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This is what happened when we let an AI write a movie script

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This one article was originally published on Built-in by the co-founders of Calamity AI

The script starts off simple enough: a couple is at the end of dinner. The conversation comes to an end, the wine is almost finished. After a pause, the man says he wants to play a game.

Enter artificial intelligence.

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Does AI dream of writing scenarios?

Using GPT-3, we developed a short film script called Date Night. Tired of off-kilter AI like Cleverbot, we wanted to use more robust technology in our work. In our experience, previous iterations of AI were sidetracked, easily confused, and lacking meaningful memory. You can tell Cleverbot your name, but the program can forget within four entries. Sometimes he forgets right away. We wanted to find something with the ability to refer to ourselves. We needed something with memory.

While looking for a better solution, we came across Shortly AI. The site is aimed at people suffering from writer’s block and encourages writers to overcome frustration by using artificial intelligence. The program adapts to your work.

That means if you write a western, it brings in the cowboys. When you write a space adventure, it keeps the atmosphere. If you write a horror story, it will do its best to scare you. Of course, it often still deteriorates, but for a while it can keep the tone of a story. Impressed, we tried to branch out quickly.

Could it make lyrics? Yes. Recipes? Yes. So what about a movie script?

To our delight it was possible. As long as we entered the beginning of a script, it followed a scenario format, including scene headings, dialogue, and action lines. We generated a few and decided we would pick one to make.

Build a script

The input for Date Night was as follows:

INT. BENNY’S HOUSE – NIGHT

BENNY and JULIA (BOTH 20) sit at either end of a long table drinking wine.

BENNY: I want to play a little game. It’s a little crazy, it’s a little fun, but it will blow your mind.

We have generated three variants of the script. In the first, Benny accuses Julia of being pregnant and not loving him, then stabs her in the stomach. In the second, dinner becomes a paranormal mystery when Benny disappears, forcing Julia to look for him. In the version we ended up filming, Benny hypnotizes Julia and starts dancing on the table. When he jumps off, he controls her body and keeps her from moving. She escapes by slapping him and mutters, “I felt weird.”

At this point, the AI ​​was struggling to stay on track. The characters often refocus on new, swinging emotions and live in a kind of heightened, melodramatic reality. Towards the end of the movie, they even talk about the movie itself, referring to past, fictional events.

In the action lines, the AI ​​indicated: “(A looming pause) JULIA: ‘I think we’re in a movie.'”

“Remember, what is it about?” asks Benny, referring to the movie he’s in. “He’s hypnotizing her,” Julia says. “It is getting dark.”

Sometimes the AI ​​even made typos. For example, when Benny would say “Just now,” it would say “Nust now.” That gave a touch of realism to the procedure.

Satisfied with the AI’s work, we started putting our messy, hectic script on the screen.

Bringing the computer vision to life

With Calamity AI we want to show the results of AI and people working together. We want our films to capture both the surprising achievements and the shortcomings of the collaboration. Date Night was a great case study in both.

The limitations of artificial intelligence prevent it from performing every element of the filming process. For example, GPT-3 cannot develop its own shooting list or use a camera to film the project. Currently, it takes a human to bring a piece to life on screen.

We believe this will be the future of technological creativity in film for a while. When a writer is struggling, they can use AI to improve their scripts. The screenwriter still has to provide initial input and then decide which ideas are good and bad. With our work, we hope to represent the kind of content, no matter how rudimentary, that a human can create using AI.

As such, our first and foremost rule is that we take the scripts seriously. We approach these scripts as if we were hired directors and try to make the best possible movie from what we get. From the cinematography to the directing, to the acting, we hope to take the projects seriously.

For this particular film, we enlisted our friend Henry Chastain as the cameraman. He is adept at emulating the styles of movies. We thought the story could be particularly unnerving if it looked naturalistic, in a normal looking house with normal lighting. We also chose to shoot with objective camera angles. We wanted the camera to look at the characters as if the lens were observing real people. John Cassavettes’ A Woman Under the Influence was our visual reference.

