Life,  Tech

AI Threatens Hollywood Actors’ Jobs: How Will the Industry Adapt?

Perhaps in this modern era, it is no revelation that AI generates creative works—but what if it crafts a movie?

Since July, 160,000 actors in Hollywood remain on strike as studios refuse concessions. On July 13th, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers publicized an artificial intelligence proposition necessitating actors acquiesce to fabricating and employing digital replicas of themselves or digitally altering their performances.

This proposition is not as uncomplicated as it appears. The Screen Actors Guild of America (SAG-AFTRA) indicated that studios seek to supplant background actors with artificial intelligence. Duncan Crabtree Ireland, the Screen Actors Guild’s chief negotiator, declared at a news conference that this enables studios to scan actors and then compensate them for a day’s work before directly using them. AI inserts them into other movie scenes.

In other words, these ordinary actors become one-time “daily end jobs.” Consequently, the circumstances of Hollywood actors have undoubtedly deteriorated.

This sounds fanciful, yet people have fundamentally achieved this technically. For instance, Google-backed AI generation company Runway and Stability AI, founded in 2019, have launched products enabling filmmakers to generate realistic videos from written prompts.

Artificial intelligence experts state movie studios could employ AI to construct backgrounds encompassing people—much more economical than hiring dozens of extras.

AI has the potential to revolutionize current filmmaking techniques, producing stunning visual effects more affordably. “Captain America: Brave New World” and “Murder in the White House” have already pioneered utilizing artificial intelligence technology to render background characters. Some experts predict AI may craft entire movies within a few years.

Cheaper “Blockbusters”

With a click of his fingers, the British aristocratic man in the video transformed into an upright ape without a trace. With another click, the ape shifted into a female fighter, standing alongside two people in the background. The protagonist’s identity differs, and the video’s scenery alters accordingly.

This is no magic – it’s a video Berlin-based director Martin Haerlin spent about three days creating with AI products from Runway and Elevenlabs. Haerlin’s typical job entails directing commercials and music videos, but due to substantially decreased advertising budgets this year, he began utilizing artificial intelligence tools.

He films himself at home, inputs it into Runway, and directs the AI to convert it into various historical or sci-fi scenes. He not only employed AI to actualize the protagonist’s “transformation” but also swapped the background, with a more realistic picture quality.

This post ignited much interest. Some production companies have already recruited him to harness artificial intelligence for producing videos with fewer actors and expenses. Martin Herring said, “They all feel AI is like a magic wand effortlessly completing a video.” For him, this is not solely exploring new technologies but also means no more pressure from producers, clients or advertising agencies.

Some experts predict AI may be capable of generating entire movies within a few years.

From an economic and labor cost perspective, this technology naturally provides great convenience for production companies.

In late 2017, in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” released in North America, the special effects team utilized CGI technology to enable Carrie Fisher, deceased in 2016, to “play” Princess Leia again. Wonder Dynamics CEO and co-founder Nikolai Todorovich said completing Carrie Fisher’s “appearance” necessitated equipping a visual effects studio, coupled with an enormous budget and many technicians, “more costly than hiring the actors themselves.”

In terms of visual effects, Spielberg’s 2018 sci-fi film “Ready Player One” pioneered the field. Whether the virtual world’s character makeup or the “Metaverse” it fabricates greatly satisfied the audience’s imagination.

When creating this movie, Spielberg also invested heavily. According to public information, “Ready Player One’s” production cost approximately $175 million. Reportedly, the special effects alone required nearly $100 million. Starring Tye Sheridan recounted wearing a motion capture suit for eight weeks to film, ultimately needing dozens of technicians to process the data.

In contrast, AI can greatly decrease shooting’s cost and requirements.

In 2017, Tye Sheridan and Nikolai Todorovich founded Wonder Dynamics to provide low-cost technical support for small-scale film production teams. With Wonder Dynamics’ AI software, users can replace the actor on camera with another character after filming a scene. This replacement character can mimic the original actor’s movements and even facial expressions.

Wonder Dynamics hopes independent producers working on science fiction films will have more opportunities to create “blockbusters” like “Avatar” or “Ready Player One” with limited budgets.

Todorovich said, “We don’t know where the next Spielberg is – he may be some kid in a village. We hope this technology provides opportunities for people worldwide so they don’t have to come to Los Angeles.”

He believes AI technology oversight should be more lenient than CGI, so its cost will become lower and application more widespread.

Group Performers Facing “Unemployment”?

According to US media reports, a few years ago, movie companies began employing artificial intelligence to render background characters, including the upcoming Marvel movie “Captain America 4: Brave New World” and Netflix’s new series “Murder in the White House.”

Not long ago, foreign filmmakers used artificial intelligence to produce the first AI movie – “Frost.” The film is only 12 minutes long. At first glance, the scenes and characters appear nearly “real,” but closely examining the characters reveals their close-ups are still somewhat distorted. When making actions like opening their mouth to speak, the character’s AI essence is fully exposed.

Los Angeles filmmaker Jahmel Reynolds, also experimenting with artificial intelligence products, believes current generative AI rendering technology, while advanced, is not yet realistic enough.

However, Marvel director Joe Russo previously predicted within two years, artificial intelligence will have the capability to generate a fully fledged movie.

It seems most filmmakers eagerly await new technological innovations. The actors, however, sense an impending crisis.

The trend of “artificial intelligence production” threatens many ordinary actors’ livelihoods. Some well-known actors may still negotiate ideal compensation from producers leveraging their accumulated fame. But most lesser-known actors survive as extras. The proposal could buy out Hollywood producers’ entire careers – even livelihoods.

According to US media reports, 86% of the 160,000 Screen Actors Guild of America members currently do not earn enough to afford health insurance – $26,000.

The proposal could purchase Hollywood producers’ whole careers – even livelihoods.

Artificial intelligence’s inevitable turbulence in the film industry looms. “In the coming months and years, there will be massive job losses in the film industry,” Heerling predicts.

Wages are dropping, job security is deteriorating, the threat of artificial intelligence looms, and Hollywood’s 160,000 workers took to the streets.

On July 13th, the Alliance of Film and Television Producers (AMPTP), a coalition of studios and streaming services, pledged the largest increase to minimum wages, pension and health insurance contribution caps, and proposed a “groundbreaking AI proposal.” This requires actors’ approval before creating any digital reproductions or altering their performances, dissatisfying the actors’ union, which did not believe it adequately protected actors’ rights.

Coupled with Hollywood writers’ previous collective strike, many film and television programs have stalled. According to reports, Disney postponed release dates for many films in the “Avatar” and “Star Wars” series. Warner’s remake of “The Color Purple” and the DC superhero sequel “Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom” may also be delayed.

Currently, this strike wave will likely cause billions in losses. There is no doubt the cost is tremendous for both actors and producers.

Some may think this is just more “unemployment anxiety” from artificial intelligence technology. But what should not be disregarded is that it is not AI people cannot trust. As James Cameron stated in an interview: “One of AI’s two major crises is humans teaching AI greediness to obtain endless benefits.” As artificial intelligence continues touching the boundaries between human work and life, people can no longer turn a blind eye to the “cost reduction” logic behind it.

In addition, while people eagerly await artificial intelligence’s convenience, they might also ponder: To what extent can movies forfeit authenticity and integrity for this?

After all, acting is not solely a technique but an art.

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