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No Barriers Podcast Episode 130: How to See with Joe Strechay



A virus wipes out most of humanity. The survivors and their distant descendants have all lost their sense of sight. Society has found new ways to socially interact, build, hunt, and survive without vision. The concept of vision has become a myth, and any mention of it is considered heresy. That is the premise of the Apple TV Series “See” starring Jason Momoa. This episode goes behind the scenes with co-producer and blindness expert Joe Strechay. He shares the systems and processes he’s developed working with sighted and non-sighted actors on how to portray a science fictionalized level of blindness, ideas on abilism, stages of minority portrayal in Hollywood, echo locating, fight scenes, and much more.

Joe Strechay is a Producer and Consultant for film, television, theatre, and literary works. He consults on accessibility, disability, and blindness to assure respectful and accessible work environments and portrayals. He has worked on AppleTV+’s SEE, Netflix’s The OA, and Marvel’s Daredevil.

Joe has supervised services for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; managed a web program; instructed in services for individuals who are blind or have low vision; advised states and countries on services, and mentored numerous people with disabilities. He has consulted for the American Printing House for the Blind specific to CareerConnect and their National Transition Conversation.

Joe did his graduate work at Florida State University and his undergraduate at East Carolina University. He speaks around the United States about employment, transition, accessibility, and inclusion in entertainment, and his experiences. He and his wife, Jen, live in Pennsylvania.

LINKS

Joe on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCL3qga2wIqrtstBLMXQAwag/videos

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/joestrechay/

Linkedin – https://www.linkedin.com/in/joe-strechay-67724243/

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Episode Transcript

Joe Strechay:
Our world is different than the real world of blindness. And we say that straight out. It's science fiction. Everyone is totally blind from the same reason there's been generations of people being blind. So the social and cultural and visual norms of eye contact disappear, because that is a social and cultural and visual norm. And I decided on rules based on research on what we should do and what we shouldn't do and what we're looking for. And so we watch every detail.

Erik Weihenmayer:
It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon. And I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in in the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call No Barriers.

Jeff:
The virus wipes out most of humanity. The survivors and their distant descendants have all lost their sense of sight. Society has found new ways to socially interact, to build, to hunt, to survive all without vision. The concept of vision has become a myth and any mention of its considered heresy. That is the premise behind the Apple TV series See starring Jason Momoa. This episode goes behind the scenes with co-producer and blindness expert, Joe Strechay.

Jeff:
He shares the systems and processes that he's developed working with sighted and non-sighted actors on how to portray a science, fictionalized level of blindness ideas on ableism, stages of minority portrayal in Hollywood, echo locating, fight scenes, and much more. I really enjoyed my time with Joe and I think you will too. So if you don't mind for those who haven't seen the trailer, don't know anything about See, can you give us a sketch of what that looks like and how you got involved?

Joe Strechay:
Yeah, definitely. So I got involved back in March, 2018 when there were nine people or so working on the project and they were figuring out what it was. There were some scripts and they had brought some like a focus group into a writer's room in the UK and had some ideas and started fleshing them out. But they brought me in to go through these proposed scripts, these very, very early scripts and give thoughts and ideas. And Apple was involved and they knew about my work on Marvel's Daredevil and The OA and they wanted-

Jeff:
Okay. So hold on. So that was the segue, you had had some experience with Marvel and then they knew you from an industry connection that way, right? Okay.

Joe Strechay:
Definitely. Yeah. They knew my past work and so they didn't know exactly what they needed and that's pretty typical. And so went through the script side, but then I started talking about what they're going to do and are they bringing on actors who are blind or low vision, and they were committed to that, but also actors with sight who are going to be portraying blindness. So I helped to figure out what that looks like and how accessibility would work, but also the training for that portrayal of blindness and what it would look like and define it for our show and using research. My graduate work is around blindness.

Joe Strechay:
I went to Florida State University and my graduate work's around teaching children who are blind or visually impaired, teaching adults who are blind or visually impaired, rehabilitation therapy, they call it orientation mobility, and then specialty around transition from school to work. And then my undergraduate is around communications and media and molds together to how I ended up in this industry much later. So the research I've done in the past and I currently do, and I look back and I try to figure out any script I'm reading, what it would look like and what blindness might be like in that world. And then we help to figure it out.

Joe Strechay:
And in season one we came up with something, but I started off as a consultant on season one. And by the end of the season I was associate producer. And then my role kept just growing. The first few episodes of season one, my role was this consultant and then as episode four and five, and so on, this director, Anders Engstrom who directed the majority of season two and he's directing pretty much all of season three said to me he wanted me right next to him during every locking of a scene, so how we set up the scene and with the actors, and then also to be there at all times nearby so that we can talk about things and bring up ideas and thoughts about that specific scene that we can build in as we're going and stuff that's not in the script.

Joe Strechay:
Besides training all the actors and I oversee a department where we train background performers, because we have hundreds of people who have to portray blindness as well as bringing on... We have background performers who are blind or low-vision and other disabilities on our show and then actors with sight, but also actors who are blind or low-vision on our show. So I have to figure out what the accessibility is for all these people, as well as the training around the performers who are not blind, but also for the performers who are low-vision who are portraying total blindness, because our show is about a viral apocalypse happening somewhere between now and 200 years from now.

Joe Strechay:
And then our show takes place 400 to 500 years after that. And the majority of the population was killed off by the viral apocalypse. We're down to a few million people. And all these people that emerged from this viral apocalypse are now totally blind and there are generations and generations of people who are totally blind. And civilizations have built out and kingdoms and tribes and groups and they're waring over different things. And we have heroes and villains and romantic situations and parents and people who have professions. So you see blindness in so many different ways in our show and season two we take it to a whole different level from season one. We were so much more detailed because I was co-producer on season two and my role just continues to grow with our show.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So when you're working on the script, Joe, is there a lot of work shaping the script itself? I mean, it just occurs to me that so much of the work is training the actors and choreographing things and making sure things are feeling accurate and authentic, but... And the script stage, just when you're brought in as a consultant is a little bit tricky to shape things because you're like, "Oh my God, that's so way off or..." And you're new and you're like... How do you step in and make an input there?

Joe Strechay:
So season one our creator, Steven Knight had a few scripts that were created that helped shape the show. And then they brought on a showrunner, Dan Shotz and Jon Steinberg, who were our writing team. And I worked closely with them and we were building the plane as we were flying it. They were writing a lot of the episodes from season one while we were filming and a little bit ahead. So I was spending so much time with them talking about ideas and giving them ideas and thoughts and proposals. And they were little weird things about blindness that might be able to fit around our characters or at some situation, hundreds of them. I have a document, a file going at all times with little ideas around blindness that could be utilized.

Joe Strechay:
And I shared that with them and we would keep updating and check off what we used and what we didn't use. And then as we're going and the writing it, I gave notes on all of the scripts that come through and we get many versions of scripts. And then for season two, we had time to plan. So Jonathan Tropper, our showrunners changed. Dan Shotz and Jon Steinberg, who are two of my best friends and Dan Shotz is a mentor to me, they started their own show with Jeff Bridges-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh, yeah.

Joe Strechay:
... called The Old Man. It's John Lithgow, Jeff Bridges. And actually brought on some of our actors, one of our actors who's low vision, legally blind as John Lithgow's wife. And then also one of our friends who has ALS, he brought him into the show too. But our new showrunner, Jonathan Tropper, who's awesome, he brought me into the writer's room and I worked with the writer's room to answer questions, ideas. They talked about where we're going and an outline. And then I gave input and we kept going back and forth and they developed this outline, this detailed outline.

Joe Strechay:
And then they developed scripts from that detailed outline. And it shapes how our season goes. And I got to provide input all along the way and I still get to provide input. And even on the day there are times I provide suggestions on things that maybe we missed, or we could have thought about that we will change, like some kind of wording of some line or something.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right.

Joe Strechay:
Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
You got to be a good people person too, and a good collaborator, right? Because you have to just know when to try to gently shape things, right? Because you must see situations all the time you're like, "Ah, blind person just wouldn't do that." You know what I mean?

Joe Strechay:
Definitely. I have to negotiate whether it's with the producers or the actors, because sometimes these actors have owned these characters for years, even the actors who are blind or low vision and these actors who are sighted and I've taught them a lot. And sometimes I don't even remember all the things I've told them and taught them. So I might come up with a suggestion and they're like, "Well, I remember you bringing this up and talking about this and couldn't I do this?" And I'm like, "Oh, yeah, that actually works." And they tell me the meaning behind what they're doing and why they're doing it, maybe there is a specific meaning to what they're doing. And we talk about it. And I would say in season one Jason and I would negotiate more.

Joe Strechay:
Now there's a number of actors who we have a dialogue about things and talk about it and figure out what it is and what we're trying to do. So, yeah, I have to be a people person, but it's almost like I create a profile about each person I'm interacting with and how they like notes and how they like to be spoken to about those notes and how to approach it. And I have to think about that before I go in. And then other times I'm big, heavy. Like season three I'm a co-executive producer. Season two I was co-producer. So I could say I'm the co-producer and I can overrule people.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right.

Joe Strechay:
But I try not to do that.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right. Of course.

Joe Strechay:
I try to figure out what's going on first.

Jeff:
So hey, when I'm watching the trailer, what I see though is that towards the end of the trailer, and I'm not sure if it was season one trailer or not, but it alludes to the fact that the crux of the final battle, or whoever's going to rule this new post-apocalyptic world are the sighted people, right? As I'm watching it, I'm thinking about you and knowing how much influence you had. So tell me how you played in that because that seems like a heady procession or progression from that. Tell me about that.

