Inform & Connect, the American Foundation for the Blind’s ongoing series created to foster togetherness and camaraderie within the blindness community through informal storytelling and learning about relevant, interesting topics, returns with guest Jeff Heck, owner of NaJor Productions.
Jeff founded NaJor Productions in 1996 as an outlet for his passion for being behind the camera and writing. Most of the company’s clients hail from the corporate and educational sectors. Jeff has been involved in writing, filming, editing, and the distribution of over 600 titles.
Melody Goodspeed: Thank you for attending the American Foundation for the Blind's weekly ongoing series Inform and Connect. This was started originally so that we could bring camaraderie to the blind community, talking about informal topics that are informative in a very relaxed setting. And today I'm so excited to build on our conversations we've had around audio description with the owner of NaJor Productions, Jeff Heck. Jeff, it's so good to have you today.
Jeff Heck: Hi, how are y'all doing?
Melody Goodspeed: Good. We're so excited. I really enjoyed learning so much about audio description and we've heard from the narration side of it, but we're so excited to have you here today to talk about the written part of it, which is so incredibly interesting to me, and I can't wait for you to share; but can you tell us a little bit about you, Jeff, and how you got into your role?
Jeff Heck: Yeah. Back in 1996, well, the early '90s so I'm dating myself, I worked for a publishing company and we created job search videos and videos for men and women coming out of corrections, out of jail, and how to put your life back together, what to do and so on and so forth.
Jeff Heck: So I got into the education and training side and in 1996 and started my own company NaJor Productions and we just continued doing that. I've probably written, produced, shot film, edited the whole nine yards, at least 600 titles, if not more, all in field of education and training in Corrections.
Jeff Heck: About, I hire local actors and I had a friend of mine who I needed an Asian actor for a particular role. And he was working for an organization and long story short, he said, "Our company may need your services at some point, because we also do corporate," and the whole nine yards. A lot of people tell you that like, "Hey, I'm sure we've got something coming up and we'll hire you," and it never happens.
Jeff Heck: Well, this time it did. So he was in the field of audio description and they do the whole gamut. They do braille, they do large print, they do tactile graphics. They'll do stuff for museums and schools; mostly the school market.
Jeff Heck: So we did a contract, this was like five years ago, to work on about 1400 educational titles to do audio description on. I started off by just, I would edit the videos and then you're done, but I also oversaw the narration. So I would get the script, hire the voiceover talent, send them jeez, 30-40 scripts and they would just do it as they could and send me back WAV files and then I would edit those in. As time went on, we needed more writers and I had a background in script writing, so I started writing some of the educational titles.
Jeff Heck: And the one thing with educational titles is, I mean, you can do the extended or paused because you have to. We may get a mathematical equation in it, and you've got to read the entire equation off screen. And if there's a change or two within that equation, you read the whole thing again from top to bottom. So you have to pause the video in order to fit in. And it's easier to do the audio description when you're allowed to do pauses because it just, it gives you the room to be able to describe things.
Jeff Heck: Some videos we cannot do. And as you know, you have three seconds to fit in something and you've got to find just the most pertinent detail. That's the hardest thing in making the transition from doing the extended to the inline, where there is no pause and then making the switch from education and training over to entertainment, because it's a different animal. It really is. It's a different way of writing.
Melody Goodspeed: I'm so glad that you brought that up because one of the things that's so interesting to me is visually, a picture is worth a thousand words. Just how do you, when you're in the process of writing, determine what is the best verbiage to use to bring a visual sense to that non-visual person.
Jeff Heck: And that is difficult. I mean, because there's so many things you can look into, like a room with a window with the sun streaking and the rest of it is dark. So they could cast shadow and light across the room. You try and make it as visually appealing as possible for lack of a better term.
Jeff Heck: I watch a lot of existing films and shows that have audio description. I'll try and find audio description scripts that are out there. I'll talk with other writers and so forth and say, "Hey, how is it?" It's like right now, I'm doing some work with an organization and I'll write the script like in thirds and then I'll send it in and they'll send feedback to me saying, "Okay, this is great. This doesn't work so well, try this." So it's a continual learning process. It really is.
