May 6, 2024 - Technology

Hollywood's AI disclosure dilemma

Illustration of a static television screen with a TV rating of "AI".

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Generative AI has hit Hollywood, but you have to look hard to see it.

Why it matters: With no laws or standards governing when and how to tell viewers about AI's involvement in the creative process, film and TV makers are winging it — and further eroding the line between reality and fiction.

Driving the news: Media companies and content creators keep getting caught not disclosing their use of generative AI.

  • Netflix's recently released true-crime documentary "What Jennifer Did" included images that appear to have been created or altered with generative AI, as first reported by Futurism.
  • HBO's "True Detective" fans also noticed posters in the background of one scene that showed telltale signs of AI.
  • The directors of the horror film "Late Night with the Devil" had to go on the defensive to explain their use of AI for three still images in the movie.

Documentary fans argue that AI-generated images introduce falsity into the historical record, while fans of fictional dramas say that AI art steals jobs from artists. which ruins their enjoyment of the films.

  • "True Detective's" showrunner tweeted that the posters were meant to poke fun at generative AI, but she later deleted those tweets.
  • The "Late Night with the Devil" directors called their use an experiment.

The big picture: Aside from scores of AI copyright issues, viewers simply do not like to be fooled.

  • "People crave authenticity," Subramaniam Vincent, director of journalism and media at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, told Axios. There's a "creeping fear" that the images and media we see every day are not real, Vincent added.

AI was a sticking point in last year's Hollywood strikes, in particular the use of actors' likenesses in films without their consent.

  • "No generative AI in the entertainment industry, period," actor and filmmaker Justine Bateman told Ina Fried on stage at the Axios AI+ summit in San Francisco last year.
  • "Technology should solve a problem," she said. AI is "labor replacement, not a tool for filmmakers."
  • While both the writers' and the actors' unions reached agreements over AI, when it comes to reproducing and possibly replacing actors with AI, some argue that the union didn't go far enough.

The other side: Film and video are technologies, and Hollywood has been altering images from its earliest days.

  • If you think of generative AI as the latest in a long tradition of special effects, it looks less like doomsday for truth and more like Hollywood business as usual.

Reality check: Disclosing or labeling the use of AI is hard. AI-generated media rarely exists without some human input, and any disclosure requirement isn't going to work if it's a simple, binary "AI or not AI" label.

  • Most of what we see on television and in the movies is already a collaboration between humans and machines. We don't expect disclosure for the use of special effects or digital editing.
  • "You don't need AI to manipulate photos or video in stunningly and meaningfully misleading ways," Denise Howell, technology lawyer and host of the podcast "Uneven Distribution," told Axios.

Flashback: Long before generative AI, film critics questioned Errol Morris' use of slow motion re-enactments of a 1976 murder of a police officer in his 1988 documentary "The Thin Blue Line."

  • Morris felt that the re-creation of the murder was obviously staged due to the unlikelihood of him being at the scene with a camera. And in his defense, he argued that even documentary film is not exactly "reality."
  • "We assemble our picture of reality from details. We don't take in reality whole," Morris wrote in the New York Times 20 years after "The Thin Blue Line" came out. "Our ideas about reality come from bits and pieces of experience. We try to assemble them into something that has a consistent narrative."
  • Regarding the issues at Netflix, Howell told Axios, "sensationalist true-crime storytelling has been popular and widespread for a long time even without today's generative AI tools."

State of play: Vincent, a former engineer as well as an ethics professor, said Hollywood is acting like Silicon Valley, using generative AI without disclosing it and then apologizing when getting caught.

  • "They're doing the same thing software engineers have been doing for a long time: release the software, release the technology, then fix the bugs," Vincent said.
  • "People are obviously keeping an eye on broader policy and regulatory initiatives," Covington & Burling lawyer Adrian Perry told Axios. Perry works directly with film studios, content distribution platforms and other kinds of content creators. "I think a lot of this is being kind of handled ad hoc on a deal-by-deal basis."
  • He told Axios that in the future we might see warnings about AI-generated content the way we see mature content warnings in TV and film now.
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