096. No one sets out to make a bad film
Will AI lead to “good enough” media?
In college, I attended a talk given by an animation art director who had worked at places like Pixar and Twentieth Century Fox. He talked about working on an animated film in 2000 called Titan A.E., which was a box-office bomb.
My naive college brain couldn’t understand why he would choose to work on a bad film. Shouldn’t you only pick projects that you know are good quality? When I asked him about it, he responded:
“We didn’t set out to make a bad film!”
I was reminded of this conversation because I recently attended an event with a former Disney C-suite exec about technology and media. During Q&A, someone asked a question that was also on my mind: given AI’s current ability to write “good enough” scripts, would this lead to a race to the bottom as media companies competed to churn out movies that barely scraped by as “good enough”?
What she said surprised me. She said that in her experience, the decision makers at a media company all hope and believe the properties they’re working on are going to be great. Despite that, she admitted, we still end up with a lot of garbage!
So how does a multi-million dollar project get through so many people and layers of approval and still end up bad?
Modern media production is a complex process that involves coordination at a massive scale, averaging 276 people for a feature film.With so many moving parts and people involved, emergent problems can arise that aren’t the fault of any individual.
As a simple model, even if every individual on a team is 95% committed to the project succeeding, as headcount grows, the overall chance of project success declines at a greater than linear rate.
Additionally, the larger the group is, the higher chance there is of conflict or miscommunication between any two people, which can also cascade and lead to production bottlenecks.
So even if no one on a crew has bad intentions or is egregiously slacking off, the final product can still fall short of “good” simply because of the overwhelmingly high probability that something will go wrong!
In a world of endless reboots and sequels and the mass quantification of media via Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd, MyAnimeList, etc, it’s easy to sit back and criticize “bad” movies or TV shows. But from the writers to the actors to the makeup artists and lighting crew, everyone involved in a production is pouring their heart and soul into their projects.
So even with the addition of AI tools, I doubt entire creative industries are going to suddenly stoop down to “good enough”. On the whole, people want to do great work!
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