AI puzzles actors, studios over digital doubles, fake trailers

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YouTube users can find trailers that look like they were made by the famous director with a unique style Wes Anderson for versions of “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and other celebrities.
According to a story by Reuters, artificial intelligence-enabled people with no real actors and much less resources than big Hollywood studios to create the fake movie trailers, fueling debate on the issue that will be part of the negotiations when the SAG-AFTRA actors union starts labor talks with studios on June 7.

AI already has split studios and striking film and television writers, who want guarantees that the emerging technology will not be used to generate scripts.

Mute SAG-AFTRA wants to make sure its members can control use of their “digital doubles” and ensure studios pay the actual actors properly, said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s chief negotiator.

“The performer’s name, likeness, voice, persona – those are the performer’s assets,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “It’s really not fair for companies to try to take advantage of that and not fairly compensate performers when they’re using their persona in that way.”

Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves already have been the subject of widely viewed unauthorized deepfakes – realistic but fake videos created by AI algorithms. Reeves said the technology is “scary,” in part because it can be used without actors’ consent.

Interest in generative AI surged globally after the November launch of ChatGPT, the fastest growing app ever, by Microsoft Corp-backed OpenAI. U.S. and European regulators have demanded safeguards to prevent misinformation, bias, violation of copyrights and invasion of privacy.

Actors and writers imagine various scenarios in which studios could try to save money and increase revenue using generative AI, which can be fed existing material and produce new content. The technology already is used to erase age marks or change mouth movements to match words when programming is dubbed in different languages.

Actor Leland Morrill said he has worked on sets where he was surrounded by cameras taking pictures from all angles.

“With that type of content, they could use you for part of it, and then create the rest of the character, and then we’re not on set anymore and nobody gets paid,” Morrill said at a multi-union rally in Los Angeles.

Producer, writer and former “Family Ties” actor Justine Bateman, holds a degree in computer science and has been warning about AI. She said companies could allow fans to make their own “Star Wars” movie, and add themselves for an extra fee.

Or, a studio could take footage from a popular 1980s TV show such as “Family Ties” and make a new season with AI.


Some actors have agreed to specific uses of AI.

The upcoming “Indiana Jones” movie features scenes where 80-year-old star Harrison Ford appears 40 years younger. He said Walt Disney’s Lucasfilm used images of his face that were shot during “Indiana Jones” films in the 1980s.

“It’s fantastic,” Ford praised his youthful on-screen appearance in an interview with late-night host Stephen Colbert.

James Earl Jones, now 92, agreed to allow AI to reproduce the menacing voice he gave to Darth Vader, according to Vanity Fair, so the character could live on. AI helped Disney put the late Carrie Fisher in 2019 film “The Rise of Skywalker,” with the blessing of her daughter.

SAG-AFTRA’s Crabtree-Ireland said actors have different comfort levels with how AI is used, which is why the union will advocate for informed consent in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group that represents Disney, Netflix and other studios.

A representative for the AMPTP had no comment on its position on use of AI with actors.