Sorry, Hollywood, AI Is Coming For You

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / TOPSHOT - Actress Frances Fisher along SAG-AFTRA members and supporters pickets outside Disney Studios on day 111 of their strike against the Hollywood studios, in Burbank, California, on November 1, 2023. SAG-AFTRA members walked off film and TV sets in July, over terms including pay and the use of artificial intelligence. Talks have intensified in recent weeks, with the two sides meeting most days and expressing cautious optimism -- while also warning that they remain far apart on several key issues. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

A key part of the recently wrapped actor’s strike dealt with something on every person’s mind in 2024.

Artificial Intelligence, or AI for short.

The new Screen Actors Guild deal, which allowed stars to get back on stage again after a 118-day pause, offered protections against the rise of AI. Studios can’t use the likeness of an SAG actor without their consent. That holds for stars like Brad Pitt down to background performers.

That mattered. And that might not be enough to stop its use in stories large and small.

The “small” part might be the most nettlesome to Hollywood, Inc.

We’re already seeing examples of smaller projects dipping their toes in AI. Yes, they’re drawing fire for their actions, but it likely won’t stop others from doing the same.

The new horror film “Late Night with the Devil” offers a wry spin on the classic talk-show format. David Dastmalchian (“Ant-Man”) stars as a ‘70s-era host so eager for ratings that he invites a woman allegedly possessed by the devil on his show.

The low-budget film leaned on AI to create images seen in the final product. The backlash proved immediate, especially after “Late Night” overperformed at the box office.

Directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes, who reportedly finished the film before the strike’s settlement, shared a statement on their creative decision to Variety in response.

“In conjunction with our amazing graphics and production design team, all of whom worked tirelessly to give this film the 70s aesthetic we had always imagined, we experimented with AI for three still images which we edited further and ultimately appear as very brief interstitials in the film.”

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 10: (L-R) Cameron Cairnes, David Dastmalchian, and Colin Cairnes of 'Late Night With The Devil' pose for a portrait at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival Portrait Studio on March 10, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Robby Klein/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 10: (L-R) Cameron Cairnes, David Dastmalchian, and Colin Cairnes of ‘Late Night With The Devil’ pose for a portrait at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival Portrait Studio on March 10, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Robby Klein/Getty Images)

Veteran performer Sara Poyzer of “Mamma Mia!” musical fame, shared a sour note on social media saying she was recently replaced by AI for a vocal performance. The note featured part of an email announcing who she lost a gig to:

“We have had the approval from the BBC to use the AI generated voice so we won’t need Sara anymore.”

The head of the BBC said the broadcasting giant will use AI “on our terms” moving forward.

The fear is real in more ways than one.

Creators worry about professional blowback from any attempt to use AI on their projects. The industry understands just how helpful AI can be in certain areas, especially now given Hollywood is eager to cut costs thanks to a wobbly economy and streaming platform fiscal woes.

Indie filmmakers are eager to embrace any cost-cutting measures to get their stories made. When found-footage horror exploded following the release of 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project,” studios leaned aggressively on the gimmick to dramatically lower production costs.

That will likely happen, sooner or later, with AI.

That’s precisely what an artist working with Loor TV has in mind. The new streaming channel, which promises Christian storytelling with an edge, is behind a new show called “Fleur De Lis” by Ethan Hill. The show employs AI tech to render both the animated show’s backgrounds and character voices.

“AI is an aid to this show, not the creator of the show. Five episodes in and the rough around the edges production and janky AI has become part of its charm. Much like construction paper and South Park …. Ethan is very cautious that AI carefully balanced as a tool, not the show runner,” Loor TV CEO Marcus Pittman shared on his LinkedIn account.

The cost? Pittman said about $200 per episode. He added the show’s creator hopes to move away from AI once the project gains financial flexibility.

YouTube creators also have less reason to avoid AI technology to make viral-friendly videos. Consider the many “deep fake” celebrity clips where computers seamlessly switch out a performer’s face for a more recognizable star.

This video of “Arnold Schwarzenegger” singing a tune from “The Sound of Music” dressed as a nun is a perfect example. It sounds remarkably like the ‘80s action superstar, and it looks as if the clip’s creator snatched him straight from the Reagan era and threw a nun’s habit on him. Watch:

The clip generated more than 16K views in just two days.

Many influencers and creators aren’t bound by SAG rules. They just want content and the clicks those videos bring. Technological barriers have been dropping long before the rise of AI, allowing indie creators to compete with established brands. Consider Sam the Cooking Guy’s YouTube flock (3.68M subscribers) trumps The Food Network’s audience (2.5M subscribers).

Adding AI tools to the mix will further dissolve the barriers between the two sides.

AI may be the greatest tool indie filmmakers, who squeeze every penny possible to complete their visions, ever imagined. That’s especially true for creators locked out of the mainstream.

We’ve seen a flood of Right-leaning documentaries in recent years, sharing stories that veteran directors wouldn’t touch. They lack the publicity engines afforded to studio artists, from marketing teams to news outlets happy to spread the word about them.

Budgets are understandably low, too.

Throw some AI magic into the mix, and suddenly a lo-fi documentary can compete with anything Michael Moore has to offer.

That might be the scariest thing of all for progressive Hollywood.

* * *

Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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