PGAs produced by address important issues

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It’s time for producers to think about how to protect themselves from potential copyright and ownership challenges associated with 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 that delved deeper into digital disruption and other pressing issues for content producers.

“I don’t know if any artist I commission uses generative AI. It didn’t really matter to me before, but now I have to take it into account,” said Lori McCreary, CEO of Revelations Entertainment and former PGA president, during the hour-long, moderated “AI: What Every Producer Need to Know” session by Carolyn Giardina. senior entertainment technology and craft editor for Variety and Variation VIP+.

Ghaith Mahmood, a partner at Latham & Watkins who specializes in AI-related legal issues, walked the crowd through the intricacies of where copyright protection currently begins and ends for content. He emphasized that new traffic rules are likely to be implemented in the coming years as more than a dozen pending copyright cases move through the federal courts.

“I really think we’re on shifting sands,” Mahmood told the audience at the Darryl F. Zanuck Theater on the Fox Studios lot. Currently, only human-made works are eligible for copyright protection. And the most important legal tests right now depend on the level of human control and creativity exerted to create a work. With the technological innovations of generative AI made possible by mind-boggling computer 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 that means to get enough creative control by a human [make content] copyrighted.”

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 surrounding its use. He emphasized that the entertainment industry has a huge incentive to ensure that the AI ​​tools used in professional filmmaking are based on “clean” databases with large language models – namely databases built from the ground up with appropriate permissions and copyright protection provisions. That’s the way to give human artisans control over technology and tools that will have a huge impact on production.

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“We should be more concerned about how the tool is used and who is using the tool than about 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 on how to use these models and how to build them so they have more control over their IP.”

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

“In this age of misinformation, I get scared,” McCreary said. “As a community we need to be at the forefront of this.”

To that end, SMPTE and other industry organizations are working to develop a metadata-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. “Everyone goes into the pool and if someone is a bad actor, he or she gets 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 rollercoaster ride over the past year, given the writers’ and actors’ strike, followed by a marked slowdown in production volume in Hollywood after a decade of peak TV boom.

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Allain was also candid about her assessment of the impact of the 2020 racial reckoning following the killing of George Floyd. She noted that there have been cases of executives and creatives being promoted to roles they weren’t ready for, even on her own projects.

“We had to fire them,” she said, expressing her deep regret. The budget and market problems of late make it harder to take a shot at less experienced talent. The dilemma for producers comes down to “how do you learn whether you’re not going to be given the opportunity to fail versus how do you protect your film? But you don’t want to have an all-white crew.”

Producers Brad Simpson, Lynette Howell Taylor, Mike Farah and Tommy Oliver at Produced By
Jordan Strauss for PGA

Allain emphasized that bringing more diversity to Hollywood is a huge priority for the PGA, which is aware of the shrinking number of classical producers working in Hollywood.

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

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

Allain also asked her panelists if they have “a line” they won’t cross when it comes to working as a producer. For her, Allain volunteered, these are projects that involve “glorified violence – I will pass that on.”

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

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

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

The afternoon session of the conference began with Don DeLine, co-chairman of the PGA, moderating a conversation on the future of producing along with Greg Berlanti, Chuck Roven and Roxanne Avent Taylor. DeLine opened with the sad slogan that has pervaded the city in these austere and stressful times: “Survive until ’25.”

“As far as I see, the biggest problem facing this sector is not economic. It’s the people who feel displaced and less connected and less sense of community,” said Berlanti, who also admitted that “everyone is talking about doing more for less. This is empirically true for us. Producing for a limited budget is back in fashion.”

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

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

(Image above: Lori McCreary of Revelations Entertainment and I2A2 Technologies, Labs & Studios/SMPTE ‘S Renard T. Jenkins)

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