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Actors strike over AI and pay

Actors strike over AI and pay


Hollywood’s biggest strike in 60 years is being driven by concerns about pay and the use of artificial intelligence. A resolution seems a long way off.

It’s the biggest walkout to hit Hollywood in 60 years. Actors in America have joined writers in a strike over pay and the use of artificial intelligence.

“It came with great sadness that we came to this crossroads, but we had no choice,” says Fran Drescher, president of the Screen Actors Guild, which is negotiating a new contract with studios and producers on behalf of the union’s 160,000 members. 

It says the rise in popularity of streaming services has meant that conditions for actors are worsening. In particular, they’re earning far less in long-term payments for reruns of TV shows and films known as residuals.

The union wants better pay and an improved pension scheme, among other demands, but a real sticking point in the negotiations has been the use of AI technologies in Hollywood.

Background actors, for example, are normally paid for multiple days’ work. But a new proposal suggests that extras can have their bodies scanned at the start of a film production. Those actors would be paid a single day rate, but appear multiple times in the background of a film thanks to AI technologies that adapt their likeness. 

SAG-AFTRA wants the use of AI limited and regulated. 

But the studios say many of the union’s demands are unreasonable. Speaking at Allen & Co’s Media and Technology Conference the Disney CEO Bob Iger said “there’s a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic.”

He argued that studios like Disney are grappling with heavy debt. Traditional cable TV channels and cinemas have been struggling to make profit for years after the rise of streaming services, and the disruption brought by Covid only added to the industry’s woes.

These negotiations could set an important precedent, because Hollywood is one of the first major industries to publicly negotiate standards to deal with these rapidly developing technologies.

A handful of studios have agreed to SAG-AFTRA’s new terms and they have been allowed to continue productions, but the vast majority remain halted, because talks are at a standstill.

The last Hollywood writers strike in 2007 and 2008 lasted 100 days, and it cost the state of California $2 billion. Today, a resolution seems a long way off.

Today’s episode was written and mixed by Patricia Clarke.