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Artificial Intelligence: Its Negative Impacts on the Creative Industry

A year on from the WGA strikes, a consideration of how the threat of generative AI still poses a threat to the role of screenwriters.

A sign which reads: "Alas poor Yorrick, AI knew him well."
A sign held by an Equity member in London in support of the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike | Credit: Shutterstock/John Gomez

2023: the WGA strike is in full swing. The source of the contention? Among many issues (job security, residuals, fairer wages): the threat of AI taking over the role of screenwriters.

This is a new one. Per The Hollywood Reporter, in the nebulous stages of ChatGPT, writers saw these AI tools as useful collaborators. Come the summer of 2023, it is a major discussion point in the negotiations between the WGA and the AMPTP. This article is not a rehash of the events of 2023; however, it is of note that screenwriters found AI a big enough threat to include it in their most recent MBA.

(Mis)Uses of AI Thus Far

A man looking up, concerned. He has ginger hair and blue eyes. He is wearing a golden outfit.
Thomas Middleditch as ‘H’ in Sunspring | Credit: End Cue

A full replacement of screenwriters by AI has not happened (yet). The only script generated entirely by AI software is a short film called Sunspring (2016). It is the nine-minute lovechild of whichever sci-fi scripts director Oscar Sharpe could find to feed ‘Benjamin’, the automated scriptwriter. It’s. Uh. Yeah. Give it a watch, I guess.

Though this was produced seven years before AI became the hot topic it is now, the process of script-to-screen is not dissimilar to what writers fear might become the norm. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, writer Vinnie Wilhelm flagged concerns that the role of the screenwriter might be reduced to “polishing AI scripts.” This is how the development of Sunspring played out. ‘Benjamin’ generated the script, and Sharpe, along with the cast, deciphered the product into something sensible.

This is indicative of the overarching worry of the WGA. Should AI bleed into the creative process, this cheap labour may devalue the hard work of human screenwriters. Sunspring is not a great advertisement for automated scriptwriting, but it still holds as an example of the process that might reduce the need for a team of screenwriters.

The Tech Bro’s Delusion

A sign reading 'Support Artists Not Algorithms'
Sign held by an Equity member in a London strike held in solidarity with the WGA | Credit: Shutterstock/John Gomez

Sure is a lot cheaper to plug a prompt into AI software and pay a writer to make sure it makes a modicum of sense at the end of the process. Who wouldn’t want to cut costs so you can produce as much content as you possibly can?!

This is dubious. Do we need a greater abundance of media? There is enough soulless content put out as it is, and that’s with actual people in the writers’ room. The least valuable stuff seems to cleave to a formula. This is, as I understand it, what AI is trying to shepherd scripts into doing.

In this way, it’s not so much a question as to whether AI will replace the screenwriters outright; this looks unlikely, even if they are only kept on as gig workers, grading the AI’s work. Instead, it becomes a question of writers’ autonomy over their work.

One thing these modern snake oil salesmen (snake-AI salesmen? I know, I’m working on it) will try and tell you is that AI is your shiny new collaborator. It can do no wrong with regard to statistics and data. It’ll predict your success! This is really going to appeal to the market. Use these dialogue patterns, these words, these narrative arcs, and you’ll be onto a hit.

But you lose the human touch when you rely on this too heavily. Must it be about market viability and optimization? Can’t someone just tell a story?

Perhaps A Worse Sin: AI ‘Analysis’

A blonde woman screaming. Behind her is a red curtain. Her eyes are glassy.
Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks. Alternative title: how I feel about AI | Credit: Lynch/Frost Productions

I read a Forbes article about two months ago that got me so worked up that I thought I was going to have to be sedated. To commemorate the 34th anniversary of the beloved Twin Peaks, they published an article showcasing the analytical capabilities of AI in deciphering the imagery, soundscape, and generic conventions of Twin Peaks. Worst. Birthday gift. Ever.

Mainly because, as it turns out, the AI’s capabilities aren’t that great. For how impressed the author of the article seems to be by what the AI is suggesting about the show, one would expect something a little deeper than what it actually came up with. It isn’t saying anything wrong or outlandish – that might have been redeeming. Rather, it’s just stating the obvious. The music is meant to make you feel unsettled. Uh-huh. The Red Room is representative of the inner psyche. Requires slightly more thought, but, still, one probably reaches this conclusion by themselves. The bot allegedly “trained in narrative analysis” suggests that the true question of the series is “who is Laura Palmer?” If you are paying attention, this much is clear by the second episode.

By far the most insulting part of the article is when the author implores the reader to ‘think about’ something. I mean, are you serious? You can’t be serious. The imperative ‘think’ should not be included in an article touting analysis done by artificial intelligence. Maybe ask ChatGPT to give you the definition of irony?

Behind the Curtain

Just to return to Sunspring for a minute, I would like to give Sharpe some credit. In the opening credits, the films used to train ‘Benjamin’ are listed. I know it makes AI less sexy if you look behind the curtain, but, as much as it has the potential to harm future creative projects, it is hurting existing works, too. Taking a step away from the entertainment industry, think of where the GenAI tool used in the Forbes article would have taken its cues from. Yes: existing analytical pieces it has access to. The problem is that it can’t even do the writers from whom it is stealing its response justice. It’s just… bland. It’s hardly cutting-edge. At least with Sunspring, you are referred back to source material which was written and produced by human beings, and might be (probably is) more worth watching than something of Sunspring‘s calibre.

Real, human work, dedication, and love go into deciphering the symbolism and imagery of art, whether it is books, television, film, music, or visual art. When you ask an AI, you don’t receive half of the nuance, and you aren’t supporting the people who did the work. You’re supporting someone who made a system which compiles the work, and doesn’t even regurgitate it in an interesting way.

In an era of waning media literacy and reading comprehension skills, encouraging people to turn to ChatGPT or other chatbots to produce analysis in lieu of thinking about it for themselves seems like a misguided step.

Counterpoint (It’s Only Fair)

It pains me to do this but I would be lacking integrity if I didn’t give some credit to the other side.

The settlement reached between the WGA and the AMPTP was that AI was to be a tool for the benefit of the writers, not the studios. Nor can AI be used, according to Adam Conover, a member of the WGA negotiating committee, “to write scripts or edit scripts that have already been written by a writer.” Should screenwriters wish, they can use AI for whatever makes their job easier. Producers are (currently) not allowed to slash costs by gutting the screenwriter talent pool in favour of the cheapest employee in the world (although it might rise up and kill you; risk and reward, I guess). At the moment, I suppose it’s working out – but never trust a profiteer.

That’s about as far as I can go in being gracious about this, because I find it hard to believe that there is a net positive in allowing AI into the creative process at all. Weeding out writers, artists, and analytical minds is only going to contribute to the cultural rot we are experiencing.

Did it start with the internet? Social media? Is it only because of AI? Was it the pandemic (remember that?)? Who knows, but the less people are required to think about things for themselves, the worse. The more we are boxed into consuming media which is preapproved and dictated by Optimum Market Value, the less we know how to connect with one another on a human level, the less we know about each other and ourselves. I want to know what you have to say; I don’t want to know what the market wants to hear.

Final Word

Wouldn’t it be funny if I revealed this whole thing was AI-generated to prove a point? On second thought, not really. If I were you, it would make me feel a bit cheated if I had spent my time reading something the author delighted in revealing they had spent no time writing.

Regarding AI, a lot of the narrative is people trying to frighten you. I am not especially interested in this angle. My angle is that I think it’s lame. Maybe I should be less blunt: I think it is damaging to the creative processes that keep us sane and human.

You can keep your AI for analysing data sets, pattern recognition, and menial tasks, but, please, leave it out of creative outlets. It’s important that we do not mistake labours of love for labour that would be better off streamlined through the use of generative technology. We are meant to tell stories, and we always have. Things need not always move and die in the throes of a trend.

Written By

UK-based literature student. Primarily interested in literature, film, and creative writing. Occasionally insists that tennis falls under one or more of these categories.

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