IATSE Creates Commission to Study Artificial Intelligence

As the technology rapidly develops, crew union IATSE is launching a commission to study the evolution of artificial intelligence and its effect on the Hollywood workforce.

The group, comprised of union members and representatives as well as academics and tech workers, will be tasked with determining the “challenges and opportunities” that AI poses to the union, international president Matthew Loeb announced on Thursday. The commission will begin convening immediately and will present on its work at the union’s 2023 general executive board midsummer meeting, beginning July 31.

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“As AI continues to evolve and proliferate, it is critical that our union is at the forefront of understanding its impact on our members and industry,” Loeb said in a statement. “Just as when silent films became talkies and as the big screen went from black-and-white to full color, the IATSE Commission on Artificial Intelligence is part of our commitment to embracing new technologies.” He added that the commission will seek to “equip our members with the skills to navigate this technological advancement” as well as make sure that the industry’s embrace of the technology “prioritizes the interests and well-being of our members and all entertainment workers.”

Artificial intelligence is already being used at multiple levels of the industry, including in work covered under IATSE contracts, such as in editing and operations on animated projects. The technology is being increasingly used in visual effects work, a largely non-union area that IATSE is currently endeavoring to organize. The rapid development of certain generative AI tools since late last year, however, has accelerated conversations in Hollywood about how to incorporate the technology into industry workflows — and also how it might pose a threat to certain roles in Hollywood.

AI has become a major sticking point in the Writers Guild of America’s ongoing negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group that negotiates on behalf of studios and streamers with all industry labor groups, including IATSE. The WGA, which is now on strike over this impasse and others, proposed that AI couldn’t write or rewrite what is considered “literary material” under the contract and couldn’t be used as original work that human writers must then adapt. The WGA claims that the AMPTP countered by offering an annual meeting to discuss technology; in their own statement, the AMPTP says the technology “raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everybody” and “requires a lot more discussion.”

That exchange has alarmed members of separate unions in the industry, with multiple members of the Directors Guild of America telling The Hollywood Reporter that they are hoping their union will address the issue in its current contract negotiations.

With its commission, IATSE wants to “consider how contract provisions, legislation, and training programs can be adapted to ensure the fruits of increased productivity through AI are shared equitably among all stakeholders,” the group said in its statement. IATSE’s current Basic Agreement covering the union’s West Coast Locals expires July 31, 2024.

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