Written by Kianna Best on Mar 25, 2024. Posted in General Interest

Programming a Programme

While many believe that human creativity will always prevail over AI in the script (programming) process, experts and writers are divided on how and whether the tech will be controlled.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not a new device within the screen industry. It has been used extensively as a creative tool and co-pilot throughout elements of gaming, animation and special effects work, with software like Midjourney and RunwayGen2 opening up new possibilities.

“Almost everyone will have used AI ten times or more today without even realising it,” says Dr Alex Connock, a senior fellow and media entrepreneur at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School. “Things like predictive search, Netflix recommendations, autocomplete and product selection on Amazon. Even taking a photo on your iPhone uses 12 layers of deep learning.”

AI has also been used as a supportive tool in the writing world without too much fuss so far. It has assisted scriptwriters in overcoming writer's block, generating fresh ideas and improving the quality of their scripts through real-time feedback.

It’s going to bring a great deal of savings, but all I think is this is going to be really dangerous when the so-called utility starts to become abused and we limit the creative talent.

But where it becomes a point of concern is when it is too heavily relied on or even takes over as the default for Hollywood scripts. Interestingly, AI itself is not convinced of its complete influence. When posed with the question of whether it is capable of taking over the role of a screenwriter, ChatGPT responded: “Screenwriting is a highly creative and artistic endeavour that involves crafting compelling narratives, developing unique characters, and conveying emotions and themes in a way that resonates with audiences. These are uniquely human qualities that AI, including myself, does not possess. AI can be a valuable tool to support and enhance the creative process for screenwriters, but it cannot replicate the depth and richness of human storytelling.”

Those in the industry are not so sure. “It’s going to bring a great deal of savings, but all I think is this is going to be really dangerous,” says film producer Angus Finney (Candy). “This is when the so-called utility starts to become abused and we start to limit the creative talent that we depend on so much to write and also imagine stories, universes, landscapes, and characters that we can relate to.”

Stage and screen scriptwriter and director Daniel Bailey agrees there needs to be caution with AI. “I think there is certainly some benefit to using Gen-AI, in plagiarism scenarios and legal disputes, but I expect, like with anything, for us to approach it with scepticism... until we fully understand it, I would treat it with caution. And that isn't to say we should fully reject it, but find a regulated and practical use for it.”

65% of UK screenwriters believe that AI will reduce their income from writing, and 61% are worried that the tech will completely replace them.

As platforms like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard continue to develop and be more influential, the defensive barriers from the industry have risen. This came to a head in 2023 when approximately 11,500 US-based writers went on strike, citing the impact of AI on the creation of scripts as one of their chief reasons.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) was particularly concerned about the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ (AMPTP) initial rejection of “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.”

Fortunately, the two parties came to an agreement at the end of September that won concessions including on the use of AI.

The new rules guard against several scenarios that writers had feared, including studios being allowed to generate a full script using AI tools, and then demanding that a human writer complete the writing process.

Equally, studios cannot use AI to write or edit scripts that have already been written by a writer. The contract also prevents studios from treating AI-generated content as ‘source material’, like a novel or a stage play, that screenwriters could be assigned to adapt for a lower fee and less credit than a fully original script.

Companies also have to disclose whenever they give writers material to work with that has been generated by AI. Effectively, the contact terms mean that AI is under the control of the writers, not the studios.

But some writers on both sides of the pond are still not convinced the matter is fully resolved and concerns remain about the parameters of AI control.

“I'm not sure if I believe that at some point AI will be smarter and more sophisticated than any of us, and if there's no ceiling for it who's to say it won't convince us or itself that its experiences aren't real?,” questions Bailey. “I'm being cynical, but I do hope the human lived experience would forever separate us from any other life form. However, we have written a consciousness for inanimate objects and robots before... how do we know how they feel?”

Technology has made some industries more efficient and in some cases safer and fairer but if we suddenly have an algorithm writing our experiences we could see a decline in writers full stop.

Back in April, the Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) sent a survey to its members about the impact of AI and discovered that 65% of respondents believed that AI will reduce their income from writing, and 61% were worried that the tech would completely replace them.

“There have been some incredible advancements in AI, but as with any new technology we need to weigh the risks against the benefits and ensure that the speed of development does not outpace or derail the protections that writers and the wider creative workforce rely upon to make a living,” insists WGGB deputy general secretary Lesley Gannon.

“As quite an unknown entity we will probably struggle to find who is responsible and I think that is where the grey area exists,” adds Bailey. “For now, I think writers and studios should be extra vigilant about work that resembles past workings of a writer without their knowledge.”

There are so many writers who have unfinished work and potentially AI scripting tools might be able to help complete those stories.

The likelihood is that there will be further changes to the rules and requirements on the use of AI in the coming months and years. Not only could language around copyright shift, but as more writers become more familiar and even more comfortable with AI as a tool, fears and restrictions will change.

“There are so many writers who have unfinished work and potentially AI scripting tools might be able to help complete those stories. Where we might have a stumbling block or mental fatigue AI could bypass that,” commented Bailey. “AI is being used already to help formatting scripts and produce dialogue, I can only see that becoming more advanced. It could bridge the gap for adaptations but I don't want to dream too much as I'd much prefer production companies and studios employ me!”

For some, like screenwriter, producer and avid AI user Bob Schultz (Breakdown Lane), the panic may be misguided and potentially obstructing movement with the industry. During a webinar held for industry professionals in October, Schultz delved into the WGA-AMPTP strike agreement, and what it means.

“I think a lot of the anti AI sentiment comes from a place of existential crisis; that is not my experience,” Schultz remarked. “Copyright as we know it is bound to change, so we need to be ready for that.”

Like many evolutions of technology, the need for adaptation is crucial to not being left behind. This is how Schultz views the presence of AI in the world of screenwriters. He believes producers will favour “excellent and fast over excellent and slow” submissions from screenwriters, and that the present restrictions will hardly apply to the future between writers and AI.

Whilst the WGA-AMPTP agreement states: “The company can’t require the writer to use AI software (eg ChatGPT) when performing writing services,” the business of the screen industry will inevitably overpower in some cases, as efficiency outweighs the slower process of creativity.

“With all industries we've seen the devaluation of the human workforces that have turned to technology,” says Bailey. “It has made that industry more efficient and regulated, and in some cases safer and fairer. But in this field, if we suddenly have AI writing our experiences through an algorithm we could see a decline in writers full stop. There is a valid response of anxiety when your livelihood feels like it's being threatened. If big corporations can get the work done for a significantly lower price and standardise the quality then that feels like a knock-on effect, a repercussion.”

Across the board, AI is not seen as a viable replacement for the complexities of humanity behind written content for the screen. But, whether friend or foe, or somewhere in between, there is a shared sentiment that caution should not be thrown to the wind. Lacking any real government guidelines, agreements come across as simple acts of good will. As the business of the screen industry prevails, all means to preserve that will be at play, ultimately leaving the creatives in a fearful state.


This article was first published in the FOCUS 2023 issue of makers.

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