Virtual extras, false “mutant” actors... The American actors' union welcomes the new restrictions on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) negotiated with Hollywood studios at the end of a long historic strike.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) reached an agreement this week with major studios like Disney and Netflix to end its nearly four-month strike. Its board of directors voted 86% on Friday in favor of ratifying the agreement, which must now be approved by members. The union obtained a 7% minimum wage increase and a new fund of $40 million per year intended to return part of the proceeds from successful productions to actors.
But fears around the use of AI constituted a new key element in these negotiations. The agreement “allows the industry to move forward” in this area, “it does not block AI,” assured Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, negotiator for SAG-AFTRA, during a press conference on Friday. “But it guarantees the protection of artists. Their right to consent is protected, as well as their right to work and fair remuneration,” he said.
In recent years, AI has allowed studios to bring back deceased stars using lifelike digital replicas, or use computer-generated background silhouettes to reduce the number of extras in movie scenes. fight. Anxious to reduce costs, many producers want to focus on AI. Some have begun asking actors to submit to “body scans,” often without explaining how and when the images will be used.
From now on, an actor must receive the same salary for using his digital replica as he would have earned by doing the same “amount of work” himself, explained Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. As for extras, “no digital replica can be used to avoid the participation and payment of a second-rate actor,” he added. Studios must obtain consent from an actor or their rights holders for each use of their digital replica. And the contract must provide a “reasonably precise description” of how that replica will be used.
This is the first time that AI technology has been part of the demands of SAG-AFTRA, which renegotiates its contract with studios approximately every three years. For the president of the union, Fran Drescher, it was necessary to take up the subject because “a year corresponds to three months in the world of AI”. “So if we hadn't gotten these safeguards, what would have happened in three years?,” declared the former star of the series One Nanny from Hell during a press conference on Friday. “It would have become so far out of our reach that we would always be chasing something, without ever achieving it,” she insisted.
Another subject of dispute around AI: the use of “false actors”. Described by the specialist magazine Variety as “mutants” or “digital Frankensteins”, they are made virtually from the different body parts of real actors. “If you use Brad Pitt's smile and Jennifer Aniston's eyes, both have the right to consent,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland defended in Variety. According to him, the studios are, here too, now required to obtain authorization from each actor concerned, whose remuneration can be negotiated by SAG-AFTRA.
AI was a “decisive element” in the negotiations, underlined Fran Drescher, affirming that the new regulations also aim to support, beyond the actors, many professions in the entertainment industry. “In a virtual world, there is no longer a need for hair and makeup artists, drivers, set builders,” she enumerated.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland took the opportunity to urge politicians to make the regulation of AI “a priority”. The union, he promised, will advocate for “legislative efforts” and remain “actively involved” in protecting the rights “of every person” in its image.