Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The Studio Executive Who Wants Hollywood to Get Real About Bad Storytelling

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That’s fair.

When you think about building stories from multiple audiences, not just audiences of color, but also queer audiences, disabled audiences, female audiences, I mean, we’re seeing so much evidence at the box office lately suggesting how difficult it is to construct a hit that isn’t a hit with BIPOC and female audiences. Unfortunately, we don’t have as much data on queer and disabled audiences from a box office perspective, but everything that I’m reading tells me that as those audiences become more vocal it is impossible to build a hit without them.

When we say we are trying to broaden the commercial appeal, it’s really trying to give you a lot of different entry points into different audiences from a more authentic point of view. So that when they see that character in the movie trailer, they feel as if real thought went into it as opposed to what feels like more surface-level or token representation that doesn’t really yield what you’re looking for.

What would you say to someone who calls Story Spark another AI tool studios are forcing on an already fractured industry?

There is no AI involved in Story Spark whatsoever. The only thing that is at work is your brain.

The original AI.

Right. Actual intelligence. One thing from my time in tech was learning how to build scalable solutions that people can use. You are not uploading a script. You are taking a script that you know well and you’re asking yourself a set of questions about it or you’re asking your creative collaborators a set of questions about it. To the idea of studios forcing things onto a fractured marketplace, I think that one of the lessons for me coming out of the strikes is that consumers are extremely discerning and part of the role studios play in a good partnership with a storyteller is finding those places of positive construction, debate, and dialogue. If the studio exec agrees with everything and has no notes, it’s probably not gonna be the best movie it could be. The same with storytellers—you don’t have to take every note, but you can’t take no notes.

Because if you don’t, what happens?

In my opinion, there would be nothing worse than showing up on opening weekend and all of a sudden there are narratives connected to your movie that never came up in development. We want to take that off the table and front-load those conversations.

Story Spark isn’t AI, but AI is coming for Hollywood regardless. OpenAI is courting many of the big studios with Sora, a text-driven video generator. Many filmmakers have strong reservations about the use of AI and its consequences. Would you say those reservations are justified?

What has always happened as new technologies come online is that there is the immediate sort of, Oh my god, VCRs mean that no one’s ever gonna go to the movies again. And then we realized, no, we actually still like going out and doing those things. Streaming means albums will never be listened to again. And it’s like, no, actually, we still enjoy listening to an artist’s work from start to finish. That’s how I listened to Cowboy Carter and to Renaissance. While the fear is reasonable, I think that it will create really smart limits.

How so?

We as humans, but also as creatives, have always been able to navigate and to leverage to our benefit, whatever these different technologies are. I don’t see any evidence that AI will be significantly different from that in the long run. For people on the studio side and on the creative side—and anywhere in between—my invitation would be to think about how AI is a tool in the tool kit, but it never replaces the person holding the tool. Because we have knives, does it mean we are useless now? No. I can cut those things faster instead of having to rip the chicken apart. I’m still a chef.



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