Vanity Fair’s Top Hollywood Earners of 2009

02.06.2010

I might have saved this one for the next edition of Frivolous List Friday except that it involves some heretofore unmentioned upcoming animated feature films and details on earnings from voiceovers — a “hot topic” here as one of this blog’s most-read articles.

Names of note on Vanity Fair’s list of “Top Hollywood Earners”:

#7. Ben Stiller: Madagascar film series
– VF: Estimated “$5 million: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (back-end bonus for voice work, and share of DVD)”

#8. Tom Hanks: Toy Story series
– VF: Est. “$15 million: Toy Story 3 (fee for voice work in upcoming “3-D-quel”)”

#12. Adam Sandler: voices in 8 Crazy Nights and upcoming Zookeeper
– VF: Est. “$2 million: Zookeeper (fee for voice work in and producing upcoming animated feature)”

#16. Owen Wilson: voices in Cars and upcoming Cars 2 sequel and Marmaduke
– VF: Est. “$1 million: Marmaduke (fee for voice work in upcoming animated film based on tired comic strip)”

#17. Nicolas Cage: G-Force
– VF: Est. “$2 million: G-Force (back-end bonus for voice work, based on worldwide gross of $285 million)”

#19. Cameron Diaz: Shrek series
– VF: Est. “$10 million: Shrek Forever After (fee for voice work in upcoming 3-D “fourquel”)”

#21. Johnny Depp: voice in upcoming Rango animated feature
– VF: Est. “$7.5 million: Rango (fee for voice work in upcoming animated film)”

#22. Steve Carell: voices in Over the Hedge and upcoming Despicable Me
– VF: Est. “$500,000: Despicable Me (fee for voice work in upcoming animated feature)”

#29. George Clooney: Fantastic Mr. Fox
– Earnings info from Fantastic Mr. Fox not available.

#31. Reese Witherspoon: Monsters vs Aliens
– VF: Est. “$10 million: Monsters vs. Aliens (back end for voice work, based on worldwide gross of $381 million, and share of DVD)”

#40. Brad Pitt: voice in upcoming Megamind feature film
– VF: Est. “$5 million: Megamind (fee for voice work)”

Related post: 4.27.2009 — How Much Do Voice Actors Earn?


SMACKDOWN: Union Voice Actors VS Video Game Companies

12.11.2009

A Dec. 7th article from The LA Times from Dec. 7th discusses the contract dispute between The Screen Actors Guild and video game companies, with interview quotes from voice actors Dave Whittenberg and Dee Bradley Baker (the article also includes a photo and audio clip of Baker performing).

The article reveals some interesting facts which are related to some of this blog’s top searches, such as “what do voice actors earn” which Whittenberg states as “roughly $30,000 a year from his video game work and, like most of his peers, supplements that income by doing voice work for animated TV shows.”

And even in a sluggish US economy, the Times article states that the “U.S. video game industry revenue has more than doubled since 2005 to $21 billion in 2008 — about twice the amount of movie ticket sales in Canada and the U.S.”

But video game developers are largely hiring non-union voice talents which make up 80% of the work available, leaving a significantly smaller percentage to union talents.

“The concern going forward is that as these games become larger and larger and generate more income, we as actors won’t see any more money when we walk out the door,” said Wittenberg.

In response, The Times interviews Attorney Scott Witlin, “who represented video game publishers in the recent labor negotiations, disputes the notion that actors are being shortchanged”:

If you look at the total contribution either in terms of hours that go into the creation of a game or the earnings of the people who make the games, voice talent represents a minute percentage.

Casey Hudson, director for Electronic Arts’ Mass Effect 2 says:

It used to be that there wasn’t very much data available for voice acting, and what we had tended to be cartoonish.

Later, with the advent of higher-capacity compact discs, characters started to speak a few dozen or hundred lines in games. But voices were still often performed by amateur actors or even the game developers themselves, because many companies didn’t think spoken dialogue was important enough to merit spending money on professionals.

In the last decade, however, as the video game industry has transitioned to DVDs and the storytelling ambitions of many game developers have blossomed, hiring experienced actors has become routine.

Hudson adds that Mass Effect 2 has a massive cast, with “90 actors playing 546 characters who speak about 31,000 lines of dialogue.”

