Wednesday, September 23, 2015

SAG Vote Could Call Strike Against Interactive Media (aka Video Games)

#PerformanceMatters cropped upon Twitter overnight as part of a response to a panel hosted at Long Beach Comic Con on September 12 by voice actors. Typically in these panels the actors and actresses will talk about the craft, how they got into the industry, and it opens to a Q&A where fans try to get the talent to say their favorite line in the voice of their favorite character.

What rarely gets discussed is the crappy wages many voice actors work with. The industry for voice over work has changed rapidly over the past decade. Not just with video games, but with film and television (anime in particular) as well. There is a higher demand for voice over acting, and more opportunities for newcommers and those in the business. The downside is the crappy pay and the crappier contracts. On occasion you'll hear voice actors comment about the unfavorable working conditions. They have been more vocal in recent years as virtually all video games move to using voice work (not all, but close to it).

So why the hashtag? SAG-AFRTA, the Screen Actors Guild, is currently voting on whether to issue a strike on the field of Interactive Media for unfair contracts and pay. That would be video games, kiddos. And a number of known video game voice actors have voted yes on the strike, such as DC Douglas (Resident Evil, Last of Us), Matt Mercer (Metal Gear Solid V, Disney Infinity, Batman: Arkham Knight...just turn on any animated show or play any video game. Matt is in it), and Grey Griffin (currently on Wonder Woman on all games/animated shows, Mortal Kombat X, you know what? She has an equally impressive background, so I'll just link it).

SAG has been in negotiations with several publishers such as EA, Activision, Disney, Warner Brothers, and many more, since early February of this year. A follow-up meeting in June provided no results. The hope is that the publishers will be more in line with today's SAG terms. Currently both parties (publishers and SAG) are using a mid-1990's template for interactive media. It was fine at the time. It's really outdated now. Here's what SAG and voice actors are fighting for:

- Performance Bonuses/Residuals. Did you know that video game voice actors don't get squat after a game's release? If the product goes on to sell millions, oh well! You got your one paycheck. Unlike television shows or advertisements where the actor maintains some pay long after the show ends, voice actors do not get the same treatment. Games and anime are treated as a one-time end product, and actors are paid as such.

- Vocal Stress Stunt Pay. This sounds weird, but go with me for a moment. Voice actors have to perform a lot more from a vocal standpoint compared to a film actor. They have to yell, scream, grunt, sigh, elate, and provide a myriad of punching, hitting, ducking, swiping, and battle noise that most actors would never have to deal with. It provides additional stress to their vocal cords, and requires more effort. Thus, pay to compensate for this.

- Stunt Coordinator for Performance Capture. Basically, a stunt man on the set whenever they need to do motion capture. It's not required, so a lot of publishers do without. It creates a potentially dangerous work environment.

- Transparency. In the world of voice acting, you go into a booth, you do your audition, and you leave without ever knowing what the heck you just read lines for. This doesn't happen with TV, movies, or theater. You go in at least knowing the title of the project, if not the character you're auditioning for. While we understand that video game secrecy is a big deal, so are movies and tv shows. Give everyone an NDA when they audition and you're good to go.

So why do actors and actresses keep picking up voice over gigs if they're not being properly compensated for them? I'm going to bet that it's for the fans. They go to conventions and see how much people respond to them with open arms and bright smiles, that it makes all of the stress worth it. Actors are one in million. You could easily forget a person on the screen. But a voice lives on forever. I will always remember Bugs Bunny, Bubbles, and Goku.

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