Showbizreporting's Blog

October 7, 2009

ATTN: INTERACTIVE V.O. Meeting — Show up or Shut Up

Dear Friends,

This is for those of us who work in interactive voice-overs. There is an important meeting at SAG on Oct 13th at 7pm. Significant changes for better or worse could be in store for us. Too bad for us if we don’t show up to this meeting.

In interactive v.o., we have two contracts with two unions for the same territory that are out of sync, so significant gains are pretty much impossible. Producers can easily play one union against the other, or choose to only sign with one union to cripple the other’s bargaining abilities, all of which we have now with interactive v.o. If we continue without intelligently merging our unions, I feel this is the future for all other contracts.

On to the meeting: The good news is that our two unions have heard us and have come together and bargained a new interactive agreement with modest gains with a re-sync’ed end date, which I feel is a significant and much needed gain. However, there is a new feature in this proposal that those of us who work in interactive must take a careful look and and let BOTH our unions know our feelings on. If our attendance is as paltry as it was at the informational SAG interactive caucus was a few weeks ago, this change will be passed by both our unions’ boards whether we like it or not.

Even though SAG has pretty much lost all animation and interactive v.o. work over the past few years, they are at least holding a second informational meeting over this new SAG/AFTRA tentative interactive agreement. If you work this contract, you need to be there and listen and speak up. In particular, there is concern over a new feature producers want called “atmospheric voices” which BOTH our unions need to hear our opinions on. I believe there is a pro and a con to this concept and I’ll try to lay the two sides out as fairly as I can:

“Atmospheric voices,” as I understand it, allows for producers to record many more individual voices per session fee and an infinite number of different voices for only a double session fee, where the number of voices we can perform are significantly restricted with our current contract. It seems the argument for this new category is that games with greater numbers of voices, such as MMORPG’s like “World of Warcraft” which have literally hundreds of voices in a game, will be enticed to sign up union voice talent (WoW is non-union as are other mega-voice games). More games like this are on the way in the future, the argument goes, and with this new feature in the contract, more big games could choose to go union, and this could potentially mean a lot of new work for union voice actors. Many such games that feature a great number of incidental characters are populated with characters that say only a few sentences anyway (a vendor, a page, a merchant, a citizen, someone you happen to bump into etc), not a ton of vocal work per incidental for the most part, the argument goes. With the addition of the “atmospheric voices” provision, big games of the future which would have remained non-union would turn union, sign more union actors for more work. Win win. At least, that’s the pro pitch, as I understand it. As a gamer, I’d say this could possibly change some big v.o. games to “go union.” Possibly. And that could be a significant amount of work. I would also say that the evolution of gaming cuts both ways, with the “next gen” titles (Xbox360 and PS3 and some Wii “portages”) needing to sound increasingly “cinematic” and professional (union), but “low-res” and retro gaming (iPhone, Wii, DS, etc) are expanding possibly faster (voice acting here probably tends to be more non-union in cheaper games if there is any voice work at all). I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the top selling next-gen games mostly use union v.o. talent. Could be wrong there, though. Most games I believe are non-union and for many games (some might say most) the voice acting is not nearly as important as game play and game design, if it is a factor at all. Frankly, I’d like more data on all this and hardly any was presented at the last SAG interactive caucus. I don’t think that most of our negotiators are gamers and I’m not sure they necessarily know video games or that biz. As someone who not only works in interactive v.o. but is also a fairly active gamer, I am honestly not sure about this pro argument. I admit the possibility of populating future iterations of games like “World of Warcraft” with all union voice actors could potentially mean a lot of work for us. Most of the voice work in that particular game strikes me as pretty “light duty.” Modest gains with re-sync’ing the contracts is great. Okay, that’s the pro.

The con argument is that “atmospheric voices” simply gives up what little firewall protection our interactive contract already provides and just gets us less money for essentially more work. The number of voices we currently perform for scale (most of the work in this realm is scale, if it is union at all) is restricted as it is in television animation, where producers are required to pay essentially for very few voices, although the session can last four hours even for one voice. Certainly there is merit to this restriction for game v.o. work, although you’d be hard pressed to find an 11 or even 22 minute t.v. cartoon with literally hundreds of individual voices. The comparison of games to t.v. only partially holds. The con argument sees an easy opportunity to further work union voice actors to death in a realm where (unlike television animation) we are already worked to death as it is- with no residuals, potentially four hours of working solo, and often to the point of blowing out your voice with screaming or yelling without some kind of “hazard pay.” Game work is also often much more demanding and punishing than television voice work. In fact, the only worse union contract might be SAG’s anime dubbing agreement (another multi-billion dollar industry where the union contract is long hours with no residuals– most of the work here is also non-union). Despite resync’ing the contracts between SAG and AFTRA and other modest gains, this “atmospheric voices” feature is potentially a massive give away and cannot be allowed– at least that’s the con argument.

Frankly, I think both sides have points and the fact that these contracts are re-sync’ed means that when they expire (I think it’s in a couple years) if this “atmospheric voices” thing is abused and we don’t like it, we can kill it– assuming our unions are either bargaining together or merged, which may not be the case, though it looks better these days. Perhaps opening up “World of Warcraft” type games to union work would bring us a ton a new work, each such game is like a country that we could populate with union voice actors instead of non-union. Or it could make an already problematic contract even more punishing and difficult for less pay. I honestly think there can be a discussion about this (not a screaming match). Let’s make an informed decision as a community.

But there can be no discussion without any of us showing up to listen and talk on October 13th.

One thing I do know: if the interactive v.o. community chooses shows up in such pathetic numbers as we’ve seen recently, this will pass, whether it is a good idea or not. We must let both our unions know our opinion, not just SAG (the one producers have abandoned) but AFTRA as well– they are set to sign off on this on Oct 14th, as I understand it. Either both must pass or both must reject, but it should be with our community’s input.

Please show up.




Attend an Informational Meeting Regarding the Tentative Agreement for the
2009 Interactive Media Agreement, Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Screen Actors Guild will host an informational meeting for the purpose of providing a report to members on the Tentative Agreement reached for the 2009 Interactive Media Agreement. The meeting will be held in Los Angeles.
Members of the Interactive Media Agreement negotiating committee and staff will be in attendance.

Please inform your fellow union members who work under this agreement about this important meeting. Participation is limited only by fire department regulations.

When: 7-8:30 p.m., Tuesday October 13, 2009

Screen Actors Guild Headquarters
James Cagney Board Room, ground floor
5757 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Parking will be validated

All paid-up SAG members who work under the Interactive Agreement should attend. Unfortunately, no guests allowed. Parents/guardians of young performers under 18 years-old are welcome. PLEASE BRING YOUR SAG MEMBERSHIP CARD FOR ADMITTANCE (paid thru October 31, 2009).


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