SAG-AFTRA explains AI guardrails in strike deal

Los Angeles, California - From computer-generated "extras" to AI "zombies," new restrictions against the use of artificial intelligence in Hollywood were set out by the actors' union Friday.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher (L) speaks as SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland (R) looks on at a press conference discussing their strike-ending deal with the Hollywood studios on Friday in Los Angeles.
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher (L) speaks as SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland (R) looks on at a press conference discussing their strike-ending deal with the Hollywood studios on Friday in Los Angeles.  © Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) reached a deal with studios like Disney and Netflix this week to end its nearly four-month strike. Its board members on Friday voted 86% in favor of ratifying the agreement.

Besides a 7% minimum pay increase and a new $40-million-per-year fund to transfer a portion of revenues for hit shows from studios to actors, AI guardrails were a key part of talks.

The deal "allows the industry to go forward – it does not block AI," SAG-AFTRA negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told a press conference.

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"But it makes sure that performers are protected. Their rights to consent are protected. Their rights to fair compensation and their rights to employment are protected."

Studios have been experimenting with AI in recent years, from bringing deceased movie stars back as realistic "digital replicas" to using computer-generated background figures to reduce the number of actors needed for battle scenes.

Many cost-cutting producers want a growing role for AI and have begun requiring some performers to take part in high-tech 3D "body scans" on set, often without explaining how or when the images will be used.

How does SAG-AFTRA's deal with studios guard against undue uses of AI in filmmaking?

But now, an actor must be paid the same rate for any use of their digital replica – disparagingly called "zombies" – as they would have earned doing the same "amount of work" on set themselves in real life, Crabtree-Ireland said.

Amid fears that background workers aka "extras" could be the first to lose their jobs to AI, strict curbs have been put in place.

"No use of a digital replica can be used to evade engagement and payment of a background actor under this contract," he said.

Studios must gain consent from an actor – or their estate – every time their digital replica is used in any film or TV episode.

They cannot present actors with boilerplate contracts entitling them to use a replica in perpetuity, but must instead provide a "reasonably specific description" of how it will be used each time.

Cover photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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