The writers' strike in Hollywood has been going on for a minute now, and last week, the Screen Actors Guild joined them in striking.
One of the biggest issues has been over the proliferation of artificial intelligence (A.I.) in the film and TV industries. Sitting here writing on the day that Barbie and Oppenheimer (or as the internet, in its infinite and unfailing wisdom has portmanteau'd into existence: Barbenheimer) open in theaters, which has become the movie-going event of the year, it feels appropriate to take seriously the existential threat the technology poses to both the writers and actors.
Actor and director Justine Bateman posted a long thread on Twitter back in May that's been recirculating in the past few days because of the strikes' concern over A.I.
Bateman briefly recount some resumé points that have some relevance to what she's worried about, including her own familiarity with computer science and coding.
Her first fear is grounded in the here-and-now. These things—A.I.-written scripts and digitally scanned actors— are with us already. They're being used to differing degrees (and degrees of success), but these aren't theoretical at all.
Her next point could perhaps seem like a windfall for some actors, though my understanding of what she means by "10 percenter" is probably someone at the top of the industry. Could be completely wrong on that, and honestly, it's not hard to imagine workaday actors who struggle to get booked for shows by losing out on auditions might possibly be interested in the possibility of being triple- and quadruple-booked. The obvious drawback of this would be that actors, who presumably love to act, wouldn't really be doing much of anything.
This is where Bateman starts predicting what else could happen, and the examples that really mark less a threat to actors (though it's still a major issue) but the complete evisceration of film and TV as an art form and meaningful cultural artifacts.
With all the incessant playing around with ChatGPT and similar services with crazier and crazier prompts (to sometimes startling results), this seems inevitable. The MadLibs-ification of movies. Just what everyone wants. Not a carefully written, directed, and acted piece of art; just a hodgepodge of nouns and verbs strung together and created before your eyes. If it sucks, who cares? It took two seconds, and we can easily build another that might suck less! Either way, the "creating" is what's fun now, not the viewing of a final product.
I can't begin to describe how little scanning myself into a film would matter to me, but boy, oh, boy, do I recognize the marketability of that concept, however dumb it might be.
This seems like a no-brainer. Of course this happens. If one of the previous examples was the MadLibs-ification of the movies, this represents the Photoshop-ification of film. There is an endless appetite for memorabilia, and this would scratch an itch for many, especially in this IP-obsessed moment we appear stuck in for the time being.
Here's a threat specifically aimed at the writers (though many of these could just as easily apply to them as the actors). But this seems like low-hanging fruit, honestly. Especially (and forgive me, great network shows of past, present, and future) on the networks, where the shows strive to be a little more four-quadrant in their appeal and where the writing often is lacking (in terms of critical reception).
This is just a scary thought all around. Kind of ominous, like we've already invited the vampire across the threshold and it's now in the house. The power of any strike is the threat (or reality) of stopped work. The idea that the technology already exists that could be doing that work, at a lower quality but certainly a higher quantity, is a terrifying reality for those in Hollywood, as it truly seems at an inflection point that can have lasting ramifications for the industry for a long time to come.
At the end of the day, I just hate the lives being ruined over this. If I were independently wealthy (or just braver), I'd love to be taking my chance at making it as a writer in L.A. at this stage of my life. I admire and marvel at the work these folks get to do and the quality of the products they often churn out. It's heartbreaking to think of them suffering while companies pay out many times more than what they're asking for collectively to singular CEOs and executives.
But mostly I'm sad for the threat this poses to an art form I love with all my heart. Bateman summed it up nicely in her final two tweets: