Unions representing Hollywood writers and actors are demanding limits on AI and chatbots

When the union representing Hollywood writers presented their list Goals For this spring’s contract negotiations with studios, it included well-known compensation phrasing that the authors say has either stagnated or declined as new shows exploded.

But far below, the document added a significant twist to 2023. In a section titled “Professional Standards and Protections in the Employment of Writers,” the union wrote that it aims to “regulate the use of material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies.”

For the mixture of computer programmers, Marketing Copywriter, travel Advisor, lawyers And comic illustrators Suddenly alarmed by the increasing power of Generative AI, one can now add screenwriters.

“There’s a possibility that before 2026, the next time we deal with these companies, they’ll just say, ‘You know what, we’re good,'” said Mike Schur, creator and co-creator of The Good Place Parks and Recreation.

“We don’t need you,” he imagines what he hears from the other side. “We have a bunch of AIs that create a lot of entertainment that people are reasonably okay with.”

In their attempts to fight back, the authors have what many other employees don’t have: a union.

Mr. Schur, who is on the Writers Guild of America bargaining committee that is trying to avert a strike before her contract expires on Monday, said the union hopes “to draw a line now and say, ‘Writers are people.’ “

But unions, historians say, have generally failed to curb new technologies that allow automation or the replacement of skilled workers with less-skilled workers. “I can’t think of a union that has managed to be bold and get things done,” said Jason Resnikoff, an assistant professor of history at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who studies work and automation.

The fate of the writers, actors and directors negotiating new deals this year could say a lot about whether this pattern will continue in the age of artificial intelligence.

In December, Apple launched a service It allows book publishers to use human-sounding AI narrators, an innovation that could replace hundreds of voice actors who make a living performing audiobooks. The company’s website states that the service will benefit independent authors and small publishers.

“I know someone always has to come first, some company,” said Chris Ciulla, who estimates he’s made $100,000 to $130,000 annually for the past five years narrating books under union contracts. “But ultimately, when people don’t understand how that can impact the bucket-carrying storyteller out there, it’s disappointing.”

Other actors fear studios are using AI to reproduce their voices, cutting them out of the process in the process. “We’ve seen that—there are websites that have databases of video game and animated character voices,” said Linsay Rousseau, an actress who makes a living as a voice actress.

Actors in front of the camera point out that studios are already using motion capture or performance capture to recreate artists’ movements or facial expressions. The blockbuster of 2018”Black Panther” used this technology for scenes depicting hundreds of tribesmen on cliffs, mimicking the movements of dancers hired for the film.

Some actors worry that newer versions of the technology will allow studios to effectively steal their moves by “creating new performances in the style of a wushu master or karate master and using that person’s style without consent,” Zeke Alton said , a voice and film actor who serves on the board of directors of his local Los Angeles union, SAG-AFTRA.

And Hollywood writers have become increasingly concerned as ChatGPT can mimic the style of prolific writers.

“Early on in discussions with the guild, we talked about what I call the Nora Ephron issue,” said John August, who sits on the Writers Guild negotiation committee. “It’s basically: what happens when you feed all of Nora Ephron’s scripts into a system and generate an AI that can create a script that sounds like Nora Ephron?”

Mr August, a screenwriter for films such as ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, said that while artificial intelligence has taken a back seat to compensation negotiations with the Writers Guild, the union has two important demands on the issue put the automation.

This is to ensure that no literary material – screenplays, treatises, sketches or even individual scenes – can be written or rewritten by chatbots. “A terrible case of ‘Oh I read through your scripts, I didn’t like the scene so I had ChatGPT rewrite the scene’ – that’s the nightmare scenario,” Mr August said.

The guild also wants to ensure that studios cannot use chatbots to generate source material that humans will adapt to screen, as they would when adapting a novel or magazine story.

SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, says more and more of its members are terminating contracts for individual jobs where studios appear to be claiming the right to use their voices to develop new performances.

In a recent Netflix deal, the company was to be granted free use, throughout the universe, of a simulation of an actor’s voice “by any technology and process now known or hereafter developed, and in perpetuity.”

Netflix said the language has been in effect for several years, allowing the company to make one actor’s voice sound more like another’s in the event of a cast change between seasons of an animated production.

The union has said that its members are not bound by contractual provisions that would allow a producer to simulate new performances without compensating the actors, although they have sometimes intervened to remove them from contracts nonetheless.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief executive of SAG-AFTRA said such contracts posed a much greater risk for non-union actors who could become unwitting accomplices in their own obsolescence. “It only takes one or more instances where you give up your lifetime rights to potentially have a really negative impact on your career prospects,” Mr Crabtree-Ireland said.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the major Hollywood studios with the various unions representing writers, actors and directors, declined to comment.

When professionals fended off obsolescence with technology, the result often reflected the status and prestige of their profession.

This appears to have been the case, to some degree, with aircraft pilots, whose crew size had dropped to two people on most domestic commercial flights in the late 1990s, but has remained largely the same since then, even as automated technology has become far more sophisticated in the industry has explored more cuts.

“The safety net you have when you’re high above the ground — keeping you from touching the ground — is two well-trained, experienced and rested pilots,” said Captain Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. representing the pilots for American Airlines. To date, at least three pilots are required for flight times of more than nine hours.

The replacement of certain doctors by artificial intelligence, as predicted by some experts in areas such as radiology, has also not materialized. That’s partly because limits The American College of Radiology created one because of the technology and the stature of the doctors who have meddled in high-level conversations about the safety and use of AI Institute for Data Science partly for this purpose a few years ago.

Whether screenwriters achieve similar success depends, at least in part, on the inherent limitations of the machines that purport to do their work. Some authors and actors speak of a so-called uncanny valley from which algorithms may never fully escape.

“Artists look at everything that has ever been created and find a whiff of the new,” said Javier Grillo-Marxuach, writer and producer of Lost and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. “The machine is recombining.”

However sophisticated the algorithms, the fate of writers and actors will also depend on how well they protect their status. How well do they manage to convince the audience that they should care if a human is involved?

The unions are pushing. Mr August says it is up to the Writers Guild, not the studio, to determine who receives an author’s credit for a project and that the union will carefully guard that rite. “We want to make sure that an AI is never one of those authors in a project’s title chain,” he said.

Unions also have legal cards to play, said SAG-AFTRA’s Mr. Crabtree-Ireland, as did the US Copyright Office’s statement March that content created entirely by algorithms is not protected by copyright. It is more difficult to monetize a production when there is no legal barrier to copying.

Perhaps more important, he said, is what you might call the “Us Weekly” factor — the audience’s tendency to care as much about the person behind the character as they do about the performance. Fans want to hear Hollywood stars talk about their method in interviews. They want to monitor actors’ fashion sensibilities and keep up to date on who they’re dating.

“If you look at culture in general, audiences are generally interested in the real life of our members,” said Mr. Crabtree-Ireland. “AI is not able to replace essential elements of it.”

Audio produced by Sarah Diamond.

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