We had worked with the actors, Owen Painter and Lily Rohren, on previous projects and knew they were the right choice. While they can both be comedic, both acting styles are based on drama. Both actors are particularly talented at portraying real people. This was essential to the seriousness of the project. If they looked down on the machine-written lines, they might have delivered them in a clumsy or pompous style, destroying our ethos to take the script seriously.

As ridiculous as the script was on paper, we wanted to see if the AI ​​could provide the framework for actors to develop really interesting characters. We told Owen and Lily to imagine that the script was written by a real person, and they were both immediately willing and able.

Before shooting, we held a Zoom rehearsal to discuss the material. We didn’t want the performances to be ironic. Achieving this kind of sincerity can be difficult, however, when one of the first artificially written lines is that Owen insists that Lily’s spirit animal is a “doggo.”

Within a few takes, however, we had found the characters. Benny seemed genuinely convinced of his strength, and Julia was terrified. She shared the fear of suddenly finding herself out of control of her body, having taken over during what she thought was a romantic dinner.

Shoot the movie

For the actual shoot we had Henry on camera and ourselves on sound. It was a small-scale crew with everyone in different roles. We also kept a close eye on the script; Owen and Lily had to be word-perfect to be faithful to the AI ​​writing. Owen did everything he could for the performance. He ended each shot on the table panting, his hands on his knees. The AI ​​would have appreciated his dedication.

But even artificial aid cannot stop human error. With other videos slated for earlier release dates, we’ve pushed Date Night aside. We had categorized the footage and didn’t realize we hadn’t backed up the audio. Two months later, when the editing started, the audio SD card was erased.

Fortunately, Henry’s camera picked up the source sound, but it wasn’t perfect. With a little cleanup and fine-tuning, we were able to get something that worked, despite the fact that the performers often seemed to go from whispering to screaming for no rhyme or reason. This product wasn’t ideal, as a few eagle-eared listeners on YouTube and Reddit have pointed out, but we got away with it.

The editing process offered many opportunities to follow Date Night: sinister, silent, bombastic, romantic. We ended up with a hybrid approach, a melodramatic combination that was part romance and part horror.

Release

Now that Date Night was done, it was time to release it. Delivering high-quality work is always our top priority. Viewing figures are somewhat out of our control, but we can determine the quality of our material. But we do have a release strategy that starts with consistency. We release a new video every Tuesday and try to keep up the momentum by bringing in new subscribers and viewers.

For each video, we alternate between two thumbnails, testing which one gets the most attention. We will post the video and encourage our friends to share it on social media, text it to family and also share it on the appropriate subreddits. As the opinions and comments trickle in, we’re doing our best to respond and be transparent about the process that has begun work. With this film we have attracted the attention of several media outlets.

AI: Are you coming to a theater near you soon?

Although we’ve been making movies together for many years, we never expected our third collaborator to be an AI. For a long time, we just continued making videos for ourselves to improve ourselves as filmmakers and hone our skills. That focus allowed us to be ready when this opportunity arose.

When we discovered the AI ​​program and tried to write scripts with it, we knew we had to run it. By making the films of the highest possible quality, viewers can enter the absurd world that the AI ​​has created with greater ease. By presenting a cohesive vision, people see the potential here.

Now we want to take the same script and pass it on. We wonder how another filmmaker might interpret it. Imagine that the actors are middle-aged and approaching the end of a strained marriage. Or that the only background noise is a record player just off the needle. The lights may be low, or the table may be in the middle of a messy restaurant. The characters may be drunk or maybe on their first date. Each of these changes would result in a completely different experience for the viewer.

All these things will be influenced by the director’s interpretation of the script. Despite all the technological advances in natural language processing, interpretation still limits how much control the AI ​​has over the final product.

To bring a machine-written script to life, artificial intelligence has to work with a living person. At this point, AI can provide the script. We can probably train it to produce a shot list or even musical accompaniment. At the end of the day, however, the final product has to be interpreted and created by a human. For now at least.

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