Hollywood Remains Human In 2022. But Chat GPT's AI Threat Is Real (& Will Transform Media).
Make no mistake. AI threatens all jobs (creative and otherwise). Chat GPT's moment in the spotlight at year-end is not hype. It's a clarion call. So what can (and must) we do?
As we end 2022, content has never been more king. We consumers enjoy endless choices of movies and television, and our appetites are never sated. Meanwhile, creators have never enjoyed so much freedom to drive their visions in a streaming-first world that has shattered traditional “stay-in-the-box” rules. Gone are 22-minute sitcoms and 44-minute dramas. Welcome to more opportunities for bold new voices to tell diverse new stories in entirely new ways. But while storytellers rightfully bask in today’s spotlight glow, a new very non-human player, Chat GPT, just took center stage as we end the year and poses the fundamental question about who that storyteller will be – and how artificial intelligence (AI) will transform Hollywood (and all of our jobs) – in the years ahead.
Chat GPT (or chat-based Generative Pretrained Transformer) is the new AI chatbot that just burst onto the scene in the past few weeks. If you don’t know about it, you should. And if you haven’t tried it, you must. It’s entirely free and enables users to communicate with computers in a way that is radically more natural than anything before it. In the bot’s own words (because I asked), “users can simply type out their questions or statements in plain language, and the system will understand and respond in a way that is similar to how a human would.”
Sounds innocuous, just a new form of Google, right? Wrong. Google gives us endless pages of links to existing data in response to our specific search requests. Chat GPT, on the other hand, is “generative,” creating something entirely new based on our open-ended questions or prompts. And it does this in seconds, in shockingly elegant prose. Edit or add new prompts to your previous request, and Chat GPT will instantaneously transform it into something new again. The potential impact of this power is mind-boggling and should not be underestimated. It will transform all of our lives, including for those of us in the arts. And I’m not being hyperbolic.
Let’s take film and television. I asked Chat GPT to answer the following question: “How will AI be used in Hollywood?” And this is what it wrote back to me in seconds:
“Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to be used in a variety of ways in the film industry, also known as Hollywood. Some possible ways that AI could be used in Hollywood include:
1. Scriptwriting: AI could be used to generate ideas for scripts and even write entire scripts, potentially allowing for the creation of more diverse and original content.
2. Character design: AI could be used to design and animate characters, allowing for more realistic and complex characters to be created.
3. Visual effects: AI could be used to create more realistic and complex visual effects, such as special effects for action scenes or for creating entire virtual environments.
4. Music and sound design: AI could be used to compose music for films or to create sound effects and foley.
5. Marketing and distribution: AI could be used to analyze data about audience preferences and behavior, allowing studios to better target their marketing efforts and distribute films more effectively.
6. Post-production: AI could be used to automate tasks such as color grading and sound mixing, potentially speeding up the post-production process.
Overall, AI has the potential to enhance and streamline various aspects of the film industry, from scriptwriting and character design to marketing and distribution.”
Reflect on those words for a moment – the potential to “enhance” and “streamline” the entire process of visual storytelling – which sounds more like fundamental disruption to me. Real threats to all players in the Hollywood ecosystem - threats that we ignore at our own peril.
Take Chat GPT’s first example above – screenwriting. We all have a great script idea, right? But few of us invest the countless hours needed to get even a single word on the page. Well, guess what. We now have our new professional writing partner that can take our core film or series idea, populate it with the characters and elements we choose, define it by the genre and length we desire, and perhaps sprinkle in a few examples of past films or series to emulate and – voila - Chat GPT writes a full beautifully formatted script in seconds. And not just one, mind you. Endless iterations if that’s what we want.
I know. I spent several hours using Chat GPT last weekend and marveled at how effortlessly it spun new compelling storylines that evolved with more depth and detail as I added more prompts. Full-length stories – that I asked to be written in a three-act structures – were no problem. So next I tried Chat GPT’s hand at writing an actual script. Yes, the AI stopped churning after about page 10 of my first film pitch. But that glitch in my otherwise perfectly formatted script surely will be resolved soon. And while we mere mortals need to sleep (and make a living, of course), Chat GPT sees no such limits to its endless “creativity.” Much to the pleasure of budget-constrained producers and studio bean counters, Chat GPT can churn and burn 24/7 with no union representation.
