The bitter conflict between actors, writers and other creative professionals and the key movie and TV studios represents a flashpoint in the novel transformation roiling the entertainment industry. The ongoing strikes by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild were sparked partially by artificial intelligence and its use within the movie industry.

Both actors and writers fear that the key studios, including Amazon/MGM, Apple, Disney/ABC/Fox, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount/CBS, Sony, Warner Bros. and HBO, will use generative AI to take advantage of them. Generative AI is a type of artificial intelligence that learns from text and pictures to robotically produce latest written and visual works.

So what specifically are the writers and actors afraid of? I’m a professor of cinematic arts. I conducted a temporary exercise that illustrates the reply.

I typed the next sentence into ChatGPT: Create a script for a 5-minute film featuring Barbie and Ken. In seconds, a script appeared.

Next, I asked for a shot list, a breakdown of each camera shot needed for the film. Again, a response appeared almost immediately, featuring not only a “montage of fun activities,” but in addition a elaborate flashback sequence. The closing line suggested a large shot showing “Barbie and Ken walking away from the beach together, hand in hand.”

Next, on a text-to-video platform, I typed these words right into a box labeled “Prompt”: “Cinematic movie shot of Margot Robbie as Barbie walking near the beach, early morning light, pink sun rays illuminating the screen, tall green grass, photographic detail, film grain.”

About a minute later, a 3-second video appeared. It showed a svelte blond woman walking on the beach. Is it Margot Robbie? Is it Barbie? It’s hard to say. I made a decision so as to add my very own face rather than Robbie’s only for fun, and in seconds, I’ve made the swap.

I now have a moving image clip on my desktop that I can add to the script and shot list, and I’m well on my technique to crafting a brief film starring someone kind of like Margot Robbie as Barbie.

The fear

None of this material is especially good. The script lacks tension and poetic grace. The shot list is uninspired. And the video is just plain weird-looking.

However, the power for anyone – amateurs and professionals alike – to create a screenplay and conjure the likeness of an existing actor signifies that the talents once specific to writers and the likeness that an actor once could uniquely call his or her own are actually available – with questionable quality, to make certain – to anyone with access to those free online tools.

Given the speed of technological change, the standard of all this material created through generative AI is destined to enhance visually, not just for people like me and social media creatives globally, but possibly for the studios, that are more likely to have access to rather more powerful computers. Further, these separate steps – preproduction, screenwriting, production, postproduction – may very well be absorbed right into a streamlined prompting system that bears little resemblance to today’s art and craft of moviemaking.

Generative AI is a brand new technology however it’s already reshaping the film and TV industry.

Writers fear that, at best, they can be hired to edit screenplays drafted by AI. They fear that their creative work can be swallowed whole into databases because the fodder for writing tools to sample. And they fear that their specific expertise can be brushed off in favor of “prompt engineers,” or those expert at working with AI tools.

And actors fret that they can be forced to sell their likeness once, only to see it used time and again by studios. They fear that deepfake technologies will turn into the norm, and real, live actors won’t be needed in any respect. And they worry that not only their bodies but their voices can be taken, synthesized and reused without continued compensation. And all of that is on top of dwindling incomes for the overwhelming majority of actors.

On the road to the AI future

Are their fears justified? Sort of. In June 2023, Marvel showcased titles – opening sequences with episode names – for the series “Secret Invasion” on Disney+ that were created partially with AI tools. The use of AI by a serious studio sparked controversy due partially to the timing and fears about AI displacing people from their jobs. Further, series director and executive producer Ali Selim’s tone-deaf description of using AI only added to the sense that there’s little concern in any respect about those fears.

Then on July 26, software developer Nicholas Neubert posted a 48-second trailer for a sci-fi film made with images made by AI image generator Midjourney and motion created by Runway’s image-to-motion generator, Gen-2. It looks terrific. No screenwriter was hired. No actors were used.

In addition, earlier this month, an organization called Fable released Showrunner AI, which is designed to permit users to submit images and voices, together with a temporary prompt. The tool responds by creating entire episodes that include the user.

The creators have been using South Park as their sample, they usually have presented plausible latest episodes of the show that integrate viewers as characters within the story. The idea is to create a brand new type of audience engagement. However, for each writers and actors, Showrunner AI should be chilling indeed.

Finally, Volkswagen recently produced a business that features an AI reincarnation of Brazilian musician Elis Regina, who died in 1982. Directed by Dulcidio Caldeira, it shows the musician as she appears to sing a duet along with her daughter. For some, the song was a phenomenal revelation, crafting a poignant mother-daughter reunion.

However, for others, the AI regeneration of somebody who has died prompts worries about how one’s likeness could be used after death. What in the event you are morally against a selected film project, TV show or business? How will actors – and others – have the opportunity to retain control?

Keeping actors and writers within the credits

Writers’ and actors’ fears may very well be assuaged if the entertainment industry developed a convincing and inclusive vision that acknowledges advances in AI, but that collaborates with writers and actors, not to say cinematographers, directors, art designers and others, as partners.

At the moment, developers are rapidly constructing and improving AI tools. Production firms are more likely to use them to dramatically cut costs, which can contribute to a large shift toward a gig-oriented economy. If the dismissive attitude toward writers and actors held by a lot of the key studios continues, not only will there be little consideration of the needs of writers and actors, but technology development will lead the conversation.

However, what if the tools were designed with the participation of informed actors and writers? What type of tool would an actor create? What would a author create? What forms of conditions regarding mental property, copyright and creativity would developers consider? And what kind of inclusive, forward-looking, creative cinematic ecosystem might evolve? Answering these questions could give actors and writers the assurances they seek and help the industry adapt within the age of AI.

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