Hollywood and AI

Hollywood and AI, the Pas de Deux

If there’s any question that major entertainment studios plan to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) in creative contexts that were once solely the domain of humans, look no further than your local job board or business networking event.

As Intercept reported to the consternation of many a creative in late July, “Netflix is offering as much as $900,000 for a single AI product manager.” In the same article, actor Rob Delaney opined, “So $900k/yr per soldier in their godless AI army when that amount of earnings could qualify thirty-five actors and their families for SAG-AFTRA health insurance is just ghoulish.”

If not ghoulish, the studios are certainly bullish on the technology. Recently, Warner Bros. Discovery partnered with “venture fund and holding company,” Acme Innovation to create “Collider On The Lot,” a two-month, in-person and virtual accelerator program for media, entertainment, and emerging technology companies. 

Naturally, as an indie filmmaker constantly searching for funding opportunities, I perused the program’s application and immediately realized how unqualified I was. A) My wee story studio doesn’t have at least $500,000 of the required existing funding and B) My company isn’t developing AI (I’m still wrestling with organic intelligence).

In a telling turn, however, the term “AI” isn’t mentioned in the press release for the accelerator program. Instead, the flacks used techie dog-whistle phrases like “future-forward” and “emerging technologies” that would ultimately “improve production processes.” That said, the “Collider on The Lot” application asks if your company is “currently utilizing or developing solutions involving artificial intelligence or blockchain technology?”

The answer is — Um, no — unless you consider my nihilistic flirtations with ChatGPT and the waning value of my Coinbase account as qualifying. 

While studios may someday erase writers from the creative equation, a couple of startups are also endeavoring to erase the audience. Consider StoryFit, whose “AI engine applies hundreds of proprietary models to measure character and story elements,” crowed their PR in a statement last June. The company compares billions of audience data points as the story intelligence platform simulates audience responses, “producing powerful predictive insights for any kind of scripted content in the pre-production stage.”

“As a storyteller myself, being able to understand audience reactions by using the power of AI technology is revolutionary,” said Monica Landers, CEO and founder of StoryFit. “Revolutionary” or revolting? I’m of the old-school opinion that only a creator’s gut can predict a belly laugh. Imagine the inevitable echo chamber when an AI audience reviews an AI-written film. It’s like the 80s when one pointed a camcorder at a TV while plugged into it — an infinite hall of empty mirrors signifying nothing.

Similarly, UK-based Largo.AI offers everything “From content analysis and financial forecasts to character & casting analysis and packaging tools.” I know this because I’m on their email list for some reason. So, I signed up for a demo and will report back. My films appeal to an exceptional and eccentric audience, of which AI is neither. I can only imagine the “character & casting” analysis — “Stop casting Daedalus Howell as himself.” Sorry, I can’t afford Rob Delaney… But Black Mirror writer and creator Charlie Brooker can. When promoting its breakout season six episode, “Joan is Awful,” (in which Delaney has a small role), Brooker said, “[AI] has no genuinely original ideas of its own: It hoovers up material other people have already written — without paying them for the privilege — and attempts to pass itself off as human. And in doing so, it churns out stuff that’s either generic or derivative.”

This will surely come back to haunt us when some exec tasks an AI with generating an AI-themed character, and its hooverings include how we’ve been depicting them all these years, which is to say, like sinister psychopathic savants. Sure, they always start off like childlike Frankensteins (“Shall we play a game?”) but inevitably menace us (“Shall we play a game?”). Makes one think that we should’ve written them more positively to engender a little empathy when we’re the ones singing “Daisy Bell” when all HAL breaks loose.

Rabbit Hole

“Joan is Awful,” explained by Stephen Lee for Netflix.

The Town: The Doomsday AI Scenario in Hollywood: writer, director, producer, actress, and SAG-AFTRA negotiation committee consultant Justine Bateman discusses the use of AI. 

Death Spiral of Hollywood Monopolies: A Showrunner’s Cautionary Memo by Alena Smith.

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