Joe Strechay:
So season two Jonathan Tropper, the showrunner and I decided we wanted to really build an ableism purposely. So in season two you're going to see ableism from characters who are... Right in episode one within the first five minutes you see Baba Voss bringing ableism to his son, and then his son being ablelistic at first to him. And then him showing how he would kill someone, giving him instructions on how to make sure someone is really dead. Then we have characters who are blind in some ways being ablelistic to other people who are blind. We were showing all sides of it. And that is a big theme in season two and purposefully. And you're going to see it and you have to watch the show to understand it because it's going to go back and forth. We're trying to create a conversation about what ableism is and it's built into our world in general, but how we address it.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And we've talked about ableism a little bit on this podcast in the past.

Joe Strechay:
Yes, you have.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So ableism is simply... And I'll just try to paraphrase. Is it just thinking this sort of MO, this sort of lens that we see the world through that having sight is better than not having sight, right? Or how would you define it?

Joe Strechay:
I would say ableism is deciding what other person's abilities are based on, whether they have a disability or not. So in our show we being ableist against people who are sighted because they are the minority in our show, right? So you're deciding what someone can or cannot do. People who love to do that-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh, that's so cool. That you're spending that, whole ableism with the blindness, the folks who are blind-

Joe Strechay:
But it happens in our lives, I think. One of the complaints I heard from some people who are blind to a low vision is that people... They told me that because they saw me navigating through these rocky terrains and bouldering at times when we were filming. And they said, "Well, you're not the typical person who's blind." And I said, "So you're saying a person who's blind can't do this?" I'm like, "I am not, my buddy, Erik Weihenmayer, who's summited Mount Everest." I'm just-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Thanks, man. Appreciate it.

Joe Strechay:
I throw your name out a lot, but people like to decide what a person who is blind can do and can't do, even our own community. And it really aggravates me because I know lots of capable people who are blind doing all kinds of things.

Erik Weihenmayer:
But is that a whole spin, right? Where you're like, "Hey, whoever is in power, whoever the majority is," and they start doing things in certain ways, if somebody comes along and does it in a different way, it's going to be ableism. That's just natural human behavior.

Joe Strechay:
Totally. And I think it's innate in humans to try to pick out differences and try to decide what people can do and can't do. You see it throughout history truthfully, but not just around disability, but race, all kinds of other differences.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Jeff:
Well, then, Joe, was that a struggle for you or was it a complex decision to be made when you were trying to figure out what the script would look like in that final post-apocalyptic victory would be the... Or did you do it with the intention of creating or stimulating a conversation about this ableism concept?

Joe Strechay:
So what I'll tell you is that battle that's alluded to is Dave Bautista, who plays Baba Voss's brother, Edo Voss and Baba Voss, both of those characters are totally blind and they both are leading forces that have people who are blind, but also people who are not blind. So you're going to see a mix of that. But yes, all throughout, when it's in the scripts, I debate it. And I think about both sides. And I think about how I feel about it personally. There is a lot of personal judgment that is put into it. But also then I think about how I would be able to justify it to the community and make sure that in the end we're putting forward something that respects blindness and disability and puts blindness at a higher level, and it shows blindness respect.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. And also that when blind people get into power, they can be assholes like everyone else.

Joe Strechay:
True.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And they can be weirdos. They can be good. They can be evil. They can be everything, everything that society is.

Joe Strechay:
We're not saints, right? And often persons with disabilities are portrayed as all good and we're not. It's important to show both sides. And I think people are complex and they're good and bad. And you'll see that in all our characters as well. Just like the modern, I would say the modern character or modern villain is someone you can relate to, whether you watch the Joker or you watch Kingpin in Marvel's Daredevil, they're people you can relate to.

Jeff:
Yeah. Funny enough, my wife, she plays ultimate Frisbee and she's got this tournament coming up next weekend. And the whole theme is villains and she's supposed to be a female villain. And so the discussion came up on this same topic, Joe, about every villain... If a villain is really presented right, we realize there's a little bit of good in a villain, or we see some of ourselves in a villain in a way, right? It's exactly what you're talking about. So I'm like, what's really a villain and who's the heroin and who's the hero anymore? Right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Well, otherwise it's so two dimensional, right?

Jeff:
Yeah.

Joe Strechay:
So true. I think if a character's created properly, you're seeing all the sides of them. It's much more complex than they're just bad. That's real life.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Jeff:
Yes.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. There's this new show I've been watching called You, I think.

Joe Strechay:
Oh, I've watched You. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh my God, this guy's a psychopath. He's a sociopath. I kind of like this guy.