Jeff Heck: The hardest thing is you want to be able to hit those key things, but you're not going to be able to describe everything. You really got that element that it pertains to the story. It does the best job of doing it.
Jeff Heck: There was one show where they were doing the opening credits and it was Mindhunter and they left the visuals up for like a frame. I couldn't see it and they're describing it. I'm like, "They had to paused that thing. There's no way."
Jeff Heck: Then I got a thing in was that really needed? I don't know. So that's the other thing you've got to balance out is wow. Because some of it was pretty graphic, so it's yeah.
Melody Goodspeed: I could imagine like, especially when you're going through scenes or what you just said when they just pop things up, just frantically. That's what pop ups.
Jeff Heck: And that's the thing, if it's important enough. Does it really pertain to the overall story for this? Yes, it did because of the manner of the series. So it was really a good job that he did. Tough, but a really good job.
Melody Goodspeed: That is awesome. Yeah. I think about that when you think of like a Harry Potter series; like whenever there's just so much magical stuff going on where you've got to capture that.
Jeff Heck: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. So much there and choosing the right words. And like I did a film a while back and the main character, the expressions were always the same.
Melody Goodspeed: For the 48th time, they have a [inaudible 00:06:34].
Jeff Heck: That's always fun when the main talent doesn't really give you... Doesn't have a vast variety of looks. It's always that same look, like, "Oh my gosh." Yeah. That's the fun part, finding words.
Jeff Heck: Somebody created a spreadsheet and it's really cool because I referenced it a lot. It's like, "Look," and it has all these different words you can use for looking or for walking or for staring or for just, it's wonderful. It's great. And you know, you use a thesaurus a lot.
Melody Goodspeed: I would imagine, because you are literally painting a picture with words.
Jeff Heck: Yes, yes.
Melody Goodspeed: Which is so... This is just really exciting for us to learn about, it is for me, because that is our work that you're doing and it's amazing.
Melody Goodspeed: Now when you... I want to go back to the education piece because you had said something with the extended pauses.
Jeff Heck: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melody Goodspeed: Education at AFB is so important because we are into creating systemic change, which I want to move into that too, of how you're creating that in your world, but just about the education piece is how being able to bring that same education level to a student's sighted peers, can you kind of walk us through what you mean by extended pausing?
Jeff Heck: Yeah. What we will do, we'll just create a second video for your visual. The students that don't have... They are viewing just the normal unedited, there's no audio description there.
Jeff Heck: What we're doing is we work with educators and also like if it's a science thing, we'll work with a scientist. Is what we're saying, correct? You know, is this the right way to do it? We always have the client give us the okey-dokey before anything is done.
Jeff Heck: So they'll send us the video, we'll watch it. We will write our audio description piece, edit it together and send it back to either in-house staff, depending on who I'm working with. They'll give it their thumbs up or make their changes. Then we send it back to the client and they always give us final approval because in the education side, there's usually teachers or professors, universities, and so forth that will give the final okay to make sure that it fits with their curriculum and what they want to do. There's like certain words you can and cannot use. I don't have an example of that right now, but there's certain phraseology that they want you to use.
Melody Goodspeed: Oh, sure. I'm sure. Depending on the curriculum and how they're teaching it, I could see how that would be the case.
Jeff Heck: Exactly. And that's the same. Like we do some Park Service videos. The same thing in Park Service. We may call it a field where they want it to be called a meadow; or we call it a bluff and they don't want it to be called a bluff. All across the board, there's all of these buzzwords that they want you to use rather than what you think may be used. And again, you're always learning. Continually learning.
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah. I mean, that kind of brings us to the next thing I wanted to pop on. So once you are presented with... They want you to provide audio description to a show, how far in advance do you get to see it? I know the narrators get to see it as soon as they sit down. So it's the last thing. So when are you privy to the show or series or educational.
Jeff Heck: If it's like a... The film I did was released in May, and I want to say I received that (it was a Netflix film) and I received that in March? February, March, somewhere like there. So it's like an hour and a half.
