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Old 01-09-2019   #1
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Default Myths, misconceptions, and sources about unions

I'm making this thread because a) I'm bored, and b) I'm gonna give it out straight. Most VA fans don't know anything about unions. Most VA fans like to talk about unions. This is a problem.

I'm not like, a huge union-researching nerd by any means. You just kinda pick stuff up if you pay attention to the field and I made this in part to kind of fit together all of those little bits of knowledge. That being said, I'm going to hope this can be an informative thread where we can actually look at and break down common myths and talking points about unions.

This post will mostly apply to SAG-AFTRA as it’s the main acting union discussed in the VO world, but keep in mind there are other acting unions around the world like ACTRA (Canada) and Equity (UK).

This post will feature a number of sources. One of the sources is an anonymous union actor who posted on Kanzenshuu. Because their information lines up pretty well with everything else I've dug up, and he's said a lot of things better than I have, I decided to use him as reference for certain claims and include some quotes from him throughout the writeup.

1. Unions tell actors what they can and can't work on

Unions do have guidelines, and if broken, actors may be expelled from them and lose their privileges. However, a union is not a cult. A union does not make decisions on behalf of its actors. A union is simply a body that gives the actor bargaining power with their employers.

Union rules officially prohibit their members from working on non-union titles. THAT BEING SAID. This is a rule that largely has been enforced upon screen actors.

When dealing with voiceover, and especially dubbing, the area is much greyer. Obviously most actors are cautious about it, but the thing with voiceover is you have plausible deniability. In a film, it's easy to prove that you worked non-union. Your face is right there. That's not the case in voiceover. Look at how often voice actors are mistaken for other people.

It's easier to recognize people by face than by voice. And especially if your involvement is hidden, whether by an alias or not being credited altogether, it gives you an out. Not only that, but VAs are just less visible than screen actors. If Tom Cruise did non-union, everyone would know. SAG-AFTRA, other actors, tabloids, people, everyone.

As a result, it has also been said that SAG-AFTRA does not actually enforce these rules against dubs nearly as often as they do with screen actors. Though he tried to deny it way in the past, more recently Steve Blum, for example, has been open about his involvement in Cowboy Bebop for years, so has the entire cast of the show really.[source]

Union actors will just flat out use their real name and hope they won't get caught. Voice actors are far, far less likely to get caught than on-camera actors, and the lower the budget on a particular project, the less likely the union is to look into the matter. The number of union actors outnumber the number of union staff members by a very, very, very large margin. Pursuing actors working off the card on an anime dub ranks very low on their priority list, if it even shows up on the priority list at all.
2. Actors like Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Steve Blum stopped doing dubs/were recast in certain roles because they went full union!

“Full union” is not a thing. You are either a union member, financial core, or you're not a union member. That's it.

The reason these actors stop doing dub work has nothing to do with their union. This is a prime example of correlation being equated to causation. Troy Baker, Liam O'Brien, and Laura Bailey have stated multiple times that the main reason why they have slowed down on dub work is simply because of scheduling conflicts, priorities, and even sometimes creative beliefs[source 1 - Troy][source 2 - Laura][source 3 - Liam, 7:30][source 4 - Matt Mercer talking about Troy, even noting that he himself has been strapped for time]. AKA, because they are actors!

(Never mind that in some cases, such as Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition, Troy was not even asked to return to the role, and he would have said yes if he was out of his love for Yuri[source].)

I remember at Fan Expo 2017, Nolan North actually told us in line that Troy was forced to cancel his appearance at the very last minute because Warner Bros. needed him back for Shadow of War. Troy has even championed the importance of working on smaller titles for less pay if he feels passionately about them.

