AI is coming for Hollywood scriptwriters – this is how they are going to do it

Terminator Genisys.
We are only at the beginning … Terminator Genisys. Photograph: Moviestore/REX Shutterstock

AI is coming for Hollywood scriptwriters – this is how they are going to do it

Artificial intelligence mashups of Lord of the Rings, Pixar and Wes Anderson are amusing novelties, but how long before the robots are generating whole screenplays – and can we be sure they’re not already?

When the robots finally conquer Earth, it seems one of the first things they will be coming for is your slightly scratched boxset of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. And why not? Who wouldn’t want to see Frodo and his gang reimagined by AI “film-makers” in the style of Wes Anderson or Pixar?

Well, as it turns out, most of us, even if the animated versions of our favourite hobbit adventurers are pretty cute. Over on Instagram, you can now find the “cast” of Pixar’s take on Lord of the Rings (don’t worry, it’s not real), thanks to an AI named Midjourney. I do wonder if a few Disney Animation stills were fed into the machine by mistake, though, because Aragorn and Arwen in particular look like they’ve been dragged from the worlds of Tangled and Frozen rather than Toy Story or Up. Come on Midjourney, you’re never going to convince Miles Dyson to help destroy humanity if you can’t tell the difference between the two Disney-owned studios!

Venturing even deeper into the uncanny valley is the latest effort from Curious Refuge, which appears to be a company dedicated to the use of AI screenwriters. It’s a trailer for Lord of the Rings as directed by Wes Anderson, and to be fair, hints at a potential future career in satire for whichever machine came up with it. There’s a lot of tan and teal, a decent stab at capturing Anderson’s weird, static camera style, and even a nice joke combining the indie doyen’s love of visual lists with a line on Hobbity second breakfasts. Timothy Chalamet is surely a little tall to be playing Frodo but Tilda Swinton as Galadriel is spot on, and Willem Dafoe as Gollum is inspired. Colour me reasonably impressed.

Still, while it’s a very good stab for a machine fed lots of relevant information by humans, nobody would believe this is an actual movie trailer. It’s amusing but it still looks shoddy, like something put together by a team of talented sixth-form media studies students who have possibly been eating a few too many naughty mushrooms. Bill Murray as Gandalf is recognisably Bill Murray as Gandalf, but it is clearly not the real Bill Murray because the only thing behind those soulless staring eyes is an algorithm from the seventh layer of Hades.

Yet businesses such as Curious Refuge are presumably unworried because their aim – as picked up recently by the Writers Guild of America – is not necessarily to convince us that machines can (yet) complete entire scripts. Rather, it is to sell AI screenwriting facilities to studios, who might then only require the more expensive human option in order to apply some polish.

It’s hard to imagine AI will ever be used on a real Wes Anderson movie (or indeed anything auteurish) because Anderson doesn’t really require an algorithm that would enable him to poorly pastiche himself. And there would be zero mileage in Hollywood releasing ersatz Wes Anderson movies without the film-maker’s name attached.

It seems much more likely that AI could be used to put together, say, the story arc for the 17th season of Paw Patrol, or help produce cheap, straight-to-streaming movie sequels. After all, it is already possible to find material in the darker corners of Netflix or Amazon Prime that feels like it was churned out by lifeless, soulless entities using repetitive formulas and algorithms. Have you seen Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus?

On the other hand, we are only at the beginning. If we accept a little bit of AI now, then the future is surely doomed to turn dystopian when the robots get better at their jobs. Before long we’ll find ourselves kicking back with popcorn and a large cola as a new instalment of Terminator as good as the first two movies unfurls before our eyes, written entirely by machines and only lacking one essential element from the original films … those sneaky AI screenwriters have entirely written out the human resistance.

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