually know what I’m missing, so it’s hard sometimes to grade it. And then I come back around. I’m like, I, you know, I don’t know. Did I miss something that I didn’t know that I missed?! So, it’s very tricky. And I hope to continue to get better at it and continue to pick up and just further the audio description discussion, so.
THOMAS: So, how do you do that on a film that doesn’t have AD?
JOHN: By pointing out why the film doesn’t work and why it’s unintelligible and why someone would need audio description. Sometimes it’s led to somebody pointing out to me that there is audio description available. It’s just nobody’s using it.
THOMAS: Mm.
JOHN: I know William Michael Redman reached out to me because I reviewed Crimes of the Future, which I rented when iTunes had it 99 cents on sale. And then later on, Hulu had, it still didn’t have audio description! So, I saw two different versions of it. And he’s like, “I recorded audio description for this. I don’t know why nobody’s using it!”
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: But it’s a body horror film, and there’s almost no, there’s almost no dialogue in it. So, it’s pointless, and it’s impossible to watch. It’s a waste of time for blind people. But I did sit through the whole thing to let people know, like, “Yeah, I sat through this, and this is what you’re gonna get. You’re gonna get about three scenes of dialogue and just kind of some sound effects.” Skinamarink was an experience. I mean, that film by law should be required [laughs] to have audio— It’s impossible. It has almost no spoken words in the entire film. It’s all just sounds. So, it’s a very weird experience, and there’s no score. [laughing] It’s a very weird experience.
THOMAS: Oh, my gosh.
JOHN: And so, a lotta times I stopped. At first, I was using, I was using the lack of audio description in my grading, which I didn’t feel like actually represented the film. So, I just started grading those films as being unwatchable.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: Like, it doesn’t get a letter grade anymore. It just, I just say it’s unwatchable, and I move on.
THOMAS: Oh, I think that’s an F. That’s should be an F. [laughs]
JOHN: I mean, basically it equates to an F. But I also am acknowledging that this might be the best film ever made.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: I just have no idea because this film is not accessible to me.
THOMAS: Wow. And so, talk about describe watching a film like that with no AD. I’m like, “Dude, what are you doing?! [laughs] Why are you, why are you, why are you doing that to yourself? Why are you?” You know. So, why? Why are you doing that to yourself?
JOHN: To show people. I actually, on my YouTube channel, I filmed myself watching RRR, which Netflix had decided to offer only with English dubbing and no audio description.
THOMAS: Hmm.
JOHN: And so, I basically filmed myself watching it and then uploaded it, just talking about like, can I understand anything what’s going on? And I would talk about, like, as things are happening, I’m like, “This is what I think is happening. I’ve got no idea because there’s no audio description here. Oh, this song sounds really cool. I don’t know what they’re doing on screen, but…” you know, stuff like that. If somebody’s not doing it and pointing it out, then everybody will think that everything’s okay, that we’re just okay, that because nobody’s complaining, nobody’s saying anything. You know, these streaming services, they hire customer service agents to just kind of placate us and move along. I mean, I’ve complained to Paramount+ about some things. I complained about Showtime audio description on their service when it launched, and it still doesn’t have audio description for known, for titles that have audio description. And it’s owned by the same parent company.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: So, I’m trying to bring attention and focus in whatever way I possibly can. And if it’s me suffering through things to be able to point out like, “Yes, I tried it your way. Your way doesn’t work, you know. You have to do it this way. You have to get the audio description because I’m paying the same amount as everybody else for all my subscriptions. But I’m actually, like, a bunch of these titles are not accessible to me. They’re completely unintelligible without audio description.” So, I’m fighting complacency within the streaming service, so I will watch anything if I think it might stir the pot. But like I said, I don’t know. I don’t have a huge following. Everything nowadays is based on your social just footprint. And if I had a million followers, I feel like there would be audio description on Showtime! Because there would be a series of videos of me calling out Paramount+ until they actually did it, so.
THOMAS: Are you on Twitter?
JOHN: I am on Twitter. I’m MacTheMovieGuy, yeah. I don’t use Twitter as much as I do YouTube, but I have the ability to tweet. It’s, I feel like people are leaving Twitter, so I don’t really know what to do [laughing] with Twitter!
