Artificial intelligence (AI) has been on booming in recent years and months, and many are concerned about what it could mean for Hollywood. However, AI has long since arrived, most of us just didn’t know it yet. With the Writer’s Guild of America on strike, discussions for the future of AI in the entertainment industry are becoming more and more pressing.
AI is already being used in Hollywood
If you thought AI wasn’t already being used in Hollywood, think again. AI is actually being used in many different ways, largely off-screen. For example, without audiences even knowing, AI was a major component of an installment of one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood, Star Wars.
Since 1977, actor James Earl Jones has voiced the globally-recognized supervillain, Darth Vader. However, now in his 90s, he’s ready to take a step back from working altogether. Clearly, this could’ve proved problematic for the future of the franchise. However, Jones signed over the rights to his archival voice work to a business called Respeecher. The company used sound bites from his previous work to leverage AI technology and recreate the sound of his voice without his physical presence. This form of AI was featured in Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022), which is why Darth Vader may have sounded more like his 1977 self than in more recent films from the franchise.
Tom Hanks shares his take on the future of AI
Celebrities are keenly aware that there could be an AI version of them in the future, and this includes Tom Hanks. On an episode of The Adam Buxton Podcast, Hanks talked about the possibility of him remaining on-screen after death through the use of AI. “Anybody can now recreate themselves at any age they are by way of AI or deep fake technology,” he said. “I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and that’s it, but my performances can go on and on and on.”
He believes that AI will progress so much, “there’ll be nothing to tell you that it’s not me and me alone and it’s going to have some degree of lifelike quality.” When Buxton suggested that audiences will know the difference between the real him and an AI-generated one, Hanks responded, “Without a doubt people will be able to tell, but the question is, will they care? There are some people that won’t care, that won’t make that delineation.”
With AI becoming such a major issue in Hollywood, Hanks explained that there are “discussions going on in all of the guilds, all of the agencies, and all of the legal firms in order to come up with the legal ramifications of my face and my voice and everybody else’s being our intellectual property.” He said that he saw this point coming ever since his 2004 film, The Polar Express, which saw the crew inputting “a huge amount of our own data in a computer.”
“We saw this coming, we saw that there was going to be this ability in order to take zeros and ones inside a computer and turn it into a face and a character,” he continued. “That has only grown a billionfold since then and we see it everywhere.”
Justine Bateman is warning Hollywood to prepare
In the midst of the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, Justine Bateman has voiced her issues with the ensuing AI takeover. “The really kind of harsh reality of AI in the entertainment business is it’s trained on all of our past work, all of our scripts, our films, all these actors, performances, all of this, so it’s a regurgitation. It’s an amalgamation,” she said. “You give it a task, and it spits out some new product based on all of our past work.”
She said that the Copyright Office has been heavily involved in this matter, as this could be “a massive infringement, the size of which we’ve never seen before.” She warns Screen Actors Guild (SAG) actors “not accept any AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) proposal” that does not protect against AI. This includes their “image and voice,” and suggests that protection of these aspects become a top priority.
Unfortunately, the AMPTP refuses to engage in negotiations, which she says is “extremely troubling.” She explained, “If the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild can’t get restrictions on AI, I don’t personally believe that there’s any other choice but to strike, because them saying, ‘we’re not going to even talk to you about AI,’ means they are not only going to use it, but they’re already planning on using it.”
Bateman’s previous experience guides her opinion
Bateman has previous experience in preparing for changes in Hollywood, as she served on the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee when they went on strike in 2007-2008. Back then, people weren’t really considering the possibility that money could be made off a video on the internet. However, despite what seemed like an impossibility at the time, she still made sure she negotiated for “some real estate in that area.” Now, streaming has become its own job title. “The streamers are the most profitable. They’re some of the biggest companies in the world, not in entertainment, in the world.”
With this hindsight, she is trying to warn that AI in Hollywood could have the same effect, with the very real possibility that it replaces writers, actors, and more in the future. “For them to not restrict AI and to not give a share of the billions and billions of dollars they’re making off of the work of the writers, the crew, the directors, the actors is obscene.”
Like Jones, there are several actors who are voluntarily “sign[ing] away the rights to future use of their image and voice.” Although Jones’ motivation was his older age, others are doing so in the hope that agents will book them for more voiceover opportunities.
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In Bateman’s opinion, AI is simply being used for “human greed.” She said, “It’s replacing human expression. I’m saying that’s ridiculous. We don’t need to replace human expression. With AI. There’s not a problem that needs to be solved.”
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