Gone With the AI? Hollywood Strikes Out!
Has the movie industry turned into its own ‘Terminator’?
Hollywood is on strike.
Since May 2023, its writers and latterly many others working in the film industry have downed tools. The dispute is over money.
But not just about money.
Biblical epics have long been out of fashion; but the inmates of Tinsel Town now see the writing on the wall. Or, perhaps, put more accurately, they glimpse the artificial intelligence ChatGPT-generated alternatives to their creations being projected upon a nearby visual interface. Essentially, it is the prospect of these virtual changes currently afoot in the motion picture industry that will leave many creatives redundant — for good.
That, at least, is the story that is being repeated across media outlets. The industrial dispute which now, thanks to the involvement of the actors’ union (SAG-AFTRA), involves many super-rich Hollywood A-Listers, is being portrayed as a classic conflict of Capital vs. Labor, with movie creatives playing the role of the plucky underdog.
As in many of the best movies, all is not as it seems.
The truth is that the film industry has been in decline since the turn of this century. Not because of AI so much as because there’s been new competition as to where the film industry’s product could be exhibited.
How we watch movies has changed significantly since 2000. Faster internet connections, cheaper streaming services and better screens to watch films have combined to offer an experience that can be more fun at home than inside a movie theater, where the air conditioning is often broken, the cinema amplification is too loud and the guy sitting next to you has just answered his cellphone — again.
At the same time, in the decades since the turn of the century, a new generation of potential moviegoers has emerged. And Gen Z doesn’t seem to bother with movies. Computer games — the more immersive the better — Tik-Tok, YouTube, etc. — all of the above does it for them (and so much better too) from the convenience of their mobile streaming device.
Additionally, in the midst of these emerging industry disrupters, there was the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, in the world of making and selling movies, change accelerated at an unprecedented rate. Suddenly, Hollywood found itself in a whole different business, one of survival.
In such circumstances, one would have expected the industry would be doubling down to produce crowd-pleasing movies that, in return for their hard-earned cash, would treat moviegoers to escapist fantasies and much-needed relief from daily life while under COVID restrictions.
Not a bit of it.
It is not so much the endless franchising by film studios of any — or every — story; I’ve lost count of how many Mission: Impossible reincarnations there have been. It is not the relentless recycling of superheroes, who become less heroic and more psychotic with every reboot, or even remakes of films that did not need remaking in the first place and that are never as good. Nor is it the banality of the plots at the heart of so many, so very many, recent Hollywood releases. And it is not even the use of noise, special effects and cliché as substitutes for creativity, wit or imagination. What has proved Hollywood’s undoing in recent years and is proving unforgiveable to audiences is Hollywood’s insulting of anyone who believes in traditional marriage, the sanctity of life or even in God. Still, to this day, mocking the Catholic faith does not appear to count when it comes to Hollywood’s à-la-mode-smiley-face inclusivity.
And while disparaging at least half of its audience, that same audience watched as behind Hollywood’s secular pulpit there emerged #MeToo scandal after #MeToo scandal.
Yet all the while, Hollywood’s core product — the movie — just continued to get worse. Filmmakers seem to forget about the need for talent, inventiveness and, above all, storytelling. Instead, they rush to make movies to fulfill the latest “representation” quota, turning casting and programming decisions into a competition around identity politics from the latest agitprop.
Preaching and hectoring, posturing and finger wagging, and unrelenting virtue signaling, Hollywood has become like a predictably disagreeable, and increasingly monotonous, self-righteous individual.
In light of this, the AI advance into the heart of Hollywood may not be such a bad thing, after all. If the collective creative class currently inhabiting Tinsel Town can offer us little more than reheated churned-out content, while alienating at least half of its potential audience, then, surely, any AI contribution could not be much worse.
Come to think of it: AI is a cheaper hire; it turns up on time; it has no opinion — objectively at least — on race, religion or gender, and will never go on strike. There is also the fact that AI won’t fight with its co-stars, molest its fellow workers, embarrass its employers, or for that matter pontificate late at night on social media while insulting its audience.
You do not need an algorithm to see that Hollywood has been its own worst enemy.
Still, to defeat the threat of AI Hollywood has a simple enough solution within its grasp: Get back to storytelling.
Stop the “rinse and repeat” of much of the current crop of films, creating movies that have become so “generic” that many moviegoers might assume they were AI-generated already. Remember, cinema is all about telling stories: visually. It is not about pushing the pet politics of the director, producer, actor, caterer or anyone else on set with an opinion.
Rather than lecturing audiences on causes that Hollywood thinks the audience should “embrace,” try telling stories all can identify with: the ones most people like — about the triumph of good over evil, or perseverance against the odds, of human dilemmas we all face from time to time, dramatized for a large screen and a universal appeal. And remember: Most people do not use obscenities every five minutes.
Above all Hollywood, perhaps, needs to rediscover a sense of humor. The only transition we want to hear about is the one whereby that “humor by-pass operation” that the film industry underwent some years back has been reversed. Audiences like to laugh: It’s one of the things that makes us human.
Yet no one I have spoken to in the movie industry really cares about the ongoing Hollywood dispute. There appears not a single tear to be shed on account of the current lack of red-carpet premieres or that the Emmys have been indefinitely postponed. As one Hollywood insider told me, the film industry is “eating itself,” and he views the strike as “an answer to a prayer” and hopes that something better will replace the current Hollywood stranglehold over movies. In his view, it is now a case of leaving the dead to bury the dead.
Perhaps the time has indeed come to bring up the lights, walk over the discarded popcorn, and head for the sign marked “Exit” — while on the movie screen above are freeze-framed forever the words: The End.