Free In Life, But Eternally Enslaved By Movie Studios In Death

If we thought it was a problem that older arts administrators were resisting retirement and making it difficult for newer people in the field to advance and gain valuable skills, actors may end up having it worse. According to an article on MIT Technology Review, actors are digitally preserving themselves which would allow them to perform even after they die.

“It’s sort of a safe bet for the people with the money. It’s a familiar face,” says Ingvild Deila, who was scanned by Industrial Light and Magic for her role as Princess Leia in Rogue One. “We like to repeat what’s worked in the past, so it’s part financial, part nostalgia.”

Earlier this year Last Jedi visual-effects supervisor Ben Morris told Inverse that the Star Wars franchise is now scanning all its leads. Just in case. “We will always digitally scan all the lead actors in the film,” says Morris. “We don’t know if we’re going to need them.”

The article talks about some of the technical difficulties that have been encountered during efforts to retroactively create images of people from old video footage supplemented by motion capture from body doubles. The fact that actors are proactively working to collect a plethora of information about their gestural nuances and inevitable improvements in technology mean that an actor’s career can be extended for a long time.

There are all sort of thorny questions that this raises. On the positive side the technology may be an equalizer for women who have often found their careers truncated as they age or start being offered parts as mothers of male actors only a few years their junior  (or in the infamous case of Angelina Jolie and Collin Farrell in Alexander, one year her junior). Of course, that opens a whole can of worms akin to the controversies about retouching magazine photos if the digital recordings of women are used to “de-age” them more than their male counterparts.

Regardless of gender there is the question of authenticity and believability that can arise.

Not to mention, the matter of whether humans are needed at all if an AI can create a digital simulacrum that can deliver a believable, evocative performance.

I am not sure fans’ desire to interact with a live personae would necessarily prevent a digital creation from achieving peak stardom since the online and recorded presence already constitutes a significant portion of so many people’s relationship with those they admire.

If fans need a real life person upon which to shower praise, perhaps it will end up being the directors of design teams that will be the prime recipients of adulation for their masterful manipulation of wholly digital constructs.

The more I think about this issue, the more problems I can think of. My brain is already writing the plot of a movie where a studio kills off an actor so that they can’t contract their likeness to a rival studio, thereby making their recording at the peak of the actor’s powers the most valuable.

I anticipate court cases where heirs lose a lawsuit over the use of their great-grandparent’s likeness because the law governing such matters was underdeveloped in 2020.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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