Hollywood writers & actors on strike? Netflix sees the future

Product Manager - Machine Learning Platform $300,000 - $900,000/year

I see that Netflix supports “Work From Home”. Smart people.


Netflix is not alone.

Disney seems particularly intrigued by the tech. The company has a number of open positions focused on AI and machine learning across the country, per a review of open positions by The Hollywood Reporter .

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Once you have script outline converting it to script can probably be automated. Maybe you still need humans to review and tweak. But of course writers want to preserve their income stream. Work from home? Sure!! But probably fewer hours to create the script.

Considering Disney’s dependence on formula sequels in recent years, their interest in machine “created” formula sequels makes sense.



Even apart from that (well-deserved) jab, Disney produces a metric ton of media content every year - and a lot of that may be amenable to being automated.

Sure, perhaps not the movies or TV shows - very expensive pieces of artisanal crafted performances and dialog that have a lot riding on them. But they generate untold numbers of other little dialog snippets: little “barks” recorded for merchandise, rides, bumpers, trailers, promotional clips, video games, hotel and theme park amusements and ARG’s, etc. If you’re doing a movie or TV episode that features Donald Duck as a character, you’re probably going to call Tony Anselmo (the current voice actor) into the studio. But if you need four sentences of Donald Duck dialog for an audio book, or to “read” a promo saying his show is airing at a new time, or a few dozen barks when he does a cameo in a video game…it would probably be much cheaper and easier if you could dial him up in AI.

To use a personal example, the mega-hit Barbie movie was greenlit by Mattel in 2009. Between that time and the recent Barbenheimer, Mattel also released twenty-seven direct-to-video animated Barbie movies. I know this. I watched many of them. Especially the darned mermaid one, over and over again. And besides the main cast (Barbie and her sisters and Ken), those movies featured at least a couple hundred one-off minor and background characters - all of which had to be voiced and performed. If they had an AI that could just render a few dozen line readings of:

“Here’s your capuccin…hey, are you Barbie Roberts? Can I have your autograph?”

…instead of having to have an actor read it, there’s some savings right there.

I suspect that’s where this stuff is going to creep into media first. Not the center of very large high-visibility projects, but in lots and lots of little small things that aren’t glamorous but account for a lot of content.

That is one of the things the actors are complaining about: paid for one day’s work, while their image and voice are captured, then the image and voice can be used in perpetuity, without a nickle of compensation.

Remember the appearance of 1977 Carrie Fisher in 2016’s “Rogue One”?

Sure - but it goes well beyond that.

Specific individual actors (like Carrie Fisher) are very expensive and difficult to replace…and even if that changes, you can address those rights issues in contracts. But what if you don’t need any specific likeness or voice? There are (at least) seven other actors in the scene you linked to apart from Fisher, one of which had lines. There’s an expense to casting, costuming, and paying those actors - so what AI presupposes is, what if you didn’t do that? Just conjured out of AI a randomly generated “actor” image and voice, based on whatever prompts you think might fit the scene?

That’s not likely to happen any time soon for feature performers in cinema-release live-action film. But for minor characters in voice performances (animation, video games, audio books, etc.)? Probably already doable. I mean, that’s half of Alan Tudyk’s work right there!

Voice only is even easier. Some years ago, the voice actors on “The Simpsons” wanted a raise. Fox responded with a threat to hire different voice actors to imitate the voices people recognized.

Creating a character out of thin air requires actual creativity. It would be much simpler for the 'JCs" to assemble a catalog of actors to render. Have you ever wondered what happened to all those 4th and 5th rate performers, the people far below Bradford Dillman and John Saxon? The sort of people who played the red-shirted Ensign Expendable, that was killed off in nearly every ep of Star Trek?

For any character that has real relevance to the story - sure.

But to use the Leia clip again, there’s a speaking character whose sole function is to take an item from one guy, hand it to CGI Carrie Fisher, and ask what it is. That actor’s role could be filled by AI today, at least vocally - not sure it requires all that much creativity.

I just went back and looked over Disney’s output over the past few years (Wikipedia list). Less than half their stuff it’s derivative, although I dare say it’s the most widely recognized (there’s a reason for that.) They produce a ton of content that goes straight to cable or streaming and then sits somewhere, waiting to be unearthed by the archeologists 1,000 years from now, maybe. And sometimes they have films that flop, so they’re not remembered.

The rules have likely changed a lot since I last dealt with them (30 years ago) and even then in a minor way (TV commercials). But for minor characters there was no “residuals” issue, we paid a flat fee and could use that work forever without additional compensation. Of course we had to pay them for the day (week/whatever) and that is one of the “nose in the tent” issues the unions are worried about. The one getting the most publicity is the “pay you for one day” use your likeness and voice however we want forever, even in new scripts, films, TV, etc. Bigger players got a fee and then it renewed (reduced rate) every 13 weeks, eventually dwindling to near but not zero. (We could, in negotiation, pay a fat upfront and one-time fee but commercials have a limited shelf life so that was rare.) In movies and films I’m sure life was different.

Albaby’s point is clear: there’s lots and lots of work for C and D characters, and if that goes away there will only be Ryan Gosling and Charlize Theron to make movies, no newly discovered starlets at the counter at soda fountain, and the salary pyramid will become even steeper. Everybody else will be, to refrain a refrain, “Parking cars and pumping gas. Boom boom boom.”

The business was stable for decades, and then TV came along. And then for decades and then cable came along. And then for decades and streaming came along. Each time there’s been disruption, both in payment, in work rules, in procedures, in rights. This time is not different, except there are whole swathes of programming not covered: reality shows, documentaries, etc. It’ll be interesting to watch, except for reality shows, which never are, eh?

I read somewhere that Netflix produces a lot of their material outside the USA, including lots of English language material. Lately in addition to US programming, I’ve been watching lots of foreign programming (Swedish, Danish, Korean, etc) and it’s REALLY good. It reminds me of the US quality 30+ years ago instead of repeated derivative stuff and tons of sequels.

I’m in middle of watching “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” (Korean) and it is terrific. I recently completed “Borgen” (Danish) and it was excellent. And a whole host of others.

I’m partial to the “Beforeigners” from Norway. A TV series about the space-time rift in the Oslo harbor that causes people from 50 to 1,000 years in the past to suddenly appear in the water. Once dragged ashore, many end up living as the homeless on the streets of Oslo.

The 3rd season will be released shortly.


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A lot of material has been shot outside of the US for a long time, because it’s usually cheaper. The “War Of The Worlds” series of the late 80s was filmed around Toronto, and “Stargate SG-1” of the late 90s/early 2000s was shot around Vancouver. Production of the “Highlander” series was split between Vancouver and Paris.

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Vancouver provides generous subsidies to Job Creators in the film industry, so lots of TV and movies are shot there.

Yes, and we hear Ontario also has a film industry. But they will not cross picket lines. Are members of the same unions and also on strike. So probably everyone is out of work until the strike is settled.