'The WGA is striking for better pay and a greater sense of career stability'FABEBK ON WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself adopted into American Screenwriting Twitter. No, I’m not a screenwriter – I just followed a few screenwriters on Twitter who followed me back, and suddenly my feed was screenwriters all the way down. Finding myself immersed in this community meant I could bear witness to the unease and frustration that grew in the months preceding the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, including increasing concern about the prospect of artificial intelligence being used to replace the role of the screenwriter in the media industry. The WGA and its 11,500 members declared a strike earlier this month and are now in dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents production companies. Unlike during the last strike in 2007–2008, AI has taken centre stage in the cultural conversation.

So how did we get here? Essentially, the WGA is striking for better pay and a greater sense of career stability. There is, however, one specific element of the WGA’s demands that deserves attention: the union has demanded that artificial intelligence won’t be used to write or rewrite literary material, won’t be used as original source material, and won’t be fed union members’ material in order to train and become better at producing material.

“AI has taken centre stage in the cultural conversation”

Unfortunately, the presence of AI in this bargaining back-and-forth has coaxed some unsavoury characters out of the Twitter void – not scabs, but, worse still, AI fanboys. Twitter has become increasingly overrun with AI-generated Wes Anderson-ified movie trailers that mindlessly mimic Anderson’s soft colour palette and symmetrical shots and feature animated celebrities straight out of the uncanny valley. Those who celebrate the intrusion of AI into creative spaces are quick to taunt writers about screenwriting’s supposed imminent demise at the hands of AI-generated media. “I support the Hollywood and TV writers guild strike,” wrote one Twitter user. “In fact, I propose we make it permanent.” People like this have celebrated the potential for AI to become a screenwriting tool because of its ability to free up time and money that could otherwise be spent on refining projects and creating more “content.”

Hollywood executives are keen to turn screenwriting into a gig economy; in an industry where breaking in seems nearly impossible to outsiders, executives seem to be under the impression that upending the current, union-protected system won’t have serious long-term repercussions for production companies. If so many people want to be screenwriters, why not turn the profession into a revolving door of Hollywood hopefuls who can be treated like Uber drivers or food delivery couriers? Better yet, why not replace humans altogether and see what a generative AI chatbot can pump out?

“It’s time to listen to the writers and pay up”

AI cannot – and more importantly, should not – replace human screenwriters. Forgive me for being biased, but as a living, breathing person who writes frequently for fun and income, I’m on the side of the humans here. Everyone should be. I fully believe the movies and shows that stick with us for the compelling stories they tell demonstrate creativity and an understanding of life that only humans can communicate. I’ve read scripts by ChatGPT and watched animations by Stable Diffusion, and none of them are of a quality that could replace the Godfathers, Ghost Dogs, or Grand Budapest Hotels that I hold near and dear to my heart. The dialogue is stilted and unnatural; the imagery is doughy and has an out-of-focus quality. AI chatbots and image generators aren’t even used to create clever pastiches of beloved media, like last year’s Weird Al Yankovic film starring Daniel Radcliffe – instead, these digital tools are spitting out facsimiles of scripts and videos that are devoid of the characters and stories that truly reflect the human experience.


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This is exactly why the strike is so important: we need to protect the uniquely human aspects achieved through screenwriting,the creativity and nuance that define those stories that stay with us for years after we’ve seen a film or TV show. Protecting the human means paying the humans who write these stories what they’re due. ChatGPT can write my emails, but I don’t need it to write scripts for the movies and shows I want to watch. In a way, we are all indebted to the screenwriters who have crafted the stories that have shaped our lives, from blockbuster films seen in cinemas to sleeper shows shared between close friends. But out of everyone, AMPTP owes these screenwriters the most. It’s time to listen to the writers and pay up.