May 3, 2023

Could A.I. Ruin the WGA Strike

Studios are looking at A.I. as cost effective in reducing labor in the midst of the current WGA strike. What can it mean for writer’s futures?

Image Credit: GCF Global

In 2007 during the last writer’s strike that lasted 3 months, Netflix was still primarily a DVD-by-mail business, Amazon Studios and Apple hadn’t yet hopped a plane from Silicon Valley to Hollywood and the economy was a mess. Now there’s more content being produced than ever, with the streamers and legacy players like Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery spending well into the billions each year all while refusing to raise a single penny of old contracts with the writer’s guild. It’s “strange” how studios are crying poor while their streaming counter-parts are almost a carbon copy and paste of the old prestige residuals model from HBO, Starz!, Showtime, etc. It’s a deja vu moment, as a strike is happening during a period of widespread economic uncertainty spurred by inflation, concerns of a recession, wrapped up with mass layoffs in media and entertainment.

Does this story have a twist to a familiary tale? Yes. The twist: the ascension of generative artificial intelligence. If half the internet can be tricked by an AI-created Drake and The Weeknd collab, could that same tech write scripts and enable studios to create more content for less money? With the “father” of A.I. (Geoffrey Hinton) doing a profile in the N.Y. Time, as he leaves his position at Google and sends doom day type warnings to society, studios are seen to be leaning away from his warnings, instead looking to make a quick buck. Studios seem to be adopting a quantity over quality approach and anyone whose ever seen that story knows it goes south real quick.

While A.I. is one of the more abstract issues on the table during this strike, alongside the regulation of mini-rooms (small writers rooms that are convened before a project is greenlit), wages, and residuals, experts say Hollywood shouldn’t ignore the deadly robot in the room, A.I.

“The challenge is we want to make sure that these technologies are tools used by writers and not tools used to replace writers,” says Big Fish and Aladdin writer John August, who is also a member of the WGA’s 2023 negotiating committee. “The worry is that down the road you can see some producer or executive trying to use one of these tools to do a job that a writer really needs to be doing.” 

That’s already happening, according to Amy Webb, founder and CEO of Future Today Institute, which does long-range scenario planning and consultation for Fortune 500 companies and Hollywood creatives. She notes, “I’ve had a couple of higher-level people ask, if a strike does happen, how quickly could they spin up an AI system to just write the scripts? And they’re serious.”

Let us know your thoughts on the situation.