It looks like I wasn’t the only one who felt that Peter Cushing was being abused by finding himself in “Rogue One” without his prior consent. Of the late actor being digitally inserted into a role he never agreed to play and deliver lines he never contracted to deliver, I wrote…
The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images.
Cushing’s exploitation and the subsequent death of Carrie Fisher with widespread speculation that she would soon be added to the “Star Wars” franchise’s army of CGI clones have now sounded the alarm loudly. But apparently many actors were already aware of the threat, and taking affirmative action to control their destinies.
Filmmakers are tapping advances in digital technology to resurrect characters after a performer dies, most notably in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The film, in theaters now, features the return of Grand Moff Tarkin, originally played by a long-dead actor.
The trend has sent Hollywood actors in the here-and-now scrambling to exert control over how their characters and images are portrayed in the hereafter.
“Celebrities are increasingly involved in making plans to protect their intellectual property rights,” said Mark Roesler, an attorney and chairman of CMG Worldwide, an agency representing celebrity estates. “They understand that their legacy will continue beyond their lifetime.”
Roesler said at least 25 of his clients are engaged in actively negotiating the use of their or their loved ones’ computer-generated images in movies, television or commercials. Employment contracts govern how they can be used in a particular film or commercial, while a performer’s will can address broader issues.
Some actors or heirs worry that overexposure will tarnish a celebrity’s image, Roesler said. Some explicitly rule out posthumous depictions involving sex or violence, while others focus on drugs or alcohol.
“We have seen people address marijuana,” he said. “We’ve seen liquor addressed.”
California law already gives heirs control over actors’ posthumous profits by requiring their permission for any of use of their likeness. As technology has improved, many living actors there are more focused on steering their legacy with stipulations on how their images are used – or by forbidding their use.
Robin Williams, who committed suicide in 2014, banned any use of his image for commercial means until 2039, according to court documents. He also blocked anyone from digitally inserting him into a movie or TV scene or using a hologram, as was done with rapper Tupac Shakur at Southern California’s Coachella music festival in 2012 – 16 years after his murder.
Excellent. Now they know. It was too late for Peter Cushing, but if a current actor lets himself get turned into a cyber-puppet without his consent, he has nobody to blame but himself. Actors are on notice. They have been warned. They work in a profession and culture that will squeeze every last dollar out of their talent for as long as it can, forever if possible.
Now, at least, if that happens, the actors will have some control.