THOMAS: No, but the reason I ask about Twitter is because I think, like, I’ve personally had some really good experiences with HBO, Amazon, I think Paramount also, when you get at them, right there on Twitter, right in public. Because you could just @ them. You could, if I were you, I would be @-ing them every single video, you know. But even when you just have your customer request stuff, like, put it out there in the open for the world to see. It doesn’t mean that the world is going to see that, but it means that the world can see that.
JOHN: Oh, I’ve done that a couple of times.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: I just don’t do it all the time. Because I, again, I don’t know how effective Twitter is anymore, and I was just worried. I just don’t know if anybody is—
THOMAS: Yeah, I don’t know either. But I would still put it out there.
JOHN: —listening on Twitter anymore.
THOMAS: I would still put it out there.
JOHN: Yeah, I will.
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. Especially all your videos because, What’s interesting is that there are people doing the same work, right, but doing it differently, whether that be, you know, making those phone calls, whether that be advocating the governmental environment, you know, the whole CVAA, all of that type of thing. But to show your experience is pretty good. People write about their experiences, all of that. But yeah, that’s an interesting, it’s another level, and that’s fantastic. I like that.
How do you choose the movies that you decide to film yourself watching?
JOHN: Every once in a while, it’s just totally random, but I usually try to review new titles. I need to allow myself the grace to not review literally every new title because I, last year I reviewed, I reviewed 295 titles that were released in 2022.
THOMAS: Huh.
JOHN: And there were some titles I wasn’t even interested in, and they were poorly made, and there were these like, crappy things that are thrown together that had audio description, you know. [laughs] And so, I reviewed them. I was like, “Oh, well, you put audio description on this film with nobody in the cast I’ve ever heard of. I’ll watch your random freebie rom-com. Sure!”
THOMAS: [chuckles]
JOHN: So, and a lot of them ended up being predictably bad. So, I’m trying not to review these films that I don’t think anybody cares about.
THOMAS: Hmm.
JOHN: But yeah, I wanna review things as soon as they at least hit streaming and they’re accessible to everybody. I could go to theaters. As somebody who worked for four major movie theater chains when I could see, I know that they do not train those managers very well in actually figuring out how to fix AD. And the whole thing about paying for the Uber to go out there to find out the audio description doesn’t work. I just know too many times when I was working in movie theaters, our audio description wasn’t working, and I never knew any of the projectionists who knew anything to do other than turn it off and turn it back on, unplug it and plug back it in!
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: So, it’s gotta be incredibly frustrating. I had no idea how frustrating it was until I’m now on the other side of it. But nobody ever trained us. So, I see people all the time posting how frustrating it is to go to theaters. And it’s like, I can’t. I just don’t have that kind of time and money in my life to spend that money to Uber out to a theater to find out that the movie doesn’t even have audio description, so I can’t even review it.
THOMAS: Again, that’s an example of, you know, yeah, choose your fight, right? Because that literally, I know for me, it took about three years for this one theater that my wife and I would constantly go to, to actually start to get it right. It took about three years. Now, we were always comped, [laughs] you know? But still, it took about three years. So, it’s, yeah, it’s crazy. Tell me about—
JOHN: You always get passes, yeah.
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We had lots of passes.
JOHN: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: And may I just say, passes are great except that when you came back, I’m sure it still wasn’t fixed. So, what good, really, are those passes?
JOHN: Well, the theater’s not giving you passes for the Uber either.
NEFERTITI: Right. Right.
JOHN: So, if you’re having transportation issues, it doesn’t compensate you for that.
NEFERTITI: Or gas money, you know?
JOHN: Exactly. Whatever it is.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. I’ve never been a fan of like, “Oh, we got comp tickets!” What good are they, really, ultimately?
THOMAS: Well, it could be good. It could be good. For me, it was good. [chuckles] Family of four? Yeah, I was able to go with just my wife. We’ll get a, they’ll end up giving us four passes, and then we go to watch something with the kids, you know. But it was, it was also, part of that was—and I’m not saying this works for everybody—but it’s just like again, you choose your battles, but that takes them seeing you there in a relationship because we started to talk to the manager. And again, this is just one of those things where once they know you, once it’s not a, “Oh, there goes that, here comes somebody,” you know. But now they know you. You know what I mean? They start to make a change. I’m not saying that everybody needs to do that, but that is one way is to go. When you go in there, ask for a manager, introduce yourself to that person. Because they’re probably gonna be there the next time. And so, that’s who you should be talking to. You bypass the little, you know, the college, the high school kid who’s working behind the counter. Bypass that guy. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: You build the relationship. And that is something that I am a fan of.
