Artificial intelligence is radically changing the world and it will RADICALLY change screenwriting.
Elon Musk predicts that over half the cars sold in 2030 will be autonomous. This requires artificial intelligence capable of observing and reacting like a driver does today— only better. Musk says that by 2040 cars with steering wheels will be like people riding horses today. It will be for those who enjoy something historical.
As a screenwriter, you need to realize your world is being transformed even now by the artificial intelligence capabilities of Netflix and all those rapidly gearing up to compete. This is not just about another new form of distribution and a boom in content creation. It’s a fundamental shift in the role of media production companies made possible by artificial intelligence. Like Google, media producers will make profits by getting to know more and more about you. The data they gather from subscribers will determine what scripts you can sell and what elements should be in your stories.
Streaming service providers can see what’s attracting and keeping subscribers. They can see what web page you looked at, what you watched a preview for, what you chose to watch, and for how long. They can see if you came to their site looking for something to watch and left disappointed. They can see how often you do that before unsubscribing. They can do all this without a single human being making any effort. What humans get are the resulting reports.
By 2030 the detail available in their reports will be astounding. They’ll have recipes for international success and recipes for pleasing niche markets. Those recipes will be secret. The services with the largest subscriber base will have the most data available for writing the best recipes. This is similar to the advantage Tesla has now in creating autonomous driving software, They have billions of miles of data from actual customers driving their cars. Other manufacturers only have millions. Netflix has a huge lead in gathering data, even on the product they leased from Disney and the others who are now preparing to start their own services.
As audience behavior data increases and content recipes get refined, artificial intelligence can be used to read and pass up the line (or reject) submitted scripts. A company could “look” at a million scripts in a day and provide script notes without paying a single salary.
In the future imagine a service that for a fee will run your script through the artificial intelligence screeners at Disney, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Sony, Paramount, and any other company looking for stories. In seconds you’ll learn if what you have to offer interests anyone. For a little higher fee you’ll get a detailed report from each studio’s artificial intelligence. Not a single human being will have to see or do anything. The only human work will be you hitting the submit button.
With really good artificial intelligence studios will get a report that budgets the scripts as well as gives audience projections. It will even be able to help cast a project based on a budget.
If you hit the jackpot and delight some studio’s autonomous script reader it will go up for human consideration accompanied by budget and casting suggestions and a box office estimate.
By 2030 artificial intelligence will predict not only how many people will see a movie considered for production, but who those people will be. When you use an AMC or Regal card to get concession or ticket discounts they get a record of which movie you came to and how many tickets you bought. In some cases, they get a record of how much you purchased in concessions.
If a studio believes you’re a prime customer for a specific movie you’ll get bombarded with ads for it. If not you won’t.
Artificial intelligence will not just be available to studios. Final Draft will probably give you a running box office or streaming value prediction of every draft you write. I created a primitive version of such software myself, but lacked access to enough data to make it work to my satisfaction. I took genres, MPAA Ratings, box office, theater counts, major vs minor distributor, and some Movieguide codes for language, sex, nudity, and such, and compared submitted scripts to all movies going back to about 1985. You could put in a budget and theater count for your movie and attempt to predict profit or loss. My software gave a range from bomb to hit. But, there’s only so far you can go with Box Office Mojo data and I was not satisfied with the accuracy.
By 2030 expect Final Draft to give even more precise advice based on artificial intelligence analysis of hundreds of thousands of movies and their box office results. Final Draft may not be able to use data from streaming service viewings, but even I could build a somewhat useful system just looking at the number of episodes created. Long-running shows obviously have more value than those quickly canceled. Artificial Intelligence can look at how your work compares to the long-running shows.
By 2030 artificial intelligence will be able to “watch” shows, convert them to scripts, analyze them in countless ways and provide Final Draft (or a competitor) with amazing tools to help screenwriters.
Imagine being able to choose actors for your script and let Final Draft do a reading with their voices. I’d love that tool. By 2040 expect to write scripts with tools that create a virtual movie. You can sell it as is or use it as a sort of storyboard for actual production. You’ll be able to choose virtual actors, lighting, or camera angles. You’ll get to “direct” your virtual actors.
Data example from my Sample Software
HBO and Disney have different recipes, as does Hallmark and PureFlix. That’s true even now. You wouldn’t submit a horror show to Hallmark, but as artificial intelligence gets more powerful the recipes will likely get more precise.
Imagine a studio executive getting a little creative and requesting something new with specific characteristics. Imagine a script “archive” that would in moments find anything with qualifying characteristics. If not found, imagine a service like Stage 32 being permitted to put out a request for a “recipe” script (without specifying who it’s for). This would be something like a script contest with recipe details. The contestants would be judged by the requesting studio, starting with their artificial intelligence.
Imagine Final Draft having a lot of recipe information and giving you a report on how close you’re coming on various elements.
Granted, this may sound like a curb on creativity, but it not a curb on reality. Look at what does get made today. Remakes, reboots, franchises, and sequels dominate the production schedule. As superhero movies get boring you have to add something new to spice them up while staying true to the majority of the recipe you have fans of.
Streaming is the future of home entertainment and subscribers come in all sorts of demographic groups. If Netflix wishes to have the greatest number of subscribers it cannot focus exclusively on HBO style entertainment. It must have something for toddlers, teens, and grandparents.
The fastest-growing demographic of all is grandparents. They have the most money available to pay for streaming services, and often the most time available to use them.
Screenwriters would be wise to consider stories that serve a demographic not already flooded with scripts. It makes no sense for you to try to write something you’re very uncomfortable with, but would you rather be competing against 100 scripts or 100,000?
Horror shows are famous for being low-budget with high-profit potential, but that is not my preferred genre. You must write within your passions, but you can look for ways your passions can please an underserved demographic.
Artificial intelligence is a tremendous blessing when used for our benefit and a tremendous curse when used against us. Like a hammer, it’s a tool. It can be used to build a house or destroy one.
The intelligence human beings possess is astounding. It’s with human intelligence that we get the great new stories that artificial intelligence can then process into its calculations. It’s with human intelligence that artificial intelligence can even be written.
There’s a huge temptation to use artificial intelligence to please audiences, but entertainment is not like driving. We don’t get in our cars with the hope of seeing creative drivers. We want nice, boring, predictable traffic as we hope to get from one location to another in one piece. Artificial intelligence will be perfect for that (when it’s perfected).
When we go to a movie we want to see creativity. We hunger to be amazed and delighted. There are some rules to quality filmmaking that we don’t want to be broken, but in a story, we want something original.
Not everyone is hoping for the same original story. There are demographic groups with different tastes. Some might want a new musical and others a new comedy. Some want family dramas and some want action-adventure films set in space.
Use your creativity, but be aware, you’re in a world where artificial intelligence will play an increasing roll in whether anything you write becomes a movie or television series.
Artificial intelligence can provide filmmakers some wonderful new tools while, at the same time, serving as the ultimate annoying bureaucrat.
David is a screenwriter who spent years working on box office data analysis used by the Christian Film and Television Commission in their Annual Reports to the Industry.
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