Since then, it's been a whirlwind of meetings and conversations. I signed with a manager, and we're talking to financiers and filmmakers. All is good.
I am so proud of that screenplay and all the work I put into writing it.
Personally speaking, I think the hardest time in Hollywood is when you're trying to get your work read by people. You need these reads to get notes to make your script the best it can be.
You wait days, months, and sometimes even all year for people to crack the page.
If you're impatient, you could submit to a paid screenwriting coverage service, but many are not worth the money and give you back various notes.
When I was workshopping Himbo (read the script below), I had to rely on friends and colleagues. I was incredibly lucky to have them around. They helped me shape this narrative into the best screenplay it could be with notes and candor.
But not everyone is as lucky as I am.
So, what can they do?
This is a common question asked by people breaking into Hollywood. And one a programmer named Jack Zhang decided to try to correct.
Jack reached out to me about a new service he founded. It's an AI-driven program called Greenlight Coverage, and it gives instant feedback on your script. You just upload it, and the AI software spits coverage back to you. It rates different parts of the script on a scale from 1-10 and then gives a synopsis, positive comments, and notes on what would make it better.
The program even creates a cast list and movie comps, allowing you to have an AI question-and-answer session to ask specific questions about the script.
As an AI skeptic who thinks human input is more valuable than a computer, I jumped at the chance to test the software.
Let's go over what I found out …
The Overview of AI in Screenwriting'Bicentennial Man'
I marched all summer as a proud member of the WGA to make sure studios never used AI to make screenplays and to always make sure writers are paid fairly moving forward.
I'll be up front, the idea of AI in Hollywood scares me.
We should never try and replace human creativity with machines. It is soulless and bastardizes the art form.
I don't think human beings and their creativity and emotions are replaceable, but I think the big tech companies that have entered Hollywood and focused on the bottom line will do anything to save a buck or two.
When I broke into Hollywood as an assistant, the first thing that got me noticed was my coverage. I can read a script or a book fast, and I can turn that over into a full screenplay coverage document in a few hours, faster if it's a pilot.
That got me a job and allowed me to build a network that had my back when it was my turn to try to get my screenplay read.
For those who don't know, screenplay coverage is the process of analyzing and summarizing scripts. It's a nuanced task traditionally performed by industry professionals at agencies, production companies, and paid services.
As AI begins to play a role in this domain, it's essential to explore the impacts and concerns associated with its use.
Right off the top of my head, I can tell you I am worried about the interpretation of complex human emotions and thematic elements inside a great screenplay.
I'm also worried about people being out of a job, lazy executives funneling everything through a computer, and taste coming from an algorithm.
So I brought all that up with Greenlight Essentials Founder, Jack Zhang.
Jack assured me via email that they "100% comply with what WGA said, no training will be done on any of the scripts uploaded on our platform, once you delete the screenplay 100% of the data will be deleted. No one else has access to your screenplay. It is 100% up to the writer to use any of the materials the software generates. The user is in full control."
After a few long Zooms with him, I decided that it was safe for me to test the product.
Testing 'Himbo' with Greenlight Coverage
When it came time to test a screenplay in the coverage generator, I played around with it a bit. I put in some famous scripts like Jaws, but when the program spit out coverage really fast, I just felt like there were too many variables at play.
So I decided to take one for the team and load up one of my own specs.
It's a spec I have a ton of confidence in and one that I know other human beings who have nothing to do with me actually liked it and voted it to be one of the best.
It's also a weird and challenging script that contains some unlikable protagonists and a lot of massive twists.
I'm not great at tooting my own horn, but I figured this spec had enough depth, character, and nuance to really test the program. And it was unknown, so it would push it to the brink.
The first thing you do in Greenlight Coverage is upload your PDF. You can see in the above picture it's pretty simple.
Five minutes later, I had full coverage written on Himbo, which I'll post below.
I want to stress that everything in this coverage was generated by AI, including the logline it puts at the top. For Himbo, it wrote, "After discovering a secret gold mine, a dimwitted male stripper becomes embroiled in a deadly love triangle as he fights to secure the fortune and begin his dream life."
That logline is pretty close to the movie.
In actuality, the gold mine is not discovered, but revealed to our title character. But the crux of the story is about a dumb stripper stuck in a love triangle.
From there, you get some keywords, locations, and then it jumps right into the rating.
As you can see, I did pretty average on everything or below average on everything but the dialogue, originality, and plot.
My nitpick is that there's not much depth in the answers or a ton of reasoning. Let's take the emotional connection first. I chose this script because it's a very dark comedy about people killing each other over greed.
I wouldn't call it campy at all, and that word hasn't sprung up in any of the other objective reads. I would say it's an erotic thriller, but maybe I'm wrong.
It's one of those scripts where the enjoyment is in how wild it gets.
You're not supposed to root for anyone, but see how the pulling of one thread can unravel everyone in the circle.
Another low point, according to the program, is the theme and message. It thinks that none of what I was going for was explored in a meaningful way.
But I guess my question would be, what does that mean? What's more meaningful than a group of people losing their lives because they each were willing to do whatever it takes to get enough money to live the life they wanted?
