Among the many reasons why Hollywood actors have joined screenwriters in a historic industry-stopping strike are calls for better pay, plus greater protections against the rise of artificial intelligence in developing scripts or using artist’s likenesses in movie and TV productions.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Netflix
is catching some heat for posting several AI-related positions paying six-figure salaries, even as the Writers Guild of America strike enters its fourth month. Netflix currently has at least five open positions with “AI” or “machine learning” in the job title posted on LinkedIn within the last month. One, described as “Product Manager, Machine Learning Platform,” would pay between $300,000 to $900,000 a year. In the product manager listing, Netflix writes that AI is “powering innovation in all areas,” and it helps the streaming giant “buy and create great content.”
Rob Delaney, who recently starred in a “Black Mirror” episode (“Joan is Awful”) on Netflix that featured a studio manipulating actors’ digital likenesses against their will, suggested that Netflix’s AI job salaries could be used to better compensate writers and actors.
“So $900k/yr per soldier in their godless AI army, when that amount of earnings could qualify 35 actors and their families for SAG-AFTRA health insurance, is just ghoulish,” Delaney told The Intercept. “Having been poor and rich in this business, I can assure you there’s enough money to go around; it’s just about priorities.”
Roughly 87% of SAG-AFTRA members make less than $26,000 a year from their acting jobs, according to members, making them ineligible for health coverage through the union.
Elizabeth Benjamin, a writer on Netflix shows including “Dead to Me” and “13 Reasons Why,” said the Netflix job posting “turns my stomach” in a post on X.com, formerly known as Twitter.
“Star Trek: Picard” and “The Equalizer” writer Christopher Derrick called the job posting “tone deaf.”
Netflix did not respond to MarketWatch’s request for comment on this story.
The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have failed to reach an agreement on issues surrounding AI, residual payments and length of employment agreements, among many other concerns. The AMPTP is made up of major movie studios and streaming companies, including Netflix, Disney, Universal Pictures and Sony Pictures
In July, the SAG-AFTRA union, which represents TV and movie actors, joined the striking writers on the picket line. The actors are advocating for higher royalty checks, and they are also concerned about the threat of the unregulated use of AI, such as the use of their likenesses without hiring them.
Specifically, the WGA says it wants to ensure AI won’t write or rewrite literary material, that it won’t be used as source material, and that union-covered material won’t be used to train AI. The WGA says the AMPTP rejected those proposals, and countered by committing to annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.
“I think it is a real concern,” Marvel writer and actor Clark Gregg said about using AI in creating TV and film projects.”I think what’s especially scary about it is nobody, including a lot of people who are involved with creating it, seem to be able to explain exactly what it’s capable of, and how quickly it will be capable of doing more.”
Other Hollywood A-listers have weighed in on the use of AI in TV and film, too.
“The wages are one thing, but the worst aspect is the whole idea of AI and what AI can do to us,” said “Succession” star Brian Cox said at a recent rally supporting the joint strikes. “AI is the really, really serious thing. And it’s the thing where we’re most vulnerable.”
Cox, 77, added that AI in entertainment is “scary”, and added it’s the “the worst aspect” of the writers’ and actors’ fight against movie studios and streaming companies.
Christopher Nolan, writer and director of films including “Oppenheimer” and “The Dark Knight,” has also said AI has “terrifying possibilities” in entertainment.
Of course, Netflix isn’t the only streaming company or film studio that is interested in harnessing artificial intelligence to enhance its brand. Disney
also has several open AI job postings, ranging from generative artificial intelligence to machine learning engineers, and so does Amazon
Disney’s CEO Bob Iger recently caught some flak for calling out the actors joining the writers on strike. “This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption,” he said about the dualing strikes. “There’s a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic.”
Many striking writers and actors have railed back against Iger’s comments, including “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston.
“I know, sir, that you look [at] things through a different lens. We don’t expect you to understand who we are,” Cranston, 67, said at a rally in New York on Tuesday. “But we ask you to hear us, and beyond that to listen to us when we tell you we will not be having our jobs taken away and given to robots.”
Big companies across the world outside of the entertainment industry are also talking about and investing in AI, but many workers are still tepid. According to a CNBC survey last week, 69% of Americans say they are “not comfortable” with AI, although only 18% of respondents said they thought AI could replace them at work.