Hollywood Squares Off This year, AI helped reshape the film industry landscape.

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2 min read
Hollywood Squares Off: This year, AI helped reshape the film industry landscape.

The movie capital became a front line in the battle over workplace automation.

What happened: U.S. film and television writers went on strike in May, and actors followed in July. They took up a variety of issues with their employers, but concern that AI would damage their job prospects prolonged the work stoppage. Both groups inked agreements shortly before the year ended. 

Driving the story: Screenwriters negotiated for 148 days, and actors for 118, winning limits on their employers’ abilities to replace them with machine learning models.

  • The Writers’ Guild of America finalized an agreement with an alliance of film studios in September. It allows the studios to train models on a writer’s work. But an AI model can’t receive writing credit, and a studio can’t use AI in ways that reduce a writer’s compensation or credit. Writers can use AI with a studio’s permission at their discretion, but studios can’t require it.
  • The Screen Actors Guild reached a similar deal with studios two months later. Studios can train models on an actor’s performance, but they must seek permission from the actor and compensate them first. Studios must gain permission from a deceased actor’s heirs before using AI to re-create the actor’s likeness.
  • Both agreements provide for union representatives to meet regularly with studios to discuss technological developments.

AI on the silver screen: Traditional Hollywood studios negotiated alongside the film departments of Amazon, Apple, and Netflix, tech powerhouses that have access to considerable AI expertise. All are likely to use AI to generate text, images, audio, and video. 

  • In February, Netflix released a short anime film that includes AI-assisted background art. Netflix cited a labor shortage as motivation for the decision, which garnered criticism from audiences and the animation community.
  • In July, Netflix posted a help-wanted ad for an AI product management role. The annual salary offered, between $300,000 and $900,000, suggests that the technology will play an important role in the company’s forthcoming productions.
  • Later in the summer, Disney formed a task force to study AI’s potential to cut production costs.

Where things stand: The unions and studios agreed to use AI while enabling writers and actors to continue to ply their trades. The agreements will remain in force for three years — time enough for both sides to learn a bit about what the technology is and isn’t good for, and to form a vision of its role in the future. Now Hollywood faces the next challenge: Using AI to make better movies that grow the pie for producers and creatives alike.


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