What are Hollywood actors and writers afraid of? A cinema scholar explains how AI is upending the movie and TV business

The bitter conflict between actors, writers and other creative professionals and the major movie and TV studios represents a flashpoint in the radical transformation roiling the entertainment industry. The ongoing strikes by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild were sparked in part by artificial intelligence and its use in the movie industry.

Both actors and writers fear that the major studios, including Amazon/MGM, Apple, Disney/ABC/Fox, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount/CBS, Sony, Warner Bros. and HBO, will use generative AI to exploit them. Generative AI is a form of artificial intelligence that learns from text and images to automatically produce new written and visual works.

So what specifically are the writers and actors afraid of? I’m a professor of cinematic arts. I conducted a brief exercise that illustrates the answer.

I typed the following sentence into ChatGPT: Create a script for a 5-minute film featuring Barbie and Ken. In seconds, a script appeared.

Next, I asked for a shot list, a breakdown of every camera shot needed for the film. Again, a response appeared almost instantly, featuring not only a “montage of fun activities,” but also a fancy flashback sequence. The closing line suggested a wide shot showing “Barbie and Ken walking away from the beach together, hand in hand.”

Next, on a text-to-video platform, I typed these words into a box labeled “Prompt”: “Cinematic movie shot of Margot Robbie as Barbie walking near the beach, early morning light, pink sun rays illuminating the screen, tall green grass, photographic detail, film grain.”

About a minute later, a 3-second video appeared. It showed a svelte blond woman walking on the beach. Is it Margot Robbie? Is it Barbie? It’s hard to say. I decided to add my own face in place of Robbie’s just for fun, and in seconds, I’ve made the swap.

I now have a moving image clip on my desktop that I can add to the script and shot list, and I’m well on my way to crafting a short film starring someone sort of like Margot Robbie as Barbie.

The fear

None of this material is particularly good. The script lacks tension and poetic grace. The shot list is uninspired. And the video is just plain weird-looking.

However, the ability for anyone – amateurs and professionals alike – to create a screenplay and conjure the likeness of an existing actor means that the skills once specific to writers and the likeness that an actor once could uniquely call his or her own are now readily available – with questionable quality, to be sure – to anyone with access to these free online tools.

Given the rate of technological change, the quality of all this material created through generative AI is destined to improve visually, not only for people like me and social media creatives globally, but possibly for the studios, which are likely to have access to much more powerful computers. Further, these separate steps – preproduction,…

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