As actors and writers push back on automation, Hollywood is in the midst of an AI hiring boom

A picketer outside Sony Pictures in Culver City carries a sign reading 'You ain't heard nothin' yet.'
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Getting paid $900,000 a year to manage artificial intelligence projects for Netflix would’ve been an eye-popping sum even before two of Hollywood’s major unions went on strike.

But now that the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA are both picketing outside Netflix’s headquarters in protest of low streaming pay and ascendant automation, such a job listing seems acutely emblematic of where the entertainment industry currently stands — and where it’s going.

SAG-AFTRA has approved a deal from the studios to end its historic strike. The actors were on strike for more than 100 days.

Nov. 10, 2023

The “Product Manager — Machine Learning Platform” role, first reported on by the Intercept, offers a pay range of $300,000 to $900,000 for work focused on setting priorities and managing projects related to the streaming giant’s AI software.


And Netflix isn’t alone. Disney Branded Television is hiring for a senior vice president “on the leading edge of technology developments, like artificial intelligence.” Sony is pursuing hires related to AI ethics. And Amazon Prime Video and CBS both are looking to fill AI-related roles of their own, as the Hollywood Reporter recently reported.

With the technology improving and the venture capital flowing, stakeholders across the entertainment world are looking to add artificial intelligence to the production pipeline in a bid to lower costs and increase efficiency. Startups have emerged that promise to change actors’ dialogue, make stunt work safer, “reanimate” dead actors and more.

Tinseltown, it seems, is in the midst of an AI boom — even as its creative class agitates for limits on how that technology gets deployed.

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“It certainly appears like these are high-level strategic positions based on the kind of compensation that’s being offered for them,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director and chief negotiator, said of the job listings. “In terms of a broader AI strategy or a focus on the use of generative AI, that’s not something that we’ve seen prior to now.”

These roles probably aren’t geared toward breaking the strike but rather “to set up a post-strike dynamic around AI,” Crabtree-Ireland added. “This is them looking to the future and attempting to be strategic.”

Some of the recent job listings are for fairly traditional tech-world roles, such as software engineers (who write code) and product managers (who guide projects to completion). And many of them don’t appear to directly touch the content development pipeline that has striking writers and actors so worried.

Nevertheless, the breadth of open roles — and the top-shelf salaries they tout — indicates an increasing embrace of this technology by the film and television world.


At Netflix, for instance, The Times identified more than a dozen active LinkedIn job offers in which the Los Gatos-based streaming platform sought AI expertise. Among those positions were a technical director for AI research and development (proposed pay: $450,000 to $650,000), a machine learning scientist focused on globalization ($150,000 to $750,000) and a machine learning software engineer ($100,000 to $700,000).

The listing for the $900,000 machine learning product manager role at one point said that AI helps Netflix “create great content,” according to the Intercept. However, that wording was gone as of Monday.

Netflix declined to comment for this story.

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Sony, meanwhile, has been looking for a research scientist for its AI ethics group as well as an AI ethics technical program manager. Both roles are part of Tokyo-based Sony Group Corp., whose businesses include Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. and Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Sony Group established AI ethics guidelines in 2018 and, in 2021, opened an AI ethics office, according to the company’s website.

“A key responsibility of an AI ethicist … would be to improve the engineering approach to AI by adding ethical, social, and political perspectives,” wrote Beena Ammanath, executive director of the Global Deloitte AI Institute, in a blog post. “Other key responsibilities include advising on ethical AI practices, protecting against unintended consequences of misbehaving AI and ensuring accountability for AI-related decisions and actions.”

Prompt engineers — who specialize in fine-tuning the instructions given to an AI system — are another of the job categories emerging from the AI boom.

In April, actor-writer Donald Glover announced that his creative studio was hiring for an AI prompt engineer as well as an “AI Prompt Animator.”

“There has been a noticeable push by traditional Hollywood companies, as well as some of the more modern studios and streaming companies, looking to increase their AI capabilities,” said Josh Pendrick, chief executive of Rypplzz, a startup working to make artificially intelligent celebrity holograms. That push preceded the Hollywood strikes but has grown since the start of the labor actions, Pendrick said.

“AI roles in content creation and design are in high demand right now and show no signs of slowing down,” he added.

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Asked about Hollywood’s growing focus on AI, Scott Rowe, a representative for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — which represents the studios in labor negotiations — cited the group’s previously published positions on the technology.

With regards to screenwriting, the AMPTP has said, “AI raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everyone” and that AI-generated text isn’t eligible to get a writing credit. When it comes to acting, the alliance has called for informed consent and fair pay in cases where actors get digitally replicated.

Many industry insiders noted that Hollywood has been hiring for AI positions since before the strikes began. After all, AI has been available to creatives for years — in 2018 a Lexus commercial was written by AI — and the industry already uses AI for things such as making actors look younger and matching dubbed words to on-screen mouth movements.


The 2023 writers’ strike is over after the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reached a deal.

Oct. 19, 2023

AI plays an off-camera role elsewhere in the industry, as with Netflix’s recommendation algorithm.

Leah Caruana, a member of SAG-AFTRA, recently told The Times that she’s already gone through two full-body scans in order to digitize her body for insertion into background scenes.

Such AI “cloning” has been particularly concerning for many SAG-AFTRA members.

“The Guilds’ concerns about the use of AI are legitimate because this is currently a technology at its most nascent stages, and we can already see the ubiquity of the tool,” said attorney Marc Simon, chair of Fox Rothschild’s entertainment and sports law department.

Simon’s client, actor Joe Pesci, was featured in the 2019 Netflix film “The Irishman,” where CGI was used to make Pesci’s character appear younger. “It was critical to me and [Pesci] that the studio would contractually limit the use of his performance and the digital rendering that de-ages him, so that it could never be used for any other purpose,” Simon said.

Two men sitting at a table in a restaurant
A de-aged Joe Pesci, left, and Robert De Niro in a scene from “The Irishman.”

The groundswell of interest in these and other AI use-cases could be further incentive for entertainment companies to get in while the iron is still hot.

“There is a fear that if they don’t explore this, they’re going to be left behind in some way — whether it’s via their competitors utilizing technologies that they don’t yet understand, or whether it’s frankly complete upstarts,” said Simon Pulman, a partner and co-chair of the entertainment practice at Pryor Cashman LLP.

Pulman added: “If you’re a cynic, there’s probably a little bit of an efficiency piece to it. Some of these roles I’ve seen have pretty high-level salary. If that can save them millions of dollars in efficiencies over the coming years, that might very well be worth it.”