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Cortana Works For Scale Wages 71

Posted by Zonk
from the ai-needs-a-better-union dept.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is reporting on local theater folks who do voice-work in videogames. One of the article's examples is that of Jen Taylor, who plays the voice of Master Chief's synthetic partner in crime, the AI Cortana. From the article: "Cortana, an artificial intelligence that is pretty much in charge of things in 'Halo' 1 and 2, is played by Book-It Repertory Theatre regular Jen Taylor. Cortana, of course, is a necessary factor in 'Halo 3,' which is in the process of development. Taylor is in Australia working in a Seattle Children's Theatre co-production ... A recurring role commands extra money. For 'Halo 1' Taylor got about $500 for a four-hour session. For 'Halo 2' she got twice that. "But the technicians had gotten so good at what they were doing," Taylor notes with some regret, 'that they got twice the amount of work done in half the time. So my actual pay was about the same.' When actors do voiceover work, they are represented by AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). The union contract stipulates a fee of $600 for most four-hour recording sessions."
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Cortana Works For Scale Wages

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  • Sheesh, I'd think she'd have landed a bit more than that for such a pivotal character, especially in Halo 2.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @12:31PM (#16561830)
      Nah. I'm sure they're pinching their pennies so that they can properly reward their programming team. Like all the other giant game companies. That savings will definitely end up in the pockets of the little guy.
    • Re:That's all? (Score:4, Informative)

      by el_womble (779715) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @01:29PM (#16562946) Homepage
      This is how economics works. Something is only worth what somebody else is prepared to pay for it.

      You may think that her vocal talent was worth more, but her fee represents two things:

      - Bungie were more than happy to use a different actor should they need to but were polite enough to ask her to repeat the performance.
      - The actor believes that she was fairly compensated as nobody forced her to take the job. She may have wanted more (don't we all?) but she understood the weakness of her bargaining power.

      If you feel that she deserved more money, maybe you could hire her yourself? Get a group of your friends together and contact her agent and offer her a gig - just think of the cool ring tones you could get for just a $500.

      Personally I think $500 to $1000 is more than adequate for what was essentially half a days work. The programmers wouldn't have been on anything like that rate, nor would the script writers or the technitions. As an owner of Halo 1 and 2 I can say with some confidence that if the voice of Cortana, Master Chief or in fact any of the voices my reaction would have been similar to when I realised the the covenant would be speaking English and not their own languages throughout Halo 2, regardless of difficulty: "Hey, thats lame. Oh well", and then keep on playing. I don't think I'm alone.

      Of all the people on the pay role at Bungie, why would you think that its the voice actors that need more compensation?

      • Get a group of your friends together and contact her agent and offer her a gig - just think of the cool ring tones you could get for just a $500.

        I wonder if you can get her to act as Cortana for you. My guess is that she can only act as Cortana for Bungie due to her contract. You could, of course, get her to make a message for your phone, but it would have to be without any obvious references to Halo.

      • Look at it another way; that "essentially half a days [sic] work" is all that the voice talent gets for the entire release . By way of contrast, how much do you suppose each person in marketing earned for the release? Which one contributed more to the enjoyment of the typical consumer of the game, the voice talent or the marketing person? Even at minimum wage (not likely!) the back-room employees would have individually earned far more than the voice talent. From a different perspective, it's reasonabl
    • A lot of people here are basically saying that Microsoft ripped her off, like they took advantage of some young starving actress.

      Take a look at what she HAS done:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jen_Taylor [wikipedia.org]
      or
      http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1071768/ [imdb.com]

      It's not like she's new to the business, she seems to be one of the most prolific female game voices out there. I suppose that she is fairly knowledgeable about how the business works.
    • by tambo (310170)
      For 'Halo 1' Taylor got about $500 for a four-hour session. For 'Halo 2' she got twice that. ... 'they got twice the amount of work done in half the time. So my actual pay was about the same.'

      If you make twice as much, but the techs get twice as much done in half the time... doesn't that mean you end up making half as much?

      Aren't AIs supposed to be good at math?

