UPDATE with more quotes: The promises and threats that new technologies pose to workers in the entertainment industry were explored today at the third annual Workplace Innovation and Technology Summit, hosted by SAG-AFTRA and the AFL-CIO.
You can follow the one-day event above.
“Within the entertainment industry, the tension between technology and humanity is right in front of you,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in her opening speech. “I don’t know where I would be without Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services. Yet the sudden and extreme pivot to streaming during the pandemic poses an existential threat to an artist’s ability to make a living. “
Big media companies, she said, “are exploiting technology either to change, or to blatantly ignore, the fundamental pillars that have been built over decades of collective bargaining to ensure that workers share the financial bounty. that they create “.
The role of unions, said Carteris, “is not to fight the technology but to be part of the conversation from the start so that we can help lead and shape the future of our work. As technology evolves, we must ensure that humans are treated fairly, that they can earn a decent living, and do their jobs with dignity and respect.
National Executive Director SAG-AFTRA David Blanc said the changes in the way entertainment content is distributed on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, Peacock, Apple Plus, Paramount TV and all the others, threatens to undermine salary structures and residual formulas that thousands of actors and performers have relied on for decades.
Advocating for what could be a very difficult round of negotiations when the union’s current film and television contract expires in 2023, he said ever-increasing changes in new distribution systems threaten to “empty” the middle class of the union unless the the union does something about it. The union’s contract with management’s AMPTP last year included significant residue gains for original shows made for big-budget streaming platforms, but White has indicated that a more drastic contract change will be made. necessary to protect active actors and their residues.
White said today:
“On the mainstream entertainment side of things, the storytelling where we get our stories has changed. For our industry and our workers, this has translated into a rapidly changing work environment. The pace and demands of the work have increased; production budgets have been reduced. People are being asked to go to work earlier and stay longer. Our stuntmen are invited to do bigger, faster and stronger stunts in more compressed periods. It means people do more when they work. And that also means that pay changes and, in many ways, without the compensatory forces of the union, people are paid less.
“We experience in this industry what people experience elsewhere, namely that the bargaining power that people have for their salary is diminishing less and less. And it’s starting to empty the middle class. And this also happens with our members, and will continue to happen if we are not careful.
“We have a unique payment structure in this industry – what’s called tailings, which are payments people receive every time their work is mined. In the past, there was a ‘window structure’, which meant that a movie would come out (in theaters) then go to DVD, then pay TV, like HBO, or basic TV or during hours of operation. great listening. Every time that happened, people got a little payment, and that’s how people made a living.
“But now when you watch Netflix, all the shows sit on their platform, and that’s where they sit. More and more, the “windows” are disappearing. This means that the original compensation agreement people had will potentially disappear, and it will be more difficult for people to make a living. It becomes our role, and we’ve put structures in place to ensure that while this product is on a platform, people continue to be paid. But without compensatory structures, people wouldn’t.
Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, told White he was more concerned about the return to behind-the-scenes jobs during the pandemic and after its end.
“I’m more concerned, in fact, with the immediate effects of the people behind the camera digging in,” he said. “We learned, for example, in the early days of the pandemic, the late night shows – Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel – they entered their homes; it sounded like public access television the first two weeks and then they found their rhythm. They brought together their orchestras, their authors, and all of a sudden, they were able to produce very good quality shows with teams of 20 people.
“I’m worried about whether these 180 other [crew members] who put it in place before the pandemic will one day have long-term jobs, and I think that’s where the hollow could be, ”he added.
Cole also told White, “You still need your limbs. Nothing replaces that. The question is, what are they going to be paid for? We’ll see; there may be some tweaking – hope not. But I don’t think it will be a calamity for the members of SAG-AFTRA. It could be a calamity for those below the line. “
Carteris and White also discussed the serious threats to actors – and all public figures – posed by “deepfake” technologies, face-swapping computer systems that have been used to digitally overlay the faces of its members on the bodies of men. porn stars.
“If you’re tempted to view this as a narrow-scope problem,” Carteris said, “consider the potential implications of a technology that can take, store and manipulate the data of an actor, or politician, d ‘elsewhere. For actors, it means putting their image, movement and personality in scenes they had nothing to do with, then turning that’ data ‘into a reusable commodity – even without an actor’s consent. .
“But, deepfakes are not only a challenge for artists, they are a real threat to our democracy. Examining the current political terrain, it is not difficult to see how the manipulation of information and the falsification of the truth can ignite hatred and division, endanger lives, tear communities apart and even divide families. . Lawmakers across the country are slowly starting to see the seriousness of this problem, and to be fair, some have been quicker to act than others. The work that we do as a union is therefore of vital, vital importance.
Deepfakes are also illegal in more than a dozen states, including California and New York, under their “right to advertise” laws. California Civil Code 3344 states: “Anyone who knowingly uses another person’s name, voice, signature, photograph or image, in any manner, on or in any product, merchandise or goods, or for the purposes of advertising, selling or soliciting purchases of, products, goods, goods or services, without the prior consent of that person, or, in the case of a minor, the prior consent of his parent or legal guardian, will be responsible for any damage suffered by the injured person or persons as a result thereof.
During a question-and-answer session with Carteris, Tristan Harris, co-founder and free-thinker chairman of the Center for Humane Technology – which featured prominently in the Netflix documentary The social dilemma – observed that platforms like Facebook and Google thrive on business models whose algorithms are designed to shatter any sense of shared reality by reinforcing viewers’ preconceptions and biases. While extolling the virtues of fairness in justice and equity in the face of climate change, he said “real fairness” is just as important.
“We all see different realities,” he said. “Facebook’s business model sells your attention to advertisers. And what’s the best way to get your attention? Is it by giving everyone a shared reality, or by giving yourself your own Truman Show, where every time you flick your finger it gives you an affirmation, not information?
“Three billion people use Facebook,” he added, “but instead of seeing a common understanding of reality, we are each placed in a narrower and crazier view of reality. People are shown conspiracy theories that would be perfect for their minds. “
Discussing the future of work, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler told Carteris that “we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution” and that “every revolution … is shaped by at least three things: technological breakthroughs, innovation in the way technology is used, and most importantly, workers.
She added: “And the labor movement as we know it today – the power of collective bargaining – was conceived as an innovative response to industrial change. And since then, we have been innovating. So, from steam mills and coal mines to auto factories, to modern cockpits and offices, the labor movement has always been the vehicle for turning technological advancements into better living standards and better wages.
“But now this Fourth Industrial Revolution is gaining momentum towards us and breakthroughs are happening faster than ever, changing lives and work in all industries.” Shuler said. “And all of this was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. And that raises big questions about the future of work. And the labor movement is truly the only large-scale force, or institution in the country, with enough power to put workers at the center of these issues.
“We must continue to organize,” she added, “and we must learn to organize with and around technology,” knowing that “partnerships that center workers’ experiences in the innovation process lead to better results: equity, security and more – salaried jobs.
Other union speakers today include Amanda Ballantyne, director of the AFL-CIO Technology Institute, and Rebecca Damon, executive vice-president of SAG-AFTRA and president of the union’s New York chapter and chair of the National Committee. innovation and new technologies.