SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Expresses Solidarity With WGA: ‘Actors Are Facing the Same Problem’

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland also explains how using AI could lead to a lack of inclusive casting

Photo by Marc Picotty for SeriesFest

As the WGA strike continues and SAG-AFTRA looks to begin its own negotiations with the studios in June, SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland not only expressed solidarity with the WGA, but explained how actors’ problems are similar to those facing writers during a panel on the state of the TV industry.

Speaking during the panel at SeriesFest in Denver on Monday, Crabtree-Ireland said current conditions in the industry are “not right.”

“I think we all understand that things have been moving in the wrong direction as a result of the technological innovations in the industry, and that really has to stop because we can’t have a vital industry if the people who are responsible for creating all of that content can’t have a career, can’t pay for their basic living expenses,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “It’s not right. And, frankly, actors are facing the same problem. And we will have our chance to talk to the companies about that starting on June 7 and I can assure everyone that we feel just as strongly as the writers do, making sure that this industry supports the people who actually make it work, who bring the crucial element of creativity that is everything this industry is about.”

Crabtree-Ireland said he hopes the industry hears what the WGA members are fighting for on the picket lines as the current SAG-AFTRA contract is due to expire on June 30.

“We are there in solidarity for them. They are fighting a good fight, and I really hope that the industry hears that message and that companies decide to come back to the table and make a meaningful effort to find common ground with the Writer’s Guild.”

Crabtree-Ireland also addressed the looming issue of AI during the panel, a topic of scrutiny in the current WGA negotiations with the studios. He explained that, since AI uses known history to generate its models, using it for something like a casting shortlist could set the industry back in terms of representation and inclusion.

“One area where I’m really concerned about this is, as AI starts to proliferate in the industry…We have a presentation we’ve been doing been for a number of months…and one of the things we talk about is, some of these tools are being used for casting, and how they look at this data set of past casting decisions and use that to recommend slash project the success of future casting decisions,” he said. “And it very obviously results in a lack of out of the box casting, a lack of inclusive casting. And so we have real concerns about that. And we want to make sure as we move forward, that if we are going to implement AI in various forms, that the training data that’s used for it is inclusive, so the results of that AI use are inclusive.”

The Writers Guild has made its stance on AI very clear, proposing contract rules that would prevent studios from using AI to create a script covered by their contract with the WGA or to use AI writing as source material.

The studios, thus far, have been unwilling to budge on this issue, and said in their response that “AI raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everyone,” adding that “it’s something that requires a lot more discussion, which we’ve committed to doing.”

Note: The SeriesFest panel on the State of the Industry was moderated by TheWrap’s Adam Chitwood.