SAG-AFTRA fights AI monsters

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The Future. With its contract negotiations with the AMPTP, SAG-AFTRA was on a mission to hunt synthetic beings that AI could create using a performer’s image and likeness. While the union wasn’t able to slay every AI-generated monster that could be imagined, it may have stopped the possibility of studios letting the assets of human performers be recreated, remixed, and redeployed to create their own proprietary talent.

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What AI monsters did SAG take on and win against?

  • Zombies. The union won protections against studios being able to create deepfakes of deceased talent to be used in productions for 70 years after their death — strangely, a right that only extended to “commercial endorsements,” but not “expressive works” like film and TV.
  • Frankensteins. According to lead negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, if a production creates an AI actor “using Brad Pitt’s smile and Jennifer Aniston’s eyes” (for example), both would need to give their written consent.
  • Runaway clones. While a movie like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny can de-age Harrison Ford for the opening scene, the new contract no longer gives Disney the right to use that creation in perpetuity. They have to make a new deal with Ford every time.
  • Stampeding hordes. Studios will need to hire the minimum number of extras who are already required and can’t scan and paste background actors without compensation and consent.

While these gains are a “crowning achievement,” according to negotiating committee member Caitlin Dulany, others think the provisions — considered the main sticking point in the final stretch of the negotiations — are still not enough. 

Filmmaker and actress Justine Bateman, who was a union advisor on generative AI, said the fact that studios can make original, human-like characters from code (“Synthetic Performers,” per the contract) is a bridge too far. The guild says that’s a battle for another time.

But here’s the future million-dollar question: will people even want to see an AI-generated movie star?


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