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Could AI be the best thing that could have happened to striking Hollywood writers?
Mega successful TV writer and producer David E. Kelley on the picket line. “This is a real unprecedented time,” he said. (Deadline Hollywood / Twitter)
LUMP OF COAL
Hollywood writers are on strike.
Marketing professor, speaker, author, podcaster, and entrepreneur Scott “Prof G” Galloway recently compared the situation unfolding in New York and LA to Britain’s coal miner strike in the mid 1980s.
Britain’s miners picked up picket signs back then in the face of some gigantic structural changes: newer, cleaner, and cheaper sources of energy were changing the ground beneath the miners’ feet.
That strike was broken by the British government, which refused all of the miners’ demands. But could the miners’ strike really have overcome all of that cheaper, cleaner energy just over the horizon? Prof G believes that Hollywood writers are in the same boat today.
This time, of course, the role of cheaper, cleaner natural gas is played by a combination of TikTok (a newer, much cheaper —and actually more popular— deliverer of entertainment than Hollywood is) and AI.
Can this strike surmount that?
Prof G is pessimistic, but thinking about his point, it occurred to me that there's one huge difference between the miners then, and the writers now: striking miners in 1980s Britain couldn’t decide to leave the mines and work for themselves —doing something similar, but solo— and end up making far more money, than they ever could in the mines.
But of course, that's exactly the situation that Hollywood writers anyone with a smartphone, a creative impulse, and a desire to entertain others finds themselves in today.
CREATORS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
We’re all talking a lot about AI lately, but don’t forget that we’re actually in the midst of not one, but two society-changing shifts.
Yes, generative AI is changing our landscape faster and more profoundly than most people would have guessed not six months ago, but social media’s shift —from the connection tool that it has traditionally been, to the discovery and entertainment engine it is today— is also a BFD.
Hollywood writers are skilled comedians, dramatists, and storytellers. Most are also thoughtful, experienced human beings.
That very humanity is their secret weapon against the AI they want to keep from taking their jobs.
Fate v Future believes that these writers’ humanity, plus their comedy, drama, and/or storytelling skills, will allow many to find serious financial success as social media creators in this new landscape.
COULD WE BE ANY RICHER?
Perhaps not the same level of success as, say, the creators of Friends have enjoyed, but social media’s discovery engine when coupled with human storytelling, ingenuity has the ability to provide more people with even more money than the winner-take-all lottery showrunner system that Hollywood has set up.
Back in 2020, Forbes estimated that 2m creators made 6-figures on social media platforms. 2m. There’s plenty of room in that tent for the 11,000 unionized striking writers today.
Recently, I wrote about showing ChatGPT to an extremely successful screenwriter friend of mine for the first time. (He's written for and produced one of the most popular shows out today.) Over a drink last December, I asked ChatGPT to write the logline and synopsis for a Neo Western film, set in Texas.
The words began to appear, letter by letter, on my laptop. We both watched the screen in silence, as a fairly decent and compelling story structure unfolded. With that, my friend reached out and slowly closed the computer, as ChatGPT continued to churn out type. We both laughed.
It was a funny moment. His comic timing is just always very good.
But ChatGPT is a friend, not a foe. In my buddy’s hands, ChatGPT is a 5x, 10x, or even 50x force multiplier. See, he's an extremely skilled storyteller and communicator —in person, as well as on the written page.
It’s not a stretch for me to imagine him having a popular TikTok, where he enacts scenes almost as soon as he can conceive and write them, playing the different roles, and reciting the dialogue exactly as he would in a high stakes Hollywood pitch meeting.
I mean, I would love watching that. I know others would too.
I'm not saying that every single striking writer can become a social media creator. But look around. The means and the structure also exists for them to band together, if they so choose. Camera shy writers could link up with writers who love being on camera, to create exceptionally well conceived and composed content together, content that would likely be head and shoulders above much of the nonsense that TikTok and Instagram’s algorithms see fit to push our way.
And before long, writers won't have to show their face or reveal the sound of their voice at all.
This is what’s coming soon: the ability to actually “block those scenes out,” as they say in the trade, and have AI generated performers act out the scripts, pretty much as quickly as writers can write them.
Far from working on, say, one season of a series every year, and a movie every two to three, skilled writers’ output could be shared with the world multiple times a day, every day.
If all this sounds far fetched to you, that’s because most of our experiences around strikes, and the means of production, have been so centralized. When you think of striking labour, you can’t help but picture mines, large scale manufacturers, airlines, transit systems, Starbucks, even. These are gigantic enterprises that all require huge infrastructure and huge numbers of people to operate and maintain.
Entertainment doesn't. Not any more, at least. As I've written, if you wanted to create the perfect tool to shred big Hollywood’s primacy, you could hardly do better than today's phones.
They put “cinema-level” cameras, a decent mic system, plus quality editing software (aka the means of production), and a pretty crisp, bright screen and decent sound quality (aka the means of consumption) in everybody's pocket at the same time.
The only thing missing? The ability to efficiently find this new content. But, of course, that’s where TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube shorts come in.
A HOLLYWOOD ENDING?
Streaming and AI may end up upending big Hollywood's business model in unexpected ways.
In the end, the striking writers may end up better placed to capitalize on this new landscape than the studios and production companies that currently pay them.
Wouldn’t that be an ironic plot twist?
2m creators make 6-figure incomes on YouTube, Instagram, Twitch globally (from 2020) »»
Boston University graduates roasted their commencement speaker, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, booing and chanting “pay your writers” »»
Written by Jon Kallus. Any feedback? Simply reply. Like this? Share it!👇