If you turned on your TV last night, you might have noticed that the late night shows have suddenly stopped. That’s because the Writers Guild of America went on strike. And according to a report today in the New York Times, there is “No End In Sight for Hollywood Strike.” The writers and entertainment companies remain far apart on several key issues, including money, and the standoff could last for months.
The Writers Guild of America is the joint efforts of two different American labor unions representing writers in film, television, radio, and online media: The Writers Guild of America, East, headquartered in New York City and affiliated with the AFL-CIO The Writers Guild of America West, headquartered in Los Angeles.
The Writers Guild of America, which represents 11,500 screenwriters, went on strike after contract negotiations with studios, streaming services and networks failed.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of studios, streaming services and networks, has maintained that it hopes “to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial to writers and the health and longevity of the industry.” Privately, however, member companies say they are prepared to weather a strike of at least 100 days. The most recent writers strike, which began in 2007 and ended in 2008, lasted that long.
According to the NY Times, writers also want companies to agree to guarantee that artificial intelligence will not encroach on writers’ credits and compensation. Such guarantees are a nonstarter, the studio alliance has said, instead suggesting an annual meeting on advances in the technology. “A.I. raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everyone,” the studios said. “It’s something that requires a lot more discussion, which we have committed to doing.”
And according to a report by the Guardian, the fact that the studios haven’t agreed to that is a tell – “a dark indication of corporate America’s barely concealed enthusiasm for the idea of maximizing the use of algorithms in their ongoing quest to push labor costs down to zero.”
And the Guardian goes on to say “This strike matters for everyone. The story of the past half century of American society has been this: declining labor power, rising corporate power, rising inequality, collapsing democratic institutions. Reviving the power of working people, through organized labor, is the key to stopping our big national plummet to hell.”
And a report in CourtHouse News says that “generative artificial intelligence is already prompting widespread unease throughout Hollywood. Concern over chatbots writing or rewriting scripts is one of the leading reasons TV and film screenwriters took to picket lines earlier this week.”
“AI is terrifying,” said Danny Strong, the “Dopesick” and “Empire” creator. “Now, I’ve seen some of ChatGPT’s writing and as of now I’m not terrified because Chat is a terrible writer. But who knows? That could change.”
AI chatbots, screenwriters say, could potentially be used to spit out a rough first draft with a few simple prompts (“a heist movie set in Beijing”). Writers would then be hired, at a lower pay rate, to punch it up.
CourtHouse News also says that screenplays could also be slyly generated in the style of known writers. What about a comedy in the voice of Nora Ephron? Or a gangster film that sounds like Mario Puzo? You won’t get anything close to “Casablanca” but the barest bones of a bad Liam Neeson thriller isn’t out of the question.
AI has already filtered into nearly every part of moviemaking. It’s been used to de-age actors, remove swear words from scenes in post-production, supply viewing recommendations on Netflix and posthumously bring back the voices of Anthony Bourdain and Andy Warhol.
Experts say the struggle screenwriters are now facing with regenerative AI is just the beginning. The World Economic Forum this week released a 296 page Future of Jobs 2023 Report predicting that nearly a quarter of all jobs will be disrupted by AI over the next five years.
“Dramatizing their plight as man vs. machine surely doesn’t hurt the WGA’s cause in public opinion. The writers are wrestling with the threat of AI just as concern widens over how hurriedly regenerative AI products has been thrust into society,” was the conclusion of the CourtHouse News report.
In this case, plaintiffs are Ventura County, California firefighters and law enforcement officers who (except for one plaintiff) are members of two unions, the Ventura County