THOMAS: Yes. Yes.
NEFERTITI: I do like relationship building, and like, look, put this, put this human being who this lack of access is affecting, like, this is a real-world example. This isn’t some abstract thing. So, I definitely like that part. Yeah.
THOMAS: I wanna hear about, John, your experience where calling out a film ended up doing something happened there. Tell us about that.
JOHN: Yeah. I reviewed, ‘cause definitely, when I’m saying I review things that I think people are interested in, I review, I try to review as many Oscar nominees as possible, and that included the shorts when they were available on streaming. So, when My Year of Dicks was available on Hulu, I reviewed it. It did not have audio description, predictably, because Hulu doesn’t, [chuckles] you know, Hulu be Hulu. And so, I had to do my review based on how I was able to understand it based on the lack of accessibility. And it wasn’t great. It wasn’t completely unintelligible ‘cause it has dialogue, but there was a lot in there that just didn’t make sense and didn’t come together.
And I actually had the writer of the film reach out to me on Instagram, and she immediately tried to fix it for me. They hadn’t even, they didn’t even really think about audio description or know what it was. And suddenly, I had educated them. And she actually sat down at her computer and tried to do what I would call homegrown audio description, just at a laptop, which kind of sounded a little bit like director’s commentary, [laughs] almost.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: But because she didn’t know the ins and outs of audio description. So, it was essentially what she gave me, which wasn’t even complete, it was just like the first 10 minutes of the thing, talked over dialogue. And so, I explained to her, I was like, “This isn’t really audio description. This is why. Plus, I can’t really use this because no one else can use this. This is just in a Dropbox you sent to me. So, it’s not, I mean, I appreciate it. You’re going out of your way to do this, but it’s not like I could rereview the film based on [laughs] homegrown audio description you put in a Dropbox.”
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: And so, she was really interested in trying to fix the problem permanently. And I was posting about this at the same time in that Facebook audio description group. And I had a producer on there that reached out to me and said, “Hey, can you connect me with the person that you’ve been talking to from My Year of Dicks? We would like to provide the audio description for that film free of charge.” Which I’m assuming they were doing so because they were a company I hadn’t really heard of, and they figured, hey, it’s an Oscar-nominated short. Maybe more people will know who we are, and it’s great publicity for us, so—
THOMAS: Can you name the company? What company was it?
JOHN: Oh! Off the top of my head? No, I can’t.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: And I would have to go look up the producer’s name because I did not remember. I haven’t talked to her since she provided audio description.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: But it’s on Vimeo, and it was uploaded onto Vimeo. There’s a, it’s, you didn’t have to turn the audio description on. It’s just a static, it’s like open audio description is what they ended up creating and uploading for the film. And they managed to get that out a little bit before the Oscars. They sent it to me. I shared it with the group. I’ve tried to share it out with other people, and I did do a second-look YouTube review of the film with audio description where I did give it a higher grade the second time around because it had audio description. I predictably was missing some things that the audio description made more clear for me. So, it was, yeah, all in all, it was, it was great. And it was nice to hear something from a content creator that said, “Hey, we should, we need to fix this. You know, how do we fix this? How do we make our title accessible?”
For something as small as an Oscar-nominated short, because honestly, I mean, I know film and shorts do not, they have a half-life of about five seconds. Once the Oscars are passed, nobody looks these things up again. Nobody’s gonna go back and try to find the Oscar-nominated short from 2004 that didn’t win the Oscar. They’re used, often, for those directors to get feature gigs, to get hired by bigger companies, generally, is where those directors come from. I don’t know that anybody is, in a couple years, is even gonna look up My Year of Dicks, but hopefully, until there’s another Oscars and it gets moved out of the limelight, people will go over to Vimeo and watch the audio description track, so.
THOMAS: But do you think something came of that interaction with the writer? ‘Cause you said it was the writer. It wasn’t the director. It was the writer of the film, right? Correct?
JOHN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: I think it’s somebody who now is aware.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: And I think she made her team aware.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: I don’t think, I don’t think this was a conversation that she had, like, just by herself, you know, without anybody else. I think she likely contacted, I don’t know, like, the producer, director, whatever of the team and said, “Hey, I wanna, I wanna do this. I wanna get audio description on our film. Can we allow this to happen?” ‘Cause somebody had to okay it being uploaded to Vimeo, so it wasn’t, you know, there wasn’t a copyright claim. So, yeah, I think a couple more people are aware. And if more people can be aware, you know, I mean, that’s what I did with just, I have 118 subscribers on YouTube, and I did that. So, if I have, you know, 118,000 someday, I don’t know who’s gonna see my YouTube video and who I’ll be able to reach. So, start small, and I’m just gonna keep doing this until I make effective change, so.
