Over the past six months the US television and film industry has experienced a formidable stop in production that has come to be felt worldwide. The usual streamlined production of on-screen(s) content at the tip of our fingers, to which we have become so accustomed, gradually halted. Filming was put on hold, in some cases even permanently so. Worlds borne out of imagination and creativity, whose life was granted only on screen, were frozen in time and locked away. It felt like stopping time itself. But who had the power to shut off an entire industry? Exactly those who had brought it into being in the first place. The writers and actors.
It must be noted how the emergence of streaming services, such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, and many more, has brought forward a very different kind of labour culture in the industry, one with roots in the tech sector rather than the traditional “Hollywood”. For nearly 100 years Hollywood has been a heavily unionized industry. That’s just something Silicon Valley is not used to. The writer’s strike this year, which began in May and concluded late in September, lasting 146 days, was just five days away from becoming the longest strike in the history of the Writers Guild of America. The Screen Actors Guild of America followed suit going on strike in July. A strike which ended, by reaching a tentative deal, only on Wednesday of last week. Thus was concluded the first dual stoppage that the industry has faced since 1960.
The collective power of writers and actors, able to bring an industry to its knees, seems something straight out of a feel-good underdog comedy. However, while the lengthy strikes concluded with equally lengthy, but advantageous, provisions for the “underdogs”, existential worries about the industry’s future are still well and alive in people’s minds. Even before the strikes Hollywood was coming down from the heights of its golden era and from the brief inebriation given on by the abundance of new programming under the streaming era. But, since then, streaming has brought forward a focus on profitability, more so in the form of a profitability problem, that still remains largely unsolved. Some streaming services continue to lose money. Since 2019, when it was introduced, Disney+ has produced more than 11$ billion in losses. What does this mean for the people in front or behind the cameras, or typing up scripts on a computer? Mainly that studios are looking to make cuts, often undercutting workers.
While several issues were raised by the writers and actors’ strikes, such as minimum wage and fairer royalties compensations, the question of artificial intelligence loomed just as large. When the writers’ strikes begun AI was but a topic of conversation most useful to get a dinner-party going, six months on it has morphed into an internationally recognised issue – just at the beginning of this month, world leaders signed a joint declaration acknowledging the dangers of AI. Artificial intelligence’s widespread “dangers” have inevitably also contaminated Hollywood. Some feared studios were planning on creating digital replicas of extras to replace them into future projects without their consent or remuneration. Others feared that AI would replace human writing in television projects. These were founded claims. It was the successful picketing of the writers and actors guilds that led them to an agreement which now prohibits using generative AI software to undercut writers’ jobs, or to train AI using writers’ previous materials. Imagine feeding ChatGPT all the scripts for that one tv-show that was cancelled on a cliff-hanger…
As seen, the very essence of creativity within the entertainment industry stands at a juncture. In most sectors the efficiency of artificial intelligence presents an enticing bait. Yet, to see it blatantly infiltrating the realm of creativity is somewhat of a wake-up call. Would that final episode, resolving the cliff-hanger you so desperately wanted to be resolved, carry the same human touch? Can the creative process be not just mimicked, but also replaced by a machine? Nonetheless, the industry marches ahead, the strikes have reassessed “people” and artists’ key position in Hollywood’s production line, not only relative to AI, but also according to how they should be treated and compensated fairly for their work. As for storytelling, the authenticity found in that ever so human spark of inspiration is hard to replace. More so, at the very heart of storytelling has always been, and will always be, communication for the purpose of creating connections. If you attempt to remove people from one side of the equation, could it ever be otherwise?