“My thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way.” – Major Motoko Kusanagi, “Ghost in the Shell,” produced by Kodansha, Bandai Visual and Manga Entertainment, 1995
Recently, we had lunch with Andy Cochrane to talk about a series of sessions at being planned for Fall’s FMS (Flash Memory Summit) on the state of VR, immersive, and holographic film work (they’re going to be exciting, informative; trust us).
Our discussion drifted to the speed of technology change taking place in the M&E industry. Cochrane, who is a great Indie content maker, said, “Yeah, isn’t it exciting!” Okay, we’re not sure why filmmakers seem to relish uncertainty, but they always seem to be up to the challenge.
Our biggest issue with the newest hot techie topic is the name … artificial intelligence.
|Sterile—AI usage will grow in almost every segment of people’s lives, but it will augment and assist people not be an artificial representation if folks and technology are to maximize the benefits.|
It’s so … artificial.
We were delighted when Ginni Rometty, IBM’s president/CEO, keynoted at CES describing AI as more of an augmented or assisted technology rather than artificial … assist people’s intelligence, not replace it.
She also warned it had to be released into the world slowly after a lot of thinking and testing because you can’t put it back in the bottle once it’s out there.
Think back on 2001: A Space Odyssey, AI: Artificial Intelligence and the other forecast-of-the-future films. Many films that once seemed far out, have been roadmaps to tomorrow.
Optimistically, Cochrane said many of the ways AI could be used in filmmaking would be tremendously useful.
“You have to understand that a lot of a filmmaker’s work is tedious and time-consuming,” Cochrane noted, “especially in the pre-production phases—script breakdowns, storyboards, shot list generation, schedule optimization, and budgets. Once we streamline these activities, we can focus on the creative work.”
“Those mundane, routine tasks can be streamlined and probably done more accurately by trained systems,” he said. “That frees up filmmakers to focus on developing films/shows that are more interesting, more involved.”
“Think of it,” he commented, “We could then create projects that are more engaging, immersive for the viewer; and, more importantly, we can have a greater assurance they will be profitable.”
He really does make AI sound mystical, magical.
As futurist Arthur C. Clarke said in his third Clarke’s Law—“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
The development and use of GANs (generative adversarial networks) or networks vs. networks is one application that reinforced Ms. Rometty’s concern about rushing AI applications to market.
Researchers around the globe have used GANs to train AI algorithms. For example, Nvidia researchers used GANs as a “style-based generator” to create hyper-realistic images.
|Who’s Real—Advanced technology such as GANs enable people to create and distribute fake photos and videos of people and activities that are extremely difficult to discern from real individuals or events.|
Since then, GANs and the style-based generators have been used to produce fake political videos, create/distribute extremely embarrassing/compromising content that looks so real it is difficult to explain or dispute.
Fortunately, Cochrane only associates with people who have integrity. “It’s better to hang out with people better than you,” he said. “Surround yourself with people who are better than you and you’ll drift in that direction.”
|Custom Viewing—Filmmakers working with AI-enabled solutions can produce content that can satisfy their creative goals as well as individual viewers.|
“It’s a question of ethics and professionalism,” Cochrane continued. “Filmmakers I know well and work with really just want to create a film that will transport people to another part of the world, educate and entertain them. We’re using the best tools, people and techniques to deliver a great product to viewers.
“When it’s a wrap, the hard work begins,” he added, “getting it sold and seen.”
In today’s crowded theatrical, appointment TV and OTT marketplace, it’s an even trickier, more dangerous task.
In many ways, AI is enhancing filmmakers’ creativity, not squelching it.
For example, investors have shown a lot of interest in Scriptbook which claims that its algorithm is three times better at predicting box office success than human readers.
The company has spent a lot of time/effort analyzing scripts of completed successful and not-so-successful films and projects to say, “See it works. The analysis shows that you wasted a ton of money on those three projects that bombed; or yep, our system ‘validated’ that this was going to be good, great, dynamite!”