THOMAS: Why is this so important to you?
JOHN: Because film is. Because it’s what it—
THOMAS: Why?
JOHN: Because it’s, it’s everything that I do. I mean, I have, I…. I have, [chuckles], I’ve, everything I’ve done has been around movies. I’ve reviewed movies online on various websites. Even when I was a kid, I reviewed movies for a newspaper. I have been watching movies. I had a huge, massive VHS collection. I even did like the illegal thing where I dubbed movies that I rented so that I could try to increase my VHS collection back in the day. I have a massive DVD collection. I used to even play some of the games. There’s a whole bunch of games for people who love movies. There’s like Hollywood Stock Exchange existed for a long time. I used to play a game called Hollywood The Game where you kind of wrote a screenplay and produced like a fake version of your movie and released it into the box office to see how it did, stuff like that. Box office challenges, the stuff to predict box office. I’ve talked to people who run other websites or their movie websites. I worked for Movie Gallery while they still existed, and people still rented movies, actually, in a store. I was a store manager for them in addition to the fact that I worked for four different movie theater chains where I was also a theater manager, so. Then I went to film school!
THOMAS: So, John, let me ask you—
JOHN: I haven’t done anything else!
THOMAS: So, let me ask you the question a little differently then. Why should anybody else care?
JOHN: What do you mean by anybody else? Like, anybody but me?
THOMAS: Anybody. Yeah, I mean, you telling me why—
JOHN: It’s like anybody care about me or anybody care about film or audio description? Anybody else care about film?
THOMAS: Why should anybody else care about audio description? You’re telling me, because of you and your background—and I respect that. I get that—but, you know, a lot of people would be like, “Okay, that’s you. That’s your problem.”
JOHN: The weird thing is that I think a lot of people don’t know about it. I’ve had personal interactions with people where since then, I’ve told them about audio description and turned it on, and it’s like their mind is blown. Actually, I work in a school, and I had a student that came in who was also visually impaired. And I was like, “Dude, do you watch movies with audio description?” He was like, “No, what is that?” And I explained it to him. And I had him, I turned it on, on one of my apps that I just had. Like, I pulled up Netflix, just pulled up a movie and just played it. And he was like, “Wow, that’s really cool that you can actually follow the action.” It was like an action thing that I pulled up to get the most effect out of the audio description.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: Yeah, you can actually hear it. And I think if people realize what it is that they’re getting, that they’ll use it to watch those films that they consider unwatchable and the TV shows that they consider unwatchable. Because I saw so many conversations from people who believe that action movies and horror movies and sci-fi movies are unwatchable and they just, like, they won’t watch them anymore. They only watch things or listen to things that they’ve seen. They won’t watch anything new. But it’s like they want to. If you go blind right now, and you’re halfway through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know, you wanna keep watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But there’s a lot of visual stuff that happens in that. So, if nobody tells you about audio description, then maybe you just stop watch-, you stop doing the thing that you love. And I think blind people give up enough things when they transition that this, if there’s something here that can help you do the thing that you were already enjoying, that can help you to continue to watch the TV show you were already watching, why not, you know?
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: I think, I think it’s just a matter of introducing people to it and getting them, and normalizing it. If you normalize it, then I think people will accept it. I know people who use audio description who aren’t even blind. I had a guy tell me that he uses audio description when he goes jogging so he can catch up [chuckling] on his TV series! You know, like, instead of listening to music or audio books, he jogs to Abbott Elementary with audio description!
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: It’s like, okay, you do you.
NEFERTITI: I love that. I love that. Yeah.
JOHN: Yeah. I had another friend tell me he uses audio description because he likes to multi-task, and so he doesn’t have to pay attention to his TV. He can turn on the audio description, and it runs in the background, and he doesn’t actually have to look at the TV. He can catch up on whatever while doing other things. So, it’s interesting that sighted people I know use it too, so.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: That exchange you had with the student, that would’ve been a fantastic video. That would be a really good video.
JOHN: I gotta ask the student if that’s okay.
