100 Days Into Strike: Netflix And Disney Hiring AI Talent As Celebrities Seek Side Jobs
For more than three months, screenwriters have been locked in a battle with the Hollywood studios over fair pay and use of AI in productions. In July, they were joined by the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, over similar concerns. The dual strike, in part, has been about blocking the studios from replacing human creative talent with […]
For more than three months, screenwriters have been locked in a battle with the Hollywood studios over fair pay and use of AI in productions. In July, they were joined by the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, over similar concerns.
The dual strike, in part, has been about blocking the studios from replacing human creative talent with AI that’s being trained on their works. The writers don’t want AI tools to be used to generate literary material from existing content. The actors don’t want digital replicas of their likeness and performances to be used to create and edit scenes, without consent or compensation.
But this hasn’t stopped Netflix and Disney from staffing up on AI talent. A job listing on Netflix’s career site recently went viral for seeking its first product management hire to support its ML platform. The role pays $300,000 to $900,000 a year, far more than it pays many of its actors on strike.
Disney has also been beefing up its AI ranks, according to Reuters.
Having come under fire last month for stating that the unions were being unrealistic in their strike demands, Disney’s chief executive officer Bob Iger gave assurances on the company’s Aug. 9 earnings call of his personal commitment to quickly find solutions for the issues at stake.
But as time drags on, talent is getting starved out. To make ends meet, many have turned to the personalized video platform, Cameo, like they did during the pandemic when productions were shutdown due to quarantine. Scrolling through 156 pages of the online catalogue turns up actors like Lindsay Lohan charging $400 to send a greeting, Elijah Wood charging $340 and Freddie Prinze Jr. charging $150. A way to stay connected to their fan base while paying the bills.
Pose star Billy Porter told the Evening Standard that he has to sell his house because of the strike. “I was supposed to be in a new movie, and on a new television show starting in September. None of that is happening.”
“To hear Bob Iger say that our demands for a living wage are unrealistic? While he makes $78,000 a day?” Porter said, “I don’t have any words for it.”
Getting the message out
Celebrities have taken to the picket lines en masse on both coasts. On SAG-AFTRA’s Instagram, many shared their thoughts.
Writer and comedian Adam Conover, who is a member of the Writers Guild of America’s negotiating committee, said of the dual strike, “This hasn't happened in 60 years. Last time it happened. We won our pension and health plans. We won the existence of residuals.” We’re here to make history, he said.
As for the power of solidarity against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, Saturday Night Live’s Bowen Yang said, ”The AMPTP is this weird hodgepodge of companies - one of them sells you computers, one of them sells you Playstations, another sends too many boxes to your apartment. I mean, they don't have the same interest exactly. We do, between unions, and that's a huge, huge boon.”
White Lotus actress Aubrey Plaza said, “I'm out here to fight against this broken system. I think these corporations have been profiting off our talents and our work, and we're not getting fair wages, and we deserve them. And we're working off an old model. We need a new system to come in so people are paid accordingly.”
Marvel Avengers actor Simu Liu said, “We as an industry are at a very crucial crossroads. There's a lot of technology coming out that quite frankly poses a very existential threat to the jobs of many working class actors.”
Bracing for change
But how do you stop the studios from using technology that will soon be ubiquitous?
Oculus and Anduril founder Palmer Luckey posted this sentiment on his Facebook wall. “No sane studio could possibly agree to permanently keep AI out of their writing and editing process, or any other part of production. It would be signing their own death warrant, investors would immediately flee to AI-enabled studios and projects that would crank out better work at much lower cost.”
“There’s a lot of fear in the world about this right now,” FPV Ventures cofounder Wesley Chan said to me as we discussed the coming job displacement from AI.
“It’s possible the news media could be replaced entirely,” I said to him.
“It’s possible venture capitalists could be replaced,” he replied.
One of the earliest employees at Google and founder of Google Voice, Google Analytics and Google Ventures, Chan has spent the past two decades funding platforms like Canva which are now part of the AI design boom. He urged me to stay tuned to the disruption unfolding in Hollywood.
“History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes a lot,” he said. “There's a technological march forward, despite all the all the negative downsides, that tends to be unstoppable.”
Article written by: Orville Lynch, Jr.
Mr. Lynch, a member of the legendary two-time Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame Award winning Lynch Family.
Mr. Lynch is a nationally recognized urban media executive with over 20+ years of diversity recruitment and serial entrepreneur with numerous multi-million dollar exits.