#PerformanceMatters & The SAG-AFTRA Strike: The Beef With Their Demands
Recently I’ve been looking at the hub-bub about the SAG guild attempting to strike, and I’ve been meaning to pick apart their demands. Personally I don’t see the point of unions in this day and age. I think they are redundant with the advent of workers laws, and at this point they are just scrambling to stay relevant (read: keep cash reserves).
That is were my viewpoint is coming from. With that in mind, let us delve into what SAG-AFTRA has brought to the table.
Here’s a quote from SAG-AFTRA regarding themselves and their demands.
What We Stand For
SAG-AFTRAʼs package of proposals has been crafted with input from interactive performers every step of the way. We started with one-on-one meetings with the top performers in the industry. Then we held dozens of small in-home gatherings, organized three big social events and had a Wages and Working Conditions caucus. Below are the issues that came up time and time again. These are the four issues that make up the bulk of our proposal package.
Okay, let’s take a look at these demands and see what they are about.
You might call them residuals, secondary payments, royalties, pay bumps or whatever suits your fancy. It is simply the idea that, if a video game is wildly successful, actors should share in its financial success. There is ample precedent for residual income for actors, yet they’ve historically been extremely difficult to achieve in this contract. The formula we propose is as follows:
We’re asking for a reasonable performance bonus for every 2 million copies, or downloads sold, or 2 million unique subscribers to online-only games, with a cap at 8 million units/ subscribers. That shakes out, potentially, to FOUR bonus payments for the most successful games: 2 million, 4 million, 6 million and 8 million copies.
As much as I am fond of certain VAs involved, no, you do not deserve royalties to a job that is essentially fluff. Not compared to 90% of the rest of the work involved in delivering a great game. VAs are not movie stars. They do not sell the game; the gameplay does. I’m not sorry if the truth hurts, and I understand this may make you mad. But Orwell said it best, “The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” So I’m willing to accept consequences for speaking it. And yes, I’ve seen what I feel is SAG-AFTRA manipulating the VA’s fanbase, just so they can get better off at others expense.
I call that deceit.
We believe actors should get stunt pay for vocally stressful recording sessions the same way they get stunt pay for physically demanding roles. That’s why we’re proposing to limit “vocally stressful” recording sessions to two hours at the same union minimums.
You are going to a union, to charge extra, for an amount of effort not everyone will put into their work. How silly. I see you all claim it’s to keep you all from keeping you from screaming yourselves mute. But why do you need a union to help you with any of this. Unions are redundant now that workers have actual rights. And watch me have to repeat this in every response. I have a feeling I will need to keep doing so. There is this handy little action one can do if they feel they are being abused developer or publisher. It’s called not taking the job. For example, if producing voice acting for games via EA is harmful, and they don’t listen to grievances, then just don’t work for them any more. I understand that you cannot just quit a job in the middle of a contract, and also keep your professional reputation in tact. But you have full choice of who to work for in the future. Don’t work for the vultures if you feel they are picking your bones. Simple.
Stunt Coordinator on Performance Capture Volume
Many actors feel unsafe without a stunt coordinator because they are often asked to do things that could potentially be dangerous to themselves or others. For example, once, without a stunt coordinator on set, a video game developer tried to do a wire pull – which means he basically made himself jerk really hard and fast across a room – without someone on set to monitor his safety. He, of course, got hurt and couldn’t go back to work for a long while. This is just one instance among many.
Again, if it’s so tough, make sure this is in place before taking a job. Refuse that job if they do not have stunt coordinators. Don’t hide behind a union bully to squeeze money out of a publisher just because someone could get hurt. Because it’s a case by case basis. Compared to being a screen actor where you endure physical stress, where you have to change your body to fit a role, voice acting is seems like nothing. I understand that VA talent often does motion capture these days, and a stunt coordinator is not out of the question, but I can’t help to feel they are approaching this wrong. Striking to punish some bad publishers and taking their “toys” away from everyone else who has acted in good faith when developing games with VA.
Our proposal is that we need to know more about the projects that we’re working on. We propose that the actual title of the project should be made available to at least our representatives before we are asked to audition. Again, precedent is on our side here. You wouldn’t work on a TV show, commercial or film without knowing what part you’re playing and how it fits into the story, yet we are asked over and over again to do just that in interactive media. Our proposal also asks for the following information whenever reasonably possible: How many sessions are you expecting to book? What rating are you planning to get? Why? Is there offensive content? Will the sessions be vocally stressful? Transparency is key. We deserve to clearly know what we’re getting into before we commit to a role in a game.
