- Even if so much of the potential impact of AI on entertainment is hypothetical, the screen actors and writers guilds are taking serious steps to protect their members.
- White collar jobs are under threat just as much if not more than blue collar ones. From writers to actors to executives, beware.
- Yet for every doomsday scenario, the potential for AI to help and enhance all our jobs is held up as the most likely outcome, provided we pay attention.
Previous revolutions that mechanized the labor force tended to disproportionately hit the working class.
Here’s the news: History doesn’t always repeat itself.
“This time the robots aren’t invading textile factories or threatening blue collar workers on assembly lines,” says Jeremy Fuster at The Wrap. “In 2023, they’re storming executive and creative suites, going after educated, white collar workers, what used to be considered the most protected class.”
Ironically, in the near future, the employees with the most job security in Hollywood may very well be the ones who work with their hands, like key grips, electricians and craft service caterers.
“The rest of us will have to learn to either somehow adapt our current jobs to the new AI matrix or — more likely — start looking for other occupations,” Fuster says.
That’s a doomsday scenario but other views are available.
“I think some people in Hollywood are panicking unnecessarily,” Ben Grossman, founder and CEO of VR/AI studio Magnopus, tells Fuster. “But there are a lot of others who look at AI and say, ‘Well, great, this is an opportunity for me to actually make it home in time for dinner for a change.’ Because the demand for content is so high right now, a lot of people are working seven days a week.”
“There’s a lot of fear of the unknown,” agrees Scott Mann, co-founder of AI startup Flawless and director of Fall. “People are frightened of new technologies. But AI has the potential to actually strengthen Hollywood. The industry has been suffering for a long time, but AI could be the solution that saves it. It could be the tool that empowers and enables us all.”
READ MORE: I Asked ChatGPT to Write a Movie, a TV Episode and a Country Song – Here’s What It Can and Can’t Do (The Wrap)
In a three-part look at “AI and the Rise of the Machines” The Wrap delves a little deeper into the implications for Hollywood.
The first part of the series examines the implications of ChatGPT on flesh-and-blood screenwriters. Most don’t seem alarmed.
“I mean, is it possible that we would one day see a film that was entirely written that way?” ponders Sera Gamble, showrunner for Netflix’s You. “But the technology is not there yet.”
Gamble and other writers see AI as a potential helper or a tool to help game out plot points in ways that would otherwise require countless hours of human toil.
“It won’t come up with amazingly original story leaps, but it is helpful to just lay out the most obvious story path so you can tweak from there,” former Amazon and Disney executive Roy Price posted on Twitter.
Elsewhere, the University of Southern California’s Entertainment Technology Center, or ETC@USC, s working on an AI tool that allows content creators to extract features of the content to speed editing.
“Right now, when you shoot a bunch of content, someone has to sit in front of the rushes and tag certain moments,” explains Yves Bergquist, director of the Center’s AI and Neuroscience in Media Project. “We’re making videos searchable by shot types, emotional arcs of the characters, scenes, objects, talent and colors. That should really help producers go through the content a lot faster.”
It’s a time- and money-saving win for everybody involved in the film production process — except, of course, for the someone who’s currently getting paid to sit in front of rushes and tag moments the old-fashioned way.
“I mean, there’s not going to be no impact,” Bergquist admitted. “There will be impact in a lot of jobs that are very menial, that don’t involve super-high technical knowledge or super-high creative ability. Probably these jobs are going to take a hit. But I don’t think there’s going to be much job displacement. People are just going to need to educate themselves and ramp up on how AI can help them.”
What about actors — should they be worried about an entirely new synthetic star taking over Tinseltown with no on-set tantrums? Or perhaps they could benefit from sending in their digital twin to preserve their looks on screen when the real thing wrinkles with age.
“People are starting to have those conversations,” says Grossman. “It’s conceivable that in the relatively near future… you could have a famous actor like Michelle Yeoh, and you train an AI on how she looks, how she acts, what she sounds like, and then give guardrails around what her performance should be. That’s what everyone is working towards.
“Right now, it makes more sense in the metaverse and the gaming world because the bar for quality is so high in film and television. But soon we’ll have a level of quality that could be applied in a TV commercial or a movie. Without doubt, that’s going to happen.”
Screenwriters and Actors Guilds Respond
Part two of The Wrap’s report takes a closer look at how the industry’s labor guilds are responding to automation.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, national executive of actors union SAG-AFTRA, believes that if proper guardrails are put in place, AI can be a benefit rather than a threat to its members.
