Hollywood has had a long history of strikes. Various guilds have been striking against studios and producers ever since the Disney Animator Strike back in 1941. The longest was the Writer’s Guild strike in 1988, which lasted over 5 months.
The reasons have mostly been the same; more compensation, more privileges and benefits like health insurance, and a bigger piece of the residual pie for reruns, syndication, and more recently, streaming.
Now there’s another strike – and along with more compensation, there’s a new adversary, AI (artificial intelligence.) All across Hollywood– animators, actors, musicians, and writers – are terrified of being replaced by AI and bots like ChatGPT.
The Writer’s Guild began the strike in May 2023, and the Screen Actors Guild joined in July. It has brought Hollywood to a standstill.
The Cast of Characters
Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) – an American labor union that represents over 11,500 writers in film, television, radio, and online media.
Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) – an American labor union that represents approximately 160,000 professionals.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – the trade association that represents over 350 television companies and production studios.
The drama started back in 2022 when OpenAI introduced ChatGPT. This is a revolutionary artificial intelligence chatbot that enables users to refine and steer a conversation towards a desired length, format, style, and level of detail. It can literally compose its own content. While the fear is real, ChatGPT is not able to replicate the creativity, originality, and nuance of human writing. At least, not yet.
But ChatGPT and bots like Bard, Bing, and Stable Diffusion are getting smarter by the day, so it’s only a matter of time before they will be able to write complete scripts, and this is what worries the WGA. Writers on the picket lines fear movie studios will use AI to write scripts – either in whole or in part – reducing the role of writers or even making them obsolete.
“It feels like AI is a road to extinction,” one scriptwriter said. “Silicon Valley is going to spend a lot on this.” But writers don’t want to ban AI -that’s like saying, ‘Let’s ban the internet’ when AOL was starting up.”
The Plot Thickens
“The corporations (studios) will push us all into extinction if they can,” said Chap Taylor, a striking screenwriter. The AI issue “is life and death,” he claims. “That’s the one that turns us into the makers of buggy whips.”
According to entertainment weekly Variety, the Writer’s Guild made a compromise offer in May:
First, AI-generated material would not be considered “literary material” or “source material” under the union’s contract. That would prevent studios from paying writers less or depriving them of credit if they rely on AI material.
Second, AI should not be allowed to write on its own. Studios would be forbidden from having AI programs create scripts independently or having them rewrite scripts submitted by a human writer.
Third, an AI program would be barred from training on a WGA member’s work. If the studios rejected that, guild members might agree to allow it in exchange for a license fee.
The AMPTP didn’t agree to these terms, otherwise, the strike would be over. They did say it had offered SAG-AFTRA a “groundbreaking” AI proposal which protects performers’ digital likenesses, including a requirement for performer’s consent for the creation and use of digital replicas or for digital alterations of a performance.
Not yet. The haggling with terminology between the WGA AMPTP continues as Hollywood remains locked in chaos with exorbitant movie delays, ongoing compensation battles, and AI anxiety.
As of this writing on Friday, June 21, 2023, the strike is still on and there’s no end in sight.