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AI Goes to Hollywood

Warner Bros. hopes Cinelytic's AI will save time while making more reasonable financial estimates, thus forestalling expensive box office blunders

Now this is interesting. AI is not only taking over the minds and hearts of sci-fi junkies like myself, it’s entering the real world of movie and film industry. Tatiana Siegel recently highlighted at The Hollywood Reporter an interesting deal Warner Bros. has made with AI software firm Cinelytic.

AI data recognition software will project how much money a film could make at the box office. That strategy is expected to pay off during the greenlight stage of a film’s journey, when its production financing is formally approved and moved to the pre-production stage.

Warner Bros. hopes to save time while making more reasonable financial estimates, thus forestalling expensive box office blunders.

I respect the fact that the collaboration doesn’t seem to include a fantastical vision of Warner Bros. awakening a sentient AI that ultimately takes over Hollywood, cast us puny humans by the wayside. Rather, Tobias Queisser, Cinelytic’s founder, seems rather straightforward about the extreme limitations of the software:

“Artificial intelligence sounds scary. But right now, an AI cannot make any creative decisions,” says Queisser. “What it is good at is crunching numbers and breaking down huge data sets and showing patterns that would not be visible to humans. But for creative decision-making, you still need experience and gut instinct.”

Tatiana Siegel, “Warner Bros. Signs Deal for AI-Driven Film Management System (Exclusive)” at The Hollywood Reporter

Queisser is exactly right. Contrary to puff pieces and ominous documentaries, AI as it stands today has no real creative power. Some may argue that Hollywood doesn’t either but that’s another topic for another time. Cinelytic’s AI does what every AI does at its most basic level. It collects and sifts large amounts of data to find patterns that can be used to make predictions. AI excels at pattern recognition because that is its only purpose. Humans aren’t so linear or predictable.

Siegel offers an aside that provides food for thought: “While the platform won’t necessarily predict what will be the next $1 billion surprise, like Warners’ hit Joker…”

No? If you were reading about the big studio films around November of 2019 you likely heard how controversial Joker is. It polarized audiences. Some saw it as a battle-cry for a marginalized demographic of American society but others saw it as a potential incitement to gun violence. It was a film whose reach couldn’t be predicted because its influence was so diverse and audiences reacted in many different ways.

Software like Cinelytic’s product has no political, cultural, or social allegiance. It has no opinion or bias. When opinion, bias, and perspective are relatively unanimous, AI can quickly form predictions and recognize patterns based on large sample sizes. When opinions and perspectives are polarizing and divisive, however, AI would have a difficult time making predictions because the “right” answer is not always so obvious or apparent.

AI is governed entirely by human input. It can, for example, show racist or sexist bias in decision-making because that bias was present in the data. We must choose data carefully.

Nonetheless, I, for one, am glad to see studios like Warner Bros. moving in this direction. Perhaps, if the pressure of time-consuming raw data analysis is alleviated, big studios will have more time to invest into their writers and producers. Maybe instead of remaking everything that was already a great movie forty years ago, they will focus on creating stories that could be great today.

Not everyone agrees with me about this “insatible greed for data-gathering,” as the BBC puts it:

The BBC has heart where Netflix has only “the insatiable greed for data-gathering”, the corporation’s head of television has said.

Charlotte Moore said the BBC stands out from Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services – which rely on algorithms over human intuition – as it cares about its audiences.

In the BBC’s most damning critique yet of US media giants, Moore said: “So much of what’s driving the rapid change in our industry is about technology, not creativity. The television landscape is increasingly defined by what will deliver the biggest profits for companies, not the best programmes for audiences.

Anita Singh, “BBC chief accuses Netflix of failing to take risks because its decisions are made by robots” at The Telegraph

We’re sure to see if it makes a difference when the films come out.

Further reading on adventures in AI and film-making:

AI can write novels and screenplays better than the pros AI help, not hype: Software can automatically generate word sequences based on material fed in from existing scripts. But with what result? Robert J. Marks


Screenwriters’ jobs are not threatened by AI. Unless the public starts preferring mishmash to creativity. Robert J. Marks

Adam Nieri

Adam Nieri has interests in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind and he holds an MA in Science and Religion from Biola University. He has background in social media and marketing, photography/graphic design, IT, and teaching.

AI Goes to Hollywood