Jeff Heck: So I really took my time with that one because it was the first entertainment piece that I did. So I had it like two months in advance, two months to two and a half months in advance, which is plenty of time to write that; because you can write it in pieces. And then the narration, like Roy Samuelson, as we both know, they can knock it out in no time flat. They're really good at that.
Melody Goodspeed: That's awesome. So when you, Jeff, what are the differences for you when you're dealing with education or parks? You know, as you were saying, more on the educational side... They give you words that they want you to use, you were saying. Now, do you get the same when you're dealing with like say Netflix or the entertainment industry?
Jeff Heck: No, not really. There really were not any parameters of, "Don't use this, don't use that." Nothing along those lines. Again, it's another way you'll write it and their QC people say, "Okay, we like this. We're going to change this ever so slightly." And as you know, the hard part is just when you can't pause the video, fitting it in there and not doing too much, not stepping on lines or audio noises or cues.
Jeff Heck: That's the one thing I learned quickly is that you build it up, let the noise happen, and then you go from there as to what happens after the noise. And nine times out of 10, the visually impaired can figure out what the noise was. Sometimes you've got a baseball bat swung and it hit a lamp and the guy disappears. It's like, even if the guy vanished, you hear the crash, the empty chair, the bat hits the lamp above it and so forth. So yeah. It's fun just making sure you don't tell too much, if that makes sense.
Melody Goodspeed: No, it does. And I remember in our earlier conversation, we were talking about I think you were talking about a movie where a woman like flopped on the bed in exasperation and we can't hear a flop on a bed. You have to see that.
Jeff Heck: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. You do. Yeah. And it's just there's a noise and is that noise something like sitting in a chair or... Yeah, that's the fun part. And there seems to be, there's a little bit of one company may say, "Okay, describe it more." Another company will say I gave too much. So trying to figure out who you're working with too, within an organization. They may have a different viewpoint of how much you should and shouldn't say. So like I said, it's a continual learning process. No doubt about it.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes. For sure. So what does the relationship look like with, let's say you and the engineer and the writer. Well, I mean, not the writer, sorry about that. The narrator. So once you've gotten your script written and you've handed it off to the narrator, do you get it back and then kind of see, do you provide feedback to them afterwards?
Jeff Heck: Yeah. Now on the edge, although... Again, on the two sides, when I'm hired by a company to do something for like in the entertainment side, I just turn into script and I have no input whatsoever. They do it in-house with their own voiceover and so forth.
Jeff Heck: But when I'm doing like education and training in them, when I'm also editing the video together for like a park or this large project we did, I'll have input with the narrator. We'll talk about it and say, "Hey, here's what we need to do." Some of the parks, some of the words are very hard to pronounce. They're not like what you see. So you've got to go over the pronunciation, like Tuolumne is spelled really weird. It's like, "To all of me," is how you say it. That's the big thing is hitting them.
Jeff Heck: You know, the tone, the inflections, the speed too; because sometimes it's like, "Give me four or five reads of this particular line." And we'll put those in the instructions. Like before they get the script, we have a time code where it starts and where it ends.
Jeff Heck: That's another thing. You can be really specific. Like you can say... You can include the last words that are spoken and then you're time code of where you want them to start. And then you put in your text and what you want them to read. Then there's another time code and maybe the next word that is spoken.
Jeff Heck: So you're telling them on the time code, say from 30 seconds to 45 seconds, this is what you need to say. The words leading into that first time code where I'm going down the street, then the next words that you'll hear on the screen are, "Do you want me to pick something up?" You've got to fit all of this within those two words.
Jeff Heck: So that's the big direction that we give to voiceover artists. It's not only writing the script. It's also telling them where it needs to go. Does it need to be a little quicker? Can it be at a normal pace? Do you really need to say it pretty fast?
Melody Goodspeed: Yes.
Jeff Heck: So that's a big thing too, is giving the direction there. And then also what's fun... What I like about doing the education and training is when I'm editing it together, too. I like doing that as well. That's just a blast.
Melody Goodspeed: I could imagine so, because you're doing that and you're bringing this to life and being able to increase education so that we're able to have the same level playing ground as sighted peers.
