Hollywood Producers Want to Replace Background Actors With AI

sag aftra conference

American TV & movie producers allegedly want to pay one day’s wage to background performers to “scan” them and reuse them perpetually without compensation.

In a live-streamed conference, SAG-AFTRA highlighted what the AMPTP allegedly dubbed a “groundbreaking AI proposal.” Though this was not the main point of the negotiations, it’s alleged that the AMPTP proposed this program during the negotiations (which failed).

According to the proposal, AMPTP wanted to allow production houses to scan background actors or extras one time and use AI to generate virtual versions of them for future use, without compensation, forever.

They proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan, their image, their likeness and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity, [in] any project they want with no consent and no compensation. So if you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator, SAG-AFTRA

See the video:

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) represents 350+ American TV and film production companies to collectively lobby, negotiate, and bargain with other trade unions such as The Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). On July 13, SAG-AFTRA allowed its contract with the AMPTP to expire after an additional 12 days past the initial deadline, joining The Writers Guild in walking out of production houses. This essentially drains Hollywood of both, actors and writers, among other talents.

In an article on Gizmodo covering this “nightmarish” proposal, Linda Codega writes:

[This] is the kind of futureproofing studios want—if a background actor becomes a star later on, what’s to stop them from pulling out that scan, aging them up or down as they see fit, and having them “star” in a new film?

Generative AI is indeed threatening many jobs. Producers trying to capitalize on it to cut their losses, if the proposal is as was mentioned during the conference, is the kind of corporate greed that can threaten many more livelihoods.

SAG-AFTRA’s perspective is that though they have worked together with the AMPTP, the current negotiations are not in the spirit of preserving the union and that even though the money could be fronted and given the fact that they’re benefitting off the work of the artists for their shows and movies, they’re not willing to do it.

The AMPTP’s perspective is that countless will be affected by the unions’ strikes.

The whole idea of paying a background performer for one day’s work to scan them and getting the rights to use or cast them in any situation, show, or movie is not feasible as it will be rendering the performers useless. It can be assumed that, if such a proposal passes, there will be a few takers who are in the industry without any big plans and need some quick money. But overall and over the long term, this plan cannot thrive. It’s also rumored that such type of scanning is already happening. Even if it’s not, we can be sure that production houses are working on background extras that don’t need humans in the first place. As scary as that thought might be, we need to be prepared for an outcome like that. The unions protesting for higher wages might not be in the position to protest at all if, let’s say, a company releases a software that creates photorealistic background extras specifically for media production. It’s not rare for today’s movies to use CGI for background extras for scenes where nobody will be paying attention. A CGI extra is as dull and blank as a fish, plus it’s very expensive to animate one doing, let’s say, conversation with another extra in the background of the shot. But generative AI has the ability to make this cheaper while we already know that companies have vast amounts of image data to train their models on, as pictures on the internet are free to see and download.

Additional coverage: Producers allegedly sought rights to replicate extras using AI, forever, for just $200 (The Register)

By Abhimanyu

Unwrapping the fast-evolving AI popular culture.