June 10, 2016

An Algorithm Wrote This Movie, and It's Somehow Amazing

A director's sci-fi algorithm wrote a brilliant sci-fi short film.

While Oscar Sharp was thinking up ideas for a film submission to Sci-Fi London's 48-Hour Film Challenge, he read a lot of sci-fi screenplays. In fact, he read all of the sci-fi screenplays he could find on the internet. That's when he had the idea: why not feed an algorithm these scripts—ranging from The X-Files to Ghostbusters to Interstellar to The Fifth Element—and let the movie write itself?

Sharp contacted his long-time collaborator Ross Goodwin, an AI researcher at NYU, who put a certain AI bot called Benjamin to the task. Benjamin is an LSTM recurrent neural network, which is often used for text recognition. It worked by ingesting the screenplays, dissecting them down to the letter, and learning to predict which letters, words, and phrases were likely to appear together. Eventually, Benjamin even learned to write in screenplay format with stage directions and dialogue. 

"As soon as we had a read-through, everyone around the table was laughing their heads off with delight," Sharp told Ars Technica. The resulting screenplay and film, Sunspring (which you can and definitely should read), is dramatic and absurdly funny. The characters speak in enigmas befitting of the film's futuristic world. (One of the stage directions Benjamin wrote: "He is standing in the stars and sitting on the floor.")

Sharp described his screenplay as an "average" of sci-fi screenplays; interestingly, that average is comprised of many lines like "Then what?", "There's no answer," or "I don't know anything about any of this." With his Frankenstein's monster of a screenplay, Sharp has exposed a central tenet of the sci-fi world: its characters are ever-questioning, preoccupied with the unknown.

Even more impressive than the algorithm itself is the film that Sharp conjured from it. Sunspring features dialogue so jumbled that it might as well not be English, yet Sharp and the actors worked together to build character arcs and nuaced social interactions that transcend language itself. In a brilliant and unexpected way, Sunspring proves that a film's emotional undercurrent is more salient than its dialogue. 

Yet some of the dialogue is quite evocative. "I need to leave, but I'm not free of the world," one character says. Another: "He looks at me, and he throws me out of his eyes."       

Your Comment

25 Comments

That's just too good. Computer driven Twin Peaks.

June 10, 2016 at 8:08PM

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Darren Wolff
Self Shooting PD
470

Eloquently Disturbing

June 10, 2016 at 9:14PM

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Shakespeare meets the absurd.

June 10, 2016 at 9:52PM

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Rean Combrinck
Film Maker
167

When you call an algorithm poetry, and a bad film great, you discredit your whole goddamn site. It means you don't know what poetry is and it means you don't know what good film is.

Your purpose as a site is not to promote the most absurd content, it's to be an alternative source of "education" for filmmakers.

June 11, 2016 at 3:11AM

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Evan Webster Wiley
Writer and Film Director
81

I think your looking in the wrong perspective here. This is very intereting. It's like an exquisite corpse screenplay. And because the feed of this algorithm is a human source at a subliminal level there is a lot of content. No doubt the film isn't anything special, but the exercise is fun and it enriching. André Breton, if he was alive, he would be all over this.

June 11, 2016 at 3:31AM

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Tiago Carvalhas
Director
83

how is it interesting? It is a playwriting exercise or acting exercise 101. Nothing new or engaging. The shorter bearded man (the lead??) was good, the only reason to keep watching. Why would you waste your time creating such a program?? What possible good does it do? Is writting such a burden that such program is needed? What harm does it do?? It automates yet another aspect of our humanity, our creativity. How is it enriching? How is it different from anything people have been doing for eons? So a computer wrote it?? Who gives a s**t? It is just like 99.9 percent of everything else in the digital driven film world of today, worthless.

June 12, 2016 at 8:59AM

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chris
1

Just like every other site - momma need them clickbait shit pieces.

June 13, 2016 at 10:33AM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
556

On the contrary, Evan, the filmmaking created from this script illustrate techniques and performances that are incredibly informative. It's a valid exercise, I think.

And "He looks at me and throws me out of his eyes." Is poetic. Especially the way the actor handles it. That's sort of the point, right?

Maybe you're just a bit too earnest and serious to give this a chance and appreciate it for what it is.

