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AI on Hollywood Strike Talk Table

FILE: Oscar-winning directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert march with Writers Guild of America members outside Sunset Bronson Studios and Netflix Studios during a strike in Los Angeles, California, on May 3, 2023. Artificial intelligence is part of the labor talks.

LOS ANGELES - A search for Wes Anderson on YouTube turns up trailers that the famed director with a distinctive style appears to have made for adaptations of "Star Wars," "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings" featuring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and other stars.

Actors and writers, the latter already on strike, envision various scenarios in which studios could try to cut costs and boost revenue using generative AI, which can be fed existing material and pump out new content.

And members of both the Writers' Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA, the union for on-camera TV and movie talent, fear they can be replaced by a chip on a motherboard.

Artificial intelligence has enabled people with no real actors and far smaller resources than major Hollywood studios to generate the fake movie trailers, feeding debate on the issue that will be on the bargaining table when the actors union begins labor talks with studios on June 7.

SAG-AFTRA wants to ensure its members can control use of their "digital doubles" and ensure studios pay the actual actors appropriately, said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union's chief negotiator.

"The performer's name, likeness, voice, persona - those are the performer's stock and trade," Crabtree-Ireland said. "It's really not fair for companies to attempt to take advantage of that and not fairly compensate performers when they're using their persona in that way."

Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves already have been the subject of widely viewed unauthorized deep-fakes - realistic yet fabricated videos created by AI algorithms. Reeves called the technology "scary," in part because it can be deployed without actors' input.

Actor Leland Morrill said he has worked on sets where he was surrounded by cameras taking pictures from all angles.

"With that type of content, they could use you for part of it, and then create the rest of the character, and then we're not on set anymore and nobody gets paid," Morrill said at a multi-union rally in Los Angeles.

Producer, writer, and former "Family Ties" actor Justine Bateman, holds a degree in computer science and has been sounding the alarm about AI. She said companies could allow fans to make their own "Star Wars" movie, and add themselves for an extra fee.

Or, a studio could take footage from a popular 1980s TV show such as "Family Ties" and make a new season with AI. With no residuals (payments) going to humans.

SAG-AFTRA's Crabtree-Ireland said actors have varying comfort levels with how AI is used, which is why the union will advocate for informed consent in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group that represents Disney, Netflix Inc. and other studios.

A representative for the AMPTP had no comment on its position on use of AI with actors.

In negotiations with the WGA, the AMPTP proposed discussing the topic once a year, which the Guild viewed as an attempt to avoid the issue. The WGA has been on strike over AI and compensation since May 2.

If SAG-AFTRA cannot reach a deal on AI and other issues, actors also could go on strike, which would pile more pressure on the studios. Ahead of negotiations, SAG-AFTRA leaders have asked members to provide authorization to call a strike if needed. Voting on a strike authorization ends Monday.

Both unions want safeguards in place before AI becomes widely used.