      - David Stein

  • Ah, technicians (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DrMrLordX (559371)
    Makes you wonder how long it will be until they can eliminate most voice actors altogether by using good voice synthesizers. And even if they can't, it would be funny to hear voice acting done by Dr. Sbaitso.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Hello DrMrLordX, My name is Dr Sbaitso.

      I am here to help you.
      Say whatever is in your mind freely,
      our conversation will be kept in strictconfidence.
      Memory contents will be wiped off after you leave,

      So, tell me about your problems.
    • Programming the emotions for each sentence will probably be more costly and time consuming than simply hiring and experiences actor. Same reason they often hire actors to play completly CGI characters becauses the body language and movements that programmers can create will never match.
    • by westlake (615356)
      Makes you wonder how long it will be until they can eliminate most voice actors altogether by using good voice synthesizers.

      Character animation is acting. Vocal performance is acting.

      The technology of speech synthesis may become a new means of expression for the artist but it is not the art itself.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Makes you wonder how long it will be until they can eliminate most voice actors altogether by using good voice synthesizers.

      As long as they don't try to synthesize an actual person's voice so they don't have to pay them. That, or their likeness if they refuse to appear on film.

      Go ahead, eliminate the need for voice talent by using technology. But don't use a simulation of their voice/likeness without their permission. You have to make your own.

      I can see anyone who decides to go ahead and do that getting

  • and you want me to feel sorry for you why?
    • Compare that to a voice actor in a full-length cartoon or CGI movie to give it some perspective.
    • Because they get a gig maybe once a week?
    • by RingDev (879105)
      Yeah, $125-$150 to talk for 4 hours. After 4 hours, you're done. Thanks for coming, get your check at the desk. Don't call us, we'll call you.

      While it's a nice chunk of change for a day's work, it's not going to pay the rent.

      -Rick
      • Exactly. The high per-hour pay mainly results from the sporadic nature of the work. It's actually penalized in the tax code. For example, it's not uncommon for a contract employee to make $120,000 one year and not find work the next. Hey, congratulations, your effective salary over two years was $60,000/year and you get to be taxed as if you're in the $120,000 bracket!

        Btw, what gave us the right to trumpet an individual's low pay for everyone to see. Anyone here want to volunteer to have an article don
    • by ThosLives (686517)

      Remember, you have to scale that not by "hours they are working" but "across all hours they work in a year".

      What if that's the only job they have in a year? Their effective wage is then $500/1920, which is pathetically low ($0.26 / hour). (NOTE: using 48 weeks of 40 hours as the standard hour-base).

      I'm actually disappointed by how people typically skew hourly wage numbers one way or the other - what matters isn't wage per hour, but total income per larger unit time (for instance, time period between rent

      • by Gulthek (12570)
        It's four hours of work.

        That can't be fit into a regular work schedule...how?

        Are you saying it takes 48 weeks of 40 hours of work to prepare for a 4 hour voice acting session?

        I know lots of actors who have day jobs, why should voice actors be any different?
  • by BandwidthHog (257320) <inactive.slashdo ... icallyenough.com> on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @12:33PM (#16561870) Homepage Journal
    Interesting timing. I'm currently about halfway through cleaning up and chopping into bits the product of two four hour voiceover sessions. It is amazing how much of a difference good voiceover talent can make. Our primary female voice talent (we alternate between male and female voices throughout each lesson) is a local morning DJ who is simply awesome. It is just astounding what she can get right on a single take, and we deal with some rather technical tongue-twisters with all sorts of little-known jargon. In general, these people don't get paid well enough (although the male whose work I am attempting to salvage was paid entirely too much, seeing as how he can’t correctly pronounce the word “oxygen”).

    But as to the yawning chasm between the wages of on-camera and voiceover talent, are the vocal artists paid too little or are the folks with the perfect teeth paid too much? I lean toward the latter. I’m not saying Sean Connery shouldn’t make more than I do, but should he make fifty times what I do? Five hundred? Ten thousand times my salary? (And before you respond with something involving the words “what the market will bear,” look at everything going on with Hollywood and see how well the market seems to be bearing such cost structures.)

