Hollywood goes on AI hiring boon, despite WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Bennett Purser

SAG-AFTRA members strike outside Netflix studios, July 27, 2023. As writers and actors fight for AI protections, studios are advertising AI jobs. Photo by Laura Kondourajian/KCRW

The Writers Guild is set to meet with Hollywood studios this Friday — the first time since the writers went on strike in early May. Still a major sticking point is the use of artificial intelligence — how it could affect writers, actors, and other creatives. Meanwhile, all major studios — Netflix, Sony, Amazon, and Disney — have posted job listings for AI professionals. 

AI is already being used in special effects, says Alex Weprin, business and media writer for The Hollywood Reporter. But it’s unclear what studios intend to use the technology for in the future. That’s why it's such a hot button issue during contract negotiations.

“The writers and actors are concerned that in the end, the studios will try to use the technology to take their jobs to write scripts to create digital actors that can be featured in films and TV series.” 

Weprin says these new AI-related jobs are likely exploratory and will examine how they can use the technology to create content. He points to a new product manager position at Netflix that pays $300,000 to $900,000.  

“They have content. They have advertising now. They have the tech that powers their streaming service. So there's a lot of places where in theory, AI could be brought into that system. It could be a purely technical thing. It could be something to help with back-office functions. It could also be something public-facing, where a viewer who watches Netflix might see an interstitial or some piece of content on the homepage that is AI-generated.” 

Sony is also looking for an AI ethics expert, which shows the company is trying to figure out any unintended consequences of its use, Weprin says.  

“I assume they want to try and figure out what are some of the things that we're not thinking about here. If you're ingesting images of people, is there any way that could be abused in some capacity? Is there a way that it could be used for bad purposes? I just think that's a really interesting thing and I was surprised to see it.” 

Overall, saving their bottom line could be at the core of the studios’ desire to explore new AI tools. Besides Netflix, a tech-first company that’s profitable, Weprin says everyone else is losing billions of dollars. 

“These companies are beginning to explore the potential of AI, in part, to see if they can find a way to cut costs, whether it's to eliminate human customer service agents, whether they can use humans or an AI system, to replace the humans that create interstitials or other pieces of homepage content on these streaming services.”