A hologram of an AI robot appearing from binary code.

Extraordinary SAG actors incredulous for the Studios’ dystopian artificial intelligence proposal

Hollywood is officially at Black mirror episode comes to life.

This was the sentiment shared by several SAG-AFTRA members and non-members Rolling stone following Thursday’s announcement that the 160,000-member union would join the WGA union during pickets after it failed to secure a new contract with movie studio and streaming service executives.

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have been negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for the past month, but the already extended deadline passed Wednesday night. SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher delivered a violent protest speech denouncing the AMPTP’s shameful and disgusting treatment of the union, saying, “You cannot continue to be reduced, marginalized, disrespected and dishonored.”

Both SAG-AFTRA and WGA, which has been on strike since May 2, mark the first time since 1960 that both unions have been on strike at the same time. A major point of contention for both groups was the rapid development and implementation of AI and fears of how it could potentially replace writers and actors.

And their concern was warranted, as Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland laid bare the AMPTP’s so-called AI breakthrough proposal, which has the potential to wipe out an entire pathway into the industry, as well as a reliable source of income for many. The proposition being flagged hinged on background actors being able to get scanned, get paid a day’s pay and for that company to own that scan of their image, their likeness, and be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want without consent and without compensation.

When we heard that, all of our worst fears were literally confirmed, says actress Jamie Miller Rolling stone. His knees from the start.

How do I start a career when one of those options is essentially selling my soul? asks actor Patrick McCann.

The thing is, as a working actor, you’re often, and worse, in a place where you need the cash, says New York actress Megan Rae Ruskey. And since the state of the industry is already at a precious inflection point, being an actor is kind of like accepting that something else will pay the bills and hoping you’re wrong.

The severity of the consequences of AI effectively replacing background actors cannot be overstated. Background actors form the backdrop for frenetic scenes and crowd shots in film and television projects, filling otherwise empty restaurants, passersby on the street, boisterous party-goers; the peripheral characters of period shows dressed in appropriate clothing.

Background work serves as a pathway for actors looking to break into the business, enabling them to learn how a set works, meet other actors and industry connections, and can ultimately lead to qualification for SAG-AFTRA membership, which in turn can help land bigger roles. The daily rate for union members is less than $200 per day for days that can be up to 16-18 hours long. Some background actors can support themselves completely with such work, while others book performances here and there to fill bank accounts between gigs or look for work in other industries.

It’s crazy, it’s wrong to take money out of people’s pockets, says a Chicago actor. Studios get away with one thing after another.

It will make it impossible to break into the industry, adds Miller. If you don’t have that stepping stone to get in, if you don’t already have connections and you don’t come from wealth, you start at the bottom and work your way up from background work. Eliminating it is a tragedy. Think of all the actors who are not going to be able to make it in the industry because it’s eliminating the first step.

The idea that studios can pay an actor less than $200 and own that person’s image to use forever in any project at any time is terrifying, several actors say Rolling stoneparticularly when it comes to not knowing what your image is being used for.

There’s been a lot of talk about on-set consent AI is just another way to get around the consent of actors, especially actors assigned female at birth, says a New York-based background actor. If for some reason they use my face and put me in a situation I didn’t consent to, that’s very worrying.

The practice could potentially limit how hard someone can work, McCann points out. If an actor works in the background for a specific company, there’s a good chance that company will pull from its AI database and use that previously filmed footage or scanned data for another show instead of hiring that actor again even if it’s been years. My career ended before it even started, he says. It’s taking whatever kind of agency and power that we have as artists and saying, well, that’s worthless.

Limiting roles and opportunities for supporting actors would also hurt other production departments, such as costume, hair and makeup, and assistant positions, as large projects often have entire teams dedicated solely to overseeing and managing supporting roles.

In the hours leading up to the SAG-AFTRA deadline, reports revealed the cruelty and badly necessary approach the AMPTP was preparing for when it came to the WGA union, with insiders saying the plan was to let it bleed out and not return to the negotiating table until late October. The end game is to let things drag on until union members start losing their apartments and homes, Expiration a studio executive said.

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The movie villain trope adopted by studio insiders only infuriated and unified both members of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it’s strange enough to see at the same time, says a background actor who works on the West Coast.

Major studios have made it clear that profit is their only motive in this business and they have no problem tapping the resource of background actors. It’s a disappointing time for the industry.

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Image Source : www.rollingstone.com

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