Joe Strechay:
I kind of like this guy too.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Whoa, why am I liking this guy? It's very confusing what you movie folks do to us. I'm like, "I'm supposed to hate this guy. He's a scumbag, but no."

Jeff:
The good guys very slowly, or maybe in some cases quickly become assholes. You become disenchanted with them. Like that show Vikings. I watch that show Vikings, which I love, man. I love it. And all the roles have been flipped in that show. Started as a villain end as I love this dude. And then the other way around man, you're like, "I don't really like that guy anymore. He's an asshole." Right? So I love that. And I love the fact that you're thinking about that and considering that as you're scripting that all out.

Joe Strechay:
Definitely. Our writers did an amazing job and Jonathan Tropper. And getting to work with them has been great. And I continue to learn a lot working in this business, whether it's on that side of things or the accessibility like creating a set that people can access and helping actors who are blind or low vision and giving opportunities. We brought on an actor, Sheila Brown in season two for a small day part. She was a daily and came in and we scripted lines and it was her first film or television gig. And she ended up landing a principle role in a major film that shot this summer with a great cast.

Joe Strechay:
We're creating opportunities, getting people's foot in the door as well. So in season two we brought on, I think it was nine cast who were blind or low vision. I think five recurring roles. In season one I think it was maybe 12 actors who were blind or low vision. And I know season three when I get to talk about it down the line, even more than that. So pretty excited.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Well, since you stepped into that, Joe, that's a really fascinating subject because I read this article, everybody who's blind probably knows what I'm talking about, where there's a show, what is it called? In the Dark or something?

Joe Strechay:
In the dark. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And it was really controversial. A lot of protesting amongst organized blind movement. And people saying these actors, these... When you're playing a blind person, you should find blind people to play that role. So what's your take on that? I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I imagine you're seeing some improvement because you've just mentioned that, but-

Joe Strechay:
Definitely.

Erik Weihenmayer:
... where do you stand on that in terms of trying to get that to happen more? Sometimes Hollywood's like, "Hey, we need a really famous actor or actress here and we can't just have some no name blind person playing the starring role or..." You know what I mean? I get the complexity of it.

Joe Strechay:
I love that you asked this question. So I mentioned my undergraduate is around communications and media and in one of my classes, media effects, we studied how minority populations migrate into television and film and entertainment. And there are different stages that they move through. The study was first done in 1969 and it's been replicated. It was first done around race and then done around LGBTQI+ populations. And it references four stages of how minority populations move through entertainment.

Joe Strechay:
First, non-representation, that's stage one. Stage two is ridicule. So being made fun of or the joke. And stage three is authority or regulation. So like police officer, lawyer... See, police officer, lawyer, judge, someone that has some kind of legitimacy, their profession, their role, so that it establishes their character in the show. And the fourth stage is full range of roles. And I can tell you, even in the LGBTQI+ population, they bounce between that full range and legitimizing that third stage and it's a process. You're going to see steps forward and back.

Joe Strechay:
And the disability population, we're much further behind. I would say we bounce between ridicule to that regulation or authority to sometimes... We're getting closer to that full range. I'm helping All the Light We Cannot See. I'm an associate producer on for Netflix.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh, I read the book.

Joe Strechay:
Which is going to be a limited series with the same... Stephen Knight who created our show is writing it and working with Shawn Levy, who's the Stranger Things director and executive producer.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh, cool.

Joe Strechay:
He's directing it all. And we're casting a child version of that actor who's going to be an actor who's blind or low vision. And we're casting an older teenager version of that character as an actor who is blind or low vision. And this is a principle role and that wasn't done in the past. And even what I said about Sheila, and I can tell you, I'm in conversations with people every day who are casting people who are blind or low vision for major roles. The thing is, when those roles are not just about blindness or low vision, when it's about the character and they hire someone... I can use the example of my buddy Dan Shotz and Jon Steinberg, had a show called Black Sails back in the day. And they created it and it had four seasons and they were casting for this female part.

Joe Strechay:
And they were auditioning people. And this female actor who was deaf came in and auditioned, and by far they thought she was the best. And they were like, "Well, the role's not a person who's deaf." But they're like, "Well, I guess we could rewrite the part so that it is this person who is deaf and its not-

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's so cool.

Joe Strechay:
... around that. And this was done years ago, but that's when you're getting full range, when you are creating roles and persons with disabilities are getting those roles, not just because it's a... And it's not written to be just a person with a disability. And I can tell you that is happening because I'm consulting with other productions, I can't talk about at this point, films and other things where we're talking about persons with disabilities and I'm looking at roles that they have and saying, "This could easily be someone with this type of disability and it wouldn't impact your story at all, this population or you could easily change this role." And they're doing it.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And you're the kind of guy, Joe, in there, in the inside nudging, calling people and in a cool way, in a good way and articulate way.

