The American film industry is facing a renewed crisis, one that is erupting from within its creative core. A little less than two decades after the infamous 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, Hollywood’s creatives have once again downed pens. This time, however, the context is vastly different, with box office revenues still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the creative process coming under intense scrutiny.
According to Maria Rua Aguete, global entertainment analyst and Senior Director of market research company Omdia, box office revenues are still below pre-pandemic levels, despite a gradual return to physical theatres.
“Consumer habits, driven by convenience and learned behaviours, still lean towards streaming services which picked up new users during lockdowns,” she says. “Omdia’s view is that while the box office will recover, the levels seen pre-pandemic are still a number of years away.
“In the face of these challenges, a historical comparison is intriguing. The last WGA strike became an unexpected catalyst for the small screen, heralding an era of high-quality, glossy drama that not only rivalled the cinematic narrative but also pushed the boundaries of storytelling, thereby attracting a broader audience demographic.
“Alongside this, the strike also saw an upswing in non-scripted content – reality shows, game shows, and talk shows became mainstays. It was, in a way, an unintended consequence of the strike that resulted in an unexpected diversity of content, leaving an indelible mark on the television industry.”
The Role of AI
Today, the core issue of contention extends beyond traditional labour grievances. It reaches into the realm of AI, a technological advancement that has slowly, but surely, been making inroads into the creative process. For many writers, the growing use of AI in screenwriting presents a double-edged sword.
“On one hand,” says Maria Rua Aguete, “there’s the fear of job replacement – an understandable concern given the efficiency with which AI can generate content. But on the other, AI also offers tremendous benefits, such as the ability to swiftly generate plot ideas, automate script formatting and contextual accuracy, create personas and test character interactions. It’s not just about cost and efficiency as AI can also provide tools that enhance creativity.
“Hollywood stands at a precipice: if it chooses to resist the use of AI, it might alleviate the immediate concerns of the writers, but at a potential long-term cost. Hollywood’s competitors, in all their forms, are far less beholden to their talent and will seize any opportunity to outcompete.
“While Hollywood sits in the past, could a new AI-driven dawn rise from outside Tinseltown rise without them?”