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Transparency: Two sides of the possible voice actors' strike

There are two side to every story, and this is story of why I'm torn between both sides of the impending voice actors' strike against game studios.

Many prominent voice actors including Wil Wheaton, Jennifer Hale, and David Hayter have signed a form with the Screen Actors Guild that will put SAG members on strike against game developers.

These actors are also encouraging other actors to follow in their footsteps. This act could seriously set back some major projects by both big and small studios. As a gamer, journalist, and artist, I am of two very divided minds on this subject. 

Good art comes from more than just the time billed

I heard a story one time when I was in school for art. I don’t know if the story is true. In fact, I’d venture to guess that it’s not, but it does illustrate an important point.

A man approached Vincent van Gogh to draw something for him on a napkin. Van Gogh then took out a pen and drew for five minutes, sketching what the man asked for. As he pushed the napkin back toward the man, van Gogh then said, “That will be $5000.” The man blurted out, “$5000? That’s crazy. It only took you five minutes to draw that.” Van Gogh replied, “No, that drawing took me 20 years.”

Van Gogh didn’t freeze time to make the drawing only to pop back in when the drawing was finished. The idea is that the value of someone’s work isn’t the amount of time put into that one piece, but the value of the time leading up to that one piece. The idea is that van Gogh would not have been able to make that draw in five minutes -- or maybe at all -- if it hadn’t been for the previous 20 years of work before then.

That illustration applies to all creative work, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not just about the amount of time it takes to get something done, but the creative skill accumulated up to that point so that the job could be done in a way that is efficient and to the standards of the client.

Voice acting is very much the same thing. Just substitute the drawing for a bit of recorded dialogue. There is a website called Fiverr where you can get 10 to 30 seconds of recorded voiceover for five bucks. This is usually enough to record an intro to a podcast or something along those lines.

There are a few very good voice actors on that site, but I only know of one full-time voice actor. That’s Jon Bailey, the voice of Honest Trailers. And he does his Fiverr work for charity. (I’m sure there are others besides him, I just don’t know them.) That tells me that the quality value of voice over is more than an average person can afford, and that not just anyone with a mic and a good voice can do the work of a voice actor.

But as you probably have surmised by the possible strike, voice actors are feeling underappreciated by gaming developers. And why not? It takes a lot of work and a lot of expertise to be a competent voice actor for games. In a recent blog post by Wil Wheaton, we learn that after some sessions that voice actors cannot work again for a week because of the strain on the voice.

“It’s now six or seven hours after you started. Don’t talk at all for the rest of the day, and don’t make any plans to go audition for any other voice work for the rest of the week, because your voice is wrecked. Don’t go to any kind of day job that requires you to talk with anyone, either, because you’re not going to be able to do that. Oh, and over years and years of this, it’s going to build up into serious and permanent damage, and then you’re not going to be able to work with your voice anymore.”

I’m not sure how much of that is hyperbole, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a voice actor has to go through this much trouble to get work done. I’m not sure that an actor would have to just not work at all for a week after a seven-hour session, but the strain is understandable. And Wheaton said that this is the crux of his argument. He said that it is not about the residuals that SAG has asked for.

Should creatives get special treatment?

This brings me to the point I’m torn on. I believe that voice actors probably are not appreciated enough nor paid enough for the work they do. But the other side is explained rather adeptly by the second commenter on Wheaton’s post:

“As someone who works on the other side of the equation, I’m going to let you know that the main reason your proposals keep getting rejected outright is because every single one has had the demand for residuals in it. It’s not happening [...] You’re asking for something that nobody else in the industry gets. Programmers, designers, writers, QA, marketing, sales, none of those people get residuals.”

If they truly would like the environment changed, then why would they ask for a piece of game development money that next to no one else in the industry gets? I know Wheaton addressed in the beginning of his article that he nor SAG has any control over the work environment for the other people who work on a game, but that being said, when approaching the negotiating table, industry standards and the benefits other employees receive should be considered.

