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AI in Hollywood Draws Heavy Crowd For New Kind Of Filmmaking

AI in Hollywood Draws Heavy Crowd For New Kind Of Filmmaking
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This time last year, most of Hollywood was out of work, grinding through two strikes called partly because of fears about artificial intelligence. This time this year, it seemed like most of Hollywood was at a downtown Los Angeles production studio, to learn how they could use AI to make their next movie or TV show.

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The occasion was the second “AI on the Lot,” a conference that drew 850 registrants Thursday to Los Angeles Center Studios, where they crammed into a theater and meeting center and a nearby sound stage outfitted for virtual production, to talk through the nitty gritty of workflows, opportunities and headaches caused by the burgeoning new tools.

“I feel like I’m so far behind,” said Josie Kaye, a long-time Groundlings performer and actor/writer/cinematographer. “I started using AI in January. I know people who have been using it for a year.”

Kaye said she has used AI tools to create social-media content and music videos, including one for an improvisational rapper whose lyrics about a man eating a pineapple would have been challenging to illustrate in video otherwise. With the writer and actor strikes behind them, more and more Hollywood professionals are making like Kaye and exploring AI’s possibilities.

“There’s optimistic hesitance,” said Adobe’s director of product marketing for pro video & film Meagan Keane, a former filmmaker. “Coming out of the strikes especially, it’s important for all creative disciplines to be aware (of what AI can do). But really, creatives are hungry to be creative. When we really dig in (with professionals), there’s a lot of optimism about how much they can create.”

Many others at the conference, on stage and in various conversations, showed off their increasingly sophisticated use of various AI tools.

AI is already transforming plenty of industries, from farming to manufacturing, healthcare to retail. But entertainment and media have seen a landslide of potentially useful programs in recent months, many of which are being rapidly updated and repeatedly improved, said keynote speaker Renard Jenkins, president and CEO of I2A2 Technologies, Labs and Studios. Jenkins is a former executive with Warner Bros. and PBS, and president of engineering standards body Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

Already, Jenkins said, fashion and other kinds of still photography (other than shooting at live events), have been disrupted, as have 2D and 3D animation. Now other sectors are seeing big changes. Some of the best-known general tools, such as Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and Open AI’s ChatGPT are being widely used.

Adobe’s
Adobe
various software packages already have capabilities powered by its Firefly AI to generate still images from text, pick the best take of a scene, and assemble rough edits. The company recently announced its Premiere Pro video editing software will add the ability to slightly extend video to better allow a scene to “breathe,” Keane said. That capability is expected to arrive by the end of the year.

Adobe is trying to enhance “peak productivity, removing all these things that creatives don’t want to be doing,” Keane said. “Creatives are fearful, I get that, but there’s so much that AI can be doing to give them time back to be creative.”

Many startups, meanwhile, provide specialized capabilities like upscaling video resolution, cloning voices, matching video to audio, creating sound effects and more.

The industry is now, one attendee said, in the third stage of its AI era, figuring out how to make all those programs work together to create real shows. Creators have plenty of choices, as Jenkins and others detailed.

“(Viggle 2.0) came out a few months ago, and is kind of changing the game in creating still images,” said Jenkins. “It does give you the opportunity to see where things are going to go with the pieces you’re working on. This is probably one of the tools that’s going to help you join the (AI) party.”

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Three of the 50 filmmakers who created pieces of Our T2 Remake, a tongue-in-cheek “remake” of Terminator 2 (a trailer is available on YouTube and at t2remake.com) said they tapped a wide range of video tools. The list included Leonardo.AI, Pika Labs, and Runway, music creators Suno and MusicBed, lip-synching tools SyncLabs and D-ID, Envato for sound effects, and voice generator Eleven Labs, among others.

“I’ve learned a lot,” said Matthew Wenhardt, who called himself a “gen AI filmmaker.” In creating his segment of the T2 project, “That was my first (AI-stylized) video. I would definitely change my work flow. I would probably do some sort of live action (filming) and translate that.”

Jenkins deconstructed a widely distributed Sora.ai video clip of a Dalmatian puppy climbing from one window sill to another, saying, “They didn’t quite get it right. An animator could take the same image and make the dog(’s walking) look more realistic.”

That said, OpenAI-owned Sora has already been updated in the few months since its public unveiling (it remains in beta and is not widely available), and is dramatically better at creating realistic movement, Jenkins said.

“If you take a look at how far they’ve come with Sora, it is mind-bendingly frightening how far they’ve progressed,” Jenkins said.

And not everyone at the conference was sanguine about AI’s potential impacts on their own corner of creativity.

Director David Slade made the hugely influential interactive Bandersnatch episode of Netflix’s
Netflix
long-running sci-fi anthology Black Mirror. During the strikes, he began experimenting with AI tools, and found much to like about what was possible, but also some concerns.

“What I found to be incredibly lonely about the process is that I couldn’t involve actors,” Slade said. “I spent years and years and years (as a director) explaining to people what I want. I’m getting what I want. It looks like my work. But I really want actors to be involved.”

The potential loss of creative collaboration with actors and others is an important issue, he said, that shouldn’t be discounted, especially for an industry that has depended on that ineffable alchemy to fuel many of its greatest creations.

Other attendees voiced their own concerns about the inevitable job loss that will come from AI as it more fully inserts itself into the industry.

“They’re all delusional,” said a 32-year-old TV writer after listening to a session on the potential of AI’s Large Language Models. The television business is already struggling, with legacy cable and broadcast networks reducing scripted programming, or even shutting down altogether, while streaming services have been reducing their spending on new shows.

ChatGPT and other text-focused AI tools can quickly generate scenes, software code, dialog, even prompts for text-to-video and other kinds of software. That could doom the mid-career jobs in writers rooms across Hollywood, making it difficult to train the next generation of showrunners, said the writer, who declined to give her name.

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Her concerns mirror those raised by many in the Writers Guild of America last year when they successfully pushed for a new contract that guaranteed minimum staffing levels in TV writers rooms. Even with protections like that, plenty in Hollywood’s creative class remain worried amid the exhilaration.





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