Neil Calloway looks at software that could pick which films go into production…
The new year brought the news that a company has developed software that they claim can sort the blockbusters from the bombs before a single shot has been filmed.
ScriptBook have developed Script2Screen, which apparently works by analysing scripts and comparing them to films that have been successful in the past, rejecting those that appear sufficiently different that it is likely that they won’t be a success.
Immediately you can see the problem here; films that get the approval of the software will be pretty similar to films that have gone before; if you were worried that Hollywood was descending into this horrific, homogeneous mess before, then things are only going to get worse if the studios embrace this technology.
You can be the biggest fan of formulaic franchises in the world, but I guarantee if I asked you to name your ten favourite movies, there would be one film in there that isn’t a comic book adaptation and doesn’t feature anyone called Skywalker, but is an obscure, weird little flick that you discovered by accident and you don’t know anyone else who has seen it. Those sort of films won’t pass muster with Script2Screen.
The software doesn’t allow for huge game changing films that totally change the film landscape; up until the 21st Century, comic book movies hadn’t had a great pedigree; with the exception of big names such as Batman and Superman, they’d usually been released to not much acclaim or box office interest (and even the franchises featuring the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight had fizzled out to irrelevancy by the end). The MCU films would have been dismissed because there was very little precedent for their success.
Last year, after the US election, Facebook received much criticism due to the allegation that its algorithms promoted stories that reflected their users own political preferences rather than opposing views, leading to accusations that they were creating echo chambers and bubbles where people only saw things they already agreed with. Script2Screen will lead to the filmic equivalent; average films that regurgitate plots and personalities you’ve seen before; there will never be any grit in the oyster.
The vast majority of films do not make a profit, and by beginning to embrace Script2Screen Hollywood is obviously trying to protect its investment and increase its chances of a return on its money (studios would probably make more money than they currently do if they sold up and put all their money in a high interest bank account). The problem is, they don’t know which films will make a profit, and neither does a piece of software; in tests on scripts that had already been made, it only predicted about two thirds of flops, which I’m sure a fairly clued up film fan could do anyway.
Samuel Brace recently wrote a compelling piece for Flickering Myth on the superiority of practical effects; the human factor giving things that have been created outside of a computer a weight and a realism absent in CGI . If you want to reject computers being used in production and post production, you should also reject their use in pre-production.
With social media deciding what news we see and Amazon and Netflix algorithms telling us what films to watch, the last thing we need is a piece of software deciding what movies get made. Besides, what will happen when the Russians hack it?
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.