Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Considering how much they love Guilds, you'd think they'd like unions...

So, for various reasons, I recently signed up for Actor's Access, the website showing casting calls & breakdowns for commercial/film/tv work, both union & non-union. You can set up the system to notify you if there are any casting calls matching your profile.

About a week ago, I got an e-mail regarding voice-overs for World of Warcraft. They were looking for men 25-55, able to do accents.

But what was interesting about this was that it was non-union work.

It's hardly news that video game work for actors isn't very lucrative. Take a look at this NY Times article from 2008, about the dude who provided the voice & movements for GTA IV's Niko Bellic:
Mr. Hollick was paid only about $100,000 over roughly 15 months between late 2006 and early this year for all of his voice acting and motion-capture work on the game, with zero royalties or residuals in sight, he said.
RTWT, because there's a lot of great stuff in there.

Now, $100,000 isn't a bad salary, but it is spread out over the course of three different years (altogether 15 months), and the sticking point is royalties. He put a lot of time and effort into a character in a game that has enjoyed both critical acclaim & commercial success.

And one of the areas video games have traditionally had problems with is voice acting. Rock Star, the games company that put out GTA IV are known for their careful work on characterization and voice-casting. But as that linked Guardian article suggests, Rock Star is the exception rather than the rule. And considering that even Rock Star treats actors as session players, the mentality isn't surprising.

But Rock Star was paying the going union rate for some of supporting cast ($730 a day). Hellick made $1030 a day.

The posting for World of Warcraft set the minimum day rate at $200. $25 an hour doesn't sound too bad IF they keep it to an 8 hour day. However, if it's non-union, they aren't restricted to an 8 hour day.

And context is important here. Remember, Rock Star paid $730 a day for work on GTA IV.  WOW is paying just barely above a quarter of that.

Further context: in a recent on-camera class in Chicago, a freelance casting director (who works on commercials all the time) said to not bother booking non-union work if you were getting under $400 a day. That's for regional and local commercial work that's maybe seen over a couple of states. Not a video game which sold 4 million copies within the first month of release.

In other words, a Chicago-based restaurant chain could be paying actors more for a thirty second ad than one of the most popular MMOs is paying someone for recording pages and pages of dialogue.

This is why unions matter.


Lassarina said...

It's also, in part, why you don't get many recognizeable names doing voice acting in video games. As I understand it (being an outsider type creature to the acting thing), taking non-union gigs can in fact get you booted from places like SAG, which makes it harder to get recognizeable voice talent. Which isn't to say that the folks who aren't household names aren't good--some of them are quite excellent!--but also explains why many video games do not have voice work up to the quality of many animated films, for example. (Though that seems to be changing for companies that really care about localization, like S/E or Atlus.)

Mr. K said...

No, that's actually pretty accurate. You can get waivers from the union for non-union work under special circumstances, but it's not easy.

But I think the other issue is that even when a video game companies do go union (like Rock Star did), it's still not a worthwhile paycheck for big names. Which is why you get so many crappy tie-in video games that have bad imitators of famous actors. Or alternately, when they do get famous actors, ridiculously phoned-in performances.

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