Voice Actors Are Picketing EA's Offices Tomorrow

Image: Shutterstock

The ongoing strike between the voice actors guild, SAG-AFTRA, and the 11 companies that they failed to reach agreement with — which includes Activision, Disney, Take Two and Insomniac Games — is set to ramp up a notch this week, with members of the union set to picket outside EA's Los Angeles studio tomorrow morning.

Details for the picket motion have been posted on the SAG-AFTRA website, with EA's Los Angeles studio targeted. The stoush is over a renegotiation of the Interactive Media Agreement labour contract.

The strike was announced last week after talks broke down, but the picketing of EA's offices is set to take place from 4:30 AM Sydney time (2:30 AM in Perth, 3:30 AM in Brisbane and 4:00 AM in Adelaide).

In a bid to ramp up pressure on the companies involved, prominent voice actors have come out and spoken about some of the conditions they experienced. Jennifer Hale, known for her work voicing the female version of Commander Shepherd in the Mass Effect series, told NPR that she "had friends who have had to have surgery because of the vocal stress they incurred" in recording sessions, resulting in them being out of work for months.

Steve Blum, who has been credited on more than 400 video games and was recognised in the Guinness World Book of Records in 2012 for being the most prolific voice actor in video games, said in a seven minute statement that he has "even thrown up and bled from the throat" after vigorous voiceover sessions.

"I've personally lost my voice for over a week on several occasions, passed out from screaming, even thrown up and bled from the throat — and I'm one of the lucky ones who have not sustained permanent damage," he described on a page established to promote the strike.

EA was contacted for comment, but due to the weekend (in the US) they were unable to provide a statement by the time of publishing.

Tara Strong, who has voiced multiple iterations of Harley Quinn including in the Batman: Arkham series including many other animated series, tweeted this early Saturday morning:

A lawyer representing the video game companies and publishers targeted by the strike said that voice actors only accounted for "less than one tenth of 1 percent of the work that goes into making a video game". Scott Witlin told NPR that "if we pay [voice actors] under a vastly different system than the people who do the 99.9 percent of the work, that is going to create far more problems for the video game companies".

The four main points of contention come down to a limit on vocally stressful sessions; secondary compensation for games once they sell 2 million units or more, with a cap at 8 million units; the inclusion of a stunt actor on-set for safety precautions; and greater transparency around hiring and the work required.


Comments

    It's definitely a concern, at least with animation, you're in a controlled environment with people who understand the science of acting, and exactly what a person can and can't do during a sustained performance. Video game developers and publishers would definitely think of them simply as cattle, overall.

    That is word for word what I said in a similar story earlier in the year.

    The video game industry in the US at least is still trying to understand the art of acting. Doesn't bode well.

    Let's go back to walls of text. Fuck these egotistical assholes who'll picket for a few hours then go to one of their many other jobs that they have going and keep making money.

      That's a sweeping generalisation, surely.

      This issue, whereby there are two defined parties, is a rare example in the modern video-game biz of 'well let's hear both sides, equally' actually being true - as there's clearly a dispute taking place and and each party wants it resolved.

      Like Strong's tweet flat-out says, if you are spoiling for a fight then I'll give you one.

      Not me, exactly. You know what I mean.

      I'm a lover not a fighter.

      Last edited 24/10/16 6:10 pm

        I've read the demands that SAG-AFTRA are after. They want less work, more money, more information (so they can hold production hostage for more money) and don't care about the real hard workers (The Devs) because "it's not our problem, we're just taking care of ourselves".

        It's all good for these A-List voice actors to strike, because they can still go work commercials, cartoons, TV shows, anime, movies, etc during the strike. They aren't hurting for work, so the sob stories are bullshit.

          The devs conditions are utterly shit, but that doesn't mean that everyone else should accept shitty conditions at their places of employment.

          These jobs are bread and butter jobs, they usually just pay enough to keep the lights on while the actors involved hope to find a break that will give them something a bit more substantial. It's a hard life and if the poorly paying job you've taken to just pay the bills this week stops you being able to work then what do you do about next week's bills?

          Honestly you're really underestimating how hard it is to work as a freelancer, perhaps look into that before you start attacking people for defending their livelihoods.

            Yes they struggle before they hit the big time. It's a gamble. You want to earn lots of money you have to work for it. Same as actors do or many other jobs where unpaid internships are involved.
            The voice actors union is a small fairly recent union trying to flex some muscle and play with the big boys.

              And the ones who never do? Do they not deserve to make a living?

