INTA 2024: IP the ‘backbone’ of film and television

21 May 2024

INTA 2024: IP the ‘backbone’ of film and television

IP is the backbone of the film and television industry, panellists said in a session covering the industry at INTA’s 2024 Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

The session, “This Business of Film and Television: A C-Suite Perspective for 2024 and Beyond”, brought together trademark attorneys with entertainment industry executives.

“Entertainment and media really are the ultimate test for IP,” said Carolyn Pitt, founder and CEO of, an Atlanta-based job site aimed at film, television and production jobs. “One of the things that attracted me to intellectual property when I was in law school is that it is ever-changing and ever-growing, and guess what, so is the entertainment industry. Some of the same principles that you work with as practitioners day-to-day with copyright, trademarks and patents all very much apply, especially in the entertainment sphere, making sure those IP rights are protectable and figuring out who has which option and who actually has ownership, not just of the original work but as it morphs and grows into content, and different types of content and derivative. All of that from law school still applies in entertainment, and the stakes are very high. The attorneys are the most important part, in my opinion, in keeping it all functioning and running and keeping the rights sorted out so that it can continue to grow and expand.”

Kate Atwood, founder and CEO of LoCo+, a distribution platform designed to showcase local content creators while allowing them to retain control of their IP, said creator-owned IP would lead to higher-quality viewing experiences for audiences.

“It’s so important that creators are able to retain their IP and monetize it. If you can hold on to your IP, you will have a much better opportunity for success. We are trying to build the infrastructure that provides both a pipeline and a pathway for independent film and television. IP is the backbone,” she said.

Atlanta is home to the second-largest number of sound stages in the United States. The state of Georgia has an aggressive film tax credit designed to rebate movie and television production costs in the state; because the state was an early adopter in terms of film credits, Atlanta, in particular, has developed a significant infrastructure and has attracted creatives, from writers to actors and those working behind the scenes.

“Because the film industry came here, there’s an infrastructure here that is not in a lot of other places,” said Mark Swinton, senior vice president of scripted programming at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, and a writer and director. “Georgia has so many different landscapes. You can be in the forest, you can be in the country, and it has all four seasons, so if you have a story to tell, it’s an ideal place. If you wanted to tell a story that takes place in Cleveland, the infrastructure’s not there, but there are a lot of places in Atlanta that can be Cleveland, or Idaho or other places that don’t have the infrastructure.”

The panel also discussed concerns about the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the industry, particularly in the rise of digital replicas and synthetic performers, sticking points during last year’s negotiations between studios and the members of the SAG-AFTRA actors union. “We had a lot of actors [in the strike]. Did they really want digital performers and synthetic replicas saying that [the actors] were over there in the field when they were actually at home?” asked Traci V. Bransford, an Atlanta-based partner and Sports & Entertainment Industry Team Leader at Parker Poe, a regional law firm in the southeastern United States. “So who’s going to pay them that day rate if the studio threw a synthetic performer up there?”

“It’s not just the actors,” said Pitt. “It’s the whole industry that is concerned [about AI] because the potential job loss affects all professionals. The special effects, those who act in front of the camera. It’s an interesting double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have individuals whose careers rely on them being able to go on set and do what they do very well. Then you have technology that comes in and makes it faster. AI is a great example. Now you can pretend you’re in Thailand on top of a large mountain, looking down as though you’re in a drone, from right here from Tyler Perry Studios, instead of having to go there and find the people and find the technology. It’s a less expensive way of creating content for those who work in the industry.”

At the other end of the spectrum, she said, AI is a cost-cutting method for studios that enables them to be in places and leverage resources in a much more reasonable way than having to actually bring in additional cast and crew.

Bransford asked the panel: “Does it matter if I think I’m looking at Matthew McConaughey and it’s not Matthew? Who cares? No harm, no foul.”

Swinton said that a lot of creatives are terrified of exactly this happening. Using an analogy from the music industry, Swinton pointed out that in the late 1970s, the synthesizer came along and changed studio recording.

“A synthesizer can make the sound of a trumpet and drum and a keyboard. And studio musicians at the time said, ‘you’ll never be able to replace me, because I play the saxophone, and I play the violin.’ In the 1980s, all studio musicians lost their jobs, and one person could do a full album with a singer and one keyboard. It absolutely did take jobs away, and AI is on that same path,” he sad.

Swinton said that in discussions with his boss, Tyler Perry, they have discussed the emerging ability of a single person to make a movie on a computer. “Tyler has brought me up to speed on the technology. It has grown so quickly you can say to AI, give me a script that’s [in a style] between Tyler Perry and Jerry Bruckheimer, where this happens, and AI can give you the script. And then you say ‘give me actors that look like this, and this, and this,’ and AI can do that. And let’s set it in Prague, and AI can do that. If someone’s really resourceful, they can create a film.”

He also said that his studio is regularly visited by sales representatives from AI companies who tell them that the studio could almost do away with actors and production personnel almost entirely. “From the studio perspective, [it’s tempting to think] that if we hire an actor to do the first version of a film, we can do numbers two, three, four and five [without them], because once we get their voice and their likeness in the first film, we never need them again. AI can give us that actor in each film. We can do 20 more films and will never need that actor.”

He noted that in the new SAG-AFTRA contract, the actor will still be paid, even if the studio were to use a digital replica of the actor.

- Gregory Glass, reporting from Atlanta

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