Joe Strechay:
Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
You're not on the sideline protesting and doing all that. I think what you're doing is way more effective than the folks out on the street. Although I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, but-

Joe Strechay:
It's all important. But I know I'm getting people jobs and I know I'm helping. People come to work on our show, on See and they move on to other shows and they take what they've learned from me to other shows. And I think that's the impact we're making. I can tell you, my friends have multiple shows and they're including persons with disabilities in those shows now. They're running multiple shows and I know they're casting people with disabilities and they're going to continue to do that, like directors who've worked on other shows and I think it's in a very exciting time.

Jeff:
Well, hey, listen, I know Erik is a little bit... Let's call him seasoned at this point, but do you feel like maybe you could... Would you ever be able to find a role for him at some point in a huge [crosstalk 00:26:51]-

Erik Weihenmayer:
He already told me he's going to do it.

Jeff:
I've been looking. We were going to create a role and I've been trying. So we were looking for the right role.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I'd be that blind guy who was a badass in my day, but I'm getting old and I'm trying to teach my skills. I'm like old Luke Skywalker, maybe trying to teach Jason Momoa some new tricks.

Jeff:
Oh, wait minute, what about the sequel after Karate Kid where the dude's a little bit washed up in his little dojo there, and that could be Erik. You could be like, you own a little rock climbing... You own a rock climbing gym and you were the washed up climber, but you had some dude come in and be like, "I remember when you used to be good, but you suck now," and then you could have a climb off or something.

Joe Strechay:
Well, I'm going to continue to pitch Erik for all my productions. So I could say that.

Erik Weihenmayer:
All right. We really tapped into the true purpose of this podcast.

Jeff:
Hey, no, Erik told me to ask that. He did. He asked me if I would ask you so it didn't seem to you as if he asked.

Joe Strechay:
I know.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Joe he's a fucking liar.

Joe Strechay:
He texted me weekly asking me like, "Is there a role for me? Is there a role for me?"

Jeff:
Yeah. He's like, "I got my SAG card, bro. I'm part of union. You can sign me up."

Erik Weihenmayer:
I've been doing the sit ups so I have a four pack. I'll get a six pack if I get the role. All right. Well, I have mechanical questions because I'm curious, kind of how to. So you stand next to the director, how do you know what they're doing visually? I remember when I used to coach wrestling, I used to have the kids do the moves on me. And so I would be the dummy and I'd feel them doing the move right or wrong. So how are you able to get a sense of the set of how people are moving and functioning as you're there?

Joe Strechay:
So every day we go to our set and I have a team. First of all, I have an assistant who audio describes everything for me.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh, cool.

Joe Strechay:
She audio describes everything and I've trained her in what I need and what I'm looking for in every scene. So first of all, we go and sit with the director, our process with Anders Engstrom who's one of my best friends. Who's directing pretty much all of season three and directed majority of season two. We sit down with all the actors and read through the lines first thing, just to get a feel and figure out what the heart and the soul of that scene is. And then we start to block it, figure out what the movements are in that scene. And I'm right there and my assistant is audio describing and I'm making suggestions.

Joe Strechay:
And I get to say, "What about doing this? Or how about this?" And I talk to each actor and I give them notes. And some of them have been doing this for years now and so they have ideas. And then afterwards I say, "Well, if you're going to do that, how about doing this way?" I show them what I might do and we walk through it. So we're blocking. And if there's an actor who's blind or low vision, we are making sure that they understand, they get time on the set. They know their first mark and last mark, whether it's a tactile marking, whether they're a person of low vision, high contrast, and then we give them extra time to walk the set and feel comfortable.

Joe Strechay:
I have choreographers who work under me that I've trained. And we use for looking for what we're doing. So I have my own monitors with my team of choreographers and we're watching every background performer. We're watching every actor, we're watching every movement and my assistant's watching and audio describing everything. And then these other people were also watching for these small details. And we determine what those little things are we're looking for in the scene and what is in our world. And I've created these rules about our world. And we went so much more detailed with season two. So we're watching specific head movements and how they reach for things, how they grab things.

Joe Strechay:
And sometimes it's not just about blindness. It's about the camera and how the camera catches someone. So we're making sure it looks right on camera for what we're trying to do. And our world is different than the real world of blindness. And we say that straight out. It's science fiction. Everyone is totally blind from the same reason there's been generations of people being blind. So the social and cultural and visual norms of eye contact disappear, because that is a social and cultural and visual norm. If you go to different countries, eye contact is used differently. And I decided on rules based on research on what we should do and what we shouldn't do and what we're looking for. And so we watch every detail.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So tell me more because that's so fascinating to me. I guess you wouldn't call them dos and don'ts when you're bringing people together and training them. So dive into that a little bit. So I've always been taught as a blind person, you look at somebody and I feel like my ears work in stereo when I'm facing somebody better, but this is a world where people have been blind for their whole lives. It's totally normal. So what are the social things that they've abandoned that we practice in the sided world? Give us some examples.