On the surface, this looks fairly reasonable. Until you get to what looks most like a naked powergrab here. So you want the power to possibly censor work if it offends you? I certainly don’t trust that kind of power in the hands of someone like Ashly Burch or Wil Wheaton; simply due to their ideology. All and all, I’ve heard from my industry contacts that VAs can be drama queens with huge egos. Nothing too personal here, there are probably plenty of good actors among you. But I don’t trust the power to censor a games script in the hands of all of the VAs collectively.
Especially the ones also spearheading a political correctness crusade.
Your Interactive Committee has worked hard to bring the concerns of working video game performers to the negotiating table.
On Feb. 2, a group of video game performers and video game producers met to renegotiate the Interactive Media Agreement.
Some of the folks in the room were big hitters and signatories to the existing contract, including EA Games, Activision, Disney and Warner Bros., as well as smaller recording studios like Blindlight and Formosa. We put our proposals on the table, they put their proposals on the table, there was some polite and spirited back and forth, but no agreement was reached.
Both sides met again on June 23. Still, no agreement was reached.
According to SAG-AFTRA, here are some of the proposals that their employers have put forward that they find “reckless and ill-advised”
Our employers propose to fine you $2,500 if you show up late or are not “attentive to the services for which [you] have been engaged.” This means you could be fined for almost anything: checking an incoming text, posting to your Twitter feed, even zoning out for a second. If a producer feels you are being “inattentive,” they want the option to fine you $2,500.
This is one of the more vaguely detailed contention points from both sides. I mean, I’ve seen other unions have its members partake in drunken antics, so there is a precedent for distracted work costing a producer money. This is what this comes down to, though. Money. When you are late for your contract, when you are too busy twaddling on Twitter to know your cue is up, when your friend high fives you on Facebook for that latest snappy comeback but leaves you not knowing what line you were on last, this costs a producer money. When it comes to multi-million dollar projects, one can easily waste more than $2,500 in a day if the talent and crew are dawdling around and not paying attention to the project at hand.
It’s another point I am not sorry to speak: you are on another person’s dime when you take a job from them. You do not have a right to be on your cell phone while you are working. There is no fucking right to social media; especially when one has literally traded their time for money in what us common folk call a “job.” I don’t even do this type of thing at school, let alone at work. The inattentive thing is vague, but again VA drew first blood here, so I have to lean where logic goes.
Our employers propose to fine your agent $50,000 – 100,000 if they don’t send you out on certain auditions (like Atmospheric Voices or One Hour One Voice sessions). And if your agent chooses not to submit you for certain auditions, the employers want it put into contract language that SAG-AFTRA will revoke the agent’s union franchise. This would mean your agency would not be able to send you or anyone else they represent out on any union jobs, including those in animation, TV/Film, Commercials, etc.
Our employers don’t believe that Motion and Performance Capture work is covered under this contract. The companies also proposed they be allowed to hire their own employees to play characters in video games without having to join the union.
That’s reasonable; why should they pay you when you want to be Hollywood? I’m going to lean on the experience of business operators here. There is a reason that publishers and developers would want this (likely related to saving money, but also to help achieve efficiency of workflow). If VAs don’t want to meet the requirements put forth by their contractor, then they should just not take the job. Everyone has this right.
I would also have to agree that Motion Capture isn’t, and shouldn’t, be covered under a voice actors contract. It seems perfectly reasonable that companies should be allowed to hire whoever they damn well please to do Motion Capture. If I was a developer or publisher I would be incensed that this actor’s guild thought they could tell me who I could and couldn’t put in the funny black suit with ping pong balls attached.
These aren’t an actor’s productions, and these aren’t an actors company. These actor’s are not special snowflakes and they are infinitely replaceable. I hate to sound like an asshole here, but know your place.
There are other proposals that reduce integration/reuse fees and allow the sunset of Cloud Gaming provisions that rollback the gains we’ve made in previous contracts.
HAVEN’T WE PUT OURSELVES IN THIS POSITION BY ASKING FOR BACKEND BONUS?
Over and over, interactive performers have identified of a backend bonus as a top concern. There is ample precedent for secondary payments across the media landscape. You get secondary payments when you perform in feature films, animation, episodic TV, commercials and the like. But that wasn’t always the case. Performers who came before you had the courage to fight for the residual payments you enjoy today, and, because they stood together, they won them.
