Pulling Out Our Crystal Ball Again:
Looking to the Future for Kid Actors Post-Strike
At the cusp of major turning points in our industry, Bizparentz has played a little game we call Crystal Ball. We research what we can, and then we do two things: hypothesize what we believe might happen for kid actors in the future, and we share some ways that families can protect themselves or increase their career chances moving forward. Basically, one part clairvoyance to one part feet-on-the ground. Unsanctioned and unofficial.
Why? Because no other entity is really paying attention to professional child actors (including SAG-AFTRA), and we strongly believe that educated parents, forward-thinking parents, is what keeps kids safe and thriving. We also know that in the entertainment industry, adults would be wise to watch the trends with child actors, because threats to child actors will be threats to t adults just a few years down the road. It always works that way.
We did the crystal ball just prior to the SAG-AFTRA merger in 2012. You can read that HERE. We listed 15 concerns about the merger. Of those, we were right on 13.
We did it again at the beginning of COVID. We listed 17 “predictions” there. All of them came true.
The success rate of the Bizparentz Crystal Ball is 93%, give or take.
In December 2023, we present the Crystal Ball for the 2023 SAG-AFTRA Theatrical contract. Why this? Because it has some groundbreaking new provisions that we believe will be a nexus for kid actors. The contract, as a whole, did not consider the unique needs of child actors, and thus it failed to protect them in many ways. But SAG-AFTRA did get some significant gains for actors as a whole, primarily in financial compensation.
Remember…we could be wrong. This is JUST a hypothesis.
Here is the Future We See:
- All actors in fully funded features and series will get AI scanned as routine. It will become common place and expected, like taking a polaroid for wardrobe once was. Yes, they will have to get consent, but the “informed consent” will be so general that you won’t really know what else they might do with it.. For instance, they will say they are creating a digital double of your child to play a “6-8 year old child in relation to the Untitled Nickelodeon Hamburger Feature” and that they can use it for “any appearance in any number of sequels or related spin-off series, all promotion and merchandizing.”
- We will start to hear various industry sources refer to AI as “saving” or “protecting” child actors, as if this is a noble effort in some way. They will propose that “no children are harmed in AI”, as they create stories where children are put at risk, but with the digital double doing the work. Don’t be fooled – this is NOT safer. There is no protection for the enduring damage done to the child’s reputation or personal safety when questionable images of them appear in public, even if they were created by AI. Child actors know the dangers of their images being used by predators around the world. Apparently the union did not.
- Refuse to be scanned? Here’s the door. Yes, you can refuse to be scanned, but for kids in particular, that effort will be futile – they will just fire you and hire someone else who will agree. For principals, the key is for reps to establish (even if unofficially) an additional flat rate “quote” for AI. Establishing this as a separate fee, will create a paper trail so that if laws get passed to establish your AI digi-double YOUR property, you can go back and establish who you sold it to. Schedule F actors (leads, generally – those who make more than scale) will need to negotiate for AI use upfront, because the SAG contract appears to limit their ability to negotiate after their guarantee is established.Also, expect that your child’s scan will be used to train generative AI (fake children). That is why they will be scanning everyone – to obtain data for their future creations. That is very simply what tech companies do: gather, sort and sell data. Make no mistake, all of our entertainment conglomerates (studios) are now tech companies.
- Background actors and stunt actors will lose jobs to AI. Union background for kids will become non-existent. The SAG agreement claims that they are disincentivizing studios from using AI actors over humans, but that math doesn’t hold up for children. Children are much more expensive to hire than adults – less work hours due to labor laws, 3 hours of work lost to education time, a teacher/welfare worker must also be hired, parent must also be present and paid for, increased workers comp and liability, etc. All that can be wiped away by an AI child that costs about $1000. As a result, we believe the studios will go after child background workers first, then adult background actors, by creating databases of crowds and synths to use as background in a shot. They could call in all the background for one day, and then use them for the rest of the film in many scenes, since “scenes” is not defined, and background actors, by definition, are not recognizable. It isn’t allowed in the contract, but SAG will be unable to enforce this. Background work for kids will no longer be a way into the union because there won’t be enough of it to get the required vouchers. Low budget indies and non-union will continue to use real background actors because they don’t have the budget for the tech, but the humans will be mostly non-union.
- It may take a few years, but legislature will establish human ownership of a person’s unique voice, fingerprints, physical image making some of SAG’s 2023 contract provisions void.
- Celebrity actors will monetize their digital double and license it as their own possession. Oh wait…they already do. Our prediction is that a marketplace will emerge for all kinds of people to do this. It will start with use in commercials. The digi-doubles will be sold for a flat fee (not residuals) for a determined amount of licensing time. We predict the cost will be half of the actors “live work” quote.
- No child actor will get a streaming “bonus” (aka slush fund). We’re pretty sure that few, if any, shows will reach the 20% viewership threshold to get a bonus, and when the joint committee decides how to slice up that 25% in the bonus slush pot, it won’t be kids. We know this, because they do the same thing with pension and health – the kids work for it, but in practicality, only the adults can actually cash in.