The greatest issue that SAG is addressing in this contract dispute is the pay scale for actors performing “atmospheric voices — words and sounds for the incidental characters — bartenders, soldiers, elves, random monsters — in war and fantasy games that involve large crowds.”

What SAG is proposing is that “actors would receive a fee of about $800 for performing up to 20 atmospheric voices (up to 300 words per voice) in a four-hour session. Actors who perform ‘principal characters’ — defined as those that drive the story — would fetch the same fee for doing up to three character voices, and more than double the amount if they do six to 10 voices during a six-hour session.”

The video game companies countered by offering only a 2.5% wage increase. And according to the LA Times, the voice actors don’t seem to be pleased with either option, stating that “an influential group of Hollywood voice actors has strongly opposed the contract”:

They contend that the provision would require them to do substantially more work for roughly the same pay and put undue stress on their vocal cords, notwithstanding a provision in the agreement to protect actors against “vocal stress.”

“Before, you were doing three characters dying a horrible death. Now you’re doing 20 characters dying a horrible death,” said Dee Baker, a veteran voice actor who has worked on such games as Halo 2 and Spore, in which he voiced entire races of evolving alien creatures. “Not only will this mean less money for more experiences, it’s also going to be a lot more vocally difficult.”

But SAG’s primary goal in the negotiations is “to give the companies more incentive to hire union talent”:

“One of the things we’d like to do is improve the union’s footprint in this area of production,” said Mathis Dunn Jr., an assistant national executive director of AFTRA. “A lot of employers are not signatories to our contract, and part of the reason is that we can’t accommodate their budget. . . . This will keep us in the game.”

If you’re waiting for the inevitable editorial commentary, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I must bow out of the discussion on this one, since I’m a non-union talent living in a right-to-work state who unfortunately cannot find enough union work available in the state to merit joining the union. But I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on the developments with this story.

And if you’d like more informed and insightful opinions on the subject, here are some I dug up for your perusal:

– From animation/comics writer and voice director Mark Evanier:

Actors who do voices for video games are concerned about the pay scales for what they do…and rightly so. Some of those jobs involve doing literally thousands of lines of dialogue and/or screaming for hours on end. I have one friend who spent two days recording a game…for not-wonderful money. And at the end of the second day, his throat was so raw that he couldn’t talk (i.e., work) for almost a week.

– Comment thread from Kotaku.com.au: Paid Less to Die More: The Actors’ Union’s Beef with Video Games.

– Discussion on Voice-Overs.com with posts by veteran video game VO pros J.S. Gilbert and Bob Bergen.

– A Joystiq.com news post on the LA Times article ignites a rather heated comment thread between gamers, industry professionals, and aspiring voice actors.

– Video game writer Jeff Spock guest blogs on Gamasutra.com with his thoughts on the LA Times article.


SAG Closing on Video Game VO Deal

08.29.2009

Variety reports:

In a sign it may be moving toward a videogames deal, the Screen Actors Guild has scheduled….Sept. 8 [member] caucuses in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

If the vidgame deal is concluded, it will be the sixth SAG contract that’s been wrapped up since April — including commercials, feature-primetime, TV animation, basic cable animation and basic cable live-action, the last of which was ratified Wednesday with 93.7% support.

The SAG contract covers performers for such publishing giants as Electronic Arts and about 70 other gaming companies. The SAG and AFTRA deals in 2005 gave members a 36% increase in the base rate of $556.20 per session for vidgame voiceover work.

Related post: 8.19.2009 — SAG VAs Deal With AMPTP


How Much Do Voice Actors Earn?

04.27.2009

CareerBuilder.com writer Rachel Zupek lists “10 jobs cooler than yours” via CNN.com:

10. Voice actor

Cool factor: Everyone knew Don LaFontaine, the infamous voice behind thousands of movie trailers, TV advertisements and network promotions. Voice actors also loan their chops to movies and cartoons. Wouldn’t it be neat to have your voice be familiar to the whole world?

If you’d like a less publicized career in television, look to work behind the scenes in advertising.

Average annual salary: $47,000. If you have a highly recognizable voice, you’ll probably get paid more.

[And since he’s not properly identified in the photo that accompanies the article, it’s voice actor Joe Alaskey from the premiere of Looney Tunes: Back in Action.]

