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Hollywood’s potential misuse of artificial intelligence is a “deadly cocktail” and a “poison” that needs to be strictly regulated, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said in the guild’s latest strike podcast.
AI isn’t new. It’s been used on countless films and TV shows when it was known as computer generated imagery (CGI). But Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) – which can write scripts and digitally duplicate the images of actors, stunt performers, and background players – has now become a strike issue for both SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild.
Many of Drescher’s members have also been the GAI victims of “deep fakes,” in which their faces and voices have been computer generated to appear on someone else’s body – often pornographically.
“When you have a combination of Wall Street, greed, technology, and whizz kids that I am not seeing exemplify a great deal of empathy – it’s a deadly cocktail, in my opinion. And I don’t want us to have to drink that poison anymore,” she said in conversation with Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the guild’s national executive director, and Ben Whitehair, the guild’s executive vice president.
“So we need to put barricades around it,” she said. “And everybody has to know that we are dealing with a kind of dynamite, and it has to be handled with great care and safety regulations, which include a lot of communication with the artist and a lot of consent and a lot of compensation.
“Compensate and consent. That’s the name of the game. There’s no wiggle room around that. You have to compensate and you have to obtain consent, period. Otherwise, what are we we’re giving away? What is our business, our likeness, our gestures, our acting, our voices? That’s what we’re selling. That’s who we are. They wanna mimic that on artificial intelligence. Everybody’s watching dystopia series as entertainment while my members are living it.”
“This is not a way to cut us out of our livelihood,” she said. “It’s not a way to dehumanize this industry, even though it could do both if we are not careful, because we are dealing with people that don’t think, don’t care, and are really very greedy.”
Crabtree-Ireland said on the July 31 podcast that “Our members’ careers are legitimately threatened by unrestrained use of artificial intelligence. And we proposed common sense proposals to put guardrails around that. Basic concepts like informed consent. You should have the ability to know how a digital replica of you is going to be used and to give your consent to it or not consent to it as you see fit. And also that you should be fairly compensated for that use.
“This shouldn’t be controversial. This should be something that companies should have come to us and immediately said, ‘That’s a very reasonable proposal.’ But instead they’ve been fighting, fighting us on it and attempting to keep for themselves the ability to control the use of actors bodies, faces and voices, whether their background actors are principle performers. They’ve tried to retain that control in an abusive way, and that’s not something that we can possibly tolerate.”
Drescher, as she did on the first day of the strike, called the studio CEOs “megalomaniacs” who are “tone deaf” to the needs of actors, saying that “in a perfect world” she would like to see “someone with courage and character on the opposing side say: ‘We have to make this a more employee-friendly industry, and it behooves us all to take that high road.’”
“They don’t have that currently with the megalomaniacs that are there, completely tone deaf to what is really going on,” she said. “None of them attended the negotiations that I know of – maybe Netflix did a couple of times – but certainly nobody else that I saw of the CEOs.”
Drescher, who chairs the guild’s negotiating committee, had herself been out of town from June 29 to July 11 – returning in time for the last two days of bargaining. The guild said at the time that “She has been in negotiations every day either in person or via videoconference.” And then, on July 14, after the guild’s board voted unanimously to launch a strike, she delivered a fiery speech announcing the walkout.
A bigger share of the streaming pie is one of the guild’s chief goals. That includes cast members sharing in the revenue generated when their performances are exhibited on streaming platforms, which the guild says would allow them “to share in the success of high-performing shows.” The guild also wants a “subscription-based” residuals formula for streaming shows, which would generate more residuals based on the success of the platform itself.
“I would like to see us absolutely get a piece of every subscription,” Drescher said, “because the name of the game is subscriptions.”
Whitehair, who did the questioning, agreed., telling her: “What I hear you saying is that fundamentally the business model has changed, and what we do as SAG-AFTRA members hasn’t. We’re still creating the art and the shows, but the delivery mechanism has changed, The business model has shifted dramatically, and what we’re saying is, ‘Hey, that’s fine, but you need to adjust the contract to match the change in the business model.’”
Drescher also said she hopes that the ongoing strikes will create a sea change in the industry. “I would like to see a more employee-friendly culture emerge out of this strike. That would be a great achievement for us. I would like to see SAG-AFTRA repositioned as the center of the wheel upon which the entire industry leverages our artistry.”