SAG-AFTRA Strike: Performance Matters

Starting today, in about 2 hours, many of our favorite Voice Actors – Crispin Freeman, Jennifer Hale, Steve Blum – are going on strike against Game Development companies. You might be wondering what this means and why. I can’t do the cause justice like the ones actually involved in the strike are doing, but I’ll try to summarize some of the points they are striking for.

I think that I’m in a unique position to comment on this because of my involvement with the indie game company Nic3Ntertainment; as well as the other Indie studios I have worked as a freelancer for. One of the major aspects of Nic3’s games are voice acting. We might not be making Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, or Dynasty Warriors – that’s for sure, but we make the extra effort to include voice work in many of our games. Why? Because in this modern day and age even indie games seem lacking if they don’t at least have narration. Having good, high quality voice work can make a good game great, or even a not-so-great game seem kinda okay.

At the same time having no voice work or arguably worse – poor voice work in an otherwise beautiful game diminishes the whole property. That’s why as someone who has worked on both sides of the mic – as a voice actor and as a producer – I’m with the striking actors, because #PerformanceMatters.

Now before I go any further, let me just give the caveat that I am not a member of the SAG-AFTRA union, I am not striking, and I do not work on union contracted jobs. That being said, it doesn’t preclude me from being an ally of these union workers fighting to get the same recognition that workers in incredibly similar fields receive such as a safe working environment and fair compensation.

Essentially the voice actors want 3 major things, near as I understand it:

  1. Safety Protections – They want to be able limit high intensity studio sessions to 2 hours, instead of the usual 4 hour sessions, but still get paid a normal daily wage. You see the way being a professional union voice actor works, generally, is you do a 4 hour recording session and you are paid for the session. The standard rate of pay is about $825. Not bad for 4 hours of work, I’ll admit – but remember that most of these studios are also in major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Houston, etc. so $825 doesn’t go nearly as far as it might where I’m at. So they want to be able to limit strenuous voice work – such as screaming like a Dragon Ball Z power up, doing fighting kiais, and the likes. I’ve worked with an actor who had to turn down a part in one of our games because they did a big screamy project and lost their voice for two weeks. I’ve also worked with an actress who had to have throat polyps surgically removed – thankfully she was able to continue working after that. Another safety aspect they’re demanding is having stunt coordinators in place on performance capture jobs. Performance capture is where they actually have the voice actor doing the motion capture for either the character’s actual movement or at least their facial expressions. A lot of times they are actually doing the stunts in the scenes of your favorite games while in a mo-cap suit…and apparently without a stunt coordinator. This a good way to get yourself hurt or even permanently maimed.
  2. Secondary Compensation – The second part they’re fighting for is secondary compensation, this is basically getting a bonus if the project you worked on performed well. And they have a cap on it that basically means if they do voice work on a game and it sells 8 million copies they get paid a $30,000 bonus. Let me just tell you that EA’s CEO got a million and a half dollar bonus…and he’s probably making a lot more than $825 a day.
  3. Transparency – Imagine walking into your job and being given a list of parts to assemble, but not being told what you’re assembling them for. You’ve got a half dozen parts you’re supposed to weld together and it might be a car, it might be a boat, or it might be a nuclear bomb. That’s what a lot of these folks are dealing with, one of the actors interviewed said he was a main character for Fallout 4…and didn’t know it until the game was released. Knowing your part and how your character is involved in the complex chemistry of the game’s world makes it much easier to play your role more efficiently and make the character more believable and relatable. Imagine you were a voice actor and you were being brought in to play a character for what you thought was just a regular AAA gaming title called Project Repo. But once the project is released you find out the game is hardcore political propaganda for a position or political party you were vehemently opposed to. The actors just want transparency – they’ve been forced to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements anyway, so they’re not allowed to reveal any information about the project anyway. Imagine if Sir Patrick Stewart showed up the set of the X-Men and everything was just green-screened and there were no other actors on set and he was given just Professor X’s lines and told to act out the movie for 4 straight hours. Also he’d need to be there for the next ten days to complete his role. Because this is another aspect of transparency: Many of these actors are forced to either accept or turn down a role without knowing how many sessions would be necessary to complete the role. They don’t know if they’re a side character who will be done in a single 4-hour session, or if they’re playing the main character and will need to do thirty sessions to complete role.

With those points in mind, I bring up something that one of the industry defenders brought up in one of the articles I link to. He stated that it doesn’t make sense to put all this effort and money into the voice actors on these games, because they make up less than one tenth of one percent of the overall work on the game.

Having done voice work myself I know that its a little more than one tenth of a single percent. But regardless of whether it’s one tenth of a percent, one percent, or one hundred percent…they have a right to a safe and prosperous work environment to further their career in.

Now imagine, since the industry seems to believe that voice acting is only one tenth of a single percent of a game’s worth. So let’s imagine what some modern games would be like without voice actors.

I don’t know about you…but I’d rather see talented voice actors performing those roles. Because I strongly believe that #PerformanceMatters.

For more information, check out these sites and stories:

http://www.gameactorsforall.com/

http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/10/22/498954253/voice-actors-strike-against-video-game-companies

SAG-AFTRA Members Authorize Strike Against Video Game Industry

https://www.sagaftra.org/interactive

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