Artificial intelligence in film - can software write from the heart?

February 2, 2022

Back in 2019, AI (artificial intelligence) enthusiast Keaton Patti demonstrated his bot’s ability to write movie scripts. He shared his AI-generated Batman script on Twitter, and it received 145.5K likes and sparked a huge conversation around the potential of AI technology in creative writing.  No matter how scary it may feel, it’s starting to look like AI has, unavoidably, got a place in its future. Not merely creeping, it’s now hurting at a rate of knots into our workplaces, and it’s not just visual artwork that it has in its sights.

But what exactly does the future of AI in culture, film and music look like? As technology only continues to improve and become more self-sufficiently adaptable as time goes on, it’s important to know where it’s working already and where it plans to go next.

So for starters, what is AI? Simply put, it’s self-learning technology that uses trial and error until its goal is reached in the most efficient way possible. In other words, it doesn’t need monitoring or improvement by mere mortals, it gets the job done itself, adapting and getting smarter and smarter by its own means. AI writing is made possible through GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3). GPT-3 is an autoregressive language model that is able to produce human-like text, using hundreds of billions of words. It can write articles that are good enough to convince the majority of readers that it was written by a human, it can write memes, song lyrics, news articles - you name it. In 2020, Andrew Brown wrote an oddly moving poem using GPT-3.

The film, music and other creative industries have begun testing AI, finding out what limits it can be pushed to. Films like Paus’ new premiere, Scraps of Mechanical Souls are being written solely using AI technology. Surprisingly, wonderfully and terrifyingly enough, these scripts contain human-like emotional writing, describing love, pain, joy and fear. Scraps of Mechanical Souls showcases AI’s ability to write functioning scripts but, aside from that, it’s a fascinating watch because audiences see the future unfolding before their very eyes. Although there are imperfections such as repetition, the very nature of AI is that it is hell bent on improving itself.

Jacob Vaus & Eli Weiss, co-founders of Calamity AI, also recently tested GPT-3’s ability to write scripts and created Date Night. They used software called Shortly AI, which is marketed at people suffering from writer’s block. They found that, spookily, the characters often reorient themselves, and even talked about the movie itself, referring to prior, fictional events and asking themselves questions like “What are we doing here?”

In the music industry, AI is being tested to create both instrumentals and lyrics. You can now even use your favorite artist's voice generated from AI learning to create an entire song with the artist's tonality and try to match it with all the information it has learned about the artist. In 2021 a company called Over the Bridge used the work of Kurt Cobaon and other members of Nirvana to create a “new” Nirvana song. Their aim was to create works in the voices of artists like Cobain, Amy Winehouse and other members of the 27-club to highlight issues surrounding mental illness.

There’s potential for greatness in this new territory.  It’s easy to imagine horror films using AI and it’s eerie nature to full advantage. A computer writing something scary, a robot having the power to quite literally bring something to life on our screens is as dystopian as the stories it could tell. Having said that, when technology begins speaking about emotion and love without having experienced any of it, it completely transforms and challenges what “art” is at its very core. To make art is to struggle and feel, and when humans suffer from writer’s block or don’t know what to paint, the AI won’t. When humans struggle to think outside the box and take a new direction, the AI won’t.  

But it’s not just in the writing, AI has long been used by creative industries to predict markets and, according to The Verge, can even play a heavy hand in producing Hollywood films and selecting which films to make.

Regardless of its rapidly increasing ability to do our human jobs, there is going to be an inevitable spike in AI, until we discover its full potential. As Black Mirror and The terminator have predicted, our world is slowly transforming. It's happening all around us, how do you think your apps know what to recommend you watch next, what ads to show you and even which people you might fall in love with online?