I did a Q&A with the AI program to ask it this question, but I found the answer it gave to be a little general, suggesting I dig deeper, but not providing any feedback for what was directly wrong with the way the theme was approached.
Maybe I'm bitter? I guess my issue here is that the humans who have read the script haven't bumped on this stuff. But I bet some humans did and didn't tell me, since this is a subjective medium.
Still, when AI says it like an objective, that can be troublesome.
There's also a short synopsis it generates, more like the big beats of the script. When I wrote coverage, I used to write a pretty detailed synopsis, but if this service is meant to function quickly and to give more notes, maybe this one works.
After that section, the program breaks down what it likes and doesn't like in your script.
Going over the likes and dislikes is pretty interesting. I think character motivations are all there, but I would have to ask the producers on the movie what they think is missing, if anything.
Here's my opinion on the script: The gold mine is not random; in fact, it's hinted at in the opening scene at the top of page one of the screenplay. The ambiguous ending? Yeah, that's what it is. Is Kevin dreaming, or is he dying? That's what I am asking the audience. And I'll never cut down the plot twists — they're the core of why I wrote it!
You can read the whole report with the actors and the comps, and the review goes on and on. I liked the casting ideas, although I felt like the program relied on older famous names and not new breakout stars.
I thought those sections were quite useful.
Is Greenlight Coverage Worth It?
Look, coverage will always be subjective, but when I finished reading this, I was sort of at a loss.
Because the truth is, I could see a read like this coming from a human being.
And these are the range of emotions I go through hearing notes from anyone, I just think it's a lot harder to swallow when it's from an inanimate object.
Is it the best coverage? No. But as someone who has tested many services out there, I felt it gave better coverage than some paid sites, which are hit-and-miss depending on the person who reads your script.
No matter what I uploaded to Greenlight, it spits back out consistent coverage.
That's something you can rely on.
My biggest issue is that I truly do not believe a machine can pick up on themes and emotions that are in screenplays. Those are purely human reactions that I do not think an algorithm can scan. There is something magical in a great screenplay that feels unquantifiable when you read it.
And it is hard for me to buy into the taste of an algorithm when it comes to its interaction with any human's work.
I look at AI as a tool that some writers may decide to use. I was happy I tried this tool, and I honestly was surprised by the feedback of the coverage. While I don't agree with most of it, it did give me some food for thought.
For now, my opinion is that Greenlight Coverage is not better than the people in my life who give me screenplay notes.
But it might be the only option for people across the world who don't have a lot of money or access.
After I read through it a few times, I had to sit and think about whether or not I could tell a person to try this service, which starts at $45 for the first script and bills more for more screenplays after that.
The thing is, many people are not in my position in Hollywood. $45 is relatively cheap for instant coverage. And it can help writers who may be struggling get fast notes to help guide them on their rewrites.
My gut reaction is that I probably would try this tool again if I needed instant feedback on a draft. If my friends were busy or burned out, or I were trying a new genre, I might consult the AI to see how the script does — mostly because I feel I got feedback so fast and could learn from it.
But I also think I would only use more straightforward screenplays with the software. I put in a couple of more commercial scripts I've written with fewer twists and turns, and they scored very high. I thought it would be boring to cover those, so I went with this one instead.
If this feels like it's not an endorsement or a panning, you're right. I think getting a human being to read and cover your script is the best option. But I'm aware of the limitations of that viewpoint.
The other worry that I haven't explored is implicit bias. Sure, humans have loads of it, but we've seen these advanced language models also have the bias of humans because they were programmed by human beings.
There would have to be an extensive study for me to believe that an AI model was writing coverage from a pure place. and we just don't have that yet.
So, if you want to try this service for yourself, we were able to get you a discount.
Use code NOFILMSCHOOL, which will give users a 10% discount on whatever plan they choose from the site.
Another Litany of Worries
Before I end this article, I want to say that the thing I worry the most about when it comes to programs like this is studios replacing human readers or interns with this program.
They could employ it like a first line of defense and say they will only read scripts scoring a six or higher or another metric solely based on an algo and not a human being.
When I go to the movies with friends, I often find that my group has some people who love what they see and others that did not.
That's the beauty and frustration of working in a subjective medium — everything is based on opinions, and no one is wrong as long as they can back up their opinions with facts.
Well, I hate that we're handing taste over to a program that quantifies ideas with mathematics and not emotions.
AI doesn't have memories that movies can trigger and can't feel the emotions it's analyzing on paper.
If you do use a service like this, I would suggest you seek an outside, human opinion as well.
After all, I sit down and write to make movies I hope my friends see and debate rather than scripts that get a computer's stamp of approval.
Summing It All Up
Thank you for joining me on this unique journey as we explored how AI technology intersects with the world of screenwriting.
Remember, while AI provides a new lens to view our work, the heart and soul of storytelling remain human.
We're going to learn a lot about Hollywood and its relationship with AI in the coming years, and we'll try to keep you informed as things develop.
I know there's a lot to debate in this article, so sound off in the comments.
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