THOMAS: No, yeah. I know. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But if that’s something you could, if you could show somebody else, another kid, a young person like that, an older person, somebody who hasn’t been exposed to it, capturing that, that could be pretty interesting. Not to say that what you’re doing is not because it is. I’m just saying I would just add that. But something to think about.
NEFERTITI: I think so, too. Yeah.
JOHN: I would say I almost had that opportunity in a weird way. And I have to very, I have to tread very lightly on this because I signed an NDA, but I think if I never say the company, I think I’ll be fine on this. But I would say that somebody caught me and offered me a contract to do just what you’re talking about. But I think it fell through. I was contacted to do essentially instructional videos because they saw me doing what I was doing, and they realized I was blind, and they wanted me to show how to use their product for other blind people. They thought a blind person doing the blind thing would be. Unfortunately, I think that ended up not happening. Which is unfortunate because I would’ve loved to do that. But I came really close to doing exactly what you’re saying, basically, and teaching people how to turn this stuff on and use it, so.
NEFERTITI: Yeah, I think examples like that are really impactful when other people come across like, wow, that person seemed really effected, you know, in a positive way. I think that can be hugely influential for those out there watching. But John, what would you say to people who, and I’ve heard from a number of folks interested in this conversation tonight because they’re interested in getting into this. So, my question is, I guess, a two-parter. One, do you think that there could be impact if the number of critics, blind critics specifically, critiquing audio description in particular, would that be helpful for raising awareness? Is that something you would like to see? And then how could they get started? What would you recommend? How do you recommend they begin?
JOHN: I would say absolutely. Actually, I’ve had this conversation with Alex Howard, who’s, he’s in that group. He’s doing The Dark Room podcast.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
JOHN: And we talked about trying to figure out, we’re trying to figure out a way how to start essentially what is the equivalent of a critics guild, but a critics guild for either, you know, some kind of like disabled critics guild or blind and visually impaired, like, or maybe d/Deaf and blind, some kind of combination, so that that way it brings attention to all of that, so that we can all connect and be stronger together and show people how many of us there are. I think they think we’re some sort of weird minority, you know, like, I don’t know, albinoism or something. Just like, “Oh, I’ve never met anybody who’s like that before!” So, they, we need to provide this service.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
JOHN: Like it’s just some weird unicorn thing, like, “Oh, there’s a blind person that watches TV?!”
NEFERTITI: [laughs] Yeah.
JOHN: I guess. I don’t know. So, yeah. I mean, if we’re all out there talking about it and posting about it and getting on the socials and, you know, if you wanna, if you wanna do a YouTube, do YouTube. If you wanna do a TikTok, do a TikTok. If you wanna do Instagrams, do Instagrams. There’s a website called Letterbox. You can post stuff there. I don’t do Letterbox because there’s only just so many social media [laughing] things I can possibly handle!
NEFERTITI: [laughs]
JOHN: But yeah, there are plenty of places to post and share your reviews and your content, and you just have to start somewhere. Start maybe with a film that you like. Don’t put yourself with the challenge of reviewing something you’ve never seen before. Pick something that you like, that you know you like, that has audio description, and convince people why you like that thing. And then start about, and then start there and explain why the audio description matters to you with that film, why it’s helped you. And then just grow from there and just keep it going and keep talking. And don’t let anybody tell you to stop talking. Because the more noise we make, the louder we are, the more audio description we’ll get, so.
NEFERTITI: [applauds] Yes. Yes. I’m clapping. I love this answer. As someone who is part of a collective, right, of professionals, we’re all professionals in our own right, and we come together and we’re doing and making audio description, creating audio description and spreading the word about it, and, you know, just maintaining this quality of excellence, commitment to the audio description we create. I’m a big believer in people coming together, and like you said, you know, collect our voices. The louder we are, the more we’ll be heard, the further the message. So, if people would like to get in touch with you, how can they do that? If they want to explore this idea with you and join, you know, whatever ends up coming of your collaboration with others?
JOHN: Oh. Well, like I said, I’m on Instagram. It’s @MacTheMovieGuy. I’m on Twitter @MacTheMovieGuy. I am on Facebook as John Stark. If you send me a request, and you let me know why, like, send me a message also on Messenger and say, “Hey, I’m in the audio description community,” then I’ll know you’re not like a weird spambot.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm, mmhmm.
