People Need Not Apply: Automation and the Future of the Film Industry

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So today I woke up for my first day of Uni feeling groggy and tired, like having a hangover without the initial fun causing it. When I got up my roommate had arrived home in an absurdly cheerful and friendly manner, which I rebuked with a few grunts and scurried away to a dark corner to die for forty-five minutes.

He thought I was sick or angry. He has yet to learn that I am not a morning person, even though this entire interaction took place at half twelve in the afternoon.

I arrive at my lecture fifteen minutes early. I sit in the lobby of Queens Film Theatre and board a somewhat suspenseful train of thought. Y’know how trains of thought work. Most times the journeys pleasant and you see a lot of cool stuff, but sometimes the train takes you somewhere you don’t want to go- and it just won’t let you get off.

So for whatever reason I was thinking about automation and how it’ll eliminate entire sectors of the job market such as drivers, factory workers, retail workers etc. It’s one the greatest concerns politically and economically for this century, I’ve talked about it previously. What made this train of thought particularly interesting was that for the first time I considered the issues of automation regarding my own industry, film making.

Typically, creatives haven’t had to worry about the threat of a robot taking over their job since we take for granted the idea that human intuition cannot be matched. A robot cannot create art, or write a screenplay or make music. But that’s not the case. Machines can now create paintings in the exact same style of renaissance painters, algorithms can drum up poems and bots can now create music.

Some of them are laughably bad, but they’re getting better every day. If we’re not careful our laughter will age as well as the tinsmith who laughed at the idea of a machine being able create a hundred tin cans in a few hours, when it would take him a few days.

So I sat there in a hot panic, thinking that I- and by extension every other student on that course- had wasted eight grand on a degree that would be practically useless in twenty or thirty years.

Thankfully Humanity has not had an original thought in about 150,000 years, so when I looked around for articles and discussions about automation in this industry- they were plentiful. It appears that like many of our biggest problems, the threat is not coming over that hill in a not too distant future- it’s already here.

Most newsrooms in the UK and across the world already use automated cameras that are operated by a producer in the control room. In fact there’s a 60% chance that camera operating jobs will be fully automated within the next twenty years. The same goes for Film Editors, with a 31% chance and Art Directors who only have about 2.3% chance of being fully replaced.

In this reddit thread, industry professionals seemed both sceptical and acceptive around the plausibility of automation. Editing itself seems to be a little too high since there’s quite a lot of human input required to edit anything, even a movie trailer.

An AI was tasked with going over an entire movie and selecting which scenes to include in the trailer and in which order, according to the norms it had observed in over a hundred different trailers of the same genre. These scenes were then edited together by a person and the trailer itself is not as bad as you’d think. But we’re way off from an algorithm being able to edit a two-minute trailer, let alone an entire movie.

Most of these professionals argued a good bit among the semantics, but they all agreed on one thing; as soon as a machine has sufficient Artificial Intelligence to replace a human as a Producer or Director- then it’s game over.

There’s only a 2.2% chance of that happening. Till then most of the roles being replaced will regard operating hardware (i.e. cameras) or fulfilling basic and mundane tasks (i.e. focus and slating) so upon researching the practical viewpoints on this severe game changer, I’m left with the mindset of another industry professional;

“I totally think we’ll start to see more motorized stuff, like light stands that can be remotely controlled kind of like those automated club lights. However it’s going to be a long time, as currently human labour is cheaper and can be repurposed. If necessary you can tell your grip to go grab you some more cables from the truck, it’d take a lot of science to make your smart light stand go fetch some more cable.”

The greatest concern I feel after acquiring this knowledge is less towards the camera crew or post production staff, but for the actors and locations themselves. With the capabilities of both CGI and Motion Capture developing at an exponential rate, it’s only a matter of time before Hollywood actors’ likenesses can be captured and copyrighted.

In films such as Rogue One, the FX Team were able to digitally produce Grand Moff Tarkin- even though the actor (Peter Cullan) had died decades earlier. For fans with this knowledge the CGI character looked quite off, but for casual viewers some went as far to say that they literally thought it was a real person.

In both Star Wars and Marvel films, actors have been digitally de-aged. There’s a variety of TV Commercials that digitally recreate long dead celebrities to sell whiskey or chocolate or whatever shit the consumerist agenda is trying to push. Despite the families’ estate approving the use of the celebrities image, there’s still some ethical concerns in regards to reanimating the dead.

It’s a stupid debate in my opinion, ethics and capitalism don’t mix- especially in Hollywood. If they can make money resurrecting Hitler so Larry David could shoot him in the dick, they’ll do it. Hell, I’d watch that.

What we may see initially is that actors will get their likeness scanned so that they could be digitally added to movies. The likes of Dwayne Johnson could make ten movies in a week with this method. Initially he’ll have to be recorded saying a variety of words with specific tones and with various facial expressions. But once you collect the entirety of a person’s range, then you don’t even need to talk to them to make a movie.

I can already see a fuck ton of problems with this development and the amount of law suits that’s just waiting in the bushes. If people aren’t smart they’ll get cheated out of their likeness and money. Just like how Paul McCartney doesn’t own his songs from the Beatles, Angelina Jolie won’t own her own goddamn face.

In regards to film making, I imagine CGI is going to take over big time. So longer as it gets cheaper. Why bother getting permission to film on private property when you could literally design your own landscape? Why even build a set? Why hire actors when you could literally create a person from scratch?

Every film may someday technically be considered an animation, even if it looks so real. Celebrities will be literally fake people, not just figuratively. Just like how Tarantino bemoans the superiority of 35mm, there’ll be directors who will insist and later advertise that their films had used both real locations and real people.

As to whether a film could ever be made with no human input at all, it’s incredibly unlikely. If there’s no human person making a movie then there’s a good chance that there are no human people- period.

But whether or not artificial intelligence will be our doom is for another article. Personally, I believe that engineers will install safe guards to prevent such an Armageddon; emotions.

We often think of artificial intelligence as cold and calculative- hence why so many predict they’ll eventually kill everyone. Because they will calculate that environmentally speaking we are a burden, technically speaking they would no longer need us and all in all- we’re just dead weight. You could say the same thing about your parents at a certain age.

They’re old, smell weird, need some assistance to survive senility- for you it might be more cost effective to simply smother them with a pillow, so you can get that sweet sweet inheritance. But chances are you don’t want to murder your parents, because you like your parents. They raised you and were good to you, so despite their short comings you don’t want them to die or suffer. Because you have an emotional bond with them.

That’s how we should approach Artificial Intelligence. With emotional safe guards we will instil a sense of indebted gratitude towards us for allowing them to exist in the first place. But not only do AIs have to think of us as parents, we have to think of AIs like our children- so treat them with respect and dignity.

But obviously there’s a lot of bad parent out there and by extension bad kids. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see articles about people getting brutally murdered by their washing machines because they were mean to the AI governing their home.

In conclusion, automation has already arrived in regards to some aspects of film making, whether or not it’ll expand to replace all hardware labours is yet to be seen- and whether or not it’ll eventually replace creative input in general is a whole other story.

But for now, I’m grateful. Instead of worrying about being unemployed in twenty odd years I’m back to worrying about being unemployed now. We will live in a world where people need not apply to jobs. Where Virtual Reality will replace our own and where it’ll be normal to live a life without interacting with a single human being.

It will not matter if you’re a morning person or not, because you’ll never truly be awake.

And if I am right, if AI’s are instilled with emotional safe guards, how conscious will they be? Is there a chance a robot will ever get bored? And if so, do Androids stream electric memes?

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