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Though SAG-AFTRA officially reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with studios and streamers earlier this week, Justine Bateman is not very pleased with the provisions surrounding artificial intelligence.
The actress-writer-filmmaker told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Friday that actors should approve the deal only “if they don’t want to work anymore. If they want to be replaced by synthetic objects that are made by generative AI, why not?”
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SAG-AFTRA members are set to begin voting to ratify the agreement on Tuesday after the new contract was approved by 86 percent of union board members on Friday.
Velshi went on to reference a recent story from The Hollywood Reporter where DreamWorks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg predicts that AI will drastically cut the number of workers it takes to make animated films.
In response, Bateman, who served as a union advisor for generative AI, said she feels studio executives “are choosing to no longer be in the film and series business.”
“I think they sort of like to think of themselves as being tech barons themselves or something. But this, doing projects that don’t involve humans … you’re not in the film business anymore,” she added. “People who don’t want to have any human involved have never really been on a set. They don’t know what it’s like to make a film.”
Bateman said for herself as a filmmaker, “She’s never using generative AI. I like what people do as members of a crew, members of the writers, the editors, the cinematographers, the make-up artists, the actors.”
Velshi also asked the filmmaker what consumers of entertainment and media can do to help protect creatives in the industry who want to avoid using AI. Bateman said it “depends on what you want.”
“I mean, soon they’ll have customized films for you based on your particular viewing history,” she explained. “And they won’t bother to copyright them because it’ll be like Kleenex. They’ll make a million of them an hour, it won’t matter to them. … You can get yourself scanned and get yourself put in these pieces. And there will be a novelty that eventually will wear off, ‘cause I think people will still hunger for something real and human.”
She continued, “The train track is split. One train track is going, ‘OK, we’re going to participate in this sort of negotiation with the cannibals and we’re going to talk about just how you’re going to be cutting my foot off, and are you going to grill it or boil it, and what kind of sauce are you going to put on it?’” That track is the one that includes generative AI.”
But Bateman said she’s on a completely different train track where “I’m going to be making human things for human audiences with human crews and casts and so forth. And we’ll see what happens.”
Following her discussion on MSNBC, Bateman took to X (formerly Twitter) early Saturday to say that she plans to read the actual contract and not the summary so she can explain “the violating [AI] permissions the AMPTP will have over you. I’m very disappointed that the SAG leadership and committee did not take my guidance on the [AI] issues.”
She added in her thread, “I’ve said from the beginning that the use of generative [AI] will collapse the structure of this business. I want the actors and crew to have enough self-respect to turn over a table and flip the CEOs off as it happens. They’re going to leave you with nothing left to lose.”
Later in the day, Bateman shared another thread on X to make actors “aware of some of the language in the [AI] portion of the tentative SAG agreement.” After listing several points, she noted what she called “the most serious issue of them,” which is the “inclusion in the agreement of ‘Synthetic Performers,’ or ‘AI Objects,’ resembling humans. This gives the studios/streamers a green-light to use human-looking AI Objects instead of hiring a human actor.”
“It’s one thing to use GAI to make a King Kong or a flying serpent (though this displaces many VFX/CGI artists), it is another thing to have an AI Object play a human character instead of a real actor,” she added. “To me, this inclusion is an anathema to a union contract at all.”
Though the contract hasn’t been shared publicly yet, national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland detailed several aspects of the contract at a press conference Friday, including AI protections that cover consent and compensation if part of an actor’s face or body is used in creating a “synthetic” performer via generative AI.
Following Bateman’s comments, Grey’s Anatomy actor Jason George took to X to expand on some of the AI clauses in SAG-AFTRA’s new contract with the studios, noting that opponents spoke out about it before even reading it.
“These new protections give you fully informed #consent and #compensation,” he wrote. “Producers must hire you for any movie or episode in which your ‘digital replica’ will be used. Producers must get your Consent and give you a description of how they’ll use your digital replica.”
He explained that producers would still have to hire the required number of background actors the contract specifies and explicitly states that they can’t use digital replicas instead of background actors.
“TO BE CLEAR We may still have a fight someday against Synthetic Fakes, completely AI generated characters that don’t look like any individual performer,” he continued in another post in the thread. “BUT As far as we know, NO PERFORMER HAS YET BEEN REPLACED BY AN AI GENERATED SYNTHETIC FAKE. That Battle has not begun yet.”
George added that after six months of strikes costing members, the industry, city and state economies nearly $6 billion, SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating company made the decision to close the over $1 billion deal, “with AI protections that were strongest & most urgently needed right now.”
Christy Piña contributed to this story.
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