WGA Strike Roundtable: Showrunners Get Real About AI — ‘Execs Are on the Chopping Block Before Writers’ | Video

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It’s not just writers who should be worried about AI. It’s everyone from truck drivers and lawyers down to Hollywood executives. That’s what a group of showrunners emphasized to TheWrap in an exclusive panel about the WGA strike.

“You know who else needs to be real worried? Those execs that I’m like, ‘Can you read the script? Have you got me notes yet?'” Gloria Calderón Kellett, showrunner of “With Love” and “One Day at a Time,” said. “Execs are on the chopping block before writers are.”

“The fact that they won’t talk about [AI] with us, which is the most obvious one, it’s very short-sighted. It’s going to hurt them more,” Ilana Peña, showrunner of “Diary of a Future President,” added.

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As Kellett emphasized, the conversation around artificial intelligence in Hollywood is a lot more nuanced than most have made it seem. In order for AI software to learn to write in a certain style, it has to be fed scripts. That raises questions of whether the writers of these scripts are being compensated in some way. Then there are the limitations of these programs. Because they can only regurgitate what they’ve been fed, programs like Chat GPT can only produce a specific kind of story that has appeared repeatedly in the mainstream monoculture.

“For all of the white writers who have said to me, ‘You guys are stealing our jobs,’ AI is stealing your job,” Kellett said. “Because guess what it can’t write? I said, ‘Please write me a scene where a brujo is talking to a bruja about coming over from Cuba and Santería.’ Can’t write that scene. I can.” And Kellett knows what she’s talking about. She’s already checked.

But according to this panel, some of the biggest mistakes the media has made when discussing the WGA strike and issues of AI is not broadening the conversation.

“I feel like there has been a little bit of a sentiment of pitting writers against, not just people in other sectors of entertainment, but in other sectors in general,” Ali Schouten-Seeks, showrunner of “iCarly,” said. “I don’t think we’re at odds with the teachers and the truck drivers and executives. Even most of the executives are facing layoffs and basic AI and all these things. We’re on the same side. We’re on the side of humanity and a livable wage.”

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“It’s not just the writers’ struggle,” Peña said. “AI is coming for truck drivers. AI is coming for — not just in the industry, not just execs, not just CEOs, not just lawyers and accountants. It’s coming for everybody.” Peña emphasized that the writers’ strike should be framed as a “global struggle.”

For these three showrunners, they’re not just picketing for their own self-interests. During a time when they’re getting “squeezed and squeezed,” they’re fighting for the future of their staffs, the industry at large and for a future that’s less hostile than this streaming-dominant present. Schouten-Seeks tries to keep in mind that, for many writers, these jobs are how they feed their families. After the strike ends, many less seasoned writers will be expected to deliver pages right away. “I think that’s really hard, on top of everything the showrunners are facing, not to discount that. But I do think that it continues to be about the most vulnerable writers,” Schouten-Seeks said.

Watch the full roundtable in the video above.

For all of TheWrap’s WGA strike coverage, click here.

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