- The studios will say that AI beings are not human (as they already agreed to with WGA ) so SAG-AFTRA has no jurisdiction. We predict employers will not compensate actors for the use of anything other than their personal digital double. All the generative AI, and “synthetics” will be denied as having to do with any one person, and therefore not under SAG’s jurisdiction.
- There will be hacks. Studios will invest in, and farm out, the tasks of AI creation to tech companies, just as they contract out VFX now. There will be hacks of these sub-contractors, and actor images with be stolen. Many of these companies are not US based, and there will be no legal recourse for the actors.
- First call auditions will be on Zoom, callbacks will be virtual, and chemistry reads/2nd callbacks will be in person. The contract says actors can request an in person audition, but the CDs don’t have to do it, and they won’t. Get really good at self-taping, and talk to your agent about requesting the type of audition you believe will show your child in the best light. TBA on whether agents will be able to obtain it, but can’t hurt to tell your agent what venue you prefer.
- IATSE will also strike this summer, shutting down feature films. It will be short-lived, and IATSE will get a provision that no AI entity (like a self-driving car) can replace a union member.
- Streaming will compress – just a couple of major streamers with vast libraries, and the rest will cater to specific interests with much smaller budgets, like sports, horror/scifi, food, etc. This will be similar to the network TV of the 1970s (3 major networks, and a few cable). Linear TV will disappear, with the exception of live events and news. New scripted shows on linear will be gone, and with it, the high wage paychecks of TV series in the SAG-AFTRA Network code.
- Budgets for feature films and series will go drastically down. Studios will be making less content and buying less content. This is not related the SAG-AFTRA contract, but is a market correction from the days of hundreds of cable/streaming outlets, all trying to populate their platforms 24/7. There were about 600 scripted shows in early 2023. We predict 300 by next year. Series used to produce 22 episodes and hope to get 100 episodes in the can in order to sell to syndication. Now a season will be comprised of 3-6 episodes and 10 total. Features will no longer have $200M budgets with tons of VFX. It will be used sparingly, at least until the studios have a large enough AI library to use that for free.
- DEIB will become normal, accepted and routine in the movie industry. At least we hope so! There were some decent gains in this SAG-AFTRA contract for things like hair and makeup consultation.
- There will be less kids agents and managers and the big agencies will hire tech lawyers. We said this prior to COVID, and we were right. There will be less kids talent agents and managers. The ones who will endure will get very good at negotiating up-front deals for their clients, bring in revenue to the agency faster. And they will hire lawyers who are adept at AI to help negotiate those deals.
- Audiences and studios will look for the magic; that undefinable thing that makes a real person engaging. We strongly suggest parents get their kids into good acting classes. Being cute will no longer cut it. You are competing with AI now, and AI can be very cute. Magic will still exist…because humans seek real human connection and creativity. Original art, music, and drama will exist.
- Voiceovers will stay stable, despite the use of AI to replace them. It is still cheaper and more efficient to hire a quality VO artist in a booth for a couple of hours.
- Union commercial production will continue to fall, in favor of influencer advertising. Even during the 2023 writer/actor strikes, when commercials could have been filming like crazy with star names who suddenly needed work, they were DOWN. Commercial production was down 25.8 percent last year, and is down more than 50% over the last 5 years. We don’t see this freefall slowing down yet, as influencers get more sophisticated, with better cameras and better skills.
- Live theater, immersive experiences, and live concerts will increase in value and in price, as an antidote to too much tech. Actors might think about doing theater, if they have the chops to do it.
- Stories about real life and real people from around the world will take center stage, as a response to too much tech in entertainment. Rather than fantastical (and expensive) VFX-driven shows studios will look for less expensive plots grounded in real life. Even international shows like Everything Everywhere or Squid Games, were about people, not effects. This is where the actor work will be.
- Talent scammers will convince industry hopefuls that they need to “learn” to be scanned and will create worthless classes to newbies.
- Casting services like CNI and ActorsAccess will sue SAG and the AMPTP for interfering with their businesses, since neither business was a part of this negotiation, or subject to SAG rules. While this makes the way through courts, they will stop charging actors for access to breakdowns, and they will not be able to charge a fee for the performer to upload a self-tape. The CD’s thumbnail view is now supposed to default to sort in random or alphabetical order. Prediction: Breakdown Services will comply, and CNI will ignore it, knowing that we have no way of knowing what their algorithm uses to determine “random”. Both services will replace the charge with higher fees for video and photo uploads.
- Paid taping services. Since virtually all first auditions will be either self-tape or virtual, businesses who will professionally tape and edit your auditions will crop up, providing a slick service for actors who can afford it, creating a gap in accessibility.
To read the entire SAG-AFTRA Memorandum of Agreement Draft CLICK HERE.