Re-entry is always harder than takeoff. After the Writers Guild of America’s longest yard, we made our deal, got something on almost everything we asked for (despite the pundits’ professional naysaying), and had our celebration at the Palladium — complete with a shout out from guild leadership to Fake Carol. Then it was pencils up: back to work for those lucky enough to still have it — and hustling to find work for the rest of us.
To be honest, it’s been a little weird. Not because we’re face to face with executives again: The creative executives seem to have been on our side for the most part. Frankly, a lot of them are scared that ChatGPT’s coming for their jobs, too. (Hmm, maybe they should consider… a union? Everyone’s doing it!) Now it might be different for Bob Iger and Ted Sarandos, but I don’t get invited to those yacht parties. My real name doesn’t rhyme with Tooney.
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What’s weird is the adrenaline let-down. You kind of feel like Jeremy Renner at the end of The Hurt Locker. Pounding a sidewalk, retweeting, blogging, keeping up on everything was as much work as any writers room, as any screenplay. And fuck, after years hunched over a laptop in dimly lit neon rooms, the sun felt good. Fresh air is nice. Is this how the rest of you live???
That fact remains, though, it’s not really over. Not as long as SAG-AFTRA and Fran, Mother of Labor Dragons, are still at the table. God, I wish I could be in that dimly lit neon room. Just to see her wield her heart-shaped plushy at Carol Lombardini. You can tell the AMPTP’s grasping at straws because they’re prodding the industry pundits to jump on that – like bringing a stuffed animal to work is the craziest thing an actor’s ever done in this town. Please.
So, when Fran lit up the bat signal, calling all unions to converge on Disney yesterday, I dusted off those ragged Hokas, got my ass down there and found a virtual human wall around the House of Mouse. WGA, Teamsters, IATSE, TAG, AFM — we were all there, and because this was SAG-AFTRA’s fight, it felt like a Taylor Swift concert: hip-hop remixes of Disney songs, free tarot readings, pretzels from Kerry Washington, food from Drew Carey.
This shit ain’t over until Fran Drescher sings.
Obviously, everyone wants to work. So, what’s holding it up? Short answer: studio stupidity over AI. If you can’t tell that they’re still trying to figure out a way to replace those pesky actors with deepfake puppets, look no closer than the MPA’s public comment to the U.S. Copyright Office: “no new regulations” are needed. Please don’t make it legally challenging for us to rip off people’s likenesses and forever doom the rest of you to a future of hollow-eyed deepfakes!
Why do we need new movie stars now? We can just digitally re-animate Harrison Ford or Arnold Schwarzenegger and put them in every bland, derivative ripoff ChatGPT spits out. Well, the WGA threw a small wrench in that code colossus — though we’re still going to have to go to the courts to stop them from training up AI on our work. But the insatiable maw of techno-capitalism marches on, and now, the last one standing in front of the digital tanks is SAG.
The most frustrating thing is this can end tomorrow. Just give the actors the AI protections they need. It’s not even about money! All the studios have to do is grant their creative partners’ right to exist – that we the artists are what makes the art. So, make a deal, partner up with all the unions and George R.R. Martin and sue the living shit out of Google, Meta and Microsoft.
Give up the illusion that somehow you will compete technologically with the most deep-pocketed, amoral companies in the history of history. Sure, maybe OpenAl will promise to “fine tune” a model just for you, but that’s only so they can put you out of business. They don’t care about TV or studios or theaters: they care about ad dollars. Their end game isn’t even ripping you off directly: it’s creating AI tools with your (and our) property to flood YouTube with synthetic content and yank all the ad dollars away. Because you know who’s definitely not unionized? YouTube influencers!* Barry Diller’s not exactly a card-carrying member of the Politburo and even he can see that.
And then, Bob Iger’s legacy will be euthanizing a 100-year-old industry that has taught this country, and the entire world, how to dream. Walt Disney would be spinning in his grave.
So, what’ll it be Bob? You ready to make a deal and help team human? Or did you already strap on that golden, bitcoin-powered parachute as you jump off the plane and aim for your yacht?
*P.S. YouTube/TikTok/Instagram Influencers, maybe you should unionize now, too! I know enough of you: I know how hard your lives are, being driven mad by Google’s heartless algorithms. Call Fran up; I’m sure she’d be happy to talk to you.
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