The Great Battle

Actors and writers are taking to the streets, others are going to the movies — what “Barbenheimer” has to do with the strike and AI.

These days, as striking actors and writers in New York and Los Angeles take to the streets and engage in fierce verbal battles with the representatives of film and television producers, as veteran media moguls like Barry Diller warn of “an absolute collapse of an entire industry,” another titanic confrontation looms: “The battle of the bomb versus the bombshell” as the business magazine Variety put it.

This refers to the parallel film debuts of “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” this Friday, a phenomenon for which the portmanteau “Barbenheimer” is already circulating. Two films that are set to heat up a so far rather moderate summer season. Because in Hollywood, morbid doomsday fantasies and exaggerated hopes are found side by side and because analysts there also seem to be dreaming, “Barbie” is expected to gross between $90 and $120 million on its first weekend and $60 million more outside the United States. As for “Oppenheimer,” it could gross $100 million total in its first weekend in the United States and in international markets.*

In comparison, “Mission: Impossible” brought in $56 million and “Indiana Jones” $60 million in their first weekends; however, each cost around $300 million, while “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” cost just under half and a third of that respectively. It’s a curious effect that the movie theater chain AMC already sold 40,000 tickets in presale for a double feature, because those responsible for setting the release date surely did not have an intersection like this in mind.

Regardless of whether or not the pink frenzy fades at the beginning of the week, the strike will continue. Barry Diller’s proposal that the top earners among producers and actors forgo 25% of their pay is certainly not a solution, just a populist about-face. It’s more plausible that representatives of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service have long been exploring opportunities to reach an agreement with strikers. This may be considered as unglamorous as the work of mediators in the collective bargaining dispute between Deutsche Bahn and the railway union since it is essentially about numbers, percentages and compensation.

More Transparency Is Necessary

Unlike the railway, however, Hollywood is also about paths to the future. In order to set percentages you need numbers. And it is well known that streaming platforms are incredibly cagey when it comes to disclosing their numbers. Success-based royalties cannot be determined this way, of course. The problem here is neither greed nor alleged economic irrationality. Transparency would be one of the requirements for further negotiations.

The second aspect concerns the use of artificial intelligence. Actor Simon Pegg, recently seen as Benji in “Mission: Impossible,” in conflict with a world-threatening artificial intelligence, seems more naive than the film’s plot allows when he says AI “could be a good thing in that it keeps us from mediocrity.”Christopher Nolan is clearer on this point, having already spoken of an “Oppenheimer moment” in the development of AI.

Without naming names, he became quite clear with direct reference to the labor dispute: “A lot of companies for 15 years have bandied about terms like ‘algorithm,’ not knowing what they really mean in any meaningful, technical sense,” he said after a demonstration in New York. “These guys don’t really know what an algorithm is or what it does. People in my business talking about it, they just don’t want to take responsibility for whatever that algorithm does.” In the end, perhaps actors and writers should take strategic advice from Nolan.

*Editor’s Note: In fact, the two movies surpassed expectations: “Barbie” brought in $155 million domestically and $182 million internationally. “Oppenheimer” grossed $93.7 million domestically and $174 million internationally.

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About Michael Stehle 100 Articles
I am a graduate of the University of Maryland with a BA in Linguistics and Germanic Studies. I have a love for language and I find translation to be both an engaging activity as well as an important process for connecting the world.

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