Moving Pictures
Jul 17, 2023, 06:29AM

Rise of the Machines

SAG-AFTRA’s righteous fight against the Antichrist of AI.

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This year’s WGA strike arrived about on time—just over 15 years since the last one, 20 after the last one, which came just seven years after the last one, which came eight years after the last one. 2023, 2007-08, 1987-88, 1981, 1973, and 1960, the last time both the WGA and SAG were on strike at the same time. The WGA is the union that’s given Hollywood the most trouble, the only ones keeping an echo of FDR’s America in Los Angeles. Because the WGA is relatively small—around 20,000 people—and concentrated on the coasts, their union remains robust and ready to strike every generation. This year’s strike was expected because it followed the same pattern as all the others: home video residuals. First there were reruns, then cable, then tapes, then discs, and now, streaming. Anybody with a brain can see that every major studio is treating its talent like lab rats, all of them fooled by Silicon Valley rose gardens and the magical solution of streaming.

Now how do people like David Zaslav and Bob Iger get out of a pickle? What about Ted Sarandos of Netflix? Why won’t these streaming platforms release their ratings? Aren’t these companies losing money? Aren’t movies easier to make at $100 million than $10 million because it’s easier to steal a million dollars from the former? All of the oil magnates, oligarchs, and child molesters that used to bankroll movies like Terms of Endearment, Timecop, and Godard’s King Lear are all dead; their successors aren’t interested in movies. Digital filmmaking eliminated dozens of jobs in a typical photochemical production, and along with steadily declining theatrical attendance, the world’s money masters have turned away from providing venture capital to humble, struggling artists like Steven Spielberg.

If André Bazin’s concept of cinema—“fictional people moving through real spaces”—was destroyed in 1991 with the release of James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the rise of CGI, the emergence of AI is what could kill the film and television industry, if implemented by the same rich idiots who thought ad-free “content” funnels was a better model than movie tickets and $25 DVDs. I never thought SAG-AFTRA would strike this year because they have so many more members than the WGA—160,000—and they’re all over the world, up and down the class ladder. Everyone from Tom Cruise to a typical Los Angeles Lyft driver is on strike now for the same reason. If that’s surprising, consider what Hollywood has been up to with all of these computers.

Justine Bateman said, “I think AI has no place in Hollywood at all. To me, tech should solve problems that humans have… Using ChatGPT or any… software that's using AI to write screenplays, using that in place of a writer is not solving a problem. We don't have a lack of writers. We don't have a lack of actors. We don't have a lack of directors. We don't have a lack of talented people. The use of AI makes me sad because I feel like it's… getting away from being human. But we've been doing a lot of that, right? Plastic surgery. Filters. Doing things over Zoom instead of in person. But the idea that somebody would use AI to replace human expression, I think, is the saddest thing to me… just people pulling away from being human.”

Snowpiercer actor Lena Hall tweeted that the show “did a full body scan and full range of emotion capture of all the series regulars on the show not ever telling us the real reason why. NOW I know why and it's really disturbing because I didn't consent.” Someone else on the show, whom she retweeted, clarified that this was entirely an efficiency issue, and that they “would never be allowed to use them anywhere else.”

The guy probably isn’t lying. But those scans exist now. If Bob Iger wants them, he’ll get them.

(By the way, in a now deleted tweet, Final Destination star Devon Sawa alleged that he was never paid nor informed that his likeness would be used in Final Destination 5—he thought the premiere invite was a courtesy. And for more specifics and numbers, just look up “John Cusack”—according to him, Hollywood accounting has put Say Anything… $43 million in debt.)

And what does the Louse in the House of Mouse have to say about all this?

“It’s very disturbing to me. We’ve talked about disruptive forces on this business and all the challenges we’re facing, the recovery from COVID which is ongoing, it’s not completely back. This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption… There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”

Aw, wah. Why reiterate Bernie Sanders’ talking points? Morons like Iger have far too much power, and I really hope SAG-AFTRA sticks it out through Q3 earnings reports, when people like Iger and Zaslav will start to think about negotiating.

“It will have a very, very damaging effect on the whole business, and unfortunately, there’s huge collateral damage in the industry to people who are supportive services, and I could go on and on. It will affect the economy of different regions, even, because of the sheer size of the business. It’s a shame, it is really a shame.”

That’s Iger, once again, talking about the strike, not the Antichrist of Artificial Intelligence, something we’ve been WARNED ABOUT for HALF A CENTURY. They make not take over the world, but robots may ruin the seventh and greatest art form, cinema. Maybe in 10 years, people will pay a premium to see a new, hot indie movie with real actors and NO visual effects! Audiences know in their bones a CGI car chase is never as good as a real one, but I still don’t think people at large will accept something that’s so disturbing on a gut level. This is a do-or-die strike.

—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith


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