As AI-Created Photorealistic Images Proliferate, Documentary Producers Draw Up Guidelines – Hollywood Reporter

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As filmmakers start to incorporate more generative AI into documentary production, leading to mounting concern over the use of “fake archival” materials, a group of producers is pushing ahead in their efforts to establish guardrails around the use of the technology in fact-based storytelling.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Archival Producers Alliance — a group of roughly 300 researchers and producers working in documentary internationally, including Oscar- and Emmy-winning filmmakers — presented their first draft of a set of proposed best practices for the use of generative AI in their field. (Archival producers find and license appropriate archival materials like historical photos and video footage for nonfiction projects.) During the session at the International Documentary Association‘s biennial Getting Real Conference in Los Angeles, APA founders Rachel Antell and Jennifer Petrucelli (Crip Camp) and Stephanie Jenkins (Muhammad Ali) presented an initial outline for how filmmakers might handle consent, primary sources and transparency in an era where generative AI tools are an option, and solicited feedback from attendees.

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“We recognize that AI is here, and it is here to stay. And we recognize that it brings with it potential for amazing creative opportunities,” Petrucelli said during the session. “And at the same time, we want to really encourage people to take a collective breath and move forward with thoughtfulness and intention as we begin to navigate this new and rapidly changing landscape.”

The use of AI in documentaries has become a hot-button topic in the space not only as the technology improves, but also as select filmmakers have begun experimenting with it in major projects. Take 2021’s Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, which stoked controversy when filmmaker Morgan Neville disclosed in interviews that he had ordered a synthetic voice of Bourdain so he could have “Bourdain” speak three lines of which there were no recordings. (The use of AI was not initially divulged in the film.) Director Andrew Rossi also used an AI facsimile of Andy Warhol’s voice in 2022’s The Andy Warhol Diaries so “Warhol” could read lines from his diaries aloud in the film, a technique that was approved by the Andy Warhol Foundation; Rossi also disclosed this use of the technology in the film.

The APA emerged from a series of conversations that began in the summer of 2023 around the growing use of AI in documentary, Jenkins noted during Tuesday’s session. “We started to see that people were being asked to create fake archival materials, such as photorealistic images that are indistinguishable from primary sources,” she said.

In the document of the APA’s draft guidelines that The Hollywood Reporter obtained, the APA says the recommendations are intended to “reaffirm the journalistic values that the documentary community has long held.” Generative artificial intelligence will present opportunities to filmmakers, the group adds, and it isn’t taking issue with the use of the technology to touch up or restore images. Rather, the guidelines are “meant to address the creation of new materials, as well as substantial alterations to existing primary source materials that change their meaning in ways that could mislead the audience.”

To that end, the APA encourages the use of primary sources in their draft document. When generative AI must be used instead of these sources, the group adds, filmmakers should consider algorithmic bias that is produced by the data on which the technology is trained, bring as much intention to the use of generative AI as they would to reenactments and contemplate in their production process how “synthetic material,” if shared online and in other spaces, “is in danger of forever muddying the historical record.” The group also calls for the industry to be transparent about the use of AI, by both disclosing its use to colleagues during production, legal teams and subjects and making clear note of it to viewers. The group urges filmmakers to “undertake a thorough legal review” when using generative AI and to consider seeking “additional consent” than what is legally required when generative AI is used to transform the likeness of their subjects.

During Tuesday’s session, the Ford Foundation’s program officer of creativity and free expression Jon-Sesrie Goff, documentary producer Elizabeth Woodward and ITVS supervising producer Shana Swanson offered feedback on the initial draft guidelines. Woodward, whose 2023 film Another Body used a deepfake of its subject — a college student who finds deepfake pornography of herself online — to obscure her identity, noted how generative AI tools allowed the film’s subject to “reclaim a technology that was used to attack her and silence her.” She added of her filmmaking team’s use of AI, “We didn’t have a protocol or guidelines to follow, so I know this will be so valuable to filmmakers.” Swanson suggested that APA meet with insurers and involve a “larger group” in its discussions around the draft guidelines, including funders and distributors.

The APA — at the time a coalition of around 100 professionals that was only a few months old — first announced its intention to create a set of guidelines for the industry in an open letter in November 2023. In the months that followed, a group of members convened to write the initial draft of the protocols, in the process reviewing rules at PBS and the BBC and provisions in the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA contracts. The group also met with AI scholar Marie desJardins and MIT Media Lab research assistant Robert Mahari, as well as professor emerita at Stanford University’s documentary program.

The next steps for the group, leaders explained on Tuesday’s session, will be to solicit more feedback on the draft guidelines from archival producers and meet with streamers and networks, find specific filmmakers and production companies who are willing to sign on to the guidelines, create a “board” that could do an annual review of the document to ensure it stays up to date and also potentially create a certification protocol for projects that use the guidelines. The group is aiming to publish its final guidelines in the summer of 2024, Jenkins added.

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