We all joke about studio notes, but what about the ones written by a computer?
As a writer in Hollywood, you have to deal with so many things. First, you have to have what others perceive to be a great script. That's how all conversations in this town start. Then you have to be able to deal with personalities and suss out who's real and who's fake when it comes to producers and financiers.
After all that, you need to be collaborative and personable, so directors and talent will want to attach and work with you on the project.
And now, you're also going to have to be able to deal with a computer that spits out notes based on artificial intelligence.
Yeah, things are getting weird in Hollywood.
From predicting box office success to giving notes, to even writing scenes for stuck writers, Silicon Valley is offering up AI as the panacea to all of Hollywood's problems. Some people are very excited about what computers can do for the industry.
I am not one of them.
Writers and Directors Are Very Worried About AI in Hollywood
We wrote yesterday about ChatGPT, it's the latest development in artificial intelligence that blurs the line between art and aggregation, leading us perhaps further down a rabbit hole of post-modern misinformation and existential dread.
It feels like we're Sarah Connor and Hollywood just hired its first Terminators.
ChatGPT, and programs like it, scan the internet to help people write different prompts. And we're seeing it begin to be employed by Hollywood as well. Over the last few days, people have gone viral on Twitter asking the AI interface to write one-act plays based on sentences you type in, as well as answer questions.
You know I had to try it out for myself. I started with a question, "Why are writers and directors worried about AI in Hollywood?"
This is what the program spat back out at me:
"There is concern among some writers and directors in Hollywood that the use of AI in the entertainment industry could lead to the creation of content that is indistinguishable from human-generated content. This could potentially lead to the loss of jobs for writers and directors, as AI algorithms could be used to automate the process of creating content. Additionally, there is concern that the use of AI in Hollywood could result in the creation of content that is formulaic and lacks the creativity and uniqueness that is typically associated with human-generated content."
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up! This is kind of terrifying, and it's also kind of a great answer. The more we try to replace humans with artificial intelligence, the less personal and colder Hollywood is going to get.
Notes based on algorithms will never have the gut feel. That emotional resonance and magic you feel when you watch something wonderful but cannot describe it.
They will always just be baseline predictions indicative of the lowest common denominator.
The writers and directors are sounding the alarms now. As both the DGA and WGA work out negotiations for new contracts, AI is coming up in talks. The reason is, what do we do if studios force us to work on ideas generated by AI? Does AI get credit for those story ideas? Do we lose back-end to Silicon Valley?
And what about the notes process? What if they feed our screenplays into these bots, and they spit out generic and formulaic changes they think will work, when we know they won't? Will we be allowed to supersede math to make art?
These might seem like big, far-off worries to you. But this is already happening.
Studios Are Already Using AI to Reject Screenplays
Sometimes, writing makes you feel like a Russian chess master, moving pieces on the board for an emotional finish. And now, that metaphor is way more apropos, because we're facing off against a computer on the other side.
Earlier this year, Bloomberg covered how movie studios are using AI in Hollywood. Fox has used Google Cloud to make trailers, IBM Watson has written television commercials, and a company named Corto AI is used to read spec scripts and see if they're viable for the marketplace.
Of course, these ideas have been around for a long time. Many people remember the company Relativity Studios, which was a mini studio that claimed to have an algorithm to predict box office success, but then went belly-up in 2016.
But these AI programs are getting better and learning every day.
Their aim is to bring AI screenwriting to Hollywood. And now, not to sound like a South Park episode, but I will be in the picket lines if they try to take our jobs.
How good is ChatGPT at creative writing right now?
Well, I typed in "Write a one-act play about hitmen at Denny's." This is what it came back with...
Title: "Hashtag Hits"
Frank, a seasoned hitman
Joe, a newbie hitman
Setting: A Denny's diner
At rise: Frank and Joe are sitting at a booth, going over details of their latest hit. The waitress approaches to take their order.
Waitress: Hi there, what can I get for you boys today?
Frank: I'll have the Grand Slam breakfast, hold the hash browns.
Joe: Uh, I'll just have a coffee, black.
Waitress: Coming right up. (She exits)
Frank: (to Joe) You gotta eat something, kid. You can't go on a hit on an empty stomach.
Joe: I'm not hungry. I'm nervous. This is my first hit.
Frank: (chuckling) Don't worry, kid. It's just like taking out the trash. You gotta visualize it that way.
Joe: (uneasy) I don't know, Frank. I don't think I can do this.
Frank: (serious) Listen, Joe. You agreed to this job. You took the money. There's no backing out now.
Joe: (deflated) I know, I know. I just don't want to screw it up.
Frank: You won't. Just follow my lead and do exactly what I say.
The waitress returns with their food and drinks.
Waitress: Here you go, boys. Enjoy!
Frank and Joe nod silently. The other diner patrons go about their business, unaware of the hitmen in their midst.
Joe: (looking around nervously) Do you think anyone suspects us?
Frank: (casually) No, why would they? We're just a couple of guys having breakfast at Denny's.
Joe: (sweating) Yeah, but what if they find out what we're here to do?
