August 31, 2023


The Hollywood Writers Strike and the ChatGPT Boogie Man

By: Brittany Hunter

Since the beginning of May, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) have been on strike, refusing to work until their concerns are addressed by the Hollywood studios who employ them. 

While it’s not uncommon for unions to demand higher pay or additional employer benefits, this strike has an interesting twist. At the top of the list of WGA concerns rests the use of AI technology, like ChatGPT, and what it could mean for professional screenwriters. 

If the WGA gets its way, AI won’t be playing much of a role, if any, at all in the writing of Hollywood films and television shows.

The ChatGPT Boogie Man

Chat GPT is, in a word, incredible. It is best described as a “language model.” It takes in a large amount of text data that it gathers from all over the internet, which has made it capable of understanding and generating human language.

Basically, if you ask ChatGPT a question, it will give you answers. But what ChatGPT can do extends far beyond search engines like Google.

If, for example, you wanted to write a resume you need only ask ChatGPT. So long as you provide it with the relevant information about your job history, all you need to say is, “create a resume for me using this information.” Within seconds, ChatGPT will have completed the task.

Or maybe you need a little help writing a term paper on the Fifth Amendment from a libertarian perspective. All you do is ask and you shall receive. 

But these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

With ChatGPT’s capabilities growing more advanced by the day, writers across all mediums fear that AI will soon be coming for their jobs. And Hollywood writers want to make sure this can’t happen. 

The Writer’s Strike 

If you were a big fan of the HBO series Game of Thrones, it’s likely the series finale left you wondering what on earth the show’s writers were thinking. Drawing on this popular sentiment of disappointment, the president and co-founder of OpenAI–the maker of ChatGPT– Greg Brockman asked people to imagine the possibility of using AI to rewrite the show’s final episode.

“That is what entertainment will look like,” he said.

While this excited many disappointed viewers, it did not excite Hollywood writers. Brockman’s comments only added fuel to the fire to screenwriters who were already feeling threatened.

And the truth of the matter is AI could be a great starting point for script writers who can utilize tech like ChatGPT to give them an outline or even a first draft of a script. Even more impressive, the technology has the ability to generate a script in the style of existing and celebrated screenwriters. 

As I was doing research for this article, I decided to have a little fun and I asked ChatGPT to “write a script about a young orphan girl who gets adopted by Tony Soprano, a mobster with a heart of gold, in the style of Quentin Tarantino.”

Within seconds, ChatGPT had a 650-word script for a movie called Fate’s Twist, which, while not perfect, did read a lot like a Quentin Tarantino film in the vein of Kill Bill–but with far fewer F-bombs. 

It was understandable why writers might be nervous. But the truth is, this technology still has a long way to go before it can be the sole source of creative script writing. And it may actually serve to be a useful tool for writers. 

But WGA doesn’t see it that way.

The WGA wants to regulate and, in some instances, even ban the use of AI in screenwriting. 

Specifically, they want to prohibit using AI to write or rewrite source material. They don’t even want it used to create original source material. The union has also demanded that no AI material be trained on WGA writers’ work, which seems nearly impossible given what ChatGPT can already do.

So far, these demands are not even being considered by the studios, who have instead offered to hold annual meetings to address new advances in technology. But as the strike now enters its fourth month, it’s clear the WGA is not satisfied by the studios’ offer.

Work with AI, Not Against It

Throughout history, people have feared the prospect of having their jobs replaced by burgeoning technology. AI is no different. 

But as I recently discussed, writers do not need to fear ChatGPT. They need only learn how to work with it.

The job of any writer is to produce the best work possible. And to do that we go through an agonizing process that sometimes includes long stretches of writer’s block. Imagine if that could be mitigated with the help of ChatGPT. 

You wouldn’t need to copy the text it generates to the letter, but it could give you the direction you need to break through the block.

If Hollywood writers get their way and AI in screenwriting is outright banned, we all lose out on more creative ideas in movies and shows.

What is perhaps most ironic about the strike is that in refusing to work, the studios have an incentive to put AI to the test and use it to fill the gaps left by the writers who are, as of now, not doing any writing.