I am in complete agreement that #PerformanceMatters, and I also agree that there is a value to having the right vocal actor in your studio that is extremely hard to quantify. But I do believe that the voice actors have overstepped by a hair. That said, I do hope that consideration for the actor’s stress is taken into account, and perhaps if the session will be extraordinarily stressful, the studios remember that it is work to deliver a reliable and high-quality performance, even if it does only take five minutes to doodle on a napkin.

If you’d like to read more about the actual issue surrounding the SAG strike against game devs, then take a look at the strike proposal on the SAG website.

Published Sep. 29th 2015
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    Sometimes I feel like Wil Wheaton just says these things and tries to start controversy to stay relevant. Idk, I guess can see some good intentions, but he rubs me the wrong way most of the time.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    Well, he is kind of a jerk, but he's not wrong about it being stressful. I just think he's missing perspective.
  • GabrielKross
    Featured Columnist
    That quote you listed from Wil Wheaton is mis-used, that had NOTHING to do with "voice actors are feeling underappreciated by gaming developers" The quote was detailing that they needed to cut down the stress sessions. Very different subject altogether. As I read it, the week of after effects is after stress sessions, not regular sessions, as Wil points out there is a difference.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    so you're saying that his quote had nothing to do with voice acting being hard work.

    I have to completely disagree.
  • GabrielKross
    Featured Columnist
    no, that's not what I'm saying, but the way you're using that quote is misrepresenting it. He was specifically referencing stress sessions. I had to nit-pick the whole post for a sociology assignment just last Saturday.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    No, I'm using it as a representation that the working under those conditions for voice actors can be stressful, hard work.
  • GabrielKross
    Featured Columnist
    again as a misrepresentation, It's called a stress session, due to the content of the session being much more intense than that of a regular session. You have it displayed as if that quote reflects a normal work day for a voice actor, which is not the case.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    No, I did not say that this was the "normal" work day for a voice actor. In fact, what I said was "after **some** sessions that voice actors cannot work again for a week because of the strain on the voice."

    This is the last time I'm going to argue this point because again, you're completely wrong.
  • GabrielKross
    Featured Columnist
    "I’m not sure how much of that is hyperbole, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a voice actor has to go through this much trouble to get work done. I’m not sure that an actor would have to just not work at all for a week after a seven-hour session, but the strain is understandable."

    You make it sound like Only stress tests are 7+ hours. However that's not the case. Sure I missed the "some" before the quote, but regardless you're still misrepresenting the meaning behind the quote. from what I understand, currently normal and stress sessions last the same amount of time. The voice actors want stress sessions to be shorter (like 2 hours iirc from the post) However (after taking account for "some" that I missed before) it reads that all 7 hour sessions leave you unable to speak for a week. As this is not factual, you're misrepresenting the quote.

    If you changed it to specify stress sessions after the quote this would fix the problem rather easily.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    Based on my personal experience with voice acting, stress sessions are the only ones scheduled in 7/8-hour blocks. The vast majority of VA recording sessions are four-hours or less. That being said, it's not unheard of for a voice actor to do multiple blocks in a day because they have to to make a living. And it can wreck the voice.
    Regardless, it's not a misrepresentation, and you just seem like you're trying to justify your opinion because you missed something I said.
    I did say I was done, but I wanted to clarify the point about the seven-hour session. Now I'm done.
  • GabrielKross
    Featured Columnist
    again, based on what he posted in the blog post that does not sound like it is the case at all. I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing the blog post. I'm not arguing that the job isn't stressful, I even have a somewhat neutral position in the debate. However the fact still stands, that according to the source, the quote is misrepresented.

    Here is my proof pulled straight from the blog post just above the quote you're using.

    "(Edit to clarify: Some folks seem to think I’m arguing that voice actors should never have to work more than two hours a day. That’s not what I’m arguing for, at all. I’m arguing that sessions which are vocally stressful should be limited to two hours. Other sessions, with regular dialog and scenes, are typically six to eight hours, and I’m not arguing to change that.)"

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