We do know we didn’t see the buyers at Sundance sit through any of the screenings with systems on their laps doing a bunch of number crunching before they wrote checks.
|Massive Data—With the assistance of big data, analytics and AI filmmakers can see how they can tailor their productions to produce the results they are working to achieve with their audience.|
They looked at the team involved in the project, flipped through the storyline, studied the pre-event buzz, checked the audience response during the 10-day Park City event and did deals.
Not that AI won’t be involved in content projects at the beginning, because the industry has accumulated a lot of data.
|Pay Day – Based on a lot of historical viewer/production data, content services were able to go to this year’s Sundance Film Festival with a very good idea of the types of films and episodic series that would appeal to their audiences and then negotiate accordingly.|
Movie data includes box office revenues, production costs, and audience demographics as well as director, screenplay writer, cinematographer, and other detailed project information.
So, we can expect intelligent systems to find their way into the industry to dramatically transform how—and if—stories are told … and sold.
Legendary Entertainment and several competitors have put their AI tools to work to develop movie, show, and series trailers to optimize audience interest.
Qloo uses their AI tools to develop viewer and audience profiles to target marketing efforts and activities to create measurable positive results for its customers.
Products/services like Qloo are also being used to identify viewer preferences, likes and dislikes so content developers/distributors can determine which projects get funded when they don’t want to rely on their experience and … gut.
Fortunately, most film festival entries don’t get produced by committee or AI but by folks who believe in the story that they develop.
Studios, networks, and streamers invested quickly and heavily because they had a pretty good idea of how to use subscriber/viewer data to attract the right audience.
All of the major streaming services—Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, TenCent—have an overabundance of viewership data to determine which content will do well; and, more to the point, how to tailor their trailers and social media efforts to attract viewers and encourage them to tell others about the projects to subscribe.
|Streaming Knowledge—Today’s streaming services send content directly to a specific IP address, so they have more data on what is viewed, how long it is viewed and on what screen. This enables them to make intelligent recommendations on what you might want to view and even when you might want to watch it.|
The OTT services base their content projects, purchases and airings based on the content people have watched, when they watched it, on the screen used and more individualized data to customize how the video content is pitched to you.
“Some people view this data capture and mining as a bad thing,” Allan McLennan, head of PADEM Media Group, a leader in OTT as well as a pioneer in AI, VR, and iTV commented.
“These services constantly run A/B tests, analyze when people hit play/pause, when they stop watching a title, add something to their watchlist and analyze other data to optimize an individual’s enjoyment,” he noted. “The data and analysis allow them to more accurately personalize the service for the viewers.”
“As their use of AI solutions becomes more sophisticated and common, it will enable producers and programmers to identify what new projects should be developed and even to some degree the viewership/engagement that will enjoy their production before it begins,” he added.
|Changing Mind—AI can help humans in many ways, including recommending content and activity that will be satisfying to them or at least less harmful to them. After making the recommendations, it’s up to you to choose the right content, action.|
“The technology doesn’t control or mold what people want to watch,” McLennan emphasized. “And it certainly doesn’t control whether good or bad video stories will be made. That is still a very personal, human activity.”
Cochrane and McLennan agree that most of the “noise” we see today regarding AI is headline-grabbing stuff—widespread job elimination and control/manipulation of what people think, feel, do.
Cochrane feels that the technology will enable filmmakers to streamline note-taking and project management as well as helping to create projects that people can connect with and react to more quickly.
“Filmmaking is—and will continue to be–a very personal endeavor,” Cochrane emphasized, “and the new tools will make it faster, easier and probably more profitable to get viewers to connect with that story, that message.”
“AI has a lot of potential for every segment of the M&E industry,” McLennan said, “from concept and delivery to engagement.”
“One of the most important is streamlining and improving communications throughout the creative/production process,” he added. “In fact, as simple as it may seem, one that could extend off of AI/metadata intelligence, and I’m sure is on the horizon, is one that could help all of us manage all of our editing processes, even our email. We all know how much of an assistance that would be.”
AI holds a lot of potential for the M&E industry and should be viewed as an opportunity to improve the personalized experience rather than a threat to content creators. People tend to be limited by what they know today, not what we imagine might be true tomorrow.
As Major Mokoto Kusangagi said, “If a technological feat is possible, man will do it. Almost as if it's wired into the core of our being.”