Jeff Heck: Yeah. And it's great to hear the feedback of, "This made such a big difference," or "This is wonderful." Because what blows me away honestly, is the mathematical stuff. I can see it, I'm reading it, I'm listening to it and I still don't get it. And you guys are just hearing it. It's just amazing to me. That is just, it blows you away.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, it does. When you were talking about mathematical equations, math I will firmly admit to everyone, is not my strong point. So for me, when you're doing that and making it accessible and the way that you're talking about adding that extra time, it's just, I don't know. I'm very interested in how all that works.
Jeff Heck: Yes.
Melody Goodspeed: Where do you see, we were briefly talking about this, talking about the world of AD and how it's really exploding, where do you see it going?
Jeff Heck: I really see it expanding. I think you are going to see it as commonplace as closed caption. I really do. I really think that's going to be the end result.
Jeff Heck: It's weird because, and we kind of covered this a little bit. I have a lot of friends that can see fine, but in the world we live in today, people are attention deficit, so they can turn on the audio description, do other things and be fully aware of what's going on in their show. I mean, it sounds weird, but it's also an aid for the sighted as well.
Jeff Heck: I've not heard anybody say yet, "This is terrible." It's just been received so well. Guys out there, Joel Snyder with the Audio Description Project and such, guys who are really making it more prevalent and putting out petitions to the networks, to the publishing companies all over that this is needed.
Jeff Heck: I'm working with a few publishers now saying, "You've got a student base out there that can really benefit from this. You really need to consider the inclusiveness." In your materials, if you offer them, it's a win-win for everybody; it's a win for you because you're going to... They sell their product. You're going to be able to sell more product because you're offering this version.
Melody Goodspeed: I know. And I remember when we were having that discussion because they knew in the attention deficit, definitely; but also too, like we were just saying, people are multitasking. People are on their phones, watching a show; or you're essentially turning this material into an audio book. So if you wanted to listen to it in your car, which is my own personal experience, too. With my two children, when we put a movie on, then we have the audio description on so everyone's able to enjoy it.
Jeff Heck: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it sounds funny, but it's not just for the visually impaired. It's really not.
Melody Goodspeed: No. And inclusion is definitely the name of the game.
Jeff Heck: Yes. Perfect word.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes. Inclusion is definitely the name of the game because we'll all be seen as just people when that happens.
Jeff Heck: Yes. Exactly.
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. No, this is really great. We are getting ready to move into the Q&A, this went by so fast, but if you could give me just one... What I always do with all of my guests. If you wanted to give one thing, if someone wants to get interested in the world of audio description, where would you direct them or give them a tip to start?
Jeff Heck: You know, a good place to start is in your local town with theaters, live stage presentations and such. More and more cities are offering audio description for live shows and you've got to work from scripts there.
Jeff Heck: There's a really cool place too, online, called YouDescribe.org. That's where people can put up videos and they don't have any money for audio description. You can go there, you can view a ton of videos that have been audio described and you can do it yourself.
Jeff Heck: You can pick a video you want, and you can write the audio description and you record it yourself there. They have all the tools on the website.
Melody Goodspeed: Wow.
Jeff Heck: It's really neat. It's a great way to get your feet wet, to try it out, to see how it goes. But like I said, going back to the theater thing, the live theater, that's a wonderful way because you can get in with a group that they're already doing it. You can learn some of the basic writing because again, it's a live presentation, so you're not allowed that, "Hey actors, can you hold up for a second while we..." You've got to get it.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes.
Jeff Heck: So it's a good training ground and people are already doing it so you can learn how they've done it. Also just listen, turn on the audio description and listen. That's what I'm doing. It's probably the best way to get going is... Those would be the two things I would do.
Jeff Heck: The live theater is really cool because it's a good group of people that are really trying to make a difference out there to include everybody in the audience. Museums are starting to offer it, too, somewhat.
Melody Goodspeed: That is incredible. I'm going to check that site out probably very soon. That is awesome.
Jeff Heck: Yeah. Yeah.
Melody Goodspeed: Just immediately get started and trying. That is great.