    • For Video Games, with NO on-camera talent? I'd say a good actor should be worth at least double what they paid her.

      On-camera talent has to both look and sound good, but I don't think 'looks' should be overcompensated by as much as they are.
    • by TheLink (130905) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @01:14PM (#16562628) Journal
      Well a good actor can sometimes come up with a brilliant adlib and turn a mediocre part of a screenplay into a memorable scene.

      But the Hollywood bosses are definitely overpaid. Whoever it was that kept making those crappy Kevin Costner movies was overpaid.

      The fact that Hollywood intentionally makes violent movies AND then tries to chop them up so that they get "ok for kids" ratings shows to me that their primary agenda is not profit (at least for the companies they work for), and thus they shouldn't be paid so much.

      It's like a whisky maker making whisky and then watering it down till the law says the result can be served to minors without parental supervision. The result sure isn't going to make the whisky drinkers happy. And you think it makes parents happy?

      Whenever they try that sort of crap the movie doesn't do that well, and then they blame "piracy", P2P and everyone else but themselves.

      Also for some reason Hollywood (not everyone else) seems a bit surprised when stuff like "Finding Nemo" becomes a hit. If Hollywood was really interested in profit and making money, they'd be making more movies genuinely suitable or even targeted at children and families, just like McDonalds targets children and families.

      Sure many of us might barf at that sort of stuff, but it sells - the evidence is there. You don't have to enjoy something to know it sells.

      Just a look at:
      http://www.imdb.com/boxoffice/alltimegross
      and:
      http://www.imdb.com/boxoffice/alltimegross?region= world-wide

      And then when you look at:
      http://www.imdb.com/chart/

      Which of those movies in the chart would be enjoyed by the people who enjoyed any of the top boxoffice hits? Go see later (total takings) if there's a correlation.

      Also why bother making: "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" AND then water it down?
      "According to producer Brad Fuller, the film was given an NC-17 by the MPAA, and a total of 17 scenes had to be edited in order to get an R rating."

      So either Hollywood is incompetent or they are up to no good.
      • by maxume (22995)
        Kevin Costner was making all those crappy Kevin Costner movies!

        does not compute. does not compute.
      • She knows what she did.

        -Eric

      • The fact that Hollywood intentionally makes violent movies AND then tries to chop them up so that they get "ok for kids" ratings shows to me that their primary agenda is not profit (at least for the companies they work for), and thus they shouldn't be paid so much.


        This is similar to the line of argument that groups all slashdot posters as a single monolithic group and then calls them hypocrites when they in fact act as individuals. Hollywood movies are not made in the autocratic way you imply. There are w
    • by le0p (932717) *
      but should he make fifty times what I do? Five hundred? Ten thousand times my salary? He's alot more recognizable, just as he would be if he were on screen. How many people know what your voice sounds like or have good will towards you because of your previous films? I'd guess alot less than Sean Connery or James Earl Jones.
    • by westlake (615356)
      I'm not saying Sean Connery shouldn't make more than I do, but should he make fifty times what I do? Five hundred? Ten thousand times my salary?

      Because his fees are backed by fifty years of experience in film and television? Because his voice radiates sophistication and class like none other since Cary Grant?

      Producers have always known that stars are bankable. When Jenny Lind was touring the states for P.T. Barnum in the 1950s the best seats sold for $100 in gold.

    • by MBraynard (653724)
      Leftwing nut.

      People get paid what they are willing to get off the bench for.

      Cortana is willing to show up for ~$400 and Sean Connery is not.

      Same for NFL players and school teachers. And for you.

      Unless you work for the government, where there is a very imperfect market, you get paid what you are worth. And, yes, Sean Connery is economically worth 5,000,000,000 times what you are.

      It's not really anyones business what anyone gets paid for anything.

      • Leftwing nut.

        Ya know, he might be. I’m just not sure. Despite the statist image he put forth in the early Bond movies, I’ve always suspected he might be some sort of closeted liberal. Especially with that whole Penis Mightier thing. But that’s neither here nor there.

        People get paid what they are willing to get off the bench for.

