Below the Stars: How the Labor of Actors and Extras Shapes Media Production

Abstract: Despite their considerable presence in Hollywood, extras and working actors have received scant attention within film and media studies as significant contributors to the history of the industry. Looking not to the stars but to these supporting players in film, television, and, recently, streaming programming, Below the Stars highlights such actors as precarious laborers whose work as freelancers has critically shaped the entertainment industry throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By addressing ordinary actors as a labor force, Kate Fortmueller proposes a media industry history that positions underrepresented and quotidian experiences as the structural elements of the culture and business of Hollywood.

Hollywood Freelance: Extras, Actors, and On-Screen Talent

Abstract: Actors are, and have always been, the biggest labor force in Hollywood. Although their faces might be familiar, how they have negotiated the extremely competitive and ever-changing business of Hollywood is typically a mystery. For many, at least those below the level of stars, work in Hollywood is inconsistent. Hollywood Freelance demonstrates how sporadic work has been a defining characteristic of actors’ labor and sheds lights on the lives and collective struggles of working and aspirant actors. Supported by archival evidence and interviews with industry workers, this book looks at the relationship between labor, technology, and capitalism to provide a cultural framework of actors, unions and Hollywood’s industrial practices. This contract was granted on the basis of peer review and approval by the University of Michigan Press’s editorial board.

Voice actors and video games in the age of convergence

Abstract: “What type of sword am I wielding?” For most performers in visual media this question is moot, clearly answered by the prop department – but for video game voice actors, understanding the imaginary weight and velocity of an object provides essential information to help them find the appropriate vocal range for a performance. Voice acting, or the auditory human performance attached to an animated body (as distinct from voice over) has become an essential component of video games since the 1990s. Video game voice actors face a unique set of performance conditions: they record, occasionally mix, and submit their own auditions, rarely know the character(s) they are cast to voice or even the game they are working on, frequently record alone without the benefit of playing off other actors, place great strain on their voices in action scenes, and often don’t get to see the final results of their performances. The production practices of casting, recording, and producing video games separates voice actors from the characters on screen.

In 2014, SAG-AFTRA’s video game contract expired sending the union to the bargaining table with video game companies. The 340-day voice actor’s strike, the longest in SAG or AFTRA’s respective histories, sought video game residuals, better working conditions to mitigate vocal strain, and transparency about the projects. We can look at this recent strike as part of an ongoing struggle of talent looking to share in digital profits, but from an industrial perspective it also demonstrates some of the challenges of convergence. Technologies have converged, audience members traverse media forms, conglomerates produce for multiple platforms, but historically separate industries still retain their unique and distinct labor cultures. The voice actor strike provides a unique vantage point to consider the relationship between convergence culture and media labor. Using interviews, this presentation will locate the work and performances of voice actors within the larger field of screen acting. I argue that while much of voice acting helps converge cinematic narratives and video games, these textual, technological, and corporate logics are at odds with existing union practices. As Silicon Valley giants Apple, Google, and Facebook look for ways to produce content and hire film and television workers, the challenge for actors will be to assert leverage within un-unionized and exploitative hi-tech corporate work cultures.