              A lot of these actors won't be big names, they'll be the ones doing hours of reaction noises, foley or walla, all needed for these games and have the potential of doing serious harm. The fact they might one day get famous if they don't lose all ability to work is no reason to prevent them from getting workplace protection.

              Imagine you wanted to be a famous chef, you're learning to cook in an entry level position but the kitchen isn't safe, the fryer occasionally spills burning oil or other hazards can make you unable to work.

              Your boss refuses to fix it, put in protections or pay disability while you're unable to work. If you make any request for fairer conditions he fires you and gets someone else.

              How is that fair?

                It's not, but that's life. One of my best friends is a lawyer and apparently the job market is saturated, so grads are doing unpaid internships or working beneath them, with the constant threat of unemployment. It sucks, but that's the career they chose. The ones who dream of practising law are the ones who'll stick around and suffer for it. Those who don't want to chance that, are welcome to move into another field.

                Actors are expendable. If that's your dream, you should know how many people would gladly put up with crappy pay and working conditions to speak into a microphone for money. If they don't like those odds, they can go back to school or do something less glamorous. Voice acting has never promised job security, so I find it hard to feel sympathetic when countless other professions work harder, longer, with less pay, and if they picketed an office, would get mass-fired before you could say the word 'diva.'

                  For one I think unpaid internships should pretty much be illegal since they're so abused.

                  I don't get why so many people feel so secure in their jobs that they can argue other professions should get less protections than they do.

                  People just get judgemental because they're actors. If this was the building industry there wouldn't be nearly as much of a backlash. But gamers just have to care about their games first...

                No one feels completely 'secure,' but that's the whole point. You either be irreplaceable in a specialised field, pick something that's less glamorous but offers job security, or failing those, justify why you deserve work over the countless others who are prepared to work longer, harder, and for less. It's like working in retail but demanding softer hours and more pay when there are a billion teenagers prepared to do it for less. Why should an employer cave? Why should any of these companies, when they can pick any sound-alike for 1/10th the cost of hiring Troy Baker?

                The reason why film actors get away with these sorts of demands, is because their names have box office value. Conversely, almost no one buys games because of the voice talent, so these guys have zero leverage; and if I'm saying this as someone who actually plays games, will the average consumer care? No. I care about my games, I just don't care about voice acting personalities and don't believe voice actors need to be Tara Strong to bring a character to life.

                  Do you mind if I ask what you do? Because most industries have some kind of industry protections that was likely won by action like this.

                  This action is more likely going to protect that Troy Baker sound alike than Troy Baker. You mentioned retail but they actually do have a lot of protections to prevent abuse.

                  I just don't see why you're so insistent this one group has no rights as employees, is it just because you don't think it's a real job?

                Who said anything about them having no rights? They're still protected by fair work laws; if they were being violated, forget a strike, they'd have grounds to sue. I'm all for regulating things like stunt training, but that's not really what this is about. Check out their strike flyer, compensation is the alpha and omega. In a nutshell, they want more of it, and for pay to scale with sales, something impossible to predict by actual publishers.

                Voice acting is a legitimate job, but these guys want to have their cake and eat it too. Outside of agency-represented 'stars,' no one is automatically entitled to residuals or backends from freelance work. If they did, the guy who played Soup Nazi would be a millionaire. When there are countless other roles more critical to the actual game-making process, and they're getting screwed, yet these voice actors are demanding more pay, it smacks of transparent self-interest.

                  Lots of those fair work rights were obtained by union movements much like this one.

                  Besides which the US has much lacer labour laws than we do here so they aren't necessarily protected where they should be.

                  Beyond that who's to say they don't deserve more money for that work?

                  EA has a documented history of unethical behaviour and abuses of both its employees and its consumers, why are people on their side in this?

                  Besides if EA really don't want to pay what voice actors want to charge that's fine, they don't have to and they can go back to unvoiced games and see how that works for them.

          EDIT: to mase. Though zimmy does make solid points.

          I agree with you, all in all. It smacks of opportunism. I'm an ardent supporter of animation however, so these actors should not have to suffer for the sake of a few mercenaries among them.

          The rank and file developer teams that get put through the ringer during the crunch periods/etc is old news, however.

          I don't think anybody's going to say one group deserves to unionise and actually wield some power over another group though.

          To deal with unions, holy moley, yes it's a minefield. But anybody who understands the price of doing business also understands there's a need for them.

          Last edited 24/10/16 7:00 pm

          Did you read it? 12 hour days, vomiting, blood in their throats, many needing surgery and doing stunts without any safety precautions while also getting paid what amounts to a tiny amount for the many hours they work. 12 hours a day is likely far more than any of us have had to do.