JOHN: So, don’t just send me a weird friend request out of nowhere! But I’ll accept it if it’s for audio description. And I mean, I’m on YouTube. YouTube.com/MacTheMovieGuy. My website is MacTheMovieGuy.com. Any one of those ways, just reach out if you wanna talk about audio description in movies or anything.
NEFERTITI: Excellent. So, you have a number, a number of ways of getting in touch with John so that you can add your voice to what I personally think, and I think we all agree, is a pretty critical thing that you’re doing.
JOHN: I think I’m here because right now, I’m a unicorn, and I, as awesome as it would be to continue to be recognized for what it is that I’m doing, I would much, you know, I would also be okay with being a horse. You know what I’m saying? Something that you see a lot more common.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
JOHN: So, if there were more blind film critics that were talking about audio description, I don’t mind that. It’s there are a lot of people out there on the Internet talking about movies, and there need to be more of us that are blind and that are talking about the accessibility. So, I know why I’m here. It’s because I’m a unicorn! And if I’m not, then that’s fine too. So, it means that more, that I started a fire and it caught on, so.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. Yeah. Cheryl?
CHERYL: Well, I want to give Unicorn John Stark such huge thanks. We’re so appreciative. So, everybody, Mac the Movie Guy. 732 videos on your YouTube!
NEFERTITI: Wow.
CHERYL: If somebody wants to see how it is that you critique a film, and it’s not just like, “I liked this.” It is so detailed. You go into so much about character, acting, directing, plot, audio description. That’s the place to go on YouTube to watch 732 reviews.
JOHN: They’re not all reviews. Some of them are talking about the Oscars. I did try to bring people in with Oscar talk, so.
CHERYL: Excellent.
JOHN: Most of them are reviews, though.
NEFERTITI: So, about that, what did you think about the Oscars audio description?
THOMAS: [chuckles]
JOHN: I liked the Oscar Audio Description. I feel like there was something weird about the red carpet, but I can’t remember what it was. But the actual show was great. And I know [laughs] you did it. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, the Oscars was, the show was great. I can’t remember what it was about the audio description for the red carpet though.
NEFERTITI: Maybe that there was hardly any because it was just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. So, maybe like?
JOHN: That might’ve been it. I don’t know. You know, I don’t care about red carpet! I just was on it because I didn’t have anything else to do. So, it doesn’t really stick out in my memory. All I remember was was Hugh Grant just had that weird walk-off moment. But that’s it. Yeah. If you’d asked me a couple weeks ago, I might’ve remembered. I don’t know.
NEFERTITI: Well, you know what? You don’t have to remember because we can all go to MackTheMovieGuy.com and check out your review there.
JOHN: [laughs] Yeah.
NEFERTITI: So, do that, people. And, you know, full disclosure, I was one of the people narrating that, so that was a shameless question on my part. But thank you.
JOHN: Yeah, I knew. That’s why I said ‘cause I knew you did it.
NEFERTITI: [laughs] Yes! I appreciate that we got a good review from you. That means a lot.
JOHN: Yeah.
THOMAS: Cool. Cool. Well, thank you, John. This was good.
JOHN: Thanks, guys. Thank you so much for having me.
NEFERTITI: This was fantastic. Yeah.
JOHN: Yeah. If you don’t wanna set up your own thing, just throw me some follows or something and likes or something. Increasing my social media presence will end up increasing my voice in the long run.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. Not everybody has to be advocate. Not everybody has to be a critic. But I do think it’s important that we support each other and we promote one another, right? Uplift. So, yeah.
JOHN: Absolutely.
NEFERTITI: Follow John everywhere. I certainly will. I’m really happy to get to know you a little better during this event. So, everybody, thank you for listening, whether live or on the replay through the Reid My Mind Radio podcast. We really appreciate you being here. And yeah, how do we close? I don’t even remember anymore. I’m so enthused by this conversation.
THOMAS: So am I. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: All right! See ya!
THOMAS: Peace, y’all.
NEFERTITI: Except not really, ‘cause I’m blind.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: Peace.

Music begins…
THOMAS: Cool. Well, that concludes this week’s conversation. Why don’t y’all keep the conversation going on social media.
CHERYL: Use #ADFUBU, for us by us, #DescribeEverything, and #AudioDescription.
NEFERTITI: And hey, you know we’re out here, right? Mmhmm! Gathered and galvanized y’all. If you haven’t joined us yet, what are you waiting for?! You can find us in the LinkedIn Audio Description group and the AD Twitter community. We know that your participation will only make these spaces better.
Music fades out!

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