Artificial intelligence

Do we even notice if the AI ​​replaces the scriptwriters?

We’re entering the third month of the Writers Guild of America strike, called due to dwindling residual royalty payments from streaming movies and TV, as well as concerns about AI such as ChatGPT being used to generate story ideas – and even write scripts. Hollywood screenwriters have now been joined by the 150,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild, which was most visibly demonstrated by the cast of Oppenheimer coming out of its UK premiere last week. “We are all going to be threatened with being replaced by machines,” union president Fran Drescher said. Susan Sarandon said of AI, “I hope people in the future will understand the difference between real people making real choices and something that’s basically animation.”

Too much film and television tries to reproduce the moribund ideology of the latter-day western campus

But here is an uncomfortable fact. As for the scripts, I’m not sure using AI instead of live writers would make much of a difference.

I’ve read tons of unsolicited or “specific” scripts in my time, written by people trying to break into the screenwriting industry – either as a favor to friends of friends or in a professional capacity. When I was a script editor on Emmerdale, I once read 50 “trial” scripts (from people with at least one produced TV credit) in one weekend. Fortunately, I had built up a strong resistance. Fifty episodes of real Emmerdale in 48 hours would kill a newbie, not to mention 50 amateur episodes, all of them based on the same script.

It’s a pretty soul-destroying activity, as you can imagine. One feels by turns cruel, sad and bored. But something weird started happening about ten years ago. I noticed that the spec scripts I read became much more palatable, easier to read, with all the technical terms and layout correct; superficially better – and yet strangely lifeless. They had the same creepy, fun dialogue (I’ve written a lot of it myself, but it’s hard to make it good); the same “empowered” female lead characters with quirky personalities and sassy talk bags.

Finally, I understood what had changed. There had germinated, in this dark word of our time, a “community” of budding screenwriters online who all exchanged the same tips, read the same guides, watched the same “how to” videos on YouTube. And the weirdest thing of all? Many of these things were perfectly acceptable and achievable.

I sent out scripting prompts to ChatGPT – during that fleeting spring we all had when we asked ChatGPT to write things, it was pretty funny and entertaining – and it spat out a remarkably similar brand of innocuous garbage. I just asked him to suggest a pitch for a film set in contemporary New York. And There you go! Urban resurgence follows the captivating journey of Maya Rodriguez, a fiercely independent and ambitious woman navigating the vibrant landscape of New York. Maya, a talented architect in a male-dominated industry, faces countless obstacles and prejudices, but is determined to prove her worth and secure a landmark project that could define her career.

Then I asked him for a scene:


The sleek and modern office of a renowned architecture firm. MAYA RODRIGUEZ (in her thirties, confident, determined) stands in front of a panel of stern-faced, mostly male executives. Maya’s passion for her job is evident in her eyes, but it also bears the brunt of past layoffs.

EXECUTIVE (raising an eyebrow)

Maya, this project is a big deal. We cannot afford any missteps.

Maya’s gaze intensifies as she moves closer to the executives, her voice unwavering.

MAYA (difficult)

Missteps? I have faced countless challenges in this industry simply because I am a woman. I’ve had to prove myself at every turn, and yet I stand here, ready to push the limits of what this company can accomplish. If you’re looking for experience, let me remind you that it’s not always about how long you’ve been in the game, but about the new perspective and innovation that someone like me can bring.

It’s ‘ok’, yes, but it’s lifeless and predictable – not even comically bad, just bad-bad. Like many of the spec scripts I’ve read over the past decade, and indeed much of the studio production actually produced, one simply has to read that one of the central goals of film and television is to replicate the moribund ideology of the latter-day Western campus.

“And the award for best picket line goes to…”

For My Money BBC’s Greatest Recent Dramatic Hits – I can destroy you And The answering machine — worked in part because they, consciously or not, reneged on that orthodoxy and took place in a place much closer to the real world. All TV is bound to be collegial, committee-produced to some degree, but those shows shone because there was a very human air of despotism in their writing. The same could be said for The White Lotus And Succession on streaming platforms. This is what we need the most. The GPT-ish writing of And just like that…, Emily in Paris, power rings or the endless British prestige dramas in which life before Tony Blair is rendered as fascist hell/cultural wasteland, not so much. The transformation of lighter “content” – action, superheroes and sci-fi – by this mindset is a cultural tragedy, a vital vent to escape the now clogged steam.

Streaming is another area of ​​modern life where the true economic value of a product or service has been skewed by technological innovation. Now the bills are coming in and investors are wondering where exactly their yield is. AI makes financial sense for the film and TV industry by reducing its overhead. We writers have only ourselves to blame – because it will often be very difficult to tell who the robot is.

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