Artificial intelligence (AI) has been on booming in recent years and months, and many are concerned about what it could mean for Hollywood. That being said, AI has long since arrived – most of us just didn’t know it yet. With the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) having spent the summer on strike, discussions regarding its future in the entertainment industry are becoming much more pressing.
AI is already being used in Hollywood
If you thought AI wasn’t already being used in Hollywood, think again. It’s 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 Star Wars, one of the most popular franchises ever.
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 Respeecher. The company used sound bites from his previous works 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.
Tom Hanks shares his take on the future of AI
Celebrities are keenly aware that there could be an AI version of themselves in the future – and this includes Tom Hanks. On an episode of The Adam Buxton Podcast, the actor 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.” Hanks believes AI will progress so much that “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 host Adam Buxton suggested that audiences will know the difference between the real Hanks and an AI-generated one, the actor 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 input “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.”
Paul McCartney is using AI to come out with one last Beatles song
Hollywood isn’t the only place where AI is being incorporated into production. The music industry has also seen a surge in the technology’s use. While some have their reservations, Paul McCartney of the Beatles is using AI to release one last recording by the band.
While he hasn’t released the name of the song, many speculate it’s John Lennon’s “Now and Then,” which he recorded in his apartment on a cassette tape in 1978. Following his death in 1980, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, gave McCartney the cassette, which was labeled, “For Paul.”
In 1995, when the remaining three members of the Beatles compiled tier career-spanning anthology, they tried their hand at reprising the song, but abandoned it after George Harrison called it “rubbish.” McCartney explained, “It didn’t have a very good title, it needed a bit of reworking, but it had a beautiful verse and it had John singing it. [But] George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.”
It wasn’t until a custom AI was created that could pull Lennon’s vocals that releasing “Now and Then” became more feasible. “[Jackson] was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette,” McCartney told Radio 4. “We had John’s voice and a piano and he could separate them with AI. They tell the machine: ‘That’s the voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar.’”
He continued, “So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record, it was a demo that John had and we were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI. Then we can mix the record, as you would normally do. So it gives you some sort of leeway.”
While many assumed this meant AI was being used to create the song, McCartney later clarified his comments, saying it was used to clean up the original recordings. “Can’t say too much at this stage but to be clear, nothing has been artificially or synthetically created. It’s all real and we all play on it. We cleaned up some existing recordings – a process which has gone on for years. We hope you love it as much as we do.”
McCartney shared his views on the revolutionary new technology, saying, “I’m not on the internet that much but people will say to me: ‘Oh, yeah, there’s a track where John’s singing one of my songs,’ and it’s just AI … it’s kind of scary but exciting, because it’s the future. We’ll just have to see where that leads.”
Dolly Parton weighs in on the use of AI
Dolly Parton opened up about the use of AI in an interview with UK publication, The Independent. In particular, she revealed she has no interest in becoming a hologram after her death. A number of deceased musicians have been brought back to stage via the use of AI holograms, including Whitney Houston and Tupac Shakur – however, the latter instance was slightly different.
Swedish pop group ABBA has also made use of the technology.
“I think I’ve left a great body of work behind,” Parton told The Independent. “I have to decide how much of that high-tech stuff I want to be involved [with] because I don’t want to leave my soul here on this earth. I think with some of this stuff I’ll be grounded here forever…I’ll be around, we’ll find ways to keep me here.”
The country singer also joked that “everything” about her, including “any intelligence,” was artificial, anyway.
Justine Bateman is warning Hollywood to prepare
During the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, Justine Bateman 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 told KTLA 5 in an interview. “You give it a task, and it spits out some new product based on all of our past work.”
She said the Copyright Office has been heavily involved in the matter, as it could be “a massive infringement, the size of which we’ve never seen before.” She warned Screen Actors Guild (SAG) actors “not accept any AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) proposal” that doesn’t protect against AI, including their “image and voice,” and says that the protection of these aspects should become a top priority.
Unfortunately, the AMPTP refuses to engage in negotiations, which Bateman 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.”
Justine Bateman’s previous experience guides her opinion
Justine 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 2007-08. Back then, people weren’t considering the possibility that money could be made off of 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,” she said. “They’re some of the biggest companies in the world, not in entertainment, in the world.”
With this hindsight, she’s trying to warn that AI could have the very same effect in Hollywood, with the very real possibility of it replacing writers and actors 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 James Earl Jones, there are several actors who are voluntarily “sign[ing] away the rights to future use of their image and voice.” Although the actor’s motivation was his age, others are doing so in the hopes agents will book them for more voiceover opportunities.
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.”
Samuel L. Jackson has been concerned for years
In an interview with Rolling Stone, actor Samuel L. Jackson expressed surprise that others were just now sounding the alarm on the use of AI in Hollywood. “People just started worrying about that? I asked about that a long time ago,” he said.
When he was scanned for George Lucas‘ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), he asked the director what that was all about. “George and I are good friends so we kind of had a laugh about it because I thought he was doing it because he had all those old guys in Episode I, and if something happened to them, he still wanted to put ‘em in the movie.”
Jackson said he crosses out the words “in perpetuity” and “known and unknown” when they appear on contracts. “It’s my way of saying, ‘No, I do not approve of this.’”
Robin Williams’ daughter speaks out about AI
“I am not an impartial voice in SAG’s fight against AI,” Williams shared in her Instagram stories. “I’ve witnessed for YEARS how many people want to train these models to create/recreate actors who cannot consent, like Dad. This isn’t theoretical, it is very very real. I’ve already heard AI used to get his ‘voice’ to say whatever people want and while I find it personally disturbing, the ramifications go far beyond my own feelings.
“Living actors deserve a chance to create characters with their choices, to voice cartoons, to put their HUMAN effort and time into the pursuit of performance,” she continued. “These recreations are, at their very best, a poor facsimile of greater people, but at their worst, a horrendous Frankenstein monster, cobbled together from the worst bits of everything this industry is, instead of what it should stand for.”
One of the key topics the Screen Actor’s Guild is striking against is the increased use of AI in Hollywood and how that could impact the future of content creation.