AI News
September 26, 2023

AI and the Actor’s Strike in Hollywood – Understand the Issue

Although AI has revolutionized various aspects of filmmaking, from special effects to data analytics, it has also played a pivotal role in sparking one of the most significant industry-wide events in recent memory—the actor's strike. 

With estimates predicting that this strike could cause economic damages of over $5 billion, it’s becoming harder for stakeholders to ignore. Even Warner Bros Discovery is expected to take a hit of $500 million to their earnings.

Actors, like any other creative professional in the world, fear that they will slowly be replaced by AI-generators. And given that the response to these developments has been mixed (if not outright negative), companies who are making room for AI in their marketing strategies should also begin to accommodate different viewpoints on these issues.

What’s the strike about?

The strike centers around the Writers Guild of America and the actors guild - SAG-AFTRA, who are trying to negotiate with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. 

The main reasons for the strike, at least on the actor’s side, are: 

  1. Job Displacement - As AI technology becomes more sophisticated, there is a growing fear among actors that they may be replaced by digital counterparts. This fear is not unfounded, as AI can now mimic expressions, emotions, and even deliver lines convincingly. Furthermore, the use of virtual actors could entirely remove the need for physical actors.
  1. Income Inequality - The use of AI in casting and deepfake technology can perpetuate income inequality in the industry. Established actors might benefit from AI-driven casting decisions, but newcomers and extras could struggle to find opportunities.

  2. Privacy and Consent - Actors are increasingly concerned about their digital likeness being used without their consent, as deepfake technology becomes more prevalent. The lack of control over their own image in an industry where image is everything has led to calls for stronger protections and regulations.

Tom Hanks recently shared that his career may be never-ending - “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, and that’s it. But my performances could go on and on and on”.  A quote that reflects the concerns of the acting community.

Protests on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (from Getty Images), source

This strike also touches upon facets of royalties and residuals from online streaming, but the future use of AI plays a large role in the negotiations. 

And the demands are far from simple – The unions want increased transparency in the use of AI, stronger contractual protections for actors, and a share of the profits generated by AI-driven performances.

This shines a light on the broader need for regulations and ethical guidelines concerning the use of AI in filmmaking. Discussions are ongoing about how to strike a balance between innovation and safeguarding the livelihoods of actors – including addressing issues around consent, privacy, and income equity.


Posthumous Problems

The rules around "consent" after death are murky, and non-existent in some parts of the world. In the US alone, each state views the situation differently - Some don’t have any protections in place that honor a dead celebrity’s wishes. Even written wills might not have enough sway.


For instance, Robin Williams’ legal-will restricts the use of his likeness post-death. Experts have said this could be the model for celebrities who want to safeguard their image and legacy. But the issue is far from over.

This last will and testament is valid for 25 years. What happens after that? Would the question of consent pass to his loved ones? Or would studios and brands feel free to use his likeness in their movies and campaigns?

The State of New York has signed a new law that protects individuals from unauthorized or unwanted exploitation via digital replicas for 40 years after their death. But post-mortem rights in the rest of the country are still up for debate. 

Netflix stirs the pot

In the midst of Hollywood’s hustle and bustle over AI, Netflix has provoked a salvo of responses to its recent job advert for an Artificial Intelligence expert. The new position is a part of their Machine Learning Platform and it pays up to $900,000 per year. 

While it’s encouraging that AI can (and most likely will) generate a whole slew of jobs in the entertainment industry, it has rubbed actors and writers the wrong way. Previously, striking actors had to earn around $26,470 before they were eligible for health benefits.

The new job posting, which offers the kind of money that could support many SAG-AFTRA members and their families, has created an uproar and added another layer of complexity to the Hollywood strike. 

What does this all mean?

Technology has pushed actors and writers to strike against some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, where uncomfortable questions are being raised for all involved, including brands, influencers, and marketers: 

  • How will disruptive technologies, like virtual personalities, affect human labor?
  • Who owns the rights to someone’s face, body, and voice in this new space?
  • What kind of posthumous control can an artist have? For instance, can a gritty action star be put into a series of romantic comedies that they didn’t consent to?
  • Would the presence of virtual actors merely be gratuitous in films, ads, or other videos? 
  • Would posthumous acting jobs be a true addition to an actor’s legacy?
  • Will brands sacrifice authenticity for affordable, engineered virtual personalities?

What do you think about the rise of virtual actors in movies and marketing? Do you think they will be a force for good, or should industries look before they leap?

Write and let us know your thoughts.

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