How SAG Can Use AI To Generate Revenue For Its Members
November 6, 2023
How SAG Can Use AI To Generate Revenue For Its Members
This week, both the Screen Actors Guild and studio heads signaled that they are close to inking a deal and ending the actor’s strike. The news is cause for tentative celebration in Tinseltown, but everyone seems keenly aware that things could fall apart at any time. If they do, all 2024 productions will be pushed back once again, costing the studios millions in additional delays and putting many working actors in a precarious financial position. One of the main sticking points, and, according to some sources, one of the reasons a deal has not been announced already, is that the parties cannot agree on the language pertaining to Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) – specifically, the use of 3D body scans.
Where once studios and production houses had to source each and every actor needed for a production, now, with the latest AI software studios can scan an actor’s body once and digitally insert the resulting image into any number of properties, all without paying actors additional usage and session fees. Not only can the image be used, but it can be manipulated in any number of ways, generating an entirely new performance. It’s for this reason that the creative unions have positioned themselves against the use of AI, and it’s easy to see why. But there may be a way forward which SAG has not considered. Why not put the power over AI back in
the hands of the actors by encouraging actors to monetize their own image?
The sensitivities regarding the AI issue have seemingly prevented the unions from exploring this very legitimate option. From SAG’s perspective, 3D body scans represent an existential threat to how working actors are compensated for their time and the use of their image. Take the commercial space. Actors are paid a session fee and for usage. The session fee covers their time and talent on the day of production and the usage fee covers their image being used on the spot. The longer and more intensive the usage, the higher the fee. Now, studios can scan an actor on set, generate a 3D image, and own that 3D image in perpetuity. As AI advances, the image can be made to do any number of things – an entirely new performance can be created. The actor’s image can appear in any number of projects – yet the actor will only have been compensated for their time and the media usage of the original spot.
This issue has the potential to particularly impact background actors and extras, who rely on usage and session fees to make ends meet.
Alexandria Rubalcaba, a background actress who appeared on the Disney+ show WandaVision,told NPR she was never informed about the body scan ahead of time, and she was never told what the resulting scan would be used for. She never gave permission for her image to be used in other works, but, without clear rules on how and when her scan can be used, there is an argument that she doesn’t have to be informed at all.
“I fear that AI is eventually going to weed out background actors.” Rubalcaba told NPR. “They won’t have any use for us anymore.”
For the exact reasons that actors fear the advent of 3D body scans, studios love them. Instead of casting and hiring dozens of extras, studios can simply tap into a back- catalog of actor’s body scans – scans which have already been paid for. As of now, studios do not have to pay continuously for the right to use the scans, nor do they keep having to shell out for actors to come to the set. Now they can have hundreds of digital stand-ins at the click of a button.
As the talks drag on with the use of these AI body scans one of the central outstanding issues – there is one unique solution to the problem that no one seems to be talking about.
Why don’t actors scan themselves, and sell their own likeness to the studios and production houses? Familiarizing themselves with AI, partnering with the companies creating this technology, can potentially create long-term solutions which benefit all parties.
The process is relatively straightforward. One company who creates these scans for use in film and video games – Main Road Post utilizes an Artec MH scanner, a relatively small device which retails for about $20,000.00 USD. The scan itself takes approximately five minutes. It’s not hard to imagine a savvy group of actors using this device – or similar – to scan themselves and create their own library or sorts. Such a partnership could revolutionize the current workflow regarding body-scans, protecting actors while also allowing studios to tap into the most current technology.
This idea isn’t entirely new. Bodies in Motion is a photography project aimed at capturing artists and athletes “in motion.” The enterprise has expanded into capturing the models with 3D imaging technology. The owner of the project – photographer Scott Eaton – makes the resulting body scans available for download via a subscription model, with prices ranging from $25.00 per year to $195 per year. The images he provides are dynamic, and showcase a variety of body types, emotions, and ranges of motion. They can be purchased by other artists, production houses, and/or up and coming animators. Perhaps actors could take a page from Scott’s book – they could offer studios and production houses a subscription to their image for a period of time.
The bottom line is, the market demand is there and growing, and ideas like selling 3D body scans for commercial and artistic use are already being explored. It is possible that enterprising young creatives can capitalize on the new need for people willing to sell their image.
From a cost and logistics perspective AI makes far more sense for studios and production houses to continue down the AI route. It’s cheaper, it’s faster, and it doesn’t compromise production value. The encroachment of AI in the creative sphere is somewhat inevitable – the benefits, from a cost and technology standpoint far exceed the potential downsides. Despite the union’s efforts, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. The only question which remains is how creatives respond to the technological developments in their field. The current technology is offers significant advanced capabilities for film and television, faster, and at a lower cost. With the falling cost of 3D body scanners and the rising demand for access to 3D scans, embracing the change may offer young artists more ways to make money from their image and performances. AI offers solutions for studios, but it may also create new revenue streams and opportunities for actors. At the very least, it’s worth exploring.
Alana Ballantyne is a contributing writer for StageRunner.
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