Joe Strechay:
So depending on how many people you're facing, depends on how you're facing. You don't really need stereo if you're that. And if you're listening for maybe stuff happening, you're... A lot of our situations you're in battle or you're in an environment where you're listening and actually there's a scientific thing. If you hear a sound directly in front of you where it splits your ears and directly behind you that splits your ears, it sounds exactly the same.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Joe Strechay:
Did you know that Erik?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yes, a little bit, because I did this show all about sound.

Joe Strechay:
Okay.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Joe Strechay:
So often people who are blind and most people don't realize this, will tilt their head a little bit when they hear a sound in front of them or behind them to offset your ears because it's like triangulation, right? You're determining distance. And it tells you whether it's in front of you or behind you.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Well, they move their heads a little bit too. Because I find myself when I'm trying to hear something, I move my... Because I get a little better perspective as I'm moving in space.

Joe Strechay:
And that's with echolocation. So echolocation works better if you're moving because you're creating shape to an object. Right? So our mutual friend, Daniel Kish I spoke to him a bunch and I went through the seminars at No Barriers and other conferences and stuff and look up to them and stuff. And I know you do too.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. So echolocation for everyone is clicking and sound is bouncing off of objects and coming back at you. So the actors utilize that or pretend to be utilizing that [crosstalk 00:33:54].

Joe Strechay:
Yeah. Well, they could be using active echolocation, is where you're creating the sound whether it's with your mouth, your hands, your staff, in our world it's staff, in real world cane or you can be creating sound with anything that you're creating. That's an active echolocation. If you're using the sound around you and there's always sound around us and in our modern world there's often too much sound at times, but passive echolocation is using the sound around you. So if you're walking along a river and you're listening to the water, you can hear where trees are and you hear the shape of the trees. You hear the trunk, you hear the branches, you hear wind going through trees. I can stand in a field and I make out where trees are and stuff by the sound, whether it's the sound from echolocation passively or if we're talking about active echolocation, whether it's the wind or the airflow, all those things play a role. And we use that in our show.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I was echolocating in a group of trees and I was doing so good, maneuvering like a Jedi through the forest. And I walked right into the skinny little tree trunk, bam.

Joe Strechay:
That happens, right?

Jeff:
In the spirit of that, I've been hanging out with Erik for a long time. I know we know mannerisms of people after decades of being with them. And there's two things that are just super clear to me when I look over at him and whether we're in a conversation or whether I'm watching how he's interpreting a conversation, if he's really, really interested in what you're saying, his head will tilt just a little bit like you said, just to point one ear that way.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Like a dog.

Jeff:
If he doesn't care what you're saying, he'll just stay straight ahead. So by the way, anybody in the future that wants to know if Erik cares, if he's looking straight at you, he's not listening. I just want everybody in the world to know that about Erik. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
You'll see it in our show. People are listening in and depending on how much they turn the ear or lean in, even more depends on how well they're...

Jeff:
Right.

Joe Strechay:
Yeah.

Jeff:
Right. So here's the other thing. Here's number two. The other thing that I'm really in tune with Erik's mannerisms is as you can tell, we dog each other and we're really quite good at dogging each other because we know where to go and what to push. So whenever I'll say something and I've seen him do it just today, just right now is when I say something or somebody says something to him and he's formulating his response, his head will drop down just very slightly and his eyes will perk up and you'll see the glow come across his face because he just realizes his rebuttal or his comeback. And it's just hit him and I can see it and I'm like, "Here it comes."

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's not blindness, that's neurological.

Joe Strechay:
So your eyes move and you can see this in Daredevil, charlie Cox used it as well. When you're thinking about something, your eyes go up. When you're feeling something, they go down and there's fact and creative. So people use for lying, right? So it's also future and past. So asking someone to think about something from the past or thinking about the future, which would be creative, right?

Jeff:
Which way do people look when that happens, the future creative thing, is it up?

Joe Strechay:
Creative, left. Yeah.

Jeff:
Okay. All right.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That is really interesting. A lot of brain science there.

Joe Strechay:
I'm pretty sure of that. It's been a while since... But I'm pretty sure of that. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Hey, let's talk about the fight scenes. Let's get to the good stuff. Because you teach blind fight scenes, man. I love fight scenes. I was telling somebody the other day the best shows, the three combos for good storytelling. Well, just two really, romance and then kicking each other in the face.

Joe Strechay:
I think that's true. I think that's totally true.

Jeff:
Do you pull your hair back before you get into a fight scene, before you teach fight scenes, or you just let it flow?