Simply put, Troy and Laura have been extremely in-demand for high-profile, high-reward, and in part high-paying gigs. Performance capture is an intensive process. It's essentially like shooting a film. It is a HUGE commitment. Troy and Laura have had multiple performance capture projects a year for the past 5+ years. You have to make sacrifices and dub work is quite frankly at the bottom of the chain for most actors. That's why the main dubbing pool is so small and insular, and so frequently victim to brain drain as big actors move on. It doesn't pay well, it's creatively limiting compared to prelay and mocap, and scheduling is often at a breakneck pace. It’s a big sacrifice for little reward. Even the most veteran of dub actors, such as Kyle Hebert have stressed you cannot make a living off dub work alone because dub work pays so poorly, even when unionized[source]. The single biggest piece of advice given to people who want to do VO just to be in anime - is don't. Even though they're the most glamourous, the real money in VO is not always in animation and games alone, but often in commercials, promos, and audiobooks. Almost all dub VAs, actors in general in fact, supplement their work with those jobs, convention appearances (signings and photos are highly lucrative, plus you get to travel), and yes, often even day jobs[source]. Actors like Troy Baker and Laura Bailey who can afford to be selective of their projects are living the actor’s dream, even though it leads to painful sacrifices and business moves against them.

Put it this way. Does Bryan Cranston not do anime anymore because he's union, or because he's Bryan Cranston?

3. Why don’t non-union games have credits?

Tying into the above, non-union games lacking credits is a mostly archaic practice that is slowly being phased out nowadays. It was useful in the past when the majority of actors working on non-union dubs were struggling screen and voice actors trying to get a quick buck on the downlow. Nowadays though, the dubbing pool is, quite frankly, pretty insular. Most voice actors are loud and proud of their involvement in non-union games and anime, and they have nothing to lose because the sphere has shifted towards younger actors. More often you see the majority of actors credited under their real names, and the remaining actors choose to go uncredited or use an alias.

Along with that, the rise of the internet and how dedicated VO sleuths have become has just made it harder for actors to become totally invisible. Like, they've never outright said it, but we all know "Taylor Henry" is Jamieson Price and "Claudia Lenz" is Eden Riegel, and while they won't bring up those roles themselves, they'll still play along when fans talk to them about them. I think a lot of the younger/newer actors are aware of the cult following VO fans have and that's why they're much more open about their involvement in dubbed titles, make such frequent appearances at cons, and actually cultivate fan followings on Twitter, Twitch, Unlocked, Youtube, etc. A lot of voice actors have realized fandom is a two-way street! There's weirdness that comes with that but it has developed in an interesting way.

4. The major recurring voice actors in dubs are all financial core!

First of all, an explanation of "financial core". "Financial core" is a status that refers to an actor who has left the union, but still receives its benefits and pays dues - but only the bare minimum of dues. Ficore actors pay for union benefits, but do not pay for the political and lobbying aspects of a union. In addition to that, they can't vote in union elections or run for union office. They are also legally allowed to work on non-union projects in addition to union-authorized ones, and can freely do so even during a strike. There is a stigma around the financial core status because it is seen as weakening the union's bargaining power. [source]

Anyway, this is only partly, very partly true. Because of this stigma, very few actors will openly state that they are ficore. Many often still list themselves as "SAG-AFTRA" on their resumes! Only a few dub actors are officially known to be financial core, such as DC Douglas, Lani Minella, and Dave Mallow. And even aside from that, the benefits of being involved in a union's internal politics are important to a lot of actors because it directly involves their well-being. Think about student elections in school. Some people don't care, but many get involved because the matters they deal with affect them directly. Ficore status isn't a best of both worlds deal at all. It's a lot more complicated than that, so that's obviously why not every single actor is ficore. That being said, in many cases it’s actually a lot simpler.

