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Could AI replace Actors?

In this week’s episode, I am going to explain the ever changing landscape of AI and actors, explain the particular discord between Actors and Central Casting right now, and stick around for an essential key takeaway that I have for new actors or entertainment professionals.

LET’S START with the issue at hand, it’s gone viral this week, especially on TikTok.

Actors and casting professionals have been sharing the waiver that a company called central casting, is asking their talent to sign.

If you don’t know, Central Casting is a company that casts background talent for major studio movies. Background talent, or extras, are the actors that populate the background of scenes, ie they don’t speak, they aren’t featured, but say a scene is happening in a coffee shop, background actors could be the people standing in line to order coffee, or sitting in the coffee shop “living” while a scene takes place.

The waiver reads like this: “I authorize Central Casting to photograph, video tape, or use any other electronic method of recording my image, appearance, likeness, voice, or actions (collectively, “recordings”) to be used at Central Casting’s discretion in any medium, including, without limitation, company-related publications and websites,”

“I grant Central Casting the unrestricted right to make, copyright, use, re-use, or publish recordings in which I may be included, in whole or in part, and waive any right to inspect or approve the finished medium incorporating any recordings.”

“I release and agree to hold harmless Central Casting from any liability for any legitimate use and waive any personal or proprietary right I may have in connection with such use. I understand that all such recordings, in whatever medium, will remain the property of Central Casting. I waive any right to compensation of any nature in connection with the recordings.”

With the recent discourse and valid concern about developments in Artificial intelligence and how an actor's likeness and image could be used and replicated in the future the acting community questioning this document, and people are rightfully, in my opinion, saying you shouldn’t sign.

People have a few objections to this: a) it seems folks can’t access any central casting jobs unless you have signed this waiver, b) this all-encompassing language is currently NOT approved by SAG/AFTRA, c) and basically, if a casting company owns your likeness, could they technically sell your likeness to be used (VIA AI technology) in future films and productions? It means they possibly get multiple paydays selling your image multiple times, but the actor only gets paid once, as they have signed away their rights to additional compensation.

On August 30th, Central Casting directed to the following statement:

“For nearly 100 years, Central Casting has been the leader in casting background actors for work on film and television productions. The company’s photo release form, which has been in use for over 20 years, permits the use of registered background actor images for review by Central Casting’s clients for casting purposes,” the statement said. “It also allows the images to be used on Central Casting’s website and in its marketing materials. The photo release form does not apply to production companies or their businesses.”

Here’s my two cents:

I believe the actors should keep the pressure on, even in the light of this statement. If the release form is 20 years old, it should be easy to change.

20 years ago, AI was not on our radar, we couldn’t fathom we’d be seriously having a conversation like this, but here we are, and this language takes on additional meaning in today’s context. Change the language to include it’s limitations: that the images will only be used internally, and for the limit of projects the actor works on, and perhaps even include that all material will be deleted upon the actors request/ an opt-out option.

Also, Central Casting is owned by Entertainment Partners, which provides productions with management, payroll and finance services. Which also wasn’t the case 20 years ago. Does the release apply to Entertainment Partners?

Worst case scenario: actors are paid for one day’s work, and like a stock image, your image could be used again and again. Without additional compensation.

SAG/AFTRA has advised actors not to sign this document, and if you are a member of that union, and have issues to call SAG/AFTRA and they can help advise the next best steps.

It’s time to update your release form Central Casting!

Here is that universal key takeaway I promised, and it’s this: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SIGN!

You must read all the terms and conditions and understand what you agree to. It’s contract 101 and it’s not a defense to say “you didn’t read the contract”.

Most background actors are non-union and breaking into the business, so I would advise you to look at what the union is saying. SAG/AFTRA says don’t sign it, so take that into account. I also know when you are starting your career, you don’t have a lawyer or agent, want the credit and the experience, and you will be tempted to sign documents like this.

Contracts are made to protect the person presenting you with the contract. No one is going to advocate for you. Ask questions! Make sure you understand what you are signing.

If you are getting a single flat fee for usage in perpetuity, ie forever, really think about that. Is the fee worth the opportunity?

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