Would You Support This Strike?

by | Sep 23, 2015 | Unions, Videogames | 2 comments

videogame heroesSAG-AFTRA is standing up for voice-actors.  At least those who create popular vocal characters for video games….in Hollywood…who make a lot of money…and have celebrity. 

The rest of us?  Meh.

The pot is boiling over on contract negotiations, and the word “strike” is popping up more often in the media covering this story.  See the links below for a couple examples of that coverage, but basically, this is a standoff between the union representing voice actors, and the video game companies (Electronic Arts, Disney, Activision, etc).


Hugely popular video games have created celebrities in the voices of main characters.  Many of those celebrities are SAG-AFTRA members, and the latest round of contract negotiations defining their pay and work conditions is not going well.

One of the key sticking points is similar to a challenge in most all genres of voice-acting:  digital distribution rights…online exposures…re-use of recordings in streams not defined in the original agreement.  The union also wants to minimize damage to an actor’s voice in making extreme vocalizations (shouting).  Solving these issues for voice actors is a commendable union goal.

For their part, the animation studios are asking for the right to fine “inattentive” actors, and seeking exceptions for the use of motion capture.

As a SAG-AFTRA member, I was asked to vote on whether the union should strike over this issue. 

The videogame industry has never given much respect to its voice-actors.  Only the very top talent have union representation, so it’s interesting (and somewhat encouraging) that SAG-AFTRA is choosing to take a stand on their behalf.

In my opening remarks, you may have picked-up on my cynicism.  In truth SAG-AFTRA aggressively pursues ANY mistreatment of member voice-actors…not just videogame voice-actors.  That’s one of the perks of being a union member.  SAG-AFTRA has the might and the right to defend it’s members when there is wrongdoing.

Why, then, do I NOT see them:

  • fighting for union voice-actors being taken to the cleaners over YouTube pre-roll chicanery?
  • making a fuss over their members  being yanked-around by pay-to-play sites eroding the marketplace?
  • supporting the traditional agency booking system that advocates for their members?
  • defending union scale on ALL voice-acting opportunity fields?
  • reining-in outlandish conflict, geographic, and buy-out demands?
  • having a CLUE about the digital distribution revolution (bye-bye broadcast and cable!)?
  • explaining why droves of their members are defecting to Fi-Core status?
  • noticing the concerns of average-earning union members anywhere else but LA or NYC?

I don’t play or voice for video games.  I’m a reluctant union member.  I don’t live near Hollywood, and I don’t make a six-figure VO income.  But I would desperately like to see an 800lb. Gorilla like SAG-AFTRA speak for the struggling middle-of-the-road voice-over union member.  

Corporate forces in the marketplace are making mincemeat of decent rate structures.  Opportunistic producers are demanding outrageous buyouts, and predatory “coaches” make a mockery of education.

Only an organization with the heft and clout of SAG-AFTRA could right these wrongs.

Or maybe…just maybe… a fledgling, grassroots non-profit like World-Voices Organization could shake it up too.  Maybe that’s why WoVO just reached a membership milestone.  Hundreds of professional voice-actors who enthusiastically and passionately support “taking the high road”.

SAG-AFTRA wants to back videogame voice-actors.  WoVO wants to advocate for the profession of voice acting.




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  1. Jack de Golia

    Good blog. It’s too bad the 800 lb. gorilla isn’t trying harder to organize us in the lower tiers and in FlyOver Land. I’m glad they’re weighing in, but I always am left to wonder why should I join. I was a federal employee union member back in my previous life, but there were direct benefits I could see, protections I wanted. SAG AFTRA just looks expensive and remote. And joining would mean no more non-union jobs. So what’s the incentive for us in the Vast Unwashed?

  2. Kate McClanaghan

    “STRIKE!” should never be the first or ONLY line of defense.
    It’s short-sighted and mis-emotional; The two greatest deal-killers in business, and THIS is business.
    You always lose assets, elements and people of great value in a strike, and, while you may win the overall fight, the ultimate casualties may leave you wishing you hadn’t ever uttered the word in the first place.
    We need to define exactly WHO we, as SAG talent, would be on strike with. That needs real clarity.
    Is it production houses? Individuals? (Not likely.) Then who exactly? If this isn’t clarified talent will turn on talent out of pure confusion and lack of understanding, and ‘solidarity’ is reduced to a grandiose notion reserved for a few self-imposed ‘working class heroes’.
    Second, WHAT do we uniformly need and want is the next item on the agenda.
    Negotiation demands a clear head, an honest understanding of the opposing position, and a realistic plan to move forward.
    Perhaps the greatest hurdle is the simple fact that we live in a digital world. It’s far from virtual. It’s literal. And that literally has a value. The fact is the human element honestly is irreplaceable, regardless of what anyone might have you believe.
    Watch any TED Talk regarding algorithms and this factor reigns supreme. Expression, creativity, point-of-view can be replicated, but… only AFTER an actor created, animated, played, performed and surprised even them self! We are a HUGE aspect of this creative process.
    This honestly IS where the rubber hits the road, Kids!
    How we collectively move forward, as both union and non-union talent, will establish the industry yardstick as to our true value. There has to be a scale, without it you have nothing to compare it to. The fact is you can’t double-back once you’ve established an estimate. Clients come to rely on that rate for all future budgets, which is precisely WHY we are in this soup right now.
    So, to that I say BRING on the Super-Agents… Actors historically have underbid themselves and can’t be trusted with negotiating an appropriate rate of pay. I want to know what the agents who have been negotiating these rates in recent years have to say. What are their thoughts on the subject? As talent, we have never been great at determining our worth, and when it comes to negotiations… typically it’s not our strong suit. You could say it’s our Achilles Heel.
    So, proceed gingerly, but aim high! Only, please… don’t open with “STRIKE”. Especially without a real mission in mind that’s realistic for everyone. This is business. I understand how emotional this is. Let’s lead and proceed with intelligence and camaraderie. After all these are folks we want to work with… isn’t it?


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