June 18, 2016 at 8:46AM, Edited June 18, 8:49AM

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I would have Loved it if at the end, after the credits, such a title would come up:

"Oh, by the way, that are NINE minutes of your life you aren't getting back! :)"

June 11, 2016 at 4:26AM

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Luc Beloix
Director Of Photography
184

Disturbing is the word

June 11, 2016 at 5:38AM, Edited June 11, 5:38AM

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Vladimir Miketa
Cinematographer & Editor
169

"He looks at me, and he throws me out of his eyes." It's not just read like any line. The actor who says it perfectly evokes a tear just as he throws her out of his eyes. The actors brought a lot to the table...they won't be replaced with AI anytime soon.

June 11, 2016 at 8:38AM

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Oh great, even an AI can make a film! FML.

Who fed it X-Men Origins Wolverine? That's not feeding that's poisoning.

June 11, 2016 at 11:25AM

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This is more of a testament to how great delivery of lines, music and visual storytelling work. Some of the lines didn't make sense but the acting, the movements of the actors, camerawork pointed to a certain story line which the script didn't necessarily facilitate.

June 11, 2016 at 4:51PM, Edited June 11, 4:51PM

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If John Cage wrote a screenplay.

June 12, 2016 at 5:40PM, Edited June 12, 5:40PM

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Nothing new here -- Hollywood screenplays are already written by algorithms.

June 13, 2016 at 1:04AM

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Minor Mogul
Dilettante
559

I think this is the start of something that is going to make a lot of money for other people.

June 13, 2016 at 1:14AM

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Your task is to create something better than this.

June 13, 2016 at 1:14AM

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I thought Hollywood dumbuster scripts are generated now. I mean those generic capeshit sequels must be scripted by some iWriter app.

June 13, 2016 at 10:35AM, Edited June 13, 10:35AM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
556

Digital autograph for the next few weeks of a second chance for me and my dad just called the cops and a lot more than the original source of information about this one has ever happened in my life. I'm not sure how much I love you so I don't think it's time for the rest is history.

*typing 'digital' then selecting at random the suggestions made by my phone. So if you're feeling uninspired...

June 13, 2016 at 10:45AM

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An interesting exercise but it was missing a human coherence. This exercise might have worked better to create song lyrics but even than it seems unnatural, and not in a cool sci-fi way

June 13, 2016 at 4:41PM, Edited June 13, 4:41PM

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Max Walker
Editor
84

There's a little thing out there called life. Go and live it.

June 17, 2016 at 12:15PM

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Drew Staniland
Actor/Videographer/Writer/Director
161

Anyone who calld this amazing is an idiot.

But the technology of dialogue prediction-estimation has future uses.

June 18, 2016 at 5:04PM, Edited June 18, 5:04PM

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Daniel
81

I've seen Hollywood block busters make less sense than this.

Ok, joking aside. I found it weirdly compelling. And also a bit reminescent of that Simpsons Couch-gag that Don Hertzfeldt made whatwith the whole thing about language and media eventually evolving into, in our eyes, gibberish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m78gYyTrG7Y

I'm tempted to find out what a whole film like this would feel like. I personally would skip the pseudo wannabe realism of shaky footage where it's unnecessary. But just experiencing a whole 90 min film like this. Experimental? Yes. Pretentious? Oh, hell yeah! But just to see something like this once. Like that film that is all blue and is called... Blue... it just makes me curious...

June 26, 2016 at 3:17PM

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Johan Malmsten
Movie-Worker
53

I feel as if I should get some sort of royalty from this....This is nearly, and when I say nearly I am referring to the incredibly large amount of connections that I, myself, me can make through my experiences over the last year and a half. My only issue is that I can, improve on the idea, though I would have never been able to get the "solid foundation" (or even started at all) that has been created here. So that leaves me with an option for only 2 choices. I can build on the "ideas" of others, which somehow I am having issues in my mind and body with a moral objection. Or I can just sit back and enjoy the entertainment. Having zero experience in creating anything close to this type of work, I believe that this was not just the work of one individual, so theoretically an idea such as this is already incorporating the building off one another. So why not "face everything and rebuild". But then again it is works like this that also ignites a desire to just sit back and enjoy the show.....even if the end of this movie...MY MOVIE,....is waiting for a majestic conclusion...good or bad...is just a emotional response of time...for those unique individuals that are much slower than most, in areas of attaining perspective and acceptance to eventually say, with all emotionally compromising situations, EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON....JDUB---IOUS

October 28, 2016 at 3:39PM

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Jason D
Coffee Consumer
3

For those of you who can't design a computer algorithm to do this, you can always use scissors just like William S. Burroughs, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain and others.

http://www.openculture.com/2015/02/bowie-cut-up-technique.html

January 11, 2017 at 10:35PM

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