Joe Strechay:
Oh, I can't say I teach fight scenes, but I work with the stunt team to work on. So develop things that work and what doesn't work. We figured a lot out on season one, but then in season two our stunt team took it to a whole different level. We play with echolocation. We play with how people's movements. And some things that we use and action fighters use, your steps. You hear someone's step, it shows you intent. And if you hear that step and you feel it, and we use that in the show, but also we use echolocation around it. We use the sound of someone's body, moving their armor, moving... We use footsteps. We use distraction of other sound, but we figured out in season one if I grab someone using my... I'm holding out my left hand and I grab the right arm of someone and they're pulling back their left arm to punch me, I can feel it through their right arm. I can feel their arm pulled back.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And you must have wrestled because that's something you learn in wrestle blind [crosstalk 00:39:00].

Joe Strechay:
Yeah, I did. I did.

Jeff:
Yeah. But how do you translate that into a scene though by the actor? How does that translate?

Joe Strechay:
Our stunt team choreographs these big fights. And if you watch season two, we have even more fighting than we had in season one. There's so much more fighting and cool innovative stuff because of our stunt team. But we translate it because if they make connection, that's how they're doing it. And we think about what's possible around steps, like hearing it and they propose things. We come up with ideas and rules and they come up with different techniques that they're going to use with different communities, populations for their fighting style, different characters. They propose stuff and we bounce it around.

Joe Strechay:
They show us previews of what it might look like. And then we look at it and we're like, "That doesn't work or that is freaking cool." Or we're like, "That's freaking cool, but could you do this?" The guy just ducks and we're like, "Yeah, there's no sound coming, how does he know to duck?" There has to be a reason for ducking. So we work on that. What is that reason? Whether it's the step, because then you'll hear the person coming with their arm. We play around like do they have a weapon or they're wearing armor? There's all kinds of things. Versus ducking I'm bending my body down, I prefer a step back or a step to the side, something like that. But there are times you can justify a duck.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And do you get a little messy too if somebody swings a punch and they just miss, right? Because I guarantee you, if I was fighting, I'd swing at somebody's head and I guarantee I'd miss most of the time.

Joe Strechay:
Oh, you'll see that in our fight scenes, for sure. You're going to see misses, you're going to see hits. You're even going to see at times in these big battles where someone might take out one of their own people. And their armor sounds different purposely, so they can determine, but you mess up sometimes.

Jeff:
Yeah. All right. So let me ask you this, you've got a lot of responsibility as an ambassador clearly. And it sounds to me just from talking to you for this short period of time, you relish that and you honor that because you the role and responsibility you have with that. So that being the key, maybe you could talk on that for a second, but I really I'm interested is any part of scripting or production of the series framed in a way that Erik can watch it and get more from it than me or as much as me, in any-

Joe Strechay:
Yes.

Jeff:
... little nuance that you do? All right. Tell me

Joe Strechay:
Even more. So I got to spend time with both our two US national consumer groups and a number of other groups talking. And I spoke to a lot of people including Erik, about our show and people who watched our show, what their input was. And I listened to it and I took notes. And so as we were building season two, I thought about things. So audio description is so important and Apple was committed to audio description. They launched Apple TV+ with audio description in nine different languages. So when I watch other streaming services and I go to a different country, you typically can't access the other audio description in languages. So if I'm in Japan, I wouldn't be able to access English or if I'm in Russia or someplace else. So with Apple TV+ you can access all these languages at once. Plus I think there's 39 languages for close captioning. And I think it's going way up.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I go through it on my phone, the menu, and I see all the languages that you can tap into. It's really cool.

Joe Strechay:
So I wanted to impact the audio description for our show. I watched our show and I've watched season one, I don't know, like 30 times. I don't know how many times. I've watched already season two probably, I don't know, 15, 20 times. I wanted to work with our audio description team and we have one of the best audio description teams that Apple provided to us and gave them some points about the world, because typically shows aren't involved in the audio description. And I wanted to give worlds-

Erik Weihenmayer:
It's like another layer that it's totally separate.

Joe Strechay:
A separate. No, they have no interaction with the production typically. Very little. And so I wanted to be involved. So I watched every episode and every scene with my assistant and we created bullet points of things that were world specific, they might not come on and what the intent, what we were trying to do. And we built in some Easter eggs and I kept saying, "Oh, I want to put in more detail than before." And I kept talking to people like Eric Bridges from the American Council of the Blind and folks from the National Federation of the Blind about what they wanted more. And I'm like, "I want to give more detail." And that was something I heard, about costumes and the set.

Joe Strechay:
So I built in little Easter eggs about the world into the audio description. And early on in season two, they're like, "Oh, I don't know. This breaks rules, breaks rules." And then later in season two I'm like, "Let's do it. Come on. Let's put it in." So as you go further in, you're going to get more and more detail in the audio description. And it breaks some of the basic audio description rules because you're not supposed to get more information than the person with sight gets from watching it. But people who are blind who are using audio description, anyone watching audio description will get more detail about our show and little hidden pieces about the world.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I watch audio description movies with my family and they're psyched because they're like, "I didn't know who that guy was or that woman was. So now I get it."

