Strikes in Hollywood: A Repeat of History With a New Technological Threat

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Vivika Sahajpal

The arts take skill, empathy, perception and a refined perspective on the world reflected through its work. Amongst the creators working in the artistic industry are those working in Hollywood on film and television, a field currently in uproar over a variety of issues facing their livelihood and the essence of what they do. From acting and writing strikes to postponed award shows, the industry’s creators are refusing to be ignored. 

For the first time since 1960, both writers and actors are going on strike simultaneously; emphasising how dire the situation truly is. Just over 60 years ago writers and actors alike felt the stability of their careers become precarious due to an aspect of the industry that is once again rearing its head as a cause for dispute: residuals – the financial compensation for people involved in production that becomes available after the initial release due to reruns, streaming and things of a similar nature. 

In 1960, it was an issue of how writers and actors would be compensated when it came to the television reruns that were introduced at the time ending in a compromise of improved rights. Today, it is an issue of generative AI based on past performances and past scripts causing a growing fear in the community that their jobs and careers are no longer secure. This, alongside the increased use of streaming services, has had a negative effect on residuals; these consequences of low pay, poor conditions and jeopardised careers reached a breaking point with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) and the WGA (Writers Guild of America) both participating in the strikes. 

Jamie Lee Curtis, Jack Black, Melanie Griffiths and many more standing with their fellow actors on both social media and the picket line

Since the strikes began, Hollywood’s production plans and timelines have taken a great hit with big names in the industry such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Jack Black, Melanie Griffiths and many more standing with their fellow actors on both social media and the picket line. Disney’s live-action remake of Lilo and Stich sits among other movies from Sony, Warner Bros. and other big members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) that have been shut down or put on hold. With the Emmys also being postponed, the media world is feeling the effects of their members’ mistreatment. 

In 1960, it was clear that Hollywood could not survive without its actors and writers; it was evident that they made it what it was. Today, the boundaries between what aspects of Hollywood are seen as vital and disposable by the AMPTP are blurred with the continued emergence of generative AI. 

The AMPTP proposed that background performers could be scanned and then their likenesses could be used in any projects that production companies deemed appropriate, meanwhile only paying the actors for one day of work, a proposal which completely disrespects performers’ craft and autonomy. Alongside this are the growing concerns of the WGA that AI will soon be used for scriptwriting; pushing writers themselves into the periphery, if not redundancy. 

AI can be a powerful tool used to positively impact ease of production

AI is continuing to pervade significant industries, it is bringing innovation yet threatening jobs and causing a sweeping blend of uneasiness and anticipation to fall over conversations around job security and the future of certain fields. AI can be a powerful tool used to positively impact ease of production and create incredible effects that would’ve been impossible a couple of decades ago. However, as with anything that has the potential for power, it also needs to be monitored and limited where necessary. 

The fact that Netflix released AI job opportunities during the strikes only goes to demonstrate the way the industry is choosing to devalue writers and actors in the face of AI alternatives. In a situation where the industry’s creators are crying out for better financial recognition of their contributions and worth, Netflix’s choice to post these jobs makes a clear statement on where they stand on the battle between artists and AI; a statement that potentially also reflects the views of other big companies affected by the strikes. 

This is a fight concerning thousands of past, present and future careers and livelihoods.

AI may have the potential to fulfil certain roles, but at what cost for quality, careers and the creations themselves? Unlike in 1960, this is not solely about financial compensation and recognition, this is a fight concerning thousands of past, present and future careers and livelihoods. This is a fight regarding artists being able to make a living from their skill and art and lastly, this is a fight regarding where corporations choose to place real people’s careers on a list of priorities that also includes immense revenue generated by artificial intelligence.

The world is developing and it would be impossible for creative industries to not develop with it; however, these creative industries were birthed with creators as their origin and backbone. Writers and actors bring a level of humanity and passion to their work that AI cannot yet reach; however, that does not mean it won’t in the future. To protect these creators from being pushed out of their own creations, AI in the creative industry needs to have its limits and Hollywood’s media and production corporations need to, once again, learn to respect the actors and writers that have made them what they are.

Vivika Sahajpal

Featured image courtesy of Unseen Studio via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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