Is it artistically ethical to use AI tools in modern indie filmmaking?

That's a big question on a lot of our minds these days as artists and filmmakers, and—oh boy—is it controversial.

Our most recent soiree into the debate comes in an ironic twist with the upcoming horror film Late Night With the Devil and recent backlash from a Twitter warrior noticing an AI generated still in the trailer. If AI is a "devil" of sorts to humanist art, should we perpetuate it in any way at all?

Per Variety, filmmakers Cameron and Colin Cairnes released a statement defending the choice, stating:

“In conjunction with our amazing graphics and production design team, all of whom worked tirelessly to give this film the 70s aesthetic we had always imagined, we experimented with AI for three still images which we edited further and ultimately appear as very brief interstitials in the film. We feel incredibly fortunate to have had such a talented and passionate cast, crew and producing team go above and beyond to help bring this film to life. We can’t wait for everyone to see it for themselves this weekend.”

An earnest response, but does it justify not sourcing the art organically and paying artists for their work?

It's tricky, and controversial for a reason. So let's discuss below.

The Argument(s) Against

Nothing particularly new here, but worth reiterating—AI is a major threat to artists everywhere, but particularly in the film industry. If filmmakers are using AI even on a basic level to cut costs and time, that means that jobs are being cut and less people are working.

It's not as cut-and-dry as that (more below), but at the same time, the logical end of utilizing AI is that it simply destroys jobs in the industry. The biggest fear in my opinion is entry level jobs on every scale.

In the context of Late Night With the Devil, this could be a Jr. GFX task, maybe a talented post PA, even an artistic producer. Outside of film roles one of the biggest arguments online is this could have been sourced to an artist in need of a small amount of money that would have loved an opportunity to be a part of a movie that looks as cool as One Night With the Devil.

All in all, the argument against in this case is leading a trail to lazy producing and eliminating costs that where they may not have needed to be eliminated.

In Defense of Artificial Intelligence (As a Tool)

Before the firing squad load their muskets hear me out.

AI is certainly here. It isn't going away. That sucks for a ton of reasons, but...

I work in post production as an editor and AE, and you know a really cool development that's made my life significantly saner over the last couple years? Auto synching for audio and AI transcription for dialogue. If anyone disagrees with that, I would be pretty, prettyyyyyy shocked.

I think an important distinction here is using AI as a tool rather than using it to replace art. A useful techy tool that helps productions move smoother and allows us to spend more time on the things that matter versus the nitty gritties? That's been happening long before AI entered the zeitgeist, folks.

The case for Late Night With the Devil, it's a bit tricky. The graphic at hand is a little bit of both it seems. And, to be honest, I haven't seen the movie yet and have no idea how heavily it's used. But, per the filmmaker's quote above, it seems like an innocent choice that was also made a bit before the true united artistic stand before AI began.

There was a time when it felt like everyone on social media was testing these tools and playing with photos -- this movie was made during that time, and before the reckoning.

And, if I'm being honest, Late Night With the Devil looks pretty great and that a lot of time and effort outside of these three graphics went into making an authentically practical movie.

More Reactions to Ponder

Editors note: Aaron wanted to clarify: "Just to clarify that we are not condoning AI art, just trying to give context to a potential path to that decision 2 years ago. And that my company, paper street pictures, does not now nor have we ever used AI art."

Our Take?

Is The Use of AI in 'Late Night With the Devil' Ethical?

In the Mouth of Madness

Look, I'm against AI taking our jobs and pay away as much as the next guy, but boycotting movies (unless it's like a completely AI written or something) is silly. We need people to be going to theaters to support indie movies! And honestly I feel like the lesson to the filmmakers is clear enough already.

Another thing that makes me hopeful? AI is cheap. We can seek it out from a mile away, and filmmakers (particularly indie filmmakers I'm sure) are taking note. I think over time the right filmmakers will think twice before settling for it, and we can only hope executives do the same...

Late Night With the Devil opens in theaters Friday March 22.