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."