"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
Recently two Hollywood unions put up a vote to strike against electronic game publishers after the unions rejected a final offer from the game publishers that included a 35% increase in the session rate for voice-over actors — an increase to $750 from $556 per four-hour session by 2008. A chief sticking point with the unions is that they want more money when the game sells over 400,000 units.
One of the examples they have put up is Lynnanne Zager. Ever heard of her? I haven’t. She is supposedly well known for her screams. She did the voice of a woman screaming in Aramaic at Jesus before he is crucified in “Passion of the Christ,” she was one of the screaming passengers in “Titanic,” and she screams in fear at “Shrek.” But she claims her most strenuous work was the four hour session she did for the upcoming game “The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.”
She got $900 for that four hour session compared to the $10,000 she got for “Shrek.” That discrepancy is the reason the unions are demanding that the game industry pay more money.
"Nine of the top 10 selling games in 2004 were produced with union contracts, using union voice talent -- and because of that, the quality of those games becomes exponentially higher," said Seth Oster, a representative of SAG and AFTRA.
Wired published an article today where Mark Long, co-CEO of independent game-development company Zombie Studios, finally said what most of us were thinking. Basically, they can have more royalties after those of us who are doing 60-80 work weeks for 18 to 24 months making the game.
The article has a quote from Wil Wheaton, who has been doing a lot of voice over work recently (guess his screen acting career isn’t doing that well) including Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the forthcoming Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six title.
"Yeah -- $275 an hour would be a huge amount if actors did that kind of work several times a week," said Wheaton, "but the average, working-class actor is lucky to get four of those jobs a year."
This really strikes me as biting the hand that feeds you. I really don’t feel sorry for Wil Wheaton whose on-screen career would appear to have tanked and now he is forced to do voice-over work for video games. I would say that if you can’t make a living doing voice-acting work because you can’t get more than four gigs a year, then maybe you should look for another line of work.
Voice-over work in the video game industry is a great opportunity for people looking to supplement or help start their acting career. If you are good enough that you can get enough voice-acting work to make a career out of it that’s fantastic. But if you can only get 4 gigs a year and still expect to make enough money to live off that and not have to get another job, enough money off that to call it a career, your out of your mind.
If the Union is going to ‘walk out’ and not allow their members to do video game voice-over work it isn’t going to hurt the video game industry that much. Game companies will go back to getting their staff members to record their background screams for free instead of paying someone like Lynnanne Zager. The only time the public is going to notice that it is a non-union actor doing the voice-acting is when it’s a game based on a movie and it’s a different actor doing the voice of the star.
A union boycott of the video game industry is however, going to hurt the struggling union actor who is forced to wait tables while waiting for their big break. That struggling actor would probably love $556 for four hours work and be ecstatic for $750.