Monsters have graced the silver screen for well over a century, but in 2023, the real menace taking center stage looks eerily like us.
Since June, the film and television industry has been embroiled in heated debates over the integration of artificial intelligence into their productions. The inability to find common ground on AI-related matters became one of the driving forces behind the recent strike, as both the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) union and the writers guild demanded their concerns be addressed.
One of the major concerns haunting actors is the prospect of AI-generated actors, known as “metahumans,” stealing their roles.
The anxiety is palpable among performers like Carly Turro, an actress from the hit series “Homeland,” who voiced her fears on the picket line. She expressed the need for clarity and peace of mind, stressing that the future of art and entertainment as a career hangs in the balance.
One thorny issue that has been at the center of the negotiations is the creation of synthetic performers through a combination of actors’ images. While studios claim this has not happened yet, they are pushing to secure the right to do so in future contracts.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the chief negotiator for SAG-AFTRA, goes so far as to call AI an “existential crisis” for actors, as they fear their past, present, and future work could be used to generate digital replicas that would replace them on screen.
To address the concerns, the union is not pushing for an outright ban on AI but rather demands that companies consult with them and seek approval before casting synthetic performers in lieu of human actors.
According to studio sources, the major film and television producers believe they have taken the union’s concerns into account in their latest proposal. They have agreed to provide SAG with prior notice if they plan to use synthetic performers, giving the union an opportunity to negotiate.
Another point of contention revolves around the creation of digital replicas of background performers.
The studios have promised to obtain the actor’s permission before using their digital likeness in any production outside of their original project. Compensation negotiations for the use of the digital duplicate are also on the table.
However, SAG argues that obtaining consent at the time of initial employment is not sufficient, insisting on additional compensation rights for subsequent uses of the actor’s virtual persona.
The union fears that companies could strong-arm background performers into providing consent under the threat of replacement, which they consider far from meaningful consent.
Furthermore, the studios are adamant about preserving the practice of 3D body scans to capture an actor’s likeness for the creation of AI-generated digital replicas. While the producers promise to seek a performer’s consent, SAG is concerned about the ownership rights of these virtual personas in future works.
Similarly, studios want the freedom to digitally alter performances post-production, with the goal of adhering to the character, script, and director’s vision.
The ability to make quick changes to a scene through digital manipulation could lead to significant cost savings. The studios offer to obtain the performer’s consent for any changes beyond typical post-production alterations, but SAG sees this as AI overreach, demanding permission for any changes to an actor’s image, likeness, or voice.
Crabtree-Ireland argues that traditional editing methods cannot conjure scenes that never existed before, drawing a clear line between acceptable post-production edits and AI-driven alterations.
In conclusion, the clash over the implementation of AI in the film and television industry has become a fierce battle of interests, with actors fearing for their livelihoods and the future of their craft. SAG-AFTRA’s demands for consultation, consent, and compensation reflect a genuine concern for their members’ rights and the integrity of the art form itself.
The studios, on the other hand, are keen on preserving creative options and maximizing cost-efficiency, viewing AI as a potential game-changer in the industry.
While their proposals aim to address some of the union’s concerns, SAG-AFTRA remains cautious, vigilant, and determined to safeguard the rights and interests of its actors.
As technology continues to evolve, this ongoing debate between the human element and AI-driven innovation will undoubtedly shape the future of filmmaking and entertainment.
Only time will tell whether a harmonious resolution can be achieved or if the conflict between the real and the virtual will continue to haunt the industry like a persistent bogeyman.