Illustration by Greg Clark
It’s alarming how much the entertainment landscape has changed since the last book strike: In 2007, Netflix was still primarily a DVD-by-mail company, Amazon Studios and Apple had yet to move from Silicon Valley to Hollywood, and streaming as we know it It wasn’t there. Now there’s more content being produced than ever before, with broadcasters and longtime gamers like Disney and Warner Bros. spending spending. Discovery billions every year.
Once again, a strike occurs during a period of widespread economic uncertainty due to inflation, recession fears, and mass layoffs in media and entertainment. This time around, however, there is a twist: the rise of generative AI. If half of the internet can be fooled by an AI-generated collaboration of Drake and The Weeknd, could that same technology write scripts and enable studios to create more content for less money?
Initially, with ChatGPT coming out in late 2022 and early 2023, the writers they spoke with Hollywood Reporter It wasn’t particularly afraid of chatbots that could generate movies or TV shows on demand, viewing them more as collaborative tools that could help stimulate ideas rather than ways to replace humans entirely. But this changed as technology advanced and AI became a major bargaining point in the ongoing Writers Guild negotiations. While artificial intelligence is one of the more abstract issues on the table during this strike — along with the regulation of so-called cobblestones (small writers’ rooms that are held before a project is greenlit), wage floors and hangovers — experts say it must Hollywood shouldn’t ignore the 800 pound robot in the room.
“The challenge is that we want to make sure that these technologies are tools used by writers and not tools used to replace writers,” he says. big fish And Aladdin Writer John August, who is also on the WGA negotiating panel for 2023. “The concern is that in the future you could see some producers or executives trying to use one of these tools to do work that a writer really needs to do.”
That’s already happening, according to Amy Webb, founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute, which does long-term scenario planning and consulting for Fortune 500 companies and Hollywood creatives. She notes, “I had a couple of people at the top level ask me, if there was a hit, how fast could they spin an AI system just to write scripts? And they’re serious.”
That exploits the WGA’s fear that producers are, as the union defined on May 1, “opening the door to writing as a completely independent profession.” According to WGA negotiating committee co-chair Chris Keyser, before talks ended abruptly that day and the union went on strike, AMPTP “wouldn’t do business with us about AI” as the union sought to prevent literary material from being written or rewritten by the technology, and to prevent AI from being used as sources.
Thanks to the WGA’s account of how their AI proposal was received, the problem became a lightning rod on the picket lines on the first day of the strike. “This is my existence for us,” says the writer Fini Wilhelm (Penny the Terrible: City of Angels) where he picketed the Netflix offices in Hollywood. “We need a seat at the table. You can easily see the job polishing AI scripts. It fits right in with what companies do — turn everything they can into great work.” Add WGA Negotiation Committee member Adam Conover (The G Word with Adam Conover), which was also shown in front of the broadcast device factory, “Artificial intelligence cannot and will not replace us. But the imagination of technology will be used to devalue us and pay us less.”
A writer and executive producer at a streaming show, on the picket line in front of the Warner Bros. Discovery set, points out one dilemma for writers: How much fear about AI is hype, and how much is reality? “In the final blow, they (the WGA) were fighting for Internet coverage despite not knowing that the Internet () would soon be the entire industry. So, could AI be cryptography or could it be the Internet?” asks this person. “We don’t know if that’s going to, you know, throw off the bed and become a thing or replace all of us.”
Webb doesn’t think AI can cross the catch line effectively in most projects, but there may be a long-standing procedural exception like Law and order. “You have a huge ensemble, it’s a formula, a lot of storylines have been cut from the headlines. So you have the data sources you need,” Webb says. To be clear, she doesn’t think writers can be replaced by machines. “What I’m saying is the conditions are right. In certain cases of an AI potentially getting 80% of the way there and then having the writers who are going to cross the picket line do 20% of the polishing and shaping. This is possible for certain types of content.
Talented attorney Leigh Brecheen adds, “I absolutely promise some people are already working on getting scripts written by AI, and the longer the strike goes on, the more resources will be poured into the effort.”
August says writers want to ensure that AI-generated texts cannot be considered literary material, which is anything from a treatment to a screenplay that a WGA member would be assigned to write, or as source material, which includes existing IP such as books and video games that have been adapted. . “We don’t want to be handed over something and[we’re told]’Oh, hey, baseline what you’re supposed to write off of this AI-generated short story.'” This raises questions about not only authorship, he says, but also pay rates — because adaptations and rewrites tend to be less lucrative than original works. AI output should be treated as research, “in the same way that it can,” says August. It is for the director to type out the Wikipedia article about the invention of the steam engine,” as a backdrop for a possible movie hypothesis.
“At the end of the day, the script should be written by a writer and the writer should be a human being who is a member of the Writers Guild of America. That’s all we’re saying,” says Sasha Stewart, a WGA East board member who recently worked on Netflix docuseries Edit: Fighting for America. And AMPTP instead of saying like “Oh, that makes sense.” They’re like, “Oh, no, no, no.” Maybe we’ll have a conversation about it once every few years.”
Talent attorney Darren Trattner notes, “A writer is defined in the basic agreement as a ‘person’ and the WGA could theoretically prevent AIs from working on union projects – but functionally that may not be possible.
“The reality is that even if you have strength in numbers, and you have the whole guild saying ‘if you want a WGA project and WGA writers you can’t use AI,’ we may never know if AI is involved,” Trattner says. “Sometimes a script is reviewed by a producer, studio executive, or director and that person doesn’t take or want credit or fees. What if that person revises a script using AI and then just tells the writer ‘Here are some revisions.’ No one might know.” that the notes were generated by artificial intelligence.”
The WGA is the first labor organization to take on AI, but it won’t be the last. “I don’t think it’s an existential threat today, but the use of AI in the production process is inevitable,” says Brechin. “All unions need to watch how they protect their members while not standing directly in the way of progress.”
Webb says this hit could push AI into the mainstream and see potential for streamlining production schedules and narrowing down locations to scout — and there’s already a generally positive consensus about its potential for dubbing.
“Every conversation about AI at this point is polarized. It’s binary. AI will lead to the doom of apocalyptic hell or complete utopia.” What’s better is to manage the strike and also talk about the question “Is this an opportunity for us to rethink our approach to how we use technology?”
For writers, there may be room for compromise between allowing AI to create entire projects and banning them, notes Trattner: “When using AI, there are ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs.’” An input could be: “Write a screenplay about a boy who meets a girl, and they break up And they get back together. Turn it into a romantic comedy. The output is what the AI generates from the input. If we can’t prevent AI, then maybe entry should always be done by a WGA member.”
Gary Baum, Leslie Goldberg and Alex Webrin contributed reporting.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.