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  • Writer's pictureArthur Campos Mello

AI Takeover in the Filmmaking Industry

“We’ve got a message for Mr. Iger,” award-winning actor Bryan Cranston said at a SAG AFTRA strike rally, addressing his message to Disney’s CEO. “I know, sir, that you look [at] things through a different lens. We don’t expect you to understand who we are. But we ask you to hear us, and beyond that to listen to us when we tell you we will not be having our jobs taken away and given to robots.” He ends the speech with a bold statement, followed by massive applause from the crowd. “We will not have you take away our right to work and earn a decent living. And lastly, and most importantly, we will not allow you to take away our dignity!”.

Since the beginning of June, members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have been striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) after failing to reach a deal when contracts expired. They joined the Writers Guild of America (WGA) in strike, demanding better compensation, better protection against harassment and abuses, and regulation addressing the threat of artificial intelligence (AI). Since writers and actors are on strike, movies and television shows that were in or about to start production have been put on indefinite holds, costing the industry -- and the state of California -- billions of dollars.

“We must ensure that new developments in the entertainment industry are not used to devalue or disrespect the performers who bring productions to life.” The words spoken by the SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director explain the association’s concerns over the use of AI in the moviemaking field. The first concept of AI was created in the 1950’s, as the world was facing many technological developments, but it wasn’t very popular. However, throughout 2023, AI technology has never been so popular. The introduction of ChatGPT in late 2022 brought artificial technology back to the spotlight, as it is widely accessible – from schoolwork to criminal cases. Still, this technology still has a long way to go, since conducting research through AI search engines can lead to fabricated sources. Moreover, the AMPTP said in a statement that the writer/actor’s union is distorting the facts and that the use of an actor’s image would require specific consent and a contract that bans “digital alterations'' beyond the ones made in the post-production process, raising the question: is this concern about AI really a threat to actors and writers?

In spite of having a limited ability to control AI, some technology has already been developed (or is beginning development) that can use an actor’s image. Creating digital replicas of background actors/perfomers creates a blurry line of the actor’s consent of their image usage and enables studio executives to cut costs to save money. Not only can digital scanning affect background actor’s jobs, but it can also affect other jobs, such as costume and make-up artists.

AI still is constantly evolving, and until the AMPTP reaches an agreement with the SAG AFTRA and the WGA, the strike will go on — as it has for more than 100 days. If this is the case, this stoppage will continue to lead to disruptions of viewers’ experience at the cinemas, with poorly-written content or no content altogether. There is no doubt that our world around us is evolving, and with that evolution, technological advances are also made. This “AI threat” will be a concern for many in the field of moviemaking, but it will just be a new innovation that humans will have to learn to adapt to, as they have always had to do in the past.

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