Listen: 'Eighth Grade' and the vagaries of awards season
"From the broadcast center at K P, C C. This is the frame I'm John horn on today's show could future Academy Award ceremonies honor the best screenplay written by an algorithm. Then why Bo Burnham the writer director of eighth grade channeled his feelings about the internet into the character of a thirteen year old girl, I I was very interested in young people flogging about their own life. And I watched hundreds and hundreds of videos and not to be cruel to the boys. But on average, the boys of this age talked about XBox and the girls this age talked about their souls and musician and photographer Anthony Wilson combines both disciplines for his latest release all that coming up on the frame. Welcome to the frame. I'm John horn. This Sunday, they'll be an Oscar for best original screenplay and for best adapted screenplay. But could there soon be a trophy for best screenplay written by an algorithm? We've known for years that technology is radically changing the way that movies are made. But what's remained fairly constant is the human screenwriter after all you can't make a movie without someone writing the script. Or can you if one artificial intelligence company has its way there's an algorithm out there that might be fighting for a share of the writing credit on the next studio blockbuster. We now revisit our peace with frame contributor, Colin freezing. Who explains it all if Robert Altman's movie, the player taught us anything it's that making a hit movie takes a lot of creativity. And frankly, guesswork psychic political thriller comedy with a heart with a heart and not unlike ghost meets entry and candidate conventional wisdom has it that no one ever knows exactly. Audiences want or what will get butts in the seats? But screenwriter William Goldman's aphorism that in Hollywood, no one knows anything may be changing. Here at the American film market in Santa Monica where the world comes to buy and sell movies. There's a company that thinks it can answer that question William Santer, Jack, Jan or with productivity media, and they're here to introduce an artificial intelligence program that will read your script analyze it for forty thousand data points or attributes then we'll tell you how to change it to make it more successful a horror film that features a ghost and the child imperilled has a eighty seven percent probability of overperforming. The benchmark the other day we actually had a conversation on. What kind of weapon with the youth in action film? We have all the kind of what kinds of breakdowns if you use a pistol compared to a handgun compared to a machine gun. We have all these planning or details of of these attributes you put all of that in and you go, you know, what if we changed the handgun to a bazooka this should outperform. We can we can see how it would into the program draws on a database of three thousand eight hundred films going back to the nineties it tracks what elements were in a movie, and how well that film did in any number of demographic groups computer will do a first run and say hope these are the potential elements, and you know, and we have recently started working on getting another layer people looking at those attributes and see, you know, how how actual relevant they are the story. So it's to stop. It's definitely a when you think about it. It's a complex problem solving. Right. The comedy drama or. Thriller. Their gold is to help any genre pitcher become the most successful version of itself. It can be they call it over performing the market or making sure you're cross generational buddy cop comedy with a dog does better than any other cross generational buddy cop comedy with a dog. It's like getting studio notes, but not from some slick executive with a gut feeling but from a coldly calculating cyborg. So it's just a tool set to I always say do one of two fundamental things. Number one is going to confirm what you believe to be true about your project or two it's going to give you an opportunity to ask another question. It all started just a couple of years ago. Jan an engineering student at the university of Waterloo in Canada, cold called the company called productivity media amid sized film. Finance firm Jiang was selling an algorithm that would predict how well a studio would do based on the movies. They were releasing. He. Intrigue the company decided to conduct an experiment using Jiang's database. They paid a film student. Make a trailer with all the key elements of a successful horror film impossible things a movie that doesn't really exist. Features of equestrian house in bath tub and a ghost in child in peril. It's honestly not much to look at. But the response on social media two point four million views was enough to tell them they were on the right track. But this feels like something we should resist to keep creativity alive. Monica Levinson is the president of production at shift Hans pitchers, the company has produced trombone and captain fantastic. And a ton of other. Well, reviewed dramas Levinson is not only skeptical, but worries that drawing on films that were successful sometimes formulaic retreads with mostly white actors might mean, there's no place at the table for new voices and diverse casting choices other things that we're trying to deal with now having more women characters and having better representation. And diversity and better representation of you know, just how characters behave all of that will be continued because that bias will continue from what worked in the past. That's not what works today, but productivity media says there's room in their analytics for all kinds of creative progressive choices take the gay coming of age drama and Oscar winner moonlight. When they ran that script through the algorithm. It determine the film would definitely find an audience before you also made tell based on two essential element in the film to have about eighty percent chance to before in the marketplace. And what was it about the movie that made you think we're made the algorithm think that it was going to do? Well, when we plugging, you know, a drama film with LGBT Salomonsson features African American. Essential elements, those the combination of those three already has a very significant influence on the outcome. But it does beg the question. If everyone is making a movie with the same elements won't that result him. Well, the same kind of movies coming out Santer says you need to think of it like music, if we said to heal whole bunch of musicians that we wanna song that's written in four four time in the key of c with this progression etcetera etcetera, etcetera, we're we're going to get you know, twenty different songs as for how screenwriters will react when. And if they're script feedback comes from an algorithm, maybe nNcholas cage playing version of screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman in adept Haitian, summed it up best sex or guns or car chases. I or characters you know. Learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end. You know? I feel very strongly about this or the frame. I'm pollen freezing. Coming up on the frame our conversation with Bo Burnham the filmmaker behind eighth grade. He won the best original screenplay prize from the writers guild of America this past weekend. And he's nominated for best feature and best first screenplay at tomorrow's independent spirit awards. Welcome back to the frame. I'm John horn. Thanks for joining us tomorrow, independent filmmