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SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and other higher-ups at the union defended the union’s new contract with the studios, especially after some members criticized provisions dealing with the use of artificial intelligence.
As Variety reports, Drescher called out the “naysayers” during a Zoom meeting with members on Monday, Nov. 13, saying they have “exploited this momentum of ours” and “tried to tear down what was being done in the negotiating committee.”
SAG members will vote to ratify the tentative contract this week, and Drescher urged them to carefully consider the details “if you haven’t yet been poisoned by contrarians.”
The 118-day day strike — the longest in SAG’s history — came to an end last week after the union’s board accepted the contract with 86 percent approval. Just like in the writers strike, the use of AI was a major point of contention, and SAG’s new contract stipulates that companies must request consent before making digital replicas of actors and must disclose what those replicas will be used for.
Additionally, SAG secured guidelines and protections around AI-generated actors, and will be allowed to prevent the use of those synthetic performers (or demand compensation) if they include the real person’s recognizable features. But at the same time, the deal still gives studios the ability to use AI in various ways, including the ability to “train” AI models on actors’ performances.
The mix of successes and concessions with regard to AI has prompted some SAG members to voice their displeasure with the tentative contract. Actress and filmmaker Justine Bateman, who advised SAG on AI issues during negotiations, has been the most vociferous critic of the AI provisions.
On Twitter, she argued the contract gives studios the ability to use AI to tweak certain aspects of an actor’s performance and carves out exceptions for studios to use a “digital double” without consent or compensation “if the project is ‘comment, criticism, scholarship, satire or parody, a docudrama, or historical or biographical work.’”
Bateman said “the most serious issue” in the contract is the provision that allows studios to use “Synthetic Performers.” This, she argues, “gives the studios/streamers a green-light to use human-looking AI Objects instead of hiring a human actor. It’s one thing to use [generative artificial intelligence] to make a King Kong or a flying serpent (though this displaces many VFX/CGI artists), it is another thing to have an AI Object play a human character instead of a real actor. To me, this inclusion is an anathema to a union contract at all. This is akin to SAG giving a thumbs-up for studios/streamers using non-union actors.”
During Monday’s virtual meeting, SAG’s chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, defended the AI terms, though admitted, “There are some aspects of this agreement that aren’t perfect.” He continued: “This negotiating team fought so hard to get the best possible protections in artificial intelligence. We all play our hand. This hand that we have played from our perspective achieves what we set out.”