“We definitely recognize that there are real risks to jobs, but past history has shown that resisting technology or pretending it doesn’t exist or hoping things don’t change doesn’t work,” he said. “We need to be ahead of the curve and have a say in how this technology will be used.”
The Writers Guild of America, meanwhile, has made AI part of its recently-started contract negotiations, though such talks are mostly to protect members from a point in the future when AI programs like ChatGPT become powerful enough to generate a full script.
The Screen Actors Guild plans to secure those protections by enforcing already existing federal and state laws as well as rules within its own contracts with studios regarding fair use of media and artists’ consent.
In a statement, SAG-AFTRA declared that AI performances based on an actor’s voice and/or likeness fall under the guild’s jurisdiction, and per the National Labor Relations Act, studios wishing to acquire the rights to recreate an actor in AI must negotiation with the guild.
“In addition, any use or reuse of recorded performances is limited by our collectively bargained contract provisions, including those requiring consent and negotiation of compensation,” SAG-AFTRA added.
“If a company decides to start licensing or using AI content based on a performer’s work as part of training datasets for AI engines, then there’s a whole broader social question going on about what that means. Even copyright owners have deep questions about that,” Crabtree-Ireland said.
“One of the reasons why I have a good deal of confidence that we will arrive at the same conclusion with the studios on this is that principle applies just as much to them as it does to us,” he continued. “They don’t want other companies scraping the internet for content created by the major studios and using that as part of training datasets for AI to create other content outside of their systems. So really, the copyright rights that are sort of a key part of this and our contractual rights are very much aligned.”
He continued, “As long as our members are armed with knowledge of how they can take advantage of this new tech and how it can exploit them, AI can be a net positive for actors. This is just the next step of what we’ve always done in this guild, and that’s keep up with the times.”
The WGA wants to ensure that studios “can’t use AI to undermine writers’ working standards including compensation, residuals, separated rights and credits.”
As part of the proposal, the WGA would permit studios to suggest to writers that they refer to AI-generated writing when writing or rewriting a script, but that AI writing cannot be used as the core source material for an adaptation to “create MBA-covered writing or rewrite MBA-covered work, and AI-generated text cannot be considered in determining writing credits.”
David Goodman, current negotiating committee co-chair at WGA, told The Wrap that he believes copyright concerns surrounding AI are a major concern for studios and believes that is a major reason why there hasn’t been an attempt yet to try using AI in a screenwriting capacity.
“AI has to read human-made work to understand how to write in a specific style or like a specific author, and most of that is copyrighted. Outside of our own response as a union protecting writers, trying to greenlight a project with an AI-generated screenplay would be an easy target for several lawsuits,” he said.
“But for us, our members have told us that they want this addressed immediately, and it’s already in our MBA that scripts have to be written by a WGA member. That still stands, even with artificial intelligence.”
Journalists and Newsgathering
The third part of the series looks at AI’s implications for journalists.
Will AI threaten the core of our news-gathering culture, which already has been challenged in the past two decades by the Internet?
“Journalists and especially publishers of journalism need to know what AI models are good at doing and what they’re bad at doing,” says Jeremy Gilbert, the Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy for Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “They are bad at facts. They are bad at math.”
Assuming the technology is better trained on journalistic output and accuracy, generative AI could be used to create different versions of an article depending on the reader’s individual needs and preferences.
“There are clearly ways that journalism can’t be using AI because it cannot be depended on yet to act like a real journalist,” said Sisi Wei, editor-in-chief at The Markup. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t many exciting and extremely helpful ways that journalists can use AI as a part of the journalistic process.”
Based on the quotes a reporter has and the kind of story it wants to tell they could, for example, direct a large language model like GPT-4, the latest version of OpenAI’s artificial intelligence model, to churn out a longer or shorter version, a more linguistically complicated or simpler version tailored to individual users’ needs. This would enable often complex topics like technology and politics to become more accessible to people.
While Wei said she doesn’t trust AI to generate articles for The Markup — or even for low-stakes writing like automated Little League game articles — she noted that it can be used as a good brainstorming partner.
Even though journalists need to keep in mind that not all the information churned out might be correct, the reporter may find one or two of the suggestions interesting and then ask for some well known experts on those topics.
“I think there’s a lot of researching that it can do in a very conversational kind of way and then it’s up to you to go validate that information and then actually go do your real reporting after that,” Wei said.