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Where actors could make a deal with studios about AI


About six weeks before artificial intelligence became a hot-button issue in the writers’ strike, a Berlin-based photographer took the internet by storm with Balenciaga’s Harry Potter, a video that combines characters from the wizarding world with avant-garde models representing the luxury fashion brand. Even more recently, a company called Curious Refuge used AI to create a viral trailer for a Wes Anderson Star Wars called movie The galactic menagerie. While these are clearly spoofs not trying to fool anyone, they show that recreating someone’s likeness and voice using AI is no longer just sci-fi fodder – in fact, Robert Zemeckis’ upcoming film Here will use a tool called Metaphysic Live to age Tom Hanks and Robin Wright.

Just as AI became a sticking point during the Writers Guild’s talks with studios, the technology’s impact on onscreen talent is likely to be an issue when SAG-AFTRA goes to the negotiating table in June. “For writers, AI construction is limited to language. While for actors, an entire scene can be affected by AI in many different ways – from lighting to the age of the actor, to removing a blemish, to adding a rocket into the scene,” says talent attorney Darren Trattner.

That potential raises questions about how much AI can be used to change or even recreate an actor’s image — and how much control talent will have over it. “The talent usually gives up a lot when they sign up to perform on a project,” says Trattner, adding that “there is usually a full page of methods by which the studio or financier can enhance the image and/or voice of the talent can change.”

He suggests that existing deal points such as dual body approval or nudity waivers could provide a framework for obtaining permission for AI changes, but will be a threshold issue for determining what qualifies as AI. “For certain talent, we negotiate approvals on how photos look and how they are updated,” says Trattner. “Is Photoshop the same as AI? What if the camera has a filter to make an actor look better or different? Where do we draw the line? Shall we request information from the talent to say that the role requires computer improvements to the talent’s image?

Meanwhile, talent attorney Leigh Brecheen notes that reps are also looking for ways to protect actors after a project ends. “We are now trying to insert language to prevent customer achievements and work from being used to train AI and to prohibit the making of digital versions of our customers and their work,” she says. “Representatives are increasingly making comments to limit the use of the rights granted and limit them to the specific production for which they are paid.”

Ahead of the SAG-AFTRA talks, the guild’s position is that these issues should not be governed by what may or may not be in an individual talent contract. “This is clearly, from our point of view, a mandatory negotiating topic,” said SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. “As far as the companies want to do something new with AI, they have to negotiate with us. It’s not like if it’s not in the contract they can just do whatever they want. They have to negotiate for it, just like any other employment condition that does not exist now and that they want in the future.”

Talent advocate Richard Thompson says it may seem like “a no-brainer” for the guild and talent to demand transparency and consent, “but it’s not that easy because a lot of AI use will be harmless, and it’s hard to predict what will happen next.” is possible in advance or becomes standard.” Thompson says it’s easy to think of examples of problematic ways AI can be used, but it’s just as easy for any of them to find a reason why a conflict of interest outweighs an actor’s endorsement. it is inadvisable to postpone the issue altogether, he warns that early regulation could backfire: “If we go in the dark now, we will miss important issues and do things that stand in the way of favorable developments.”

SAG-AFTRA also sees a potential benefit for the emerging technology. “One of the things that can really hurt an artist’s career is the lack of availability to take on other projects that may be offered,” explains Crabtree-Ireland. “To the extent that AI technology can help with reshoots that would otherwise require them to remain available, thereby turning down other work opportunities, that could be a real plus for our members.”

Ultimately, it comes down to ensuring that AI is used for “augmentation rather than replacement,” says the SAG-AFTRA negotiator.

“Clearly there are other types of generative AI implementations that we’re concerned about that seem to be replacing artists,” says Crabtree-Ireland. “But if there are appropriate human-centered ethics and guardrails around them, it’s essentially not about the technology. It’s the usage. When used with informed consent and compensation for real artists, we think that might be okay.

This story first appeared in the May 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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