            Besides the guy with the blood in his throat. Which to be honest look how much work he did. Blame could lay on both sides with that. The other statements are all non factual. A friend it happened to. Or a person they know. No one has come forward with some medical proof of these incidents.
            And 12 hour days for me are a regularity. Usually weekend work. Been through many stints of 12hrs x 13days. Then 3 day stand down. But that's the industry I'm in.

            Safety in the workplace is paramount im all for putting a limit on sessions lengths but that's only 1 of the unions claims. They want commissions on sales, I'm sorry that's ridiculous.

            Because that's the experience of most, or even some, voice actors. It's tragic if true, but anecdotal. The majority of voice actors don't even get regular work, let alone 12 hour shifts.

    OK, so if voice actors are only 1% of the effort that goes into a game and the developers think nobody gives a shit about the voices, why don't all the professional voice actors stick to doing animation, tell the game studios to go fuck themselves, and we all go back to PSX era voice acting. Gee, wasn't that memorable? Jill Sandwiches on the house, boys!

    Fucking assholes...

    the inclusion of a stunt actor on-set for safety precautions
    What does this even mean? They're voice actors. They won't be performing stunts.

      Gonna go out on a limb here and come to the conclusion that sometimes the studios want the VA talent to perform certain stunts in order to capture the sounds that the character they are portraying would be making in that instance. If that is the case having a qualified stunt person on set would be a vast improvement in safety.

      But they do, that's the problem. they use them for mo cap (including stunt work) without proper training or safety precautions

      They do Mocap for lipsyncing but also often asked to do Mocap stunts without any stunt safety.

    It's standard practice on set for film/television to have a stunt director to oversee the safety of the actors for fight scenes etc.

    Since the advent of motion capture in video games (The Last of Us, Uncharted 4 etc) they do a lot of choreographed fighting and stunts without proper supervision.

    The last time the "interactive media" agreement was updated was in the mid 90's. Mo-cap wasn't a thing voice actors had to worry about then but times have changed and so should the conditions they work in.

    lol fuck these people, they get paid enough. sometimes you have to do some hard work and work more hours than you'd like, boo hoo. the only bit i can get on board with is the stunt safety stuff.

    Hate to break it to them, but maybe 10% of 'gamers' actually care about the VA talent, and that's being generous. They can be swapped for a sound-a-like or even a celebrity stunt cast and very few people will notice or care. If you want to make a career out of talking in a microphone in an air-conditioned booth, then you might have to suffer for your art and tempt unemployment, just like actors, chefs, artists, etc.

      So you would be happy if the next Arkham game had random game staff do all the voices?

        You mean like Origins did? Or MGSV?

        Does it need to be the janitor? No, but does it need to be Kevin Conroy? No. If Atlus didn't tell people they replaced Troy Baker with a soundalike in the newer Personas, I doubt anyone would have actually been bothered by it. There are countless trained voice actors out there who don't get work, and don't even have the luxury of picketing for more pay, and would happily do the job for a few hundred bucks.

      Most of the people this would be affecting are those little guys... The bigger names probably have it much better because they are bigger names.

      I bet none of the big Hollywood actors they use have any of these issues.

      But yeah keep being judgemental of those rich VA actors who barely make ends meet...

        Actually, the 'little guys' are the ones who aren't even getting work, the ones whose names get squeezed into the end game credits, who don't have verified Twitter accounts, and aren't able to cruise the con scene, or dabble in autographs and cosplay. Those guys would love to have problems like being credited with more than 400 paying jobs.

        I bet none of the big Hollywood actors they use have any of these issues.

        Hollywood actors have the luxury of having recognisable names or likenesses which they can leverage. Do I think Kit Harington is an especially talented voice actor? No. But are there people out there who might buy the next CoD because they like Game of Thrones and think Jon Snow's mo-capped face is hot? Yes. Now how many people will buy a game because Tara Strong is in it?

        Voice actors are expendable and their actual impact on a profit are inconsequential. Sometimes studios might throw fanboys a bone, e.g. Peter Cullen in the live action Transformers, but it wouldn't have made any meaningful difference to their bottom line if Optimus Prime was voiced by some other voice actor that 99% of the movie audience had never heard of.

    If they really thought nobody cared about voice acting then they'd happily get their other staff to do all the voices.
    Nobody would buy a Batman game with all the voice work done by non-actors, or one where they have to change Batman's voice partway through because hey stupidly injured the voice actor.

    Last edited 25/10/16 2:49 am

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now