        Cortana is willing to show up for ~$400 and Sean Connery is not.

        Same for NFL players and school teachers. And for you.

        If my boss offered me $1,500/hour, I’d s

    • by Kelbear (870538)
      How are the voice actors in Japan treated? What's their fame and wage for the work they do?

      American stuff tends to hire alot of actors for voice parts, and where they don't, they get extremly bad work. Even these well-known movie/tv actors don't always do a good job in voice acting. It seems like there are very few american voice actors who have made it a priority to do a good job with it. The difference really is noticable, dubbing sounds just AWFUL next to original japanese voice talent.

      These developers r
  • by bunions (970377) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @12:41PM (#16562032)
    further updates as this shocking story progresses!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Presumably, she can refuse to do the work for Halo 3 and ask them to raise her wage (and quite frankly she should). However, if they refuse to pay her the amount she thinks she's worth .. they can get an alternate (and suffer the consequences?). Just because they are making millions "off her voice" doesnt mean they ripped her off. That's like saying an olympic athlete is ripping off the grocery store by paying 75 cents for a banana when he's getting paid millions in endorsements of the nutrition provided by
  • She should set up shop doing people's voice mail intros, I'd pay $25 to have Cortana as my outgoing message. :)
  • by Headcase88 (828620) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @01:08PM (#16562512) Journal
    "I did the voice acting for Road Runner"

    "you mean 'Meep, meep'?"

    "Actually they just paid for one 'meep' and doubled it up on the soundtrack. Cheap bastards."
  • I'd imagine there's a few Halo fans who'd pay her to record an answering machine message for them. This kind of on-the-side voice work seems to be becoming more common - because while a character's name and image is owned by the company that created the character, they can't really copyright a person's voice. Personally, I'd pay good money to have the chick who voiced Shodan to record a message for mine.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You have reache-Puny SACK of meet?-have reached nine seven five three t-t-t-two six fooooooooour. Leave your mes-mes-mes-message CONTEMPTABLE message and I (*bursts of gunfire in the background*) wi-i-i-i-i-ll get back (*hideous scream*) to you back to back to you.

      Yeah. That one's gonna go down REAL well.
      • by Channard (693317)
        Hey, I figure it'd discourage any telemarketers. Failing that, the Dr Weird 'unleash the telephone spiders' message is my next choice.
  • How many Halo fanboys (emphasis on *boys*) would pay $5.99/min to have phone sex with Cortana? Sure they'd need their parent's credit card, but what about if she opened a brothel or something similar in Second Life? I'm sure her contract says something about not tele-whoring as Cortana, but if she didn't advertize the connection but let it spread through word-of-mouth...

    There's a golden opportunity for voice actors that's not being exploited here. What about the women who do the voices for Wonder Woman o
  • and on The Simpsons, Castellaneta provides the voices for Homer Simpson (he has to tilt his chin into his neck to do Homer's voice correctly , Grandpa Abraham Simpson, Barney Gumble, Krusty the Clown, Groundskeeper Willie, Mayor Joe Quimby, Hans Moleman, Sideshow Mel, Itchy, Kodos, Arnie Pie, Scott Christian and other characters
  • So for Halo 3, will she make twice what she made for Halo 2 and finish the recording in half that time? By the time Halo 20 comes out, she'll be in the Bill Gates dollar per minute tax bracket!
  • by HellBat (413063) on Tuesday October 24, 2006 @03:07PM (#16564956)
    I figured all videogame voice talent would be normal Joes and Janes that work for the companies, but I guess it stands to reason that they would use real actors in the a-list titles. But after RTFA I think I've suddenly started to like Cortana a lot more...

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/dayart/20061023/450v oice_over_jen_taylor_06.jpg [nwsource.com]
  • And is he gonna be in the movie.:P
  • Cortana's Hot! There's a few things I think would be worth 5-10 to have her record for me, like my answering machine and my system sounds.


    Side note: Friend just joined Myspace.com and didn't think she could get 1000 friends in a week. Take a look.
    http://www.myspace.com/ladymiraya [myspace.com]

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