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May 31, 2008

Oh, Sure, NOW You Pass Through My Podunk Hometown.

Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart writes about his travels through my old neck of the woods.


(From neilpeart.net/news)





Riding north and east, putting in another 400-mile day (in 106° heat), we worked our way back toward the next show in Austin, stopping for the night in San Angelo. For the first time ever, in any of my day-off rambles, we had trouble getting rooms there. Most of the motels were filled with investigators, victims, and counselors dealing with that fundamentalist, polygamist Mormon sect in nearby El Dorado.

(Fun Fact: “Reformed” Mormons might not like it, but it could be said that those people --- however benighted, and unquestionably victims and perpetrators of what right-thinking people would call abuse --- were true Latter-Day Saints. They remained faithful to the divine revelations preached, and practised, by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young—that God commanded the men to have multiple, ever-younger wives. In order to achieve statehood, back in 1896, the “reformed” church put those inconvenient truths aside. Sometimes even divine revelations have to bow to good business.)



I want a motorcycle. I've been a homebody far too long, and I'm bordering on sedentary.

Truth is, though, my wife would kill me. If the bike didn't beat her to it.
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May 28, 2008

"Overpaid Voice Actors", episode # 48,763

 

Niko Bellic stalks in Grand Theft Auto IV.
 

 

 

With this story all over the news of late...

A Video Game Star and His Less-Than-Stellar Pay

...it was probably due to rear its ugly head again.

By "it", I refer to the deluge of internet commentary that inevitably follows any and all media reports of voice actors seeking residuals for videogame work. It ranges from the stupefyingly uninformed ("You get paid big bucks just to sit there and talk into a mic, so STFU") to the kind of union-bashing, anti-residuals snark that evokes the ghost of mogul Lew Wasserman (who once famously said "When my plumber fixes my toilet, I don't pay him every time I flush the @#%$ thing!"). The first opinion isn't worth wasting keystrokes refuting, and the second I'll address later.

Somewhat more reasoned are the arguments that game programmers don't get royalties, and that because their contribution is at least as vital as the actors, the latter shouldn't keep getting paid after the fact. Yes, I have heard tales of game companies overworking and underpaying its programmers, testers, and developers; and if this is becoming the norm rather than the exception, then that's an inequity that also needs to be addressed. Generally speaking, though, a simple (but key) distinction is often lost in this argument: members of the creative team work on salary, while the voice actor is a freelancer.

Viewed without this information, it's easy to think of our VO actor as being greedy, an unscrupulous sod; trying to squeeze out yet more money from a game, a few bucks at a time, after already sitting on a king's ransom. Mine isn't an unbiased viewpoint, but I'm nonetheless here to tell you that it just ain't so. It's important to remember that sales-based residuals aren't "bonuses" or "extra money", as many people out there seem to think. They're deferred payments against the lifetime value of the work. In other words, when residuals are part of a negotiated contract --- something that's not currently part of SAG and AFTRA's "new media" agreements --- the studio is essentially saying "your work is worth X, but that's too large an amount for us to pay up front. Therefore, we'll pay you a smaller percentage up front, and if the game is a success, then we'll pay you the remainder of that value over time." Film stars like Samuel L. Jackson and Ray Liotta get weekly checks for their movie roles not because their performances are stellar, but because their client (the studio) is on an installment plan. (This is one reason why the studios, long ago, agreed to the royalties system proposed by SAG; it places a risk on the part of the actor --- he stands to lose, say, 80% of the value of his work --- alongside the financial risk incurred by the studio on that project.)

There even exist a few voice actors, some for whom I have great respect, who are of the opinion that Hollick signed the contract, knew what he was getting into, and should stop bumping his gums about the lack of residuals. I'm not saying that wouldn't have been a prudent choice, but let's look at some other issues. Leaving aside the fact that his contract doesn't cover the use of his voice for promotional purposes over the Internet, who are any of us to tell an unknown voice actor to say no to a six-figure payday, even one that isn't currently as equitable as it should be?  As much as I admire those who stick to their principles when it's least convenient --- and they are to be admired --- actors have to eat. (Also, 100 grand is nothing to sneeze at, but it doesn't go as far when you live in NYC or L.A.; and residence in these cities is a near-absolute requirement for an actor to do videogame VO work .)

