Members of the Writers Guild of America on the picket line outside Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Allison Zaucha for The Washington Post

Of all the fears or realities cited by television and movie writers in their historic strike – depressed wages for many in an era of massive studio profits, the gigification of script-writing – it’s the question of artificial intelligence that can send creative minds to some truly dark places.

The strike “isn’t just about getting a better paycheck. It’s about the very foundation of our craft and ensuring that writers are valued and respected as the creative force behind the stories that captivate audiences worldwide,” said Gloria Calderón Kellett, co-creator of “One Day at a Time,” who echoed the concerns of many Hollywood writers with whom The Washington Post spoke about AI.

It’s not so much that they’re worried about being replaced wholesale by software. AI chatbots like ChatGPT replicate the patterns of human speech without understanding what they’re doing and can meet with disaster when they try to craft even a short news article, let alone a three-act plot.

Yet strikers are troubled by the reluctance of studios to discuss placing restrictions on the use of AI, which might be incorporated in subtler ways when it comes time to script the next Hollywood drama or hit sitcom. So the Writers Guild of America has made curbing AI part of its demands in the strike.

“The fear for us as writers is not that we’re going to be replaced,” said Adam Conover (“Adam Ruins Everything”), a member of the WGA negotiating committee. “It’s that the companies are going to say: ‘Hey, we can have ChatGPT write this awesome script. Now could you just punch it up with original jokes, talk to the line producer to make sure it’s within the budget, talk to the actor to make sure they like the character, talk to the director to make sure it matches their vision, go to the set and do rewrites? Except we’re not going to pay you as a writer because you didn’t write it – ChatGPT wrote it.'”

“You’ve just redefined my job as being something a computer does, which is a lie, but you’ve done it to reduce my pay,” he continued. “If we allow them to get away with that, that’s going to be the death of our profession as actually sustainable.”


Conover was present for talks that broke down this week between the WGA, which represents about 11,000 television and film writers, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios. A WGA strike went into effect early Tuesday, several weeks after union writers voted 98% in favor of authorizing it.

Before the breakdown, the writers’ guild proposed a new contract stipulation that would guarantee artificial intelligence “can’t be used to undermine our work,” Conover said. But the studios merely offered “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.”

“That’s not a proposal,” he said. “That’s just letting you know: We’re not doing anything.”

Studio negotiators have pushed back on that accusation. AMPTP spokesman Scott Rowe said the association told the WGA that AI material is ineligible for a writing credit, and they are still studying how to address the technology.

“AI raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everyone,” Rowe said. It “requires a lot more discussion, which we’ve committed to doing.”

The dispute has now solidified amid the strike, with the WGA demanding that studios prohibit the technology’s use in what it calls “literary material” and “source material” – including storyline pitches, scripts, and material that serves as the inspiration for a script. Vice versa, content created by real people couldn’t be plagiarized by AI – and AI scripts couldn’t be passed off as a union writer’s work.


Those scenarios might sound like a high bar for technology that currently struggles to write a decent poem. “I haven’t seen an AI yet that had a sense of humor,” said Oscar- and Emmy-winning filmmaker and writer James L. Brooks (“Broadcast News” and “The Simpsons”).

“AI can’t even come close to what writers are doing now,” added Michael Jamin, an Emmy-nominated writer, and showrunner (“King of the Hill,” “Maron”). If studios “want to try airing an AI show, knock yourselves out. It’ll be awful.”

AI won’t necessarily be writing entire scripts anytime soon. But because the studios are so tight-lipped about what they might be considering for the technology, some in the WGA worry that writers will be asked to incorporate AI tools into their work, perhaps reducing the number of humans needed to produce a series.

“My fear – they use it as a cost-cutting measure to get rid of how many writers they need to make TV,” said Lauren Yee, a writer on Apple TV’s “Pachinko.” “That makes them think that they can use technology to do what we do and bring what we bring.”

Others worry that text-based AI, which is trained on massive quantities of human-written text culled from the internet, could dilute or erase the nuanced cultural perspectives that trained writers bring to their work. “Storytelling is a deeply personal job where we often pull from our own lived experiences,” Calderón Kellett said. “AI can only work with what already exists. Underrepresented communities still struggle for visibility, so White writers should be most concerned here as a plethora of their experiences can be fed to AI.”

The WGA and AMPTP are negotiating to reach a three-year contract, which means both sides must consider where AI will be before 2026. Given the technology’s rapid progress, some experts think the writers are correct to worry.


“The fact that the studios don’t want to talk about that should [set off] alarm bells,” said Paul Hardart, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and director of its Entertainment, Media, and Technology program. He added: “AI is going to be way more mainstream, and from a writers’ standpoint, I think it has to be addressed this round” of negotiations.

Arvind Narayanan, a Princeton professor of computer science, imagined a “plausible scenario” a few years from now, in which “AI can generate a script that makes for good, mindless entertainment, but doesn’t have much artistic value.”

“This might be commercially attractive to studios,” he said. “But is that what we want as a society?”

Ultimately, uncertainty is what’s driving much of the angst. Chatbots were laughably bad just a few years ago; now some can pass the Turing test. And Hollywood executives are notoriously creative in their efforts to cut costs.

“You’ve got Bill Gates and other titans saying that this is [as] profound as the invention of electricity and fire. The truth is, no one knows,” said Lyle Goodale, a film-trailer producer and editor. “The reluctance from the powers that be to kind of thwart it, or at least put a pause on it, is extremely disconcerting.”

And even if writers are safe from AI for the time being, others in the industry might not be.

“AI is not the central issue. It can’t do what the writers of this guild do. It is duplicative, it’s copying something that already exists,” said TV writer David Slack.

He quipped: “I think AI will be able to do [Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive] David Zaslav’s job sooner … than it will be able to do mine.”

The Washington Post’s Joyce Koh contributed to this report.

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