Hollywood proletariat up in arms against AI - GulfToday

Hollywood proletariat up in arms against AI

Artificial intelligence

Photo has neem used for illustrative purposes.

What we get to see on the big screen are the stars, the big budget production extravaganza, and a little behind them the big studios that had spent millions to billions of dollars on these high-stake films, and the people who call the shots at these  studios, the big bosses. But what we do not see are the hundreds of script writers, dialogue writers who make these films stand on their spine, but whose names remain mostly unknown or little notices.

But this army of hack writers keep Hollywood, the world’s largest dream-factory, humming year in and year out. Now, the army of writers, who have their union, the Writers Guild of America, has stormed out of their basement and demanding that they would not work on Artificial Intelligence (AI)-churned scripts, improve the unoriginal AI trash, and they would not accept reduced rates of scrubbing AI stuff.

Pitted against them is the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Screenwriter John August put the matter in a nutshell about it: “We don’t want our material feeding them, and we also don’t want to be fixing their sloppy first drafts.”

The WGA is negotiating with the producers on several other issues, including compensation for OTT entertainment, and the AI issue is really at the bottom of the agenda. But there seems to be the painful recognition all round that this is indeed the crux of the matter, and that this will decide the fate of the scriptwriters for films and television for the next few decades.

AI is already playing a significant role in the making of movies and television dramas at the technical level. In many ways, a large chunk of the special effects that we see in many movies is the already the handiwork of AI. It has also moved away from the creative hands of technicians, the invisible army that had come to dominate the movie world.

But what seems to hurt and pinch the people in the core industry, the writers, who make the movies on the big and small screens relatable to the audiences of all ages, is the storyline, and what people say to make the audiences laugh and cry, are under siege.

The technologists seem to think that this part of artistic creativity can be handed over to AI, which will make things easy and cheap.

A case is made for AI by Mike Seymour, co-founder of Motus Lab and the University of Sydney, who was an AI consultant with studios. He says AI can help break the writer’s block faced with the blank paper before them, and it could produce straight-forward, blunt dialogue without nuance.

Seymour cunningly admits that AI cannot produce “Citizen Kane”, the 1941 Orson Welles masterpiece that has been the top favourite of film critics in the Western world for over 50 years. What Seymour means is that AI can be used for mechanical, menial uses of scriptwriting.

But that is where the danger lurks. Screenwriter Warren Leight says, “Instead of hiring you to do a first draft, (studios) hire you to do a second draft, which pays less. It has to be nipped in the bud.” There are a couple of issues that stand out.

The union does not want the studios to feed the existing scripts to AI which will then enable AI to churn out its own stuff based on the pre-digested stuff. This would amount to intellectual property theft. The WGA chief negotiator has a simple proposition. She says, “We have made a reasonable proposal that the company should keep AI out of the business of writing television and movies and not try and replace writers.”

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