Everyone is in a panic over AI… and they’re not wrong to be panicked.

Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, and other tech titans threw their weight behind an open letter published on March 22, calling for a pause on developing advanced AI. The letter cited various concerns about the consequences of developing tech more powerful than OpenAI’s GPT-4, including risks to democracy.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet (Google’s corporate owner) recently told CBS in an interview for “60 Minutes” that AI would one day “be far more capable than anything we’ve seen before.”

Even the CEO of OpenAI, Sam Altman, has expressed doubts and misgivings about AI. Which is strange coming from the person most responsible for bringing AI to market. His position is that his misgivings about AI make him the ideal person to shepherd its development and deployment.

That’s a little like the CEO of a gun manufacturer saying “we agree guns are deadly, so buy guns from us because we feel a teensy bit guilty about it.”

I’m not here to raise the alarm because the alarm is already ringing in your ears.

But if you get paid to generate words – whether its corporate communications, marketing copy or yes, screenplays – you WILL feel the impact of generative text AI in some way, shape or form, and you’ll start feeling it soon. 

But is it the end of screenwriting as we know it

You’d be crazy not to be concerned, but I think it’s a little early to go all Chicken Little. 

10 Reasons AI Will NOT Replace Screenwriters

  1. Copyright. When a producer buys your screenplay they are, in effect, buying the copyright from you. Nothing generated solely by AI can be copyrighted, which means a screenplay written solely by a computer can’t be sold.
  2. Voice. Screenwriting is an art form which requires a unique, authentic voice and perspective. AI is trained on data from other sources, so at best it’s a copy of a copy of a copy.
  3. Joy and Pain. AI will never experience the joy of writing a great line or the sting of rejection. Writers need to experience both – frequently – to develop.
  4. Collaboration. Screenwriting is an intensely collaborative dance between writers, directors, actors, producers and other members of the production team. AI can’t dance.
  5. Spontaneity. AI-generated text is by its nature formulaic and predictable, lacking spontaneity and surprise.
  6. Experience. Storytelling is about communicating an authentic, lived experience. You need to have had your heart broken to be able to express that experience in a way others can feel.
  7. Intuition. Screenwriting requires a deep understanding of character development, plot structure, pacing, and dialogue, all elements that require human intuition.
  8. Culture. Screenwriting is influenced by cultural trends and evolving social issues which requires a deep understanding of the world we live in, something AI cannot fully comprehend.
  9. Humanity. Screenwriting, like any art form, is the expression of the human soul. AI does not have a soul nor will it ever. (Why do I feel like the bad guy in a sci-fi movie when I say that?)
  10. Humor. AI does not have a sense of humor which is going to be a teensy problem when writing, say, a comedy.

Let's Hire a Writer to do a "Human Pass"

While the true impact of AI has not yet been felt by screenwriters and our fellow creatives, we know copyright law renders anything generated solely by computer uncopyrightable. Producers of content need to be able to own the creative to be able to sell it.

So there is comfort knowing that when a computer generates an entire screenplay it can’t be sold, rendering it worthless in the marketplace.

But note the nuance of language here. We are talking about entire works of art created solely by computer. If you take the screenplay generated by computer and hire a human to do a little “human pass” on the dialogue, is that a potential work-around for producers?

I can see a world where stories are being generated by AI, and screenwriters are hired mainly to do “human passes” on the dialogue.

This scenario frightens the shit out of me. I don’t see it happening in the next five years, but ten years from now? Who can say?

For a final word, I thought I’d pass the mic to ChatGPT for a chance to rebut:

The rise of AI may cause some concern for screenwriters, it is important to remember that creativity and storytelling are uniquely human traits. AI may be able to generate content based on data analysis, but it cannot replicate the nuance, emotional depth, and human experiences that are essential to compelling storytelling. Screenwriters should embrace the potential of AI as a tool to enhance their creative process, rather than seeing it as a threat. By using AI to streamline tasks and gain insights into audience preferences, screenwriters can free up more time to focus on the core elements of their craft, ultimately leading to more compelling and engaging content for audiences. As with any technological advancement, there may be challenges and adjustments along the way, but ultimately, the art of storytelling will always be in the hands of human creators.

Thanks ChatGPT. I’ll catch you in the coffee room later.

Today I want to share with you a video I posted on YouTube for my new video series the “TV Pilot Masterclass”.

In this video we’ll be looking at the pilot for Netflix and A24’s hit series BEEF. 

BEEF became known for it’s insane twists (and they are bonkers) but what I appreciate about the pilot is how writer and creator Lee Sung Jin builds the twists around character reveals more than plot twists.  

This is why I consider the pilot for BEEF not plot-driven but driven by character. 

In this video, I’ll be breaking down THREE simple and easy techniques all writers can use in their pilots to hook the audience, build empathy, and confound their expectations.

What are these three techniques?  Watch the video and find out!  

Hope you enjoy!

– James

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