Jeff Heck: Exactly. And you can see, and there's a wish list that you got a log in. It's free. You got to register. It's easy. They don't bombard you with emails or sell you anything, your list or anything like that. But it's a good way that you describe places really cool. You do have to do the voice over yourself. My voice is terrible.
Melody Goodspeed: It's not.
Jeff Heck: The narrators I'm working with, they're on a whole different level.
Melody Goodspeed: I understand. Thank you so much, Jeff. I'm going to go ahead and open it up... Go back to Suzan so we can open it up to see if people have questions. I know myself have more, but I'm letting people go first.
Suzan Henderson: Yeah. So everyone, chat is open. If you have a question, send those to me. Jeff, I have a question for you. When you're writing audio description, what have you found personally to be the most challenging to write for?
Jeff Heck: For me right now, it's the entertainment field. Like I said, making that transition from education and training, because it really is two different styles. With being able to pause, you can nail it. I mean, you can really, you have the time. I mean, you don't want to make a three-minute video a 45-minute opus. You want to try and keep it short, but you have more room. So it's like finding just the right words in that short amount of time to describe everything that's taking place without giving away too much.
Suzan Henderson: You mentioned earlier too, when you start to write, you pull out the old thesaurus?
Jeff Heck: Yes.
Suzan Henderson: Do you read a lot? Does that help with your writing?
Jeff Heck: It really does. Yes, it really does. Because you can see just reading... Really what helps the most honestly, is listening to other shows where it's been done. It really is. Turning on audio description on Netflix. I have Xfinity Comcast. I'm not really sure what their name is now, Xfinity or Comcast.
Jeff Heck: They actually have an audio described section that you can get the X1 format. You can just say, "Show me described shows." And it takes you to what's on live or what's in their library that is described. And it's great. I mean, there's some really solid audio description out there. There's some really bad audio description out there.
Jeff Heck: I think what I would like to see is where it's better, where nobody's complaining about it. I turned on one show and just the writing was bad, the voiceover was even worse. The timing was off just because sometimes you got to go after the fact of what happened. I mean, it wasn't even close.
Melody Goodspeed: One thing that I was going to add is there has been a lot of talk about bringing in... I mean, do you find that it improves when you have people that are blind or visually impaired that are actually working on this?
Jeff Heck: Yes, most definitely. Most definitely. We did one about two months, maybe three months ago. It was like, "Okay, that's obvious. We don't need to be told that. I understood what was going on without you telling you me just due to the noise." And I think that's something that... It's amazing what visually impaired can hear because I'll sometimes close my eyes and watch a show and try to imagine what it's... I mean, your sense of hearing is increased and that's the thing too. That's probably a tough thing is what is a blind person's interpretation of hearing something and how they can interpret it. That's the one thing I think that is undersold for lack of a better term, is that you can hear and understand what's going on without having to be told. I hope I'm phrasing that right.
Melody Goodspeed: I really appreciate, can you maybe... I'm taking up questions, but could you elaborate maybe a bit more how I think it's important for having the blind community... We're creating jobs, too. It's employment. So having that quality control.
Jeff Heck: Yeah. I think what I would do is at the American Council of Blind, they have the Audio Description Project. There's a listing there of, I think, all the organizations that do provide audio description. And I think if I were somebody that wanted to try to get on as a QC person, I'd write those organizations and say, "Hello, I understand you do audio description." Just get ahold of them directly and offer your services. "I'd love to be a QC person for your organization," and see where it goes from there.
Jeff Heck: I want to say there's probably 30 or 40 at least, if not more. Not everybody does audio description, some will just do components. Like I said, braille, or they'll do tactile graphics or they'll do large print or they'll do live theater. It just depends on... And it tells you at the website what they do and they don't do, but that'd be a good starting point.
Melody Goodspeed: A great resource.
Jeff Heck: Yeah, it really is. That is an excellent resource.
Melody Goodspeed: Well, yes. I have checked that one out on ACB. They have a really strong presence there, so I love it.
Jeff Heck: Yeah. That's a great place.
Melody Goodspeed: Suzan, do you have more questions?