Like others reading this, I was curious to know how they arrived at $47k as the “average annual salary” of a voice actor.

Ever since it was reported in June 2008 that The Simpsons cast earns $400K per episode, this has become a frequently asked question at conventions and via message boards. But asking a professional voice actor directly how much they earn is getting just a little too personal. I have, however, read and been told various estimates, but it always differs based on the individual. And with the way the industry works, it would be a very difficult task to calculate an average annual salary for a voice actor…well, unless you work for the IRS.

CBSalary.com is cited as a source for the article, but I would really like to know what sort of statistical data is used (and where it comes from) that they offer they following as estimated annual earnings for each of these voice-related fields:

Voice Over Talent and Voice Over Announcer: $42,707.

Voice Over Actor: $50,506.

Voice Coach: $58,109.

It’s also interesting to note that $59,462 is listed as the “peak salary” for both “Voice Over Talent” and “Voice Over Announcer,” and yet the peak for “Voice Over Actor” is estimated at $71,036. And $31-33k annually is considered on the “low end” of the spectrum, which I’d be content with if I were earning just 10% of that per year as a voice talent.

Like they say, it’s nice work… if you can get it.

Update/Addendum: 1.07.2010

Since the above article was originally published, it has since ranked #10 for this blog’s top 10 most-viewed for 2009. Apparently there are a lot of people out there curious to know how much voice actors earn as two of this blog’s top 10 keyword searches were also related to this topic (“voice actor salaries” and “how much do voice actors earn”).

I found some other stats related to this topic via a great piece on VoiceOverXtra.com by voice actor Jennifer Vaughn in which she offers a very thorough evaluation and comparison between the “pay-to-play” voiceover casting sites Voices.com and Voice123.com.

Jennifer says she has nearly 20 years of experience in the industry, and she took the time to offer a complete report of her personal statistics for the two sites — “what’s working and what’s not,” and says she believes she has “discovered a trend that may have an impact on how many perceive these sites.”

The article itself is chock full of great insight and advice (and it’s a highly recommended read), but what will be of greater interest (as it relates to my earlier report) are details she gives on income she earned through the two sites:

I…track all of my marketing efforts. Here are the 2009 stats for just two of those efforts: auditions and bookings from Voice123 and Voices.com from January 2 through December 30, 2009.

Voice123: Auditioned exactly 221 times, which resulted in 14 closed projects for the year, resulting in $8,550 gross income for 2009. Two were union jobs, and three required ISDN.

Voices.com: Auditioned exactly 480 times, which resulted in 17 closed projects for the year, resulting in $10,405 gross income for 2009. All were non-union jobs.

All totalled, the combined work from these two web sites brought only $18,955 of income – for auditioning an hour per day, and then doing the actual voice work to obtain that income.

My closed projects with Voice123 and Voices.com amount to just a tad over 2% of my overall voice-over income annually.

Math and I have never gotten along well, but if my calculations are correct I believe Jennifer inadvertently told us that she earns around $850,000 annually.

My advice to new talent and professionals out there: if you want to be as successful as she is, go see what she’s doing @ JenniferVaughn.com and study it. The best way to learn in VO is to listen. Jennifer also offers a detailed VO how-to section on her website.

Update: 2.05.2010 — In an interview with TimesUnion.com, it’s stated that Yolanda Vega, voice of the New York Lottery, “makes $85,000 a year working full time for the state,” a job that also includes serving as spokesperson for promotional appearances “and deflecting criticism of the lottery.”

Update: 2.06.2010 — See my related report on Vanity Fair’s Top Hollywood Earners of 2009 with celebrity earnings from voicing animated feature films.

Update: 2.10.2010 — Excerpts from a Feb. 2008 article on VoiceOverTimes.com — “Actors Score $500K for Video Game Voice Overs”:

According to Screen Actors Guild rules, union voice actors can expect to be paid $760 for one four-hour recording session.

That’s just the fee for a professional voice actor with union status.

Now, if you were to talk celebrity voice talent, that figure increases exponentially. Speaking to Reuters, Blindlight production company general manager Lev Chapelsky said that some stars have demanded $750,000 for an hour’s worth of work, and one voice actor actually received $500,000 for a single session. Chapelsky told Reuters that top talent commonly receives “in the high five figures for a single session.”