IATSE sees AI fears and promises as strike looms | Trending Viral hub


When the Writers Guild of America went on strike last May, union officials argued that artificial intelligence posed an existential threat to writers, painting a picture of a dystopian future in which television shows could be crafted by a writer and a machine.

Ten months later, the tone in Hollywood labor circles has changed significantly. At a March 3 rally in Los Angeles, Matthew Loeb, international president of IATSEargued that AI has the potential to make the jobs of union members easier.

“We want a piece of the spoils of artificial intelligence,” Loeb said.

AI is high on the agenda as IATSE looks to establish a new three-year deal with major Hollywood studios and streamers before its current deal expires on July 31. Like the other unions that won new contracts over the past year (WGA, SAG-AFTRA, Directors Guild of America and American Federation of Musicians), IATSE is looking for “guardrails” for the use of AI. Technology, of course, became a flashpoint in the strikes waged by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.

Negotiations with IATSE are always a complex matter because the union negotiates on behalf of a wide range of disciplines: boom operators, grips, sound mixers, camera operators, costume designers, makeup artists, decorators, etc. Some may not have much to fear from AI. But others are more vulnerable.

“We are focusing on AI as a tool,” says Jillian Arnold, who chairs IATSE’s AI subcommittee for the negotiations. “It may incite some fears. “We see it more as a challenge and as a tool within our workplace.”

IATSE Local 700, the Film Editors Guild, you could be one of the first locals to be affected by AI. The union’s Emerging Technologies Committee has concluded that some jobs could become obsolete.

“The impacts will be uneven,” says Harry B. Miller III, co-chair of the committee. “Some things will be great. Some things will be negative.”

Even top-tier editors have deep concerns about what AI could mean for the future of their profession.

“Virtually everyone I know, from editors to assistants, older people to younger people, is worried about what’s around the corner,” says an Oscar-winning Local 700 film editor.

In February, OpenAI, a leader in artificial intelligence software, released a preview of Sora, a program that can create short videos based on simple text prompts. Asher Pink, co-chair of the Emerging Technology Committee, says he had to “convince people” about it.

“We don’t see this type of technology, in its current state or in the future, being used to edit stories that can be broadcast,” he says, adding that there are important tasks that models cannot perform. “All of these products are marketed as wonderful products that do everything, but that’s not the case.”

Pink and Miller emphasize that the models they have seen also cannot handle continuity between shots, scenes and sequences or match cuts, simple tasks for human editors.

Technological changes could also affect assistant editors more than editors. Depending on how it is implemented, AI could eliminate some of those assistant functions or change them significantly.

The Editors Guild also represents story analysts, whose job is to summarize scripts and make recommendations on whether to follow them. In theory, that sounds like a task AI could perform. But in practice, Pink says, it’s not so easy.

“You can summarize the plot,” he says. “It doesn’t tell you what the story is about. He’s telling you what the plot is about. It is the story that connects with the audience.”

Pink says there’s a chance that AI tools will create more jobs for assistant editors, not fewer. But it’s too early to tell, making negotiations difficult.

“AI will eliminate jobs and create them,” says a prominent member of Local 700. “I am not happy about this, and yet I am comfortable with its inevitability.”

Carolyn Giardina contributed to this report.


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