I smell something rotten in the heart of Hollywood. So do a lot of screenwriters, actors, and directors. And you probably already have seen the headlines about the Writers Guild of America (WGA) going on strike, largely due to Hollywood studios’ apparent openness to using AI to generate scripts. It feels inevitable looking back, with the introduction and consequent explosion of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, that we would quickly arrive at a place where people like screenwriters are demanding job security. New AI systems have challenged a lot of different sectors, from visual art to journalism, but right now, the WGA strike is at the forefront of the conversation and continues to rage.
Maggie Harrison of Futurism reports that a good many actors are in support of the strike, including Oscar award winner Sean Penn, who said, “There are a lot of new concepts that are being tossed about, including the use of AI. And it just strikes me as human obscenity that there’s been a pushback [from the studios] on that.”
Other WGA members are also sounding the alarm, saying how they’re competing with “Alexas” and fear that the future of scriptwriting will be in the mechanical paws of soulless machines. In any case, there’s evident pushback to the idea of using AI-generated content.
TV writer Lanett Tachel is worried that AI will play an increasingly significant role in Hollywood to the point where fewer human writers are needed. “We’re not against the use, you know, if we can find a way to be reasonable,” she told NPR. “But they cannot be the genesis of any creation. We create these worlds.”
WGA is trying to get studios to ban the use of AI to write or rewrite scripts and ensure that human writers are prioritized and well-paid. Right now, writers in Hollywood don’t make much money; that’s another reason they’re on strike. But the looming threat of AI is more existential than the typical “strike for higher wages” trope. Many writers want to make more money, sure, but right now they mainly want to stay employed, period. Vox film critic Alissa Wilkinson, herself a member of WGA, writes,
AI. For writers in particular, that’s not just some buzzy tech idea. It’s a threat to their livelihood, and one that could in the end be a much bigger problem for writers than everyone may anticipate.-Alissa Wilkinson, WGA strike 2023: Hollywood’s writers walked off the job. What happens now? – Vox
AI would certainly reduce writers’ pay, but it would also pose a threat to their very careers. Wilkinson notes that while the WGA can’t keep AI from getting better at scriptwriting (since right now, it can only follow formulaic models, basically), they can try their darndest to ensure studios involve real people in the moviemaking process and pay them accordingly.