Hollywood has been embracing digital technology and computational algorithms in order to movies for a while now, using CGI to de-age actors and enhance shots in other ways. Just recently, one Hollywood company announced its intention to use AI to analyze movie data and assist in making a decision regarding greenlighting projects. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, the AI firm will be providing Warner Bros. a program intended to simplify aspects of distribution and give projections regarding pricing and possible profit.
The system developed for Warner Bros. will utilize big data to guide decision-making during the greenlight phase of a project. The system can reportedly return analyses regarding star power for a given region and even predict how much money a film is likely to make in theaters and through other distribution methods. Cinelytic has reportedly been engineering and beta-testing their predictive platform for over three years, and in addition to Warner Bros, several other companies, such as Ingenious Media and Productivity Media, have partnered with the company.
The AI platform is predicted to be especially useful when it comes to film festivals, where companies must make bids on films after only a few hours of deliberation.
Tobias Queisser, the founder of Cinelytic, stated that the value of the platform is that it will be able to quickly make the types of calculations that would take human analysts much longer to complete. Queisser also acknowledges that while the idea of giving AI influenced over what projects get produced can be unnerving, the AI itself won’t be making any decisions.
“The system can calculate in seconds what used to take days to assess by a human when it comes to general film package evaluation or a star’s worth,” says Queisser. “Artificial intelligence sounds scary. But right now, an AI cannot make any creative decisions,” says Queisser. “What it is good at is crunching numbers and breaking down huge data sets and showing patterns that would not be visible to humans. But for creative decision-making, you still need experience and gut instinct.”
Despite Queisser’s assurances that humans will still be in charge of any important decisions, some people are concerned about how the AI will be used. For instance, Popular Mechanics noted that the entire Marvel film franchise was based on the willingness of executives to take a chance on Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr., who was considered “box office poison” at one time. The fear is that using AI algorithms to minimize risk could lead to situations where original and/or high-quality films are passed over. To be sure, AI tools can potentially extend our own biases if there aren’t systems in place to control them.
Of course, one could make the argument that the technology behind Cinelytic’s analysis tool could be used to give more deserving projects a chance, instead of projects that are likely to fail. As QZ notes, Cinelytic was tested last year when it predicted that the Hellboy film would end up being a box office bomb, and it was proven correct. The film had a $50 million dollar budget and it made only about $21.9 million at the box office after Cinelytic’s tool predicted that it would make around $23.2 million. A correct prediction like this could mean that executives could take that money and invest it in projects that have more potential, making those resources available to other films. It could potentially even make choosing new investments in new IPs less scary and uncertain for those greenlighting projects.
Looking beyond Cinelytic, if AI algorithms are ever used to recommend films, the algorithms could also be used to control for human biases in decision making. Depending on what features the AI selects for, it could be instructed to recommend stories about underrepresented minorities more often, reducing some of the disparity in representation often seen in Hollywood films.
Ultimately, the AI device tool developed Cinelytic is a tool, and much like any tool it can be used properly or misused. Regardless, it seems likely that automating repetitive and time-consuming calculations is something the movie industry is only going to continue to invest in.