Joe Strechay:
Well, it changed how I watched television.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right. I came back to TV after audio description, is so great.

Joe Strechay:
Also, one of the suggestions I think it came from either the performance... I think it was either someone from the American Council of the blind. It might have been Claire or someone from the performance division of NFB. I know ACB championed it and kept pushing it for soundtrack. So for season two I did a process to search for very professional instrumentalists. And it was late in the game, well, when we decided to do it. We found had some people lie about being blind or low vision. And we wasted some time and I figured that out for us. But then we found some people through the Able Artist Foundation.

Joe Strechay:
This foundation, they helped us do our recruitment and we found someone, a string player who's now in a couple of our tracks from season two and we'll be doing the same thing for season three, bringing on more. And I think that's just what we should be doing. We should be bringing more opportunities to people, persons with disabilities, persons who are blind or low vision.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Cool.

Joe Strechay:
Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I have a couple more questions, but one is not even a question. It's just I got to say this because Daredevil has to be my favorite show ever.

Joe Strechay:
Love it. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
It was so great. The audio description, the way they described the fight scenes, it was just so great. I just was so in love with Daredevil. Have you ever watched that Jeff?

Joe Strechay:
Oh, first audio described show on Netflix too.

Erik Weihenmayer:
It was so good, man. I was so sad when they ended it.

Jeff:
I did watch it.

Joe Strechay:
Yeah. And Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock in Daredevil, is one of the nicest men I know

Erik Weihenmayer:
He was such a good blind guy.

Joe Strechay:
And he's such a good dude. We're still friends and yeah, great people. And actually a number of these people are going to be... I've been helping plan this audio description awards. The American Council of the Blind is putting on first big audio description awards and Charlie, Jason Momoa and these guys, my friends are going to be helping out by... Whether they're doing promotion for it or presenting awards or giving little pieces about it. They're all helping out and joining in.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So cool. It was really trail-braking when he was falling in love with his assistant there and-

Joe Strechay:
Karen Page.

Erik Weihenmayer:
... he's like, "I'll take your arm." She's like, "How do we do it?" And he's like, "I'll take your arm." It's very simple, but it was like, "Oh, thank God, it's just normal." You know what I mean? It wasn't like him just tapping along into ways that wouldn't really be real.

Joe Strechay:
And Deborah Ann Woll who plays Karen Page, her husband E.J. Scott is a person who's legally blind.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh my gosh.

Joe Strechay:
Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Awesome, man. Well, I love your work, Joe. It's so great.

Joe Strechay:
Thank you, brother.

Erik Weihenmayer:
We've interviewed a lot of cool people, but I mean, I was honestly more excited to interview you than almost anyone we've interviewed because it's just your life's so interesting and you trailblazed so many cool things and I love your shows and-

Joe Strechay:
Well, I'm looking forward to watching your Nat Geo show.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Jeff:
Oh, shoot. Yeah. That's coming down the pipe maybe. But the cool thing is for years Erik was the handsome blonde guy and I think maybe that ship has sailed. I don't know. I'm just going to say it. Oh, I'm going to say it

Joe Strechay:
My head's blowing up right now. He can't see it.

Jeff:
Now you know it, Joe.

Joe Strechay:
It's getting big.

Jeff:
He doesn't have the-

Erik Weihenmayer:
In with the new, out with the old.

Jeff:
Well, he doesn't have the flowy, sick and the nice beard.

Joe Strechay:
I don't have the summiting Mount Everest or the highest peak on each continent or kayaking.

Jeff:
But that was 20 years ago, bro. All that stuff-

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's ancient history.

Jeff:
Right? That's just long gone stuff. So anyway, now you've surpassed him. You are the most interesting blind guy I know. So thank you for filling that void.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh, he is the Dos Equis guy for blind people. He was an interesting man.

Joe Strechay:
Dos Equis.

Jeff:
Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
All right.

Joe Strechay:
Cool.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Joe, man, thank you so much. It's been great. We could talk to you all day, but-

Joe Strechay:
Oh, yeah, I feel the same.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Everyone, No Barriers. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff:
Thanks, Joe. Appreciate you, man. Keep fighting a good fight.

Speaker 1:
We would like to thank our generous sponsors that make our No Barriers podcast possible, Wells Fargo, Prudential, CoBank, AERO Electronics and Winnebago. Thank you so much for your support. It means everything to us. The production team behind this podcast includes senior producer, Pauline Shaffer. Sound design editing and mixing by Tyler Cotman and marketing support by Heather Zokali, Stevie Donardo, Erica Hui and Alex Schaffer. Special thanks to The Dan Ryan band for our intro song, Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. (singing)

 



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