The top games make money. This industry has grown, boomed and morphed into something bigger and lucrative than any other segment of the entertainment industry, and it continues to do so. The truth is, back end bonuses are not uncommon in the video game industry. Last year, Activision’s COO took home a bonus of $3,970,862. EA paid their executive chairman a bonus of $1.5 million. We applaud their success, and we believe our talent and contributions are worth a bonus payment, too.
Then stop hiding behind a union. Because all it’s going to do is screw over the little guy while filling the pockets of those running unions. That’s all they do nowadays. Just seeing how their necessity became outlived after the 20th century. Long after the Robber Barons ran amok.
AREN’T THEY JUST TRYING TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR BUDGETS?
Sure. Most of the smaller and less popular games won’t be affected by the residuals payment. We structured our proposal to trigger at 2 million units, the point we would regard a game as a blockbuster. We want the video game industry to keep growing. Growth = More work for us! As for the big games, we know the companies already budget for sales-based bonuses for many of their employees. So maybe the companies are trying to protect the budgets for their top executive bonuses, but is it not reasonable to suggest that performers should also share in these successes?
You have no idea how much money advertisement makes for a game. Advertisement is worth more than you guys are worth; at least when it comes to drawing an audience. There is also no concrete proof that particular actors do or do not help sell more games. Of the few outstanding performances that come to my mind, I still don’t think it was the actor themselves being involved that made it a blockbuster success. On top of this, there seems to be a general feeling that SAG-AFTRA is asking for more money on the backs, blood, and tears of those who can spend years working 60 – 80 plus hours a week and never see the residuals that the actors are demanding.
Let’s also not forget this little tidbit from Mike Futter of Game Informer, “According to our anonymous union source, many SAG-AFTRA members see residuals as an ‘extravagance.‘”
CAN I WORK ON A VIDEO GAME DURING THE STRIKE?
No. You will not be able to work under the interactive contract while the strike is in effect. But please know, the community would only decide to strike if the short-term risk of loss-of-work is outweighed by the long-term gain of a better contract in a growing industry.
So in other words you will blacklist whoever replaces you from your union, and attempt to keep down new talent. How benevolent and noble. We read you loud and clear.
Their narrative of Video Game VAs being underpaid and overworked falls flat in most cases. I have looked at the costs of games such as Mighty No 9 where the VA talent gets $4,200 per session. This is ignoring how a publisher working in a SAG approved Sound Studio can pay as much as $150-$3,000 per hour.
I was once sympathetic to the struggle of VAs in comparison to Hollywood, but stuff like this has made me understand the bias the game industry has against them to a point. As terrible as Hollywood is, screen actors must put in much more work to fit a role, and often radically alter their bodies; while VAs barely have that same amount of responsibility working on a game. This is compared to screen actors who actually do sell a movie, or even the devs who do 90% of the work on a video game. I have never seen a person buy a game for the voices, but they do every day for their gameplay. I mean Beyond Two Souls had honest to god celebrities, but it was still a David Cage game. I adore Jennifer Hale as Femshep, but it is the sum of Mass Effect’s experience and gameplay that sold so many copies. Not top tier VA billings.
All this is doing is simply making the actors who are well off, and known associates of the union, look lazy and greedy; while at the same time making others fearful for the smaller VAs either being roped into this, or risking becoming blacklisted by the Union if it strikes and they decide they still want to work.
Personally, I don’t think Unions will help anyone, anyways. All they do is gobble up money, and screw over smaller companies once they get done eating the big boys. Which is why I oppose that asinine suggestion by the VAs to unionize as well. Unions are redundant with workers rights. It is not the devs fault that you are too cowardly to take your own risks with smaller publishers. Why the hell do you keep working with renowned idiots like EA and Ubisoft if you don’t want to be treated like garbage? Then you come to the public crying because you got screwed by known card carrying villains. It just makes you look stubborn and greedy.
I see all this, and I wonder what kind of stigma VAs have against smaller companies if they are so dedicated to acting like they themselves are the little guy. What’s so bad about going to someone else who will at least not treat you like crap? Or do you all just want to be pampered? Hell, recently it was revealed the VA cast for Star Citizen has more than likely been the source of large amounts wasted funds for the entire game; obviously due to Robert’s own incompetence, and likely his zeal to make it big. All by squandering it on big names such as Gary Oldman, Gillian Anderson, Mark Hamill, and others.
Regardless, if you do go with the strike then we can go back to times like Dawn of War; back to the times where Scott McNeil did the voices for half the entire named cast again!
I can honestly live with this.
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