On Eve of SAG’s Big Win, A Final F You to Voice-over Artists


The SAG strike is over, huzzah! And thus concludes our Hot Labor Summer, which lasted unseasonably late into December, probably because of climate change. So we’re wrapping things up here, right? Shut it down, because the new contract passed with a resounding 78%…voted on by a whole 38% of SAG’s membership.

Well, it was fun while it lasted, but now that the celebrities aren’t boycotting red carpet events, we can expect a wind down on media coverage of labor negotiations for all those other, less sexy contract negotiations. But a rising tide buoys all guilded ships, right?

I’ll admit, I allowed myself to dream: watching America’s labor groups’ historic wins pile up across a plethora of cities and industries — from SAG to the WGA; California’s hotel workers to Detroit autoworkers to employees of Starbucks Amazon Alabama coal miners the national railroad system Tesla Tesla Detroit casinos (go Lions!) — we were tasting something new.

Unfortunately, that was just a whiff of butterfly meme patriotism, tinged for the creator class, with a sour burp of coercion and intimidation.


Because what did I tell you, over and over this summer? The end of SAG’s strike did not trickle down to the Internet’s working content creators who aspire to one day join their ranks. Many of whom were actively discouraged from making new content (aka doing their jobs) after the Screen Actors’ Guild pointedly singled out influencers with threats of future ineligibility; tacitly encouraging the use of social media shaming for any creator found by the Internet to be guilty of “promotion of struck companies or their content.” No clarification necessary for that perfect, unambiguous phrasing, which could never be open to interpretation or determined on a black box, case-by-case basis.

If SAG had really cared about their underserved communities, today would have been the perfect day to show solidarity. Not sure if you saw, but there was this whole viral TikTok from a voice-over actor named Sean Kelly, who told a story about being approached via Instagram DM and asked to submit a tape of “Justin Roiland impressions.” For those who do not wubalubadubdub, Roiland is “Rick and Morty’s” disgraced co-creator, who also voiced both lead characters on the show. 

Notably, “Rick and Morty” did not announce until last month who would step in to replace Roiland — no stranger to DM-sliding himself — who was acquitted earlier this year on a charge of false imprisonment made by a former partner. Also notable: It was big casting news when Roiland’s other show, Hulu’s “Solar Opposites,” announced Dan Stevens for the creator’s vocal sub, making the decision to hide the more popular “Rick and Morty’s” two leads more baffling. During a panel in July, the show’s producers even admitted that they’d used “soundalikes” for Roiland after auditioning “thousands;” a process that bears an eerie resemblance to both Kelly’s experience and my personal version of hell. (Just throw in a few Cartman impressions, and you’re right there.)

By the time the season premiered, it was revealed that Rick was being voiced by Ian Cardoni, with Harry Belden as his grandson Morty. But like…what could possibly have lived up to that hype? “Honey wake up, the new Ross Marquand impression just dropped.”

Meh. But this mystery has made it entirely plausible that Kelly initially believed he was auditioning for one of Roiland’s characters on the show, not, as it turns out, for Roiland himself. The gist of the gig was he’d be paid $50 for sending in an “audition” tape of himself singing a chorus and verse as the disgraced creator. If he were cast in whatever the project was, he’d be doing this approximately 200 more times over a six-month period at a rate of $30 per session. 

You see where this is going: an A.I.-generated “Justin Roiland voice,” a Frankenstein’s Monster of ten V.O. artists. Now, whether this was a request from someone actually working on “Rick & Morty” or a non-union fan project, it would still be something you’d think SAG would like to address, seeing as the most contentious clause in both SAG and WGA’s contract negotiations involved protections from having studios train A.I. to replace their members. It costs nothing to virtue-signal, after all.

Instead, an hour before this newsletter went out, an email was sent to SAG members telling them to boycott the 10th Annual Voice Arts Awards Gala, Hollywood’s one event for V.O. talent. Why? Because the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, the non-profit behind the event, was holding its party at the Beverly Hills Hilton, where the local members of hotel union UNITE HERE are currently striking.

“UNITE HERE stood with SAG-AFTRA during our fight for a fair contract, and we urge you to stand by them by not attending this event if you do not have to,” read the announcement, posted on SAG’s official website. 

“If you are contractually obligated to attend this event, you should. Please note, however, that you may be in a position of having to cross a picket line to do so.”

Anyone who works in V.O. may not have seen this coming, but it must still sting that SAG’s message couldn’t be more enunciated: Your work isn’t as valuable as those in a totally separate industry, already protected by a collective bargaining agreement. Literally, the same night as SAG ended their strike, they’re throwing an entire genre of their membership under the metaphorical bus. 

Creators who ground their careers to a halt to support SAG now can finally see what their sacrifices were worth to the union: nothing. Nothing at all. Just front-line fodder for an endless war that will never be fought on your behalf. And that’s perhaps the inevitable sad takeaway to a game played on a field of shifting boundaries and allegiances: It’s going to be the least protected players that will find themselves on the wrong side of a constantly moving goalpost. 


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