Suzan Henderson: I have one more question. I already know kind of the answer to this, but I think it's a sweet story. So Jeff, where did the name of your company come from?
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah.
Jeff Heck: I have two kids. One is Nathan and one is Jordan and in 1996 we were like, what can we call this place? Because they didn't want to be like Top Notch films and Film. I wanted something different.
Jeff Heck: So we called ourselves NaJor Productions. It's capital N, little A which is for Nathan and then capital J, little O, little R, NaJor for Jordan. So we just ran with it and within, I think the second year we were in business, there was a company called MaJor Productions in Michigan and they owed a lot of money to a lot of people.
Melody Goodspeed: Oh, no.
Jeff Heck: And we kept getting these legal notices. "Not quite. It's close." Yeah. But that's where it came from is just from the two kids and we just tried to do something different.
Melody Goodspeed: Oh, I love it. But that's... Yes, I love it. And no, I wouldn't want them to come after me if they owed a lot of money.
Jeff Heck: Yeah, exactly. Man, man, they owed everybody.
Melody Goodspeed: You're like, "Wait. We do?"
Jeff Heck: Exactly. A year or two in business, too. But it's been fun. I mean this... I really hope. I mean, like I said, I am really working hard to become a better writer, become a better describer. I think that is something that will never stop. Always getting better, always trying to do my best and just really hoping we do a good job because this is very important.
Jeff Heck: There's so many people that benefit from this. There's a lot like Roy Samuelson, my gosh, he is such a pioneer in this field and a leader in this field. Roy is such a great guy. I'm glad we can... That it's a great community, too. That's how we connected, I believe, was through Roy, if I'm not mistaken.
Melody Goodspeed: It is. Yes.
Jeff Heck: And then the Facebook group, the Audio Description Facebook group, that's a wonderful resource.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes.
Jeff Heck: If you have Facebook, that is definitely... Look it up and become part of that discussion. There's so many things that are shared there that are just wonderful. Great stuff.
Melody Goodspeed: Well, there is. And I recently commented that there are lot of great resources and thinking even outside of the box for audio description.
Melody Goodspeed: I just want to thank you so much for elevating our voices because, "Nothing for us without us," is definitely the motto you use. I just want to thank you so much for that.
Jeff Heck: Well, thank you.
Melody Goodspeed: If people wanted to get in touch with you, Jeff, how could they do so?
Jeff Heck: You can shoot me an email and my email is NaJor, that's N as in Nancy, A-J-O-R@comcast.net. I'd be happy to answer any questions. Talk to you. I have samples, because I talked to Roy earlier and if you want to see a sample script or I can shoot you some sample scripts of stuff we've done in the past, and that way you can practice some things; kind of like what I sent you last week.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes.
Jeff Heck: And that's the one thing too, is just trying to get more materials out there. You know, what is the best way of developing the script? Which formula? Some people use this particular tool of that tool, and some people use Word. So there's a variety of ways to write the script. But the big thing is just making sure when you're writing a script, you're giving that narrator enough information of where to start, where to stop and in between.
Melody Goodspeed: Well, we thank you so much for all the work you do. It's so much complexity. I love that you're getting into so many different avenues of it and elevating and giving us these amazing resources to work towards.
Melody Goodspeed: As we like to say it at AFB, we're better together creating a life with no limits if we are in it together, no matter the situation. So yay for inclusion. I love that too. So thank you so much for being on with us today and I look forward to learning more.
Jeff Heck: Well, thank you so much for having me. Like I said, I look forward to seeing where this is going to go in the next few years. I think it's going to be... Every show is going to have it. You're going to see that AD there along or right beside the CC on everything.
Melody Goodspeed: Nice. I do too. That is going to be awesome. I really do. Well, thank you so much, Jeff. I hope you have a great rest of your weekend.
Jeff Heck: Thank you.
Melody Goodspeed: And thank you for your time with us today. We really, really appreciate it.
Jeff Heck: All right. Thank you all.
Melody Goodspeed: Take care, everybody.
Jeff Heck: Take care.
Melody Goodspeed: Have a great weekend.