To be honest, if you ask me, I think the simple answer is that a large number of dub actors like Yuri Lowenthal, Matt Mercer, and Johnny Yong Bosch just don’t care. The union doesn’t care about their frequent non-union dips. They enjoy pretty cushy positions overall, highly respected and in-demand in each of the fields they’re involved in. So my bet is they just feel comfortable working on them regularly with their real name attached. Similar to Steve Blum and his freeness about Cowboy Bebop. It sounds like an anti-climax, but in a lot of cases it really is that simple. The union is not Big Brother, and has arguably become seen as weaker in certain regards.[source]

There are plenty of union actors who are just flat-out ignoring the rules and doing non-union work anyway (an expression in the biz known as, "Working off the card"). A good number of those actors don't even bother using a pseudonym, because they're that confident the union won't care or pursue the matter. I mean full-on union actors, not non-union actors or fi-core actors. Heck, I know of a few union committee members who work off the card on a regular basis. It's an unfortunate reality of where the biz has gone, sadly.
A lot of younger dub voice actors are often just not yet members of SAG-AFTRA, so they too have nothing to fear about working non-union until they potentially move up the pole.

Finally, very rarely established union actors DO work on non-union cases, but this is very, VERY rare. It usually only happens if they are close with the casting/voice director and do the game as a favour. Kris Zimmerman-Salter has said that Metal Gear Solid 1 was originally non-union, and she presented Konami a list of 20 actors she wanted to work with. All but one of them ended up in the game. It's very likely that she did the same thing when she cast Fire Emblem: Fates, which notably features the likes of Elizabeth Daily and Paul Eiding.

5. Strike?

The SAG-AFTRA struck only lasted a year and only affected a very specific number of games from a very specific number of publishers/recording studios released in 2017 (with some spillover into 2018 for a tiny number of titles and DLC). There was a list of games affected by the strike, and an explicit list of potentially eligible games that weren't struck (which infamously leaked a number of games that hadn't been announced yet). The vast majority of dubbed games were not affected by the strike because the holdouts were largely AAA American companies.

As far as dubs go, while certain actors like Erin Fitzgerald decided to stop taking non-union roles in order to stand in solidarity with their fellow actors, the SAG-AFTRA strike really didn't have much of an effect on the status quo for dubbed games either way. It was most likely a virtual non-factor towards certain game dubs throughout 2017/2018 that went non-union (commonly cited as "struck" games: Persona 5, Fire Emblem Heroes/Warriors, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Dynasty Warriors 8, Resident Evil 2 Remake, etc.) and as touched on above, is not the likely reason as to why actors like Laura, Travis, Liam, and Troy were absent from certain dubs. That was just business as usual for the publishers/series/actors in question - those games and actors would've probably been non-union and unavailable anyway.

6. What about the low-budget SAG-AFTRA agreement?

This past fall, SAG-AFTRA announced a new agreement which would carve an easier path to unionization for smaller-budgeted games[source]. At this moment, it is too soon to say how it will affect the future of dubbed games, but there is some hope. Judge Eyes/Judgement[source] and Catherine: Full Body[source], both Sega games, are confirmed to have been unionized, despite the company’s recent history of going non-union. The former game also features Crispin Freeman in the cast, one of the champions of the agreement. It is possible that this may be a result of the agreement, but again, it is too soon to say at the moment.

There's a lot of ground to cover, plenty more I'd still love to learn about, and I actually dig a lot of digging to back up a lot of these sources, but I think it's decently comprehensive. I'll probably keep this post updated with more/better info and further things to talk about, so consider this kinda like Version 1.0. Hopefully this is a good start and helps break down a lot of the common ideas/myths about unions that make it really hard to talk about them in the dub fan sphere.

Last edited by NCZ; 01-10-2019 at 02:40 AM.
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Old 01-10-2019   #2
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Default Re: Myths, misconceptions, and sources about unions

Transcriptions of videos/audio interviews in the OP in case they're taken down/you can't listen to them.

Troy Baker @ Metrocon 2014

FAN: Why aren't you voicing Kanji in Persona Q?

TROY: Oh! Um, because Matthew Mercer is AWESOME?

FAN: But we love you!

