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Hollywood vs. AI – Is this the end?

Whilst it’s no surprise that AI has been an imminently looming threat for some time, few truly envisioned its extensive capabilities until OpenAI’s recent release of ‘Sora’, the extraordinary text-to-video AI model, which has sent waves of apprehension through the creative industry. I do apologise if AI articles are, by now, a bit of a bore, but for those of you who haven’t already stumbled across this particular technology, it truly is a spectacle I urge you to investigate. Essentially, ‘Sora’ transforms simple text prompts of visual descriptions such as ‘A movie trailer featuring the adventures of the 30 year old space man wearing a red wool knitted motorcycle helmet, blue sky, salt desert, cinematic style, shot on 35mm film, vivid colors’ into one-minute long, HD moving pictures, almost (scarily!) flawlessly depicting the description inputted. A quick Google search will demonstrate the vast variety of other scenes that this technology is capable of generating, ranging from intricate animations to close-up nature shots and historical footage. The possibilities are endless. And almost perfectly executed. 

Currently, the model is not in the public domain and is only available to a limited number of technological professionals, visual artists and filmmakers for feedback purposes, however, it’s certainly possible that OpenAI have released these developments as a warning of their capabilities. This technology may be all well and good if used innocently from the comfort of one’s bedroom, but, as always, the implications don’t end there. 

So with the release of ‘Sora’, the question on everyone’s lips is: is this the end? The end of special effects teams? The end of video creation? The end of filmmaking? Let me start by reassuring you – this stance is somewhat dramatic. The release of ‘Sora’, whilst impressive, does not necessarily merit an existential crisis of the end of filmmaking altogether. There are, however, still some (slightly less extreme, yet crucial) concerns. These worries are evidently sweeping through Hollywood. Filmmaker Tyler Perry has put his studio expansions of $800 million on hold, and James Hawes, UK director, predicts that within five years AI will be capable of generating entire television series such as soap operas, with complexity and emotional depth indistinguishable from human creation. The most likely fields to suffer from such technology, therefore, are those that produce easily replicable, fungible content. As Hawes predicts, this consists of media such as advertisements, or soap operas, or Marvel films, which, whilst taking lengthy processes to write and produce, are, in reality, rather formulaic. It will, therefore, be mid-market entertainment which is lost to this technology, since, I can’t imagine it likely for AI to be able to produce the next Godfather. So whilst huge Hollywood studios aren’t necessarily in trouble, partially due to AI’s current limitations, and partially on account of capitalism’s rapacious nature causing huge studios to likely harness these tools for their own economic benefit, this so-called fungible content may be. Of course, equally, ‘Sora’ won’t be able to produce the eleventh season of Friends with the click of a button any time soon. But I can certainly foresee a world in the near future in which AI will, from the input of a handful of ‘Friends’ episodes, be capable of producing an entire AI-generated episode following formulaically from the input, to an almost identical level. And as for, for example, car advertisements, I seriously doubt these will ever be manually produced again. One look at ‘Sora’s video generation from the prompt ‘the camera follows behind a white vintage SUV with a black roof rack as it speeds up a steep dirt road’ makes this abundantly clear. Similarly, one might say the same for the extraordinary animation produced from the prompt ‘animated scene features a close-up of a short fluffy monster kneeling beside a melting red candle’.

But the impacts won’t start with the replacement of entire industries. Rather, overexposure and overproduction of these media forms mean that animators, soap producers and videographers alike, unfortunately, may need to either seriously up their game, diversify, or harness these AI tools in order to not be outcompeted by the industry’s very own survival of the fittest. Concerns regarding this arise, however, not only in the creative abandonment of middle-market shows and production but also in the loss of vital training opportunities which these foster. Mid-market series such as the BBC’s ‘Doctors’, whereby so many renowned actors first broke into the industry, provide hands-on experience and opportunities for entry for newcomers. With only world-famous acting and directing talent remaining in the industry – how might one break in? 

In an attempt to avoid sugarcoating this; post-’Sora’, filmmaking will never be the same. The impacts will be profound. The loss of jobs, experiences and skill in filmmaking may be catastrophic to the industry and will likely result in a disparity between those who utilise AI, and those who disregard it. Perhaps an overlooked impact of such technology, however, and for me, arguably one of the most widespread, is the erosion of culture. Throughout our lifetime, we have experienced the exponential demise of physical media, with the likes of physical DVDs and boxsets replaced by streaming services, CDs replaced by Spotify, and newspapers replaced by online articles (ironically). But AI takes this to a whole new level, by completely removing the element of humanity. Just the concept of reading an AI-generated article, or watching an AI-generated film, with a complete absence of human interaction and production, is, to me, terrifying. But equally, huge production companies are never going to reject such an opportunity to save time and save money. Maybe I’m naive in my idealistic romanticising of the manual process of film creation, but the abandonment of such authenticity feels somewhat like a betrayal of cultural integrity, value and true talent. 

For others, perhaps ‘Sora’ is less menacing. For those in our positions as students and young creators, ‘Sora’ poses an exciting opportunity for the expansion of cinema and new talent, and a revolutionary way of content creation. To be able to understand and utilise this technology to create fascinating independent films in a way which has never before been possible will soon be an invaluable skill sought by every recruiter in the industry. Why would one not take advantage of this? 

This article is by no means an attempt at fear-mongering. Upon looking at the bigger picture for a moment, it’s evident that this technology is not flawless. ‘Sora’ itself warrants little concern on account of its current abilities, and it is only when we jump to the conclusions of its potential use in Hollywood that issues arise. But a somewhat comforting assertion is that these consequences seem a long way off. Currently, ‘Sora’ is only capable of creating one-minute-long videos, and in order to produce more threatening, lengthy films, this would require the generation of thousands of AI chips, which, in turn, is expensive. And so unless Sam Altman happens to stumble across $7 trillion, Hollywood is safe for now. 

Personally, I remain somewhat optimistic. I think that the fundamental thing fuelling this optimism is the human desire for genuine talent and creativity. As a society, the cultural erosion I discussed is, generally, unattractive and undesirable. I would hope that, after the novelty of AI visual generation wears off, the human need for creativity and promotion of art will, at least to an extent, trump our persistent need to technologically advance. Ultimately, this unknown territory into which we are venturing is just that. It’s unknown. And so whilst such threats may, on the surface, be frightening, this is by no means the demise of Hollywood.

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