A Quick Fix for (Some of) the Actors’ A.I. Contract Fears

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Jonathan Handel
November 20, 2023

I spent the weekend Zooming with 200 stunt people and 30 voice actors. Many, if not most, expressed deep frustration about the A.I. provisions of the SAG-AFTRA deal that members are currently voting on. A key concern, as I wrote on Thursday, surrounds the effectively involuntary nature of the “consent” that the studios and streamers are likely to request regarding the use of A.I.-based digital replicas of actors’ likenesses and voices.

As I was talking to a looping supervisor (“loopers” are actors who do background voices), I realized that the A.I. provisions in the tentative deal discuss “clear and conspicuous” consent but don’t articulate what, exactly, the language of consent will be. Rather than wait for the studios to prepare their own contract forms, I realized, the union could prepare and standardize the consent forms itself. I made that suggestion to SAG-AFTRA officials yesterday; the idea was met with enthusiasm, and less than 24 hours later, a high-ranking official told me that the union now plans to implement a version of the proposal.

Here’s why this is significant—and softens the blow of coercion inherent in a studio demanding consent from an actor, with the implicit (or explicit) threat of hiring someone else if consent is refused. First, the union can include explanatory text and check-the-box choices right on the form, making it clear and easy to use. For instance, the explanatory text can warn that blanket consent (e.g., “all sequels to the current movie”) is prohibited, and specific projects must be identified.