Humor and humiliation.
It’s a weird combination and yet, it’s the basis of every slapstick.
Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, they all made us laugh because they made someone else cry. It’s that cake-in-your face humor, the poke in the eye joke and the dignitary forced to parade around town in his underpants that never seems to get old.
Embarrassing people is funny business. Especially if we embarrass those who were born without a funny bone. Sometimes it can be an effective deterrent too.
THE CONTINUING SAGA
If you’ve been following recent revelations on the limited success of Pay-to-Play sites, and the question that started it all “What happens to our demos?,” you must have noticed that this storm still hasn’t subsided. Voices.com Stephanie Ciccarelli even wrote a two page “Clarification on the Status of Job Postings” on Vox Daily.
At the same time, voices.com has made changes to their SurePay system to prevent abuse from customers, specifically credit card fraud. And as you know, that’s not the only kind of abuse that’s going on in our industry.
On the LinkedIn Working Voice Actor Group (now defunct), a colleague wrote about a lead she got from a P2P site. The voice-seeker said they wanted to hire her, but instead they used her scratch track and turned it into a commercial. The next day they had it airing all over the country. The talent never got paid and she only found out about it after friends alerted her when they heard her voice on the radio.
This is what I would like to know:
- Apart from the bad guys, who should be held responsible? The talent, because she didn’t watermark her scratch track or charge the voice-seeker for stealing a demo?
- Is the Pay-to-Play site to blame because they were responsible for the lead?
- Would this have happened had this been a union job?
- Would this have happened had the talent used an agent?
- What can be done to make sure other voice-talents don’t fall into the same trap?
Of course trusting, law-abiding citizens like you and me are getting ripped off each and every day. I sometimes do double duty as a translator, and I got burned once or twice by a client writing out a bad check. I ran to the nearest Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint, but all they could do was lower the rating of the translation agency.
However, as a member of Translatorscafe.com (a P2P-style site), I have a not so secret weapon at my disposal. It’s called:
The Hall of Fame and Shame.
This is a members-only area, filled with feedback about unreliable agencies, dirty rotten scoundrels, reputable translators and anything in between. Before I take on a new job, I always enter this Hall to see what I can find. It’s by no means foolproof because not every agency is rated, but I backed out of a job a few times because I discovered that I had been contacted by a bad apple. The thing is: con artists are notorious repeat offenders, and as soon as they are found out, they move on to another unsuspecting victim.
It’s important to note that this Hall is for people on the demand as well as the supply side. Some translators are less talented than others. Some let a computer program do all the work while they are having all the fun. Some miss their deadlines and ‘mysteriously disappear’ from the radar screen. All of that is exposed. Apart from the bad and the ugly, there’s also lots of good stuff going on in the Hall. People sing the praises of interpreters and agencies alike. In that way, the Hall serves as both a carrot and a stick.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had such an early warning system in place in our industry? You can find hints of it on certain sites, but as far as I can tell, there’s no database that’s filled with red flags and smiley faces. There’s no blacklist of known crooks that have stolen our demos, taken our money or conveniently forgot to pay us. Translatorscafé knows who they are. How about Voices.com?
Or are these sites just a funnel instead of a filter? Is this simply beyond their control? Should we just pay them a yearly fee and trust that nothing bad will ever happen? And when it does, are we condemned to fight the thugs on our own? Donna -voplanet- Summers wrote to the working voice actor group:
“(…) you guys chose not to use agents when you joined the P2P’s. You wanted to do it all yourselves, including negotiating, booking, and monitoring your auditions and jobs. P2P’S get you the auditions and you still complain! Save that big 10% you pay an agent to deal with these issues for you. And now you expect someone to jump in and save you from the big bad ad agents? You can’t have it both ways, Talent.”
Is she right? Are we paying the price for not being willing to pay an agent? How about those of us who can’t get one? Agents are highly selective, especially in this economy. And are agents immune to scams? Let’s ask the victims of Bernie Madoff! Steven Spielberg, Jeff Katzenberg and Elie Wiesel all fell for his scheme. I’m pretty sure that all of them had good advisors.
My point is this: we can’t always prevent bad things from happening. Part of this world is still a nasty and dark place. But it’s what we do after the fact that matters. Let’s put something in place that can serve as a deterrent and as a reference. Our weapon: a “Hall of Fame and Shame.” Our punishment: semi-public humiliation!
One final thought.
Every year my street has a much anticipated block party. In fact, it’s one of the oldest in the nation that is still going strong. This year’s highlight was not the moon bounce or the Chinese auction. Any idea what was?
You guessed it: it was the dunk tank.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS I wrote this post in 2009 and there’s still no voice-over equivalent of the Hall of Fame and Shame. However, on Facebook there’s a Voiceover Red Flags group where colleagues can warn colleagues about terrible clients.
Mahmoud Taji says
I think that’s a great idea. I don’t see any Pay2Play websites taking this step though so as not to antagonize their clients so I figure it best be we the people (nation of Voice Over Citizens) that undertake this endeavor.
Maybe you can make this part of the Nethervoice universe… a website containing a database of VO business abusers which voice over artists can join for free and vote on or nominate good clients… If you like you can make a yearly nominal $20 fee or something for database maintenance. Or you can pitch the idea to one of the newer VO marketplaces that might not be afraid of client antagonism.
Maybe Armin can integrate it into his website?
steve hammill says
With a few caveats, it is a fine idea.
The primary caveat is the potential for litigation from those red flagged or blacklisted. In the US, truth is an absolute defense against liable and slander, but I don’t think that’s true globally. Even the fear of litigation might stop risk adverse companies from treading on such thin, legal ice.
Another caveat is that it would be subjective rather than objective data. In some cases, the lingering embarrassment of a difficult session might evoke a scathing, unfair and potentially libelous rating from a vindictive talent; in other cases, glowing reviews only reflect the “if I say nice things maybe they’ll hire me again” gene so dominant in the acting profession.
I prefer objective data: the conversion rate or audition to paid jobs ratio.
In the hall of fame/shame ratings I’ve encounted (like eBay), the negative rating offer substantial value, but all negative comments must be evaluated by a thinking individual after reading the commonly frivolous positive ratings.
Probably the best implementation would an independently run database that correlated usernames/IPs into a single entity. The data could then be provided data to all P2P sites for a small fee to indemnify them in the event of litigation.