Now let’s move to Chat GPT’s example #2 above – character design. AI has long been used to develop animation and characters that shine. Just recently, AI generated film “The Crow”, produced by computer artist Glenn Marshall, won the Cannes Short Film Festival’s Jury Award. So imagine “Top Gun 3.” Coming sooner than you think to a theater (or streamer) near you, Tom Cruise will be able to sit on a beach and collect his paycheck without being anywhere near the set. Just scan the real Maverick and ask his AI doppelganger to do the heavy-lifting and star in the film. And this is no sci-fi fantasy. Remember Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in 2019? Thanks to CGI, she played a pivotal role in the film despite the fact that she passed away years earlier. Now AI can automate that process in ways previously unthinkable.
How about examples 3 and 6, visual effects and post-production? We all know that story. Avatar: The Way of Water anyone? Meanwhile, in just one new development in example 4’s music and sound design, streaming service Anghami just partnered with AI music platform Mubert to enable users to create “unique soundtracks” for films and television “using one million samples from over 4,000 musicians.” If we allow it, Mubert could take music cues from Danny Elfman’s film scores – not to mention the entire world of soundtracks – and compose entirely new ones in seconds. Thousands of them.
And how about example 5, AI in marketing and distribution? Of course! AI carries the power to instantly identify successful Hollywood marketing campaigns of the past and generate entirely new ones. Past success is no guarantee of future performance, of course. But it certainly helps. And why stop there? AI can create entire movie slates based on previous crowd pleasers, and then ultimately produce them using AI-developed elements born from thousands of films before.
Scary, yes. Copyright infringing? Good question. We are in uncharted waters and the courts simply aren’t ready to act in this future shocking world where AI scrapes the web’s data and takes our creativity along with it. While seemingly analogous to music sampling, AI “micro-theft” is entirely different. Mubert and other AI take cues from thousands, if not millions, of pieces of art to create something – an endless string of somethings – that are entirely “new.” Consider this death by a thousand copyright cuts, rather than by one single slash. But isn’t that still infringement?
I posed that question directly to Chat GPT, and this is how the bot tried to reassure me:
“It is possible that the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) to create original works, such as music or scripts, could raise copyright issues.
In general, copyright law protects original works of authorship, such as music, literature, and art, from being used without the permission of the copyright holder. If an AI system creates an original work, it may be unclear who holds the copyright to that work. Some have argued that the creators of the AI system should be considered the authors of the work, while others have argued that the AI system itself should be considered the author.”
Certainly far from reassuring, but this is the reality we face in the creative community – theft of both our art and our jobs. AI-generated “The Crow” filmmaker Glenn Marshall recently issued this stark warning to actors, directors, set designers, costume designers, artists, and composers – you know, essentially all of Hollywood. “AI is coming, and you’ll find yourself in a very different job soon — or out of a job all together.”
So what are we human “creatives” to do? We can’t simply put our heads in the sand or cower after all. The AI wave is coming, whether we like it or not. Once again, I went straight to the source, Chat GPT, to ask – and this was its advice: “Collaborate with AI: Instead of viewing AI as a threat, creators can try to find ways to collaborate with it and use it to their advantage.”
And that got me thinking. Maybe I don’t need to write these newsletters anymore, taking hours to create a single piece like this one. Perhaps I simply lay out a few story ideas and enlist Chat GPT to write multiple iterations for me in my own voice based on my articles of the past. Imagine how prolific I could be! And we are only at Chat GPT version 1. Just imagine versions 2 and 3. Or version 10 in the year 2030.
Well, no need to imagine anymore. I asked Chat GPT to create a three-act film adaptation of the novel “1984” set in the year 2030 that focuses on the threat of AI to the world of Hollywood. And this is the story it spun in seconds:
In the year 2030, Hollywood is a world dominated by artificial intelligence. Movie studios rely on AI to create and distribute films, and actors are being replaced by highly realistic AI counterparts. Amidst this technological revolution, one filmmaker, Jake, becomes increasingly concerned about the dangers of AI and its potential to control the world of entertainment.
As Jake delves deeper into the inner workings of Hollywood's AI system, he uncovers a sinister plot by a group of powerful executives to use AI to manipulate public opinion and control the film industry. Jake realizes that he is the only one who can stop them, but he is met with resistance at every turn, as the executives will stop at nothing to maintain their control.
Despite the challenges he faces, Jake remains determined to expose the truth and bring down the corrupt AI system. With the help of a small group of rebels, he mounts a daring plan to hack into the AI network and shut it down. In the final showdown, Jake and his team confront the executives and their army of AI drones, fighting for the future of Hollywood and the freedom of the film industry. In the end, Jake emerges victorious, and the threat of AI is neutralized, leaving a world in which the creativity and vision of human filmmakers can flourish once again.”
A very human – yet completely AI-generated - Hollywood ending, indeed!
What do you think? Send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(Note: this article first appeared in my weekly column in TheWrap a couple weeks ago; graphic courtesy of TheWrap.)