Another such colleague has opined that voice actors shouldn't receive royalties for games, with the reasoning that gamers don't buy titles based on the quality of the actor's performance. This may be true to a degree --- mitigated in no small part by the willingness of those same gamers to flame bad voice acting in game forums --- but it misses the point by a mile. Again, TV and film actors receive royalties for their work not because of their sheer acting prowess, but because the performing unions fought to ensure that these artists --- regardless of the artist's ability or inability to act his or her way out of a paper bag --- aren't left with an inequitable share of profits. The unions understood well that competition for acting jobs is fierce, to a degree that few other industries and professions can relate to.

Or, put another way, in the form of a rebuttal to Lew Wasserman: your plumber doesn't have to audition for his next job against hundreds of other hopeful wannabe plumbers, hoping against hope that he'll land the gig. Taking it a step farther: If the plumber had fixed the toilet so that it spat out a thousand bucks every time it was flushed, he'd be justified in asking for a percentage of that payout. But I digress.

Bottom line: the percentage of actors who can wrap up one job, then count on another gig being in place the next day, is small. As in single digits.

All this may be moot, however, if SAG and AFTRA are unable to negotiate residuals into their new contracts with the studios and production companies (represented by AMPTP). The TV writers were reasonably successful in their quest, but that's no guarantee. We'll see.

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May 21, 2008

Stifler's Mom and Hot Fuzz

I spent Wednesday playing a cop in this movie ("Ex-Terminators").

9:30 call time. As has been the case on pretty much every film shoot I've been on, this meant finally getting into wardrobe around 10:45. Hurry up and wait, background peons!










The clouds had already broken, sending plenty of sunshine and humidity down on everyone and everything. Okay, please put on these head-to-toe black polyester costumes.









"This is Papa Bear. Put out an APB for a male suspect, driving a... car of some sort, heading in the direction of, uh, you know, that place that sells chili. Suspect is hatless. Repeat, hatless." Thus spake Police Chief Clancy Wiggum.







Fellow beat cop Ro Black. Smart, opinionated and funny. You saw her here first.



Ro' Black on the set of Ex-Terminators




Chief of Internal Medicine or the Baddest Police Chief Ever? The name tag reports, you decide.



David Houston on the set of Ex-Terminators


Lots of takes in the not-so-well-air-conditioned church, followed by lots more takes in the less-well-air-conditioned outdoors. Heather Graham was nice to everyone, but seemed not to be feeling well and wasn't necessarily approachable. A cardinal rule of background work is that you don't pester stars while on set, although this rule is often bent.


Ended the day on a good note. Jennifer Coolidge --- aka "Stifler's Mom" in American Pie --- was gregarious and friendly even when she didn't have to be, and after a ten-hour shoot in the aforementioned soupy heat at that. Earlier, after a "CUT" while shooting the processional scene, she playfully chided the director: "Why don't I get to have a husband? Maybe I'll marry this cop", pointing to me. I held up my ringed finger and lamented "Well, I'm kind of taken already." (A nearby co-star didn't miss a beat in replying "You'd be perfect for her, then.")

No, I didn't run off with her, but she was kind enough to pose for a pic.




David Houston with Jennifer Coolidge on the set of Ex-Terminators



We shoot again this Sunday. The fake Police Station will, one hopes, have better climate control. Watch for the update.
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May 07, 2008

'Quantum of Solace' Videogame Site Launched

From MI6:

Activision today officially confirmed the videogame adaptation of the upcoming James Bond film "Quantum of Solace", and launched a teaser website to promote the title.

[The website] gives fans access to some early concept artwork from the locations featured in the game, as well as the opportunity to sign-up to the community to vote on polls and ask the development team questions. This site will serve as the hub of activity for the game and will be updated on a regular basis.

Development studios are confirmed as Eurocom, Treyarch, Beenox and Vicarious Visions. The game will be released this Fall. Treyarch are understood to be heading up development on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles, with Beenox producing the Nintendo Wii version, and Vicarious Visions working on the hand-held platforms. Eurocom are understood to be developing the PC version.

Speaking about Activision's direction with the 007 licence, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said "Bond is one of the great videogame franchises of all time and that really was a result of GoldenEye 64. I think the key to re-energising the Bond franchise is going to be ultimately the highest possible game quality."

Last November, Activision confirmed a second 007 title was also under development.

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May 06, 2008

Mmmm, Donuts.

My friend DB Cooper whipped up this clip, with a wee bit o' yakking from yours truly.

Other fine voice talents featured on this clip are Maureen Egan, Philip Banks, Connie Terwiliger, Jeff McNeal, Dylan Guptill, and Mary McKitrick.

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May 05, 2008

New Client: Rove Mobile

Happy to have Rove Mobile as a new client; I'll be voicing an introductory video clip for their new application. Rove creates IT and business software for handheld devices.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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