TROY: Well thank you! And I think it's great. Here's the thing - and sidebar, thank you for bringing that up - first of all, the whole reason that came about is because I went on my honeymoon, and as you know, production schedules are super tight. They get their scripts in, they gotta record, and then they gotta air. And I literally wasn't going to be available, and so they really had to scrounge. They could not push. And it was with a heavy heart, I was like, "I can tell you would do an amazing job!" And Matt Mercer got it, came in, and knocked it out.
Liam O'Brien on ANNcast:

HOST: You still dip a toe in from time to time on the occasional project. I remember making a joke about [...] Sailor Moon Crystal, and you were in it and I was like "that guy's not in dubs anymore! *both laughing* Something's going on in his life, he's in an anime dub again!"

LIAM: No, I still... [pause] Before we get into how the business as a whole is doing, I still love the process of dubbing anime. That is still the most challenging in my mind -- and I'm sure you've had guests say it already -- but you're trying to match something already made, and make it believable without sounding like a robot. It's really challenging, rewarding fun, I try to do it whenever I can, and the reason I don't do it is it comes down to me being at the stage of my life that I'm at, and things like mortgage payments, and kids in school, and "where am I gonna find that money?" And I mean, it's a great job to have, but if I have to pick between two or three things being offered to me, I'm going to where I'll get the most for my kids' schooling. And anime's always been razor-thin budgets.

HOST: Yeah, that's the joke I was making. It's not that "oh gosh, you wouldn't want to work on anime!" but I think the common wisdom now is that it pays garbage, and you can get a much better paycheque from a company that has money to spend.

LIAM: I wouldn't call it *garbage*, but definitely less. There are people who do work on it that are very dear friends of mine, and I still love working on it, and if I'm willing to go back to the theatre and tapdance for a nickel, I will certainly dub anime. It all just depends on it, it's more turning my nose up at it and "am I so busy with this other stuff that I'm doing, do I have 4 hours here, can I get away from my directing job?" I'm directing a lot right now, more than I used to, so being able to run off for a role that's gonna take 8 or 12 hours over 2 months, even that is a little difficult these days. From my vantage point, it feels like less is done in Los Angeles, it feels like the circumstances of budgets and the way the market works now is that most of it's in Texas, as you know. And I have a lot of colleagues here in LA who will fly out to Texas for a week and crash on someone's house or hole up for a while and dub anime... it's not an option for Pop O'Brien.

HOST: Right, yeah. So basically you take the opportunities when they come up, and when you can...

LIAM: *affirmatively* Yes.

HOST: And that's cool, you've found a way to fit it into your life in the space where it goes.

LIAM: Yeah. It's one of many Jenga pieces in my creaky little tower.
Matt Mercer on Dropped Frames:

MATT: There have been projects that I've turned down because I've been too busy. Like for instance the remake of Tales of Vesperia, I guess just came out? I've voicematched for Troy Baker on a number of things when he got too busy to do some of the projects that, he originally began, which made for a tenuous beginning of our friendship from his end I'm sure. *interviewers laugh* We're fine now! But for that, I was approached to possibly do that. I was very busy and also I had... I didn't want to continue a trend of being known as "the budget Baker", if that makes sense. I've covered for him on a number of projects, and I found myself in a place where I know somebody else who could probably use this more than I could could step up to the plate -- and yeah, I just didn't want to continue this trend of being "the guy that covers for Troy when he can't do it". So I politefully [sic] declined that project. But it's a great game, and I think Grant George did the additional lines and he did a great job, and I don't regret it necessarily. I would've loved to have stepped into the role of Yuri, that's a great game, but that's the closest thing I've come to a project where I was like "but what if I DID say yes?". But in hindsight I wouldn't have had the time.
KZS on Metal Gear:

"The trick was, I was hired to be the director, not the casting director. And also the project at the time was non-union. When they hired me I said, 'I would like to give you about 20 names of actors that I'd like to audition'. And they said 'oh of course, fine fine, please, please'. And so I brought in my 20 people, and when the cast finally came to fruition, all but one of my actors got parts."
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