Response Sent by Co-Chair of the AFTRA
Response Sent in by Chris Edgerly, Co-Chair of the AFTRA Interactive Negotiating Committee:
Thanks for giving me the chance to express our side. Let me do my best to sum it up without boring you to tears.
Actors currently get residuals for TV and movies, commercials, animation, etc. In fact I just got a small check for some looping I did on the movie "Bad Company." Not much but it'll pay a phone bill. And that's the essence of residuals in a nutshell - there in the mailbox is a little gift because your work played in Hungary at 2 A M . It's what allows an actor to receive income when they're unemployed because their work is generating income for someone somewhere. Back in the eighties, the studios told actors that they'd never get residuals for their work in animated TV shows, so don't bother asking. They went on strike and got them. Ditto for TV reruns before that and movies before that. They struck and got them. In fact, every time in the history of the unions that residuals have been gained, actors have had to go on strike to get them. It's never been easy. But neither is the existence of an actor - we never know when we're going to audition, much less work. And when a voice actor works on a video game, usually they've had to beat out dozens of others for the work. Imagine coming in to your office every week to have to re-apply for your job and seeing another twenty or thirty people applying for it as well. Now nobody held a gun to our heads; we love this work and that's why we do it. And it certainly isn't comparable to being a doctor or teaching in an inner city school - but at least those are salaried positions with benefits. The only way an actor receives any benefits from their union is if they earn a certain amount - and sometimes it's that residual check that puts them over the top. As far as the argument goes that we're all rich - 95% of all union actors don't make a living in show business (I'm one of the lucky 5% that do.) They work a gig then go back to being unemployed. That goes for voice actors on games as well. M ost v.o. performers that work on games are lucky to do more than a handful a year.
Which brings us to our current negotiations with the Interactive Gaming companies. Their current offer is $675 for a four hour session to do three different voices. Right now we're receiving $556. The offer includes a $25 bump each year to the end of 2008 when we'd be making $750. Now on the surface that looks like a nice raise. But here's the reality - in 1993, we were getting $504. In twelve years we have been given a grand total of a 10% raise. By the end of 2008, that $750 would represent a little over 40%, but over 16 years that comes to less than three percent a year. Not enough to keep up with inflation. Technically, we've lost money if we accept this proposal. We're trying desperately to play catch up to an industry that has more than tripled in that time. The industry itself made about nine billion in this country alone last year, twenty-five billion worldwide. What did we propose? A residual schedule that would have them pay us an extra $675 session fee when a game sold more than 400,000 copies and another fee for each 100,000 copies after that. Of over 4000 games released for consoles last year, 85 sold 400,000 or more. That's 2%. And our proposal would have them pay about 1% of the revenue to us on those games. That's one percent of the revenue of two percent of the volume. We structured it that way so that a game could have those first 400,000 copies to make its money back before we saw a dime. Yes, some of the bigger games cost more but we had to draw a line somewhere. And regardless, our share was miniscule. Their answer? No. Your contribution doesn't merit it.
And that's where it gets philosophical. We don't see ourselves as the most important element of a game - that is and always will be game play itself, not to mention the graphics. But as video games become more and more like movies (and are in fact sometimes sequels to the movies themselves: witness the "Scarface" game coming out in the near future) and the programmers work harder to create an immersive experience for the gamer by developing stronger storylines and characters, voice actors will be an important variable. True, when a game is a racing one or a first person shoot 'em up and you only hear screams of agony when you hear voices at all, we're not that necessary. They don't normally use us for those anyway, so it's a moot point. But at E3 last week several developers and writers were involved in a symposium on creating stronger characters and stories for video games and one of them spoke at length about the value of a voice actor's performance in particular. Of course there are programmers, engineers, developers and the like who work twelve hour days and don't get residuals. Frankly, we feel they deserve them and they should bargain for them if possible - but they at least get a salary, benefits and one to three years of job security while the game is being produced. We work for one day, maybe two if we're lucky. Then back to the unemployment line to beat out fifty other guys to do it again. And from a programmer's standpoint, it would suck if you've spent months designing a character, putting countless hours of work into making it as lifelike as possible and when it spoke it sounded terrible. I've always felt that good voice acting in a game is like a special effect in a movie - when it's good you don't notice; when it's bad you do, and not in a good way. The parallels between games and Hollywood are dissolving; it's no longer even a question of parallel. The two are synergistic. John M ilius, the writer of Apocalypse Now, is developing a game. John Singleton, director of Boyz 'n the Hood, is directing a game, games based on The Godfather, Dirty Harry and the next two Shrek sequels are planned (and those celebrities courted for them are signing multi-million dollar deals.) And for our contribution, we're asking for one percent of the revenue from two percent of the games, which amounts to perhaps less than half of one percent overall. A trifle.
So, there you have it. We enjoy working on these games and I for one am astonished at the level of creativity and technology brought to them by the developers and their crews. When done right, these games reach the level of art. And we're pleased to be a part of it. But for our contribution, we think we've earned our trifle.
Thanks again for the chance to speak, Clint. And I thought your editorial was funny, by the way. Ten years of working the road as a stand-up comic (a truly tough job) taught me to appreciate a laugh wherever I can get one. Good luck to you.
Chris Ed gerly
AFTRA Interactive Negotiating Committee
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Audioholics wants to thank Chris Ed gerly for providing some feedback to this issue. While we did indeed create some tongue-in-cheek comedy out of what is a real negotiation, we also appreciate that we do not fully comprehend all there is to know about the situation - not being part of the negotiations ourselves.
Just as a last and final follow-up, we wanted to present the top ten games of 2004 and show what the net effect would be were the SAG/AFTRA proposal to get passed as presented per the above details. The following numbers are not representative of actual amounts received as combined totals for all platforms are not represented. In addition, the numbers would need to be multiplied by all union actors involved in the production of the game.
1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2) - 5.1 million = $32,400
2. Halo 2 (Xbox) - 4.2 million = $26,325
3. M adden NFL 2005 (PS2) - 3.2 million = $19,575
4. ESPN NFL 2K5 (PS2) - 1.5 million = $8,100 ($12,825 combined for Xbox & PS2)
5. Need for Speed Underground 2 (PS2) - 1.4 million = $7,425
6. Pokémon FireRed (with adapter) (GBA) - 1.2 million = $6,075
7. NBA Live 2005 (PS2) - 1.2 million = $6,075
8. Spider- M an 2 (PS2) - 1.1 million = $5,400
9. Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) - 1.1 million = $5,40010. ESPN NFL 2K5 (Xbox)- 1.0 million = $4,725 ($12,825 combined for Xbox & PS2)
Screen Actors Guild is the nation's largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists' rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents nearly 120,000 working actors in film, television, industrials, commercials and music videos. The Guild exists to enhance actors' working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists' rights. SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Headquartered in Los Angeles, you can visit SAG online at www.sag.org
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists -- affiliated with the AFL-CIO -- is a diverse national union representing nearly 80,000 professional performers, broadcasters and recording artists in 32 Locals throughout the country. AFTRA members work as actors, broadcast journalists, dancers, singers, announcers, hosts, comedians and disc jockeys in all aspects of the media industries including television and radio, sound recordings, commercials, industrial non-broadcast, interactive games and the Internet. More information on AFTRA is available at www.aftra.com .
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