An Open Letter To Pay-To-Play Voice Sites During The SAG-AFTRA Strike
RESPECT: it's hard to earn and even tougher to maintain, but losing it can be one of the easiest tasks available to us. So, I'd like to make an appeal to the companies, websites and organizations that assist voice actors (like myself) to find work ... and offer you my advice on how you can maintain that which can be so difficult: my respect.
Let me begin by making an extremely important point: I stand with SAG-AFTRA during their strike with Interactive Media (i.e. videogames and related content). On Friday, October 21st, 2016, the members of SAG-AFTRA officially began their strike against eleven videogame studios after negotiations lasting 19 months were at a stand-still. The details on the strike can be found here, but in short the negotiating team has asked for limiting vocally stressful recording sessions, a level of transparency on which the project is being worked and secondary compensation if and when a popular videogame sells enough to make a considerable profit. Union members have been operating with videogame employers under a contract that was originally signed in the mid-1990's and SAG-AFTRA claims that with advances in technology, more realistic and in-depth storytelling along with even more action, fighting and lots and lots of death screams to be recorded ... the time has come to update this agreement to reflect voice work in the 21st Century.
And I want to join the union! As a "pre-member" of SAG-AFTRA (i.e. an eligible, yet still non-union actor) I want to join and work with directors, fellow actors and companies that I've long-admired and desired to associate with. However, what am I supposed to think about a group of employers that treats its voice actors with a disdain disproportional to the way it treats other actors in the same union; after all, it would be foolish of me to think I could be immune to the literal shredding off my vocal chords screaming for hours on end as a trench-fighting soldier (or soldiers, as is often the case) or dying time after time again to satisfy the conditions of an army of living skeletons, orcs or aliens (or again, all three!). It would also be presumptuous to think I could put in hours upon hours of dialogue sessions and NOT be kept in the dark about the exact title of the videogame itself... or to think that after it's finally published, that I would be content in watching the "Best Game Of The Year" win every award and bring in hundreds of millions of dollars for its parent studio... and only then remember that, unlike in film, commercials or television, that I would receive no additional compensation for the product's success... even though, again as in similar unionized media, my work may have only been tangential to said success.
But I digress; how could this strike affect the original targets of this letter... pay-to-play voiceover websites? Simple: if sites like Voices.com, Voice123.com, Voicebunny, The Voice Realm and others want to maintain the respect of voice actors both inside and outside of the union, then by showing a bit of extra foresight and consideration for the talents on your sites, I believe you'll see membership on your site rise and be praised for your efforts and fairness. And it starts with respecting the decisions made by those on strike.
Actors across the country, both union and non-union, have made their voices heard on this issue. Thousands of actors in Canada showed their support by making this statement and these are, let's face it, your talent! Wouldn't you want to protect your talent from the possible attempts by non-negotiating employers to "go around" the union and find talent Speaking solely for myself, I am a member (and have been a member in the past) on several of these voiceover sites... and as a non-union voice actor, this is how I get a large portion of my current work. I want to see these sites working hard to assist talent, and I have three tasks that might help:
1. Be transparent on whether or not a videogame voice job knowingly involves one of the companies involved in the strike. You don't have to say who it is, but let us know if they're involved. This way, if we have a personal/professional duty to hold to the wishes of SAG-AFTRA, we can make our decision to audition (or not) without ambiguity.
- Perhaps create a field in your "New Job Posting" (specifically for videogames) that makes the client check off a box "Yes" or "No" to the question, "Is this voice job meant to appear in a project from one of the following companies (listing the eleven companies involved in the strike), and did said project also begin production after February 17th, 2015?".
2. Be vigilant in your efforts to safeguard us (and yourselves) from those who would wish to complete their projects using you as a go-between. I wouldn't like to think a bout of ignorance on your staff could lead to union members and their supporters jumping to a negative conclusion about the intentions of your site.
- Keep in mind: 99% of the voice jobs that will be posted on your sites won't be affected by the strike, so the work involved in keeping us informed will be minimal. And I'm not going to tell you "stay away from these companies and don't contact them"; by all means, please contact them and let them know about your services. But if they agree to use your site to find voice talent, we deserve to know that it's them we're auditioning for. And if a talent decides to audition/work for them, you're not responsible for any misinformation.
3. Be understanding. I wouldn't ask you to "choose a side" between talent and employers; you have the troublesome position of having to work in-between both of us! But if we, as voice actors, know that you understand our concerns, recognize our efforts and uphold our expectations of what we're looking for to make informed decisions ... it will be much easier for you to maintain our respect.
- If you're going to change your policy or make any updates, let us know in an email or newsletter.
- Put a notice about videogame job postings somewhere on the front page of your website, in easy view of both talents AND clients.
- Try not to be distressed when a client or talent contacts you to discuss these issues; it may be a difficult time for us!
Not all videogame employers are being affected by this strike, but the support in favor of SAG-AFTRA against certain employers is worldwide... as is your talent base. I'm not asking for much; just that you honor this group of creatives who wants (and desperately needs) to trust you.
And if you do that for us, you'll have my respect.
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