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Producers allegedly sought rights to replicate extras using AI, forever, for just $200

You wouldn't download an actor?!

Hollywood's top labor union for media professionals has alleged that studios want to pay extras around $200 for the rights to use their likenesses forever.

That would allow the studios to recreate those background actors using generative AI as necessary, whenever they want, rather than rehire the workers. The likenesses would be input by scanning the actors' faces and bodies.

The labor union, The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), on Thursday opposed the offer tabled by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said the technology would "groundbreaking" – but not in a good way. He said:

They proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day's pay, and their companies 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.

While major well-known actors can command huge rates of pay, background actors, also known as extras, earn [PDF] from $187 to $219 per day. They can earn about twice that much if they are directed to perform activities such as swimming or skating.

Work as an extra is sometimes used as a pathway toward breaking into the acting business, as it allows the performer to gain experience in the industry, make contacts and eventually find a way into the union. While the work may seem glamorous, it can be long and often boring, with days stretching out for up to 18 hours as the extra waits around to be called upon to do their thing.

"Actors deserve a contract that reflects the changes that have taken place in the industry," said Crabtree-Ireland.

"Currently the streaming model has undercut performers' residual income and high inflation has reduced members' ability to make ends meet," he added.

The chief negotiator called the rise of generative AI technology an "existential threat" to actor livelihoods.

"The entire business model has been changed by streaming, digital, AI," said an impassioned Fran Drescher. The former The Nanny star currently serves as SAG-AFTRA president.

"If we don't stand tall right now we are all going to be in trouble. We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines and big business, who cares more about Wall Street than you and your family," said Drescher.

AMPTP statements reported by multiple news outlets paint SAG-AFTRA as being unreasonable and harming the industry at large:

AMPTP member companies entered the negotiations with SAG-AFTRA with the goal of forging a new, mutually beneficial contract.

The AMPTP presented a deal that offered historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, and a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors' digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members.

A strike is certainly not the outcome we hoped for as studios cannot operate without the performers that bring our TV shows and films to life.

The union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.

Readers who are also fans of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror may recall that a shady contract deeming the AI use of a person's likeness in perpetuity is the plot of Episode 1 of Season 6, Joan Is Awful, making it perhaps one of the fastest episodes of the technology-predicting series to come into fruition.

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According to Drescher and Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP spent four weeks negotiating prior to announcing the strike. The strike will commence at midnight Friday morning. It affects those working under 2020 TV/Theatrical contracts.

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) – a labor union of film, TV and other media writers – have been on strike for similar reasons since May 2. The WGA has been attempting to secure better wages and address concerns of being replaced by AI.

This will be the first time since the 1960s that members of both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have been on strike simultaneously. There may be quite a wait for new episodes of your favorite shows – but hey, you can stream all the reruns your heart desires. ®

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