The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is currently on strike to demand better pay in an industry where the rise of streaming has disrupted many of the traditional rules of screenwriting. However, AI has emerged as a new, rising concern. Experts say that generative AI has already begun to induce fear among industry professionals, who are now forced to imagine new potential futures. The WGA is calling for more safeguards on the use of AI in screenwriting, with concerns ranging from copyright violation to creative plagiarism.
The industry’s recent efforts in using AI have only just begun to scratch the surface. Actors’ unions have expressed support for human creatives, who remain the foundation of the entertainment industry and whose work must be respected and adequately paid. AI will no doubt penetrate even deeper into every aspect of moviemaking, with numerous potential applications from de-aging actors to removing swear words from post-production clips.
Greg Brockman, the president and co-founder of ChatGPT maker OpenAI, used the recent popularity of “Game of Thrones” to underscore AI’s vast capabilities. Brockman argued that AI could rewrite such an ending and put viewers right into the show: “That is what entertainment will look like,” he declared. Yet, those currently on strike do not necessarily see AI as a positive prospect. Danny Strong, creator of “Dopesick” and “Empire,” expressed his concerns: “AI is terrifying. Now, I’ve seen some of ChatGPT’s writing, and as of now, I’m not terrified because Chat is a terrible writer. But who knows? That could change.”
AI chatbots, screenwriters point out, could potentially be used to spit out a rough first draft with a few simple prompts like “a heist movie set in Beijing,” with the creative part left to writers hired at lower pay rates. It’s also possible to covertly manufacture screenplays written in the style of well-known authors. However, the WGA insists that they are not against AI’s use as long as it’s used to “create genuine innovation and not revert to mediocrity.” The future of screenwriting may not lie in gig working and revisions of what AI does but in telling better stories.
The struggle screenwriters are now facing with AI is only the beginning. In the next five years, artificial intelligence is expected to displace about a quarter of all occupations, according to the World Economic Forum. Sarah Myers West, of the nonprofit AI Now Institute, notes: “It’s not lost on me that a lot of the most meaningful efforts in tech accountability have been a product of worker-led organizing.” Yet, AI is beginning to cause unease among industry professionals. “Why have a robot write a script and try to interpret human feelings when we already have studio executives who can do that?” deadpanned actor Alan Alda.
Additionally, the rise of regenerative AI products concerns many who worry about the speed with which AI has been thrust into society. Actor-screenwriter Clark Gregg notes, “It’s hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things.” The WGA is currently in the difficult position of negotiating on a newborn technology with the potential to cause radical effects. Demonstrators on the picket lines have begun to raise signs with slogans aimed at a digital foe, despite the fact that the protracted work stoppage that many are expecting may provide more time to explore how regenerative AI can transform screenwriting.