Frank: (matter-of-factly) They won't. We're professionals. We know how to blend in.
Suddenly, a loud bang is heard from the kitchen. The waitress and patrons scream and duck for cover.
Frank: (to Joe) That's our cue. Let's go.
The hitmen calmly get up from their booth and make their way to the kitchen. The sounds of a struggle and more gunshots are heard.
After a moment, Frank and Joe emerge from the kitchen, their clothes stained with blood.
Frank: (to the shocked patrons) Sorry for the inconvenience. We're just here for the hash browns.
The hitmen nonchalantly walk out of the diner, leaving the patrons and waitress in shock.
That makes me hashtag horrified.
So I typed in a way more complicated, even nuanced prompt. "Write a one-act play about a struggling male stripper trying to convince his boss to let him dance the main event."
We got a more nuanced play. This time, it came with multiple acts.
Title: "The Main Event"
(The stage is set in the backstage area of a strip club. The main character, JIM, is pacing nervously, wearing only a pair of tight briefs and a frustrated expression on his face. His boss, MIKE, is sitting on a chair, flipping through a stack of papers and frowning.)
JIM: Come on, Mike. Give me a chance. I know I can do this.
MIKE: (sighs) Jim, you know the rules. The main event is reserved for our top performers. And let's be real, you're not exactly setting the stage on fire out there.
JIM: I know, I know. But I've been working on some new moves. Trust me, I can bring the house down if you give me a shot.
MIKE: (shakes his head) I appreciate the effort, Jim, but I can't take that risk. The main event is a big deal. It's our biggest money maker and I can't afford to have some amateur screw it up.
JIM: (desperately) Please, Mike. I need this. I'm barely making ends meet as it is. I need to make a splash and the main event is the only way to do it.
MIKE: (sympathetic but firm) I'm sorry, Jim. It's not happening. You need to focus on improving your skills and getting more comfortable on stage. Maybe next year, okay?
JIM: (deflated) Fine. I guess I'll just keep spinning my wheels.
(Mike nods and goes back to his papers, leaving Jim standing alone, defeated.)
(The stage is set in the main room of the strip club. It's packed with a rowdy crowd, cheering and yelling as the current performer, TYLER, dances on stage. Jim is sitting at the bar, nursing a drink and watching Tyler with a mix of admiration and jealousy.)
JIM: (to the bartender) Can you believe that guy? He's killing it out there.
BARTENDER: Yeah, Tyler's been with us for a few years now. He's definitely one of our best.
JIM: (sighs) And here I am, stuck in the opening act. How am I supposed to make a name for myself if I can't even get a shot at the main event?
BARTENDER: (shrugs) You just gotta keep working at it, man. It takes time to build a following.
JIM: (deflated) Easier said than done.
(Suddenly, the music stops and Tyler steps off stage, panting and sweating. He spots Jim and walks over to him.)
TYLER: Hey, man. Great job out there tonight. You're really starting to come into your own.
JIM: (surprised) Thanks, Tyler. That means a lot coming from you.
TYLER: (nods) Listen, I overheard Mike talking earlier. He's looking for someone to fill in for me at the main event next week. I've got a family emergency and I need to be out of town.
JIM: (eagerly) Are you serious? That's perfect! I've been trying to get a shot at the main event for months now.
TYLER: (smirks) Well, don't thank me yet. Mike's not exactly convinced you're ready. But I told him I'd vouch for you. I think.
While this is all fun and games, I'm actually out on the town with a comedy about a struggling male stripper. And I have to admit, I am now worried about people feeding scenes into AI and giving me notes based on what it spits back out. Especially when it comes to predicting commerciality.
The WGA and DGA need to begin to set strict lines for "human-created writing" and how it is treated. Because you can bet the next steps from writing are the computers telling you what shots go into movies and where the cameras should be.
Development Executives Should Be Worried Too
If you're an executive, you may think AI will make your job easier, but I think what's more likely is that it will take your job away. Instead of needing three or four executives to cover projects, studios and prodcos may only employ one who feeds things into computers. Maybe less.
We all know that one exec who gives amazing notes. I have a buddy named Eric REDACTED who I send everything I write. He's a true mensch and so smart. I want that guy's notes because he's a human with both a grasp on the industry and a grasp on reality. I want to know what made him laugh and cry.
I know you'll never get that from a computer. And while I think that guy will run a studio someday, I also worry about the future these AI places create, and whether or not it pushes out people like that.
Your Voice Is What's Special
I came to No Film School just over four years ago, and in my time here I've spent many hours trying to convince our readers interested in screenwriting and directing that what makes them special is their voice.
I still believe that.
Your life experience and how you let that bleed out onto the page is what can set you apart from everyone else. No one in Hollywood can write your story better than you. They can give you notes. They can help you pull out emotions, but if this is truly about how you think and feel and are as a person, that can only come from one source.
And that's what makes your work special.
AI is trying to cheapen that through a learning groupthink. And I think in the end, it could cheapen Hollywood.
The future is now. And we need to really be careful how we welcome AI into the creative fields.