AI tools don’t have to threaten screenwriters’ livelihoods
May 1, 2023
A writers’ strike in Hollywood could shut down production of most TV shows if a deal is not reached before midnight tonight.
Austin Bunn, filmmaker, screenwriter and assistant professor in performing and media arts at Cornell University, is available to discuss how streaming has changed the industry and why writers could look at AI as a creative tool, not a threat. Please note, Bunn is a member of the Writers Guild of America.
“The visionary independent filmmaking that inspired me to become a screenwriter is on a path toward extinction as streamers turn up their noses at smaller, auteur films outside of the popular genres marketplace and movie theatres struggle to reinvent themselves post-COVID. Television writers, who used to make careers and lives on long-running network shows, now face eight-to-ten-episode seasons. And the system of passive income that provided paychecks long after a show left ‘the air’ through syndication has largely evaporated in the era of the instantly available.
“One fear, among the Writers Guild of America (WGA) rank and fold, is that AI-tools in storytelling will start to replace writers. But this is a lost-cause, and the WGA should pivot to seeing these AI-tools as partners and assistants instead of antagonists. OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4 and other chat-bots are remarkably good at generating clay for the creative wheel, but the material they generate needs shaping, vision and most importantly editing.
“Additionally, TV writers have to watch hours of television to understand what the show they’re working on is trying to do and what others in its area have done already. In meetings with executives, we’re asked to summarize the ‘comps,’ other films or shows that relate to our idea, and how we might surprise and transform what has come before. When directors pitch on projects, they put together ‘look books’ of still frames from other movies or shows that have the same tone or region or even story shape. All of these tasks, part of the writer’s job in media, can be done with the assistance of AI tools, and potentially lead us forward without threatening our livelihood.”
Cornell University labor expert Patricia Campos Medina is also available to talk about the pressures at play between labor and management and what a strike could mean for the industry.