“Battle cries, on strike! Creature noises, on strike! Death screams, on strike! Actors, on strike!”
This was the chant actors and supporters shouted at Warner Brothers in protest of voice actors’ poor treatment and rights when working on video games. The Screen Actors Guild, or SAG-AFTRA, initiated negotiations with multiple game companies to improve working conditions for voice actors. These companies include giants such as Activision, Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, and Warner Brothers.
When those companies refused to budge on any living-wage adjustments or changes in safety procedure, SAG-AFTRA took its union members to the streets and Twitter with the hashtag “#PerformanceMatters” in protest. On November 3, SAG-AFTRA recorded over 400 protesters marched in the streets surrounding the offices of Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment where blockbuster titles such as the Bathman: Arkham series, or Mortal Kombat are made. This picketing is the second of major strikes by the voice actors union, with the first occurring at Electronic Arts Headquarters in Silicon Beach on October 24.
Actor, musician and voice actor Tay Zonday, famous for his songs published to YouTube, as well as lending his acting skills to television, film, and video games, attended, taking offense to the low wages most actors endure.
“I think you look at very successful franchises like The Simpsons, animated shows like Family Guy, the compensation difference between that and video games that are equally successful is very big. You have voice actors who are playing lead roles in games and waiting tables, and walking dogs, and driving Ubers and not being able to feed their children or make a fair living and what I think SAG-AFTRA is asking is not even a huge demand. Not even compensation comparable with television, just a gesture of saying ‘hey, the most prosperous video games, the ones that make millions and millions of dollars might be able to share some more of that prosperity to help voice performers make a living wage.,’” Zonday said.
Although the picketing was in aid of video game voice actors, the large majority of actors present did not work in the industry. Richard Fancy, of Being John Malkovich, and Seinfeld fame attended to support job opportunities and safety for gaming voice actors.
“If actors were paid 800 dollars a day, we’d be swell, but acting in real life is a lot of free time auditioning... Its not just that but its stuff like breaks for voices. Screaming and yelling can damage your voice so at the moment there are no rules conducted by these employers to give the actors who are participating time to mend their voice in between screaming and yelling,” Fancy said.
Fancy’s mention of 800 dollars is referencing a LA Weekly article titled “Video Game Actors Make 800 Dollars a Day, But They Want More.” This article drew controversy misreporting information on voice actors’ yearly wages. The highly opinionated piece said voice actors were working four hours a day for 800 dollars a session, comparing the wages to a study averaging entertainment industry wages at approximately 117 thousand dollars a year.
“So, of course, voice actors are on strike against video game companies, largely based here, over their measly pay — about $825 for a four-hour session of work. You could barely eat — first at Whole Foods, then at Mozza and finally at Providence — for that kind of cash.”
Not only was this information debunked, critics say it left out information to push the opinion of the Dennis Romero who penned the article. The article fails to mention how often they actually work, their lack of rights given to all salaried employees, and the lack of health services for actors. Romero’s comparison drew controversy over Twitter by many voice actors such as Dragon Ball Z’s Christoper Sabat. Sabat, being the English voice of Vegeta, has more experience with tough working conditions when voice acting than most because a large part of Dragon Ball actors’ jobs is screaming for long periods of time.
With more argument than insult, Jamie McGonnigal who has voiced many characters from Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! summarized what the article was missing.
Mark Roman is an actor and poet from Los Angeles, dressed as his character Lieutenant Frank Frirehs from the 90210 “Vegas?”. A banana for a gun, rainbow leg warmers, and a police uniform, ten-gallon hat and Barbie walkie-talkie included, tie together Roman’s character which he roleplayed at the event.
“It disturbs me that the video game industry has more revenue profit than the film and television industry combined but do not want to afford the same protections to people performing stunts in video games than they do to actors performing stunts on television and films. All we’re trying to do as a union is to ask that there be an equal playing field, that folks who are working and performing cause hashtag performance matters, whether it be TV or film or video games that we have the same rights or protections. Its pretty simple, its just about basic fairness, I think anyone who has a son or daughter that’s just playing video games, I don’t think that son or daughter would be happy to hear someone’s mommy or daddy became a paraplegic because there weren’t safety standards in place so they could enjoy their video game” (Sic) Roman said.
Most actors in video games must perform their own stunts when acting out scenes. When animating a human’s movement in most games, a method called motion capture is used, where an actor wears a suit and is covered in small motion tracking balls. The actors then act out the scene, voicing the scene while acting out their movements like a film.
The issue here is most factors are forced to do their own stunts, without safety procedures common in film not being taken such as the presence of paramedics at all times, or cushioned mats when acting on an elevated platform in case an actor falls. The issue is not a matter of money, but a lack of respect for the livelihood and safety of actors.
“What SAG-AFTRA is asking is not really a monetary issue, its not a lot of money for these companies. Its a little bit of compensation for the most prosperous video games and its just unfortunate that it comes to this [picketing] to get that update,” said Zonday.
Edit: This post previously stated Christopher Sabat was the English voice of Goku in Dragon Ball, which is incorrect. The character he voices is literally in his Twitter handle, which I glossed over and apologize for.
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