PGA’s Produced By Conference Tackles AI and Deepfakes, Shrinking Budgets and Finding ‘That Line’ Not to Cross as a Producer

The time has come for producers to think about how to protect themselves against possible copyright and ownership challenges related to the use of generative AI tools in film and TV production

Published Time: 09.06.2024 - 03:31:27 Modified Time: 09.06.2024 - 03:31:27

The time has come for producers to think about how to protect themselves against possible copyright and ownership challenges related to the use of generative AI tools in film and TV production.

That was one of the messages sent Saturday at the Producers Guild of America’s 14th annual Produced By conference in Los Angeles, featuring a daylong schedule of panels drilling down on digital disruption and other pressing issues for content producers.

“I don’t know if an artist I commission is using generative AI. I didn’treally care before, but I guess I have to care now,” said Lori McCreary, CEO of Revelations Entertainment and a past PGA president, during the hourlong “AI: What Every Producer Needs to Know” session moderated by Carolyn Giardina, senior entertainment technology and crafts editor for Variety and Variety VIP+.

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Ghaith Mahmood, partner at Latham & Watkins specializing in AI-related legal issues, walked the crowd through the intricacies of where copyright protection starts and ends for content at the moment. He emphasized that new rules of the road are likely to be established in the coming years as more than a dozen pending copyright cases wend through the federal courts.

“I do think we are on shifting sands,” Mahmood told the audience at the Darryl F. Zanuck Theater on the Fox Studios lot. At present only works made by humans can be considered eligible for copyright protection. And the key legal tests at the moment hinge on the level of human control and creativity exerted to make a work. With the tech innovations of generative AI, powered by mind-boggling computing systems, He noted that legal eagles are eagerly awaiting a report expected this summer from the U.S. Copyright Office that will “give us more color on what does that mean to have sufficiently creative control by a human to make content copyright-able.”

Renard T. Jenkins, president of I2A2 Technologies, Labs & Studios and president of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, explained the nuances of AI and the terminology around its use. He emphasized that the entertainment industry has a huge incentive to makesure that the AI tools used in professional filmmaking are based on “clean” large language model data bases — namely those built from the ground up with appropriate consent and copyright protection provisions. That’s the way to give human artisans control over technology and tools that will have enormous impact on production.

“We should be more concerned about how the tool is used and who’s using the tool than the tool itself,” Jenkins said. “We have the opportunity to take some of these tools and build them into our process…We need to train artists how to use these models and how to build them so they have more control over their IP.”

McCreary offered a personal example as the conversation turned to the problems of deepfake creations that involve copyrighted works or the likeness of a prominent figure, such as her Revelations Entertainment partner Morgan Freeman. The renowned actor is a frequent target for bogus social media videos and memes. Usually, McCreary can spot a fake right away but she was disturbed a few weeks ago when she came across a video so convincing she had to call Freeman to confirm that it was not him.

“With this age of disinformation, it makes me frightened,” McCreary said. “As a community, we need to get ahead of it.”

To that end, SMPTE and other industry organizations are working on developing a meta data-based tracking system to verify the authorship and integrity of content, Jenkins said. This effort will require a level of coordination among high-end producers, studios and distributors around the world. “It’s everybody into the pool and if somebody’s a bad actor, they get kicked out of the pool,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Stephanie Allain, owner of Homegrown Pictures and PGA president alongside Donald De Line, moderated a candid session with a group of fellow veteran producers: Brad Simpson, Lynette Howell Taylor, Mike Farah and Tommy Oliver. The group agreed that the business has been a roller coaster ride over the past year given the writers and actors strike followed by a pronounced sl -

owdown in the volume of production in Hollywood after a decade of the Peak TV boom.

Allain was also candid about her assessment of the impact of the 2020 racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd. She noted that there have been instances when executives and creatives were promoted to roles that they were not ready for, even on her own projects.

“We had to fire them,” she said, expressing her deep regret. The budget and marketplace challenges of late make it harder to take a shot on less-experienced talent. The dilemma for producers boils down to “how do you learn if you don’t get the opportunity to fail, versus how do you protect your movie? But you don’t want to have an all-white crew.”

Allain emphasized that bringing more diversity to Hollywood is a huge priority for the PGA, which is mindful of the shrinking numbers of classic producers working in Hollywood.

“We are trying to keep this job — this calling — sustainable to everyone as a career,” Allain said. Simpson (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “American Crime Story”) asserted that producers need to be proactive in recruiting diverse crews and production teams, including visiting film schools.

“People look at the moment they’re hiring and then complain that there’s no one to hire,” Simpson said.

Allain also pressed her panelists on whether they have “a line” that they will not cross when it comes to working as a producer. For her, Allain volunteered, it’s projects that involve “glorified violence — I will pass on that.”

Oliver, whose banner recently completed the Riz Ahmed feature rendition of “Hamlet,” said that even in his early days he had no trouble turning down offers to work “with directors who are not good people.” Oliver added, “I’ve never seen a yellow flag that hasn’t turned into a red flag on set.”

Howell Taylor offered the same goes for her when she is assessing the creative merits of a project: “If you know early on it’s not going to be great, it’s never great.”

Farah echoed Oliver’s sentiment and stressed the importance of maintaining a good reputation in professional circles. As much as the entertainment industry has grown over the past 20 years, it’s still a small community in physical production. “It’s not hard to get anecdotes good, bad and in the middle” about potential production crew hires, Farah said. “Really take seriously how you treat people. The golden rule works for a reason.”

The conference’s afternoon session kicked off with PGA co-president Don DeLine moderating a conversation about the future of producing with Greg Berlanti, Chuck Roven and Roxanne Avent Taylor. DeLine opened with the sad slogan that has permeated the town in these austere and stressful times: “Survive ‘til ’25.”

“As far as I see, the biggest problem facing this industry isn’t economic. It’s people feeling displaced and less connected, less of a sense of community,” said Berlanti, who also conceded that “everybody’s talking about having to do more for less. That’s true for us, empirically. Producing for a budget is en vogue again.”

Roven, whose production “Oppenheimer” won the best picture Oscar this year, encouraged optimism.

“Last year, the box office was incredible. This year it hasn’t been so far, but we just had a really good weekend,” he said, referencing to the projected $50-million-plus opening for Will Smith’s latest “Bad Boys” sequel. He reminded the crowd that “people want content, and they can’t make it without producers.”

(Pictured top: Revelations Entertainment’s Lori McCreary and I2A2 Technologies, Labs & Studios/SMPTE ‘s Renard T. Jenkins)

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