I’ve experimented quite extensively with ChatGPT, having now used it for multiple screenplay writing experiments.
Previously I had written about some of these tests on my blog, and after my work was referenced in this article on Rolling Stone, I got a lot more questions and concerns from filmmakers on the topic.
Today, I want to briefly expand on my thoughts on AI as it pertains to screenwriting, and why I believe most studios are getting it dead wrong.
Can AI write a good script?
After many experiments in recent months, it’s clear to me that AI is nowhere near capable of writing a good script – at least for now.
At this current moment, AI models understand the basic structure of a screenplay, and to a lesser degree story and character. But they write in horrible clichés and tropes that are either boring to read or just plain incoherent.
The fear that most have of course, is that this will change.
The technology is improving so rapidly, that in theory one day in the not too distant future, AI will write a script that is indistinguishable from one written by a human.
I’m skeptical as to whether or not it will get there. In large part because (anecdotally) I’ve seen very minimal improvements in its quality over past few months.
I do assume it will get significantly better with time, but I’m not sold on it having the fundamental ability to understand the creative process in the same way a human could.
At the same time, we don’t know what we don’t know. I recognize that the technology will evolve dramatically (or be replaced with something more complex). And that it is entirely possible that one day it will write scripts that are as good or better than a human could write.
But even if that is the case, I don’t believe the technology will decimate the industry in the way that many others do.
Which brings me to my next point…
Humans don’t want to watch simulations
While AI screenwriting may be new, the idea of simulating art or entertainment has been around for decades.
And if we’ve learned anything, it’s that humans aren’t drawn to computer generated simulations as a replacement for the real thing.
Some obvious examples:
We still watch runners race on foot, even though we have cars.
We still watch pianists play a concert, even though we have player pianos.
We still travel to places in person, even though we have VR immersion.
We still watch humans play chess, even though computers are superior.
We still want to see Tom Cruise hang off a plane, even though we have CGI.
I could go on with 100 more examples. But they all tell us the same thing…
Consumers of art and entertainment want to have a human experience
And while AI can play a part in this, it can’t replace it entirely.
Years from now, we will be able to simulate a basketball game with such realism that you would never know the difference from watching it on TV. But will that mean the end of sports? Of course not. Because if there are no stakes involved, no players to root for, no egos clashing against each other, it no longer becomes interesting.
I believe the same to be true about movies. The full extent of AI’s impact on filmmaking is not just limited to screenwriting. In theory, one day AI can not only write a movie, but produce the visuals, music, sound, and all other elements, all by itself.
There is almost no question that it will have the ability to do this at some point. The question is whether anyone will care to see those movies beyond their initial value as a novelty. My guess is no.
This will backfire on studios
Some studios have claimed they are already using ChatGPT to write scripts during the WGA strike. They say they want real writers to re-write these scripts once the strike ends.
Personally, I think they are bluffing, as anyone who has used ChatGPT for 5 minutes in its current iteration knows that it can’t write nearly well enough for that application. Perhaps it is a tactic used by studios to scare writers into wanting their jobs back before AI replaces them.
But let’s assume ChatGPT actually could write a good script right now. Does anyone in their right mind think that a professional writer who is striking right now about pay issues, is going to return to work to edit a script written by a chat bot?
Why would they? Especially when the majority of their income comes from the initial idea and drafts, not the re-writes. They would essentially be getting paid less to do the hardest part of the process (re-writing), which I don’t see anyone accepting as reasonable.
You might be thinking – what if ChatGPT could write so well, that you didn’t need writers to even edit the scripts?
By the time that may be possible, it’s just as likely we can replace human actors and human directors and every other human artist with an AI model. It’s not like AI will only disrupt screenwriting and nothing else.
And if that’s the case, there are only two scenarios I see:
A) Audiences will see it as a gimmick rather than a replacement for a human artist, and have little interest in these movies / shows
B) Audiences will accept it, but the technology will be so ubiquitous at that point that they can produce a movie themselves in their basement
Either way, it’s not good news for the studios.
What happens when AI fails to produce a profitable movie
Here’s another other consideration about the use of AI in studio filmmaking –
Where will the line be drawn in terms of AI making choices that supersede human decision making?
Some studio executives already seem to be open to the idea that AI can replace writers. But have they considered the fact that it could replace them too?
If a studio exec gave AI a blank slate to create and release 10 movies over the course of a year, inevitably some of those movies (if not all) would flop. What happens then? Who gets fired?
Does the executive then get replaced by an AI model that can make better decisions as to which AI scripts should even get made to begin with? While I wouldn’t support this application, you could make more of an argument for the use of AI in vetting scripts than you could in writing them.
And where does that all lead us? Into a world where the studios are churning out corporate AI generated content produced by AI executives? Does anyone truly believe that will result in better movies or artwork than humans can produce?
Integrating AI in screenwriting the right way
There are many amazing things about AI, despite the challenges that it’s also creating right now in the industry.
My hope is that with time, it will become clear that AI can be used to assist in the writing process, but not replace it entirely.
Personally, I’ve used ChatGPT quite a bit to do research or brainstorm ideas while writing. It can act as a sounding board, almost like having a human partner in the room could.
I could imagine it doing a great job of analyzing scripts, breaking them down, and perhaps even giving helpful notes.
But it will still be up to the human to decide what works and what doesn’t. Because we’re making movies for other humans to watch, and no matter how smart an AI may become, it will always lack human intuition. I don’t believe that can be mimicked.
Creativity is not the same thing as raw intelligence. It’s why I have doubts that ChatGPT could ever write using subtext. It may be able to analyze a script on a logical or mathematical level, but great art exists outside of reason.
None of know where this is heading, but one thing is for sure – AI is here to stay. How we integrate it moving forward will be the defining factor between whether its impact is a net negative or positive.