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The Impact of AI on Screenwriting in Hollywood – by Mark Heidelberger

The Impact of AI on Screenwriting in Hollywood – by Mark Heidelberger

Anyone following current events in Hollywood knows a war has been brewing between man and machine. No, I’m not talking about Skynet versus John Connor and the Resistance. I’m talking about the rapid proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) in key creative areas like screenwriting and story development. Many view AI as a powerful tool for content generation while others see it as a threat to an otherwise predominantly human workforce. Before this war gets bloody, let’s step back and take a look at exactly what is meant by “AI,” the benefits, the drawbacks, and where it’s all going.

AI is essentially the science of creating software and machines that think as humans do. Virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa are AI formats that have been around for a while, and have caused little consternation. However, Hollywood caught on to the technology in recent years, with both production companies and writers using platforms to perform tasks previously reserved for humans.

Rather than a radar blip, its use only seemed to be accelerating. Examples include studios using AI to generate ideas for new TV series, or reducing the size of writers’ rooms by having AI make script revisions. Screenwriters themselves have been using the technology to strengthen character backstories, plotlines, and dialogue. And, tech companies have been using previously written works to train their AI through a process called machine learning.

Defenders of AI in screenwriting cite its many benefits, such as ideation, increased efficiency, expanded worldbuilding, tone and dialogue suggestions, structure mapping, and real-time corrections to grammar, spelling, and formatting errors. Some software, for instance, can analyze keyword batches or preexisting material, and spit out movie plotlines. Others can save a writer time by actually creating and editing text. And, still others can perform research tasks that add credibility to content.

However, like all new technologies, AI is not without its drawbacks. First, it cannot generate anything without data to analyze. In other words, it lacks a human’s ability to be originative and think critically. Moreover, the need to feed the AI preexisting work leaves open accusations of theft, plagiarism and copyright infringement. In addition, text can often feel rote and mechanical when not edited by a human, and over-reliance on AI is believed by some to stifle the creative growth of writers.

One of the biggest concerns about AI is the eventual replacement of human writers altogether. In May of 2023, the Writers Guild of America launched a strike against major movie studios in part because of their reluctance to address this concern. The strike ended when the WGA was able to wrench certain concessions from the studios, who agreed not to employ AI to rewrite screenplays, reduce writer pay, undermine a writer’s credit, or use AI-generated text as “source material.” However, there are still few limitations prohibiting studios from using scripts they bought to train AI.

As the battle has heated up, so have copyright questions, like who owns the copyright of the AI-generated work, and is the use of copyrighted source material for machine learning a violation of copyright? The US Copyright Office holds that any written elements created by AI are not protected by copyright.

According to Schuyler Moore, entertainment attorney at Greenberg Glusker LLP, recent federal court decisions have confirmed as much. Unfortunately, there are still many gray areas that need to be worked out as Moore notes the court decision “does not change the analysis of whether uploading preexisting works into an AI computer infringes the copyright of those preexisting works or whether such uploading is protected by the fair use defense.”

So, is AI a powerful tool or an existential threat? Evidence shows it can at once be both and neither. Like any new invention, the result will boil down to how we use it. Just as we don’t blame pencils for making spelling mistakes, we shouldn’t attack AI for helping improve the quality of our creative output. But, we also shouldn’t pretend it can replace the creative and emotional intelligence of a person. Ultimately, this war hinges on balancing AI’s ability to accentuate writers’ strengths with a tendency to diminish human contribution through over-reliance. By achieving symbiosis between AI and writer, AI could become just another tool in the screenwriter’s arsenal, much like spellcheck or an Internet search engine.

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Mark Heidelberger co-founded Beverly Hills-based Treasure Entertainment in 2000, serving as a film executive, producer and literary manager until 2011 before going freelance. Film and TV credits include Harsh Times, Comfort, Ninja Apocalypse, The Basement, Take the Night, Pray for Rain, Hallmark Channel’s You’ve Got a Friend and the soon-to-be-released Last Night on Earth. Often times, he performs ghostwriting services on screenplays in addition to his producing duties. He is a member of the Producers Guild of America. He holds a BA in Film Studies from UCSB and an MFA in Producing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television.

 



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One Response to "The Impact of AI on Screenwriting in Hollywood – by Mark Heidelberger"

  1. William Adams  January 12, 2024 at 12:45 pm

    1950s sci fi story and writers were using ai and struggling to compete
    new author appears and beats them all
    they discuss what ai he is using with
    nobody has a clue
    finally some hire investigator to dig deeper
    surprise!
    he is DIY with OUT any ai

    so called ai can NOT think
    it is just a dumb program that assumes correlation is causation
    it does use a lot of data and does compute fast but
    can not create anything better than people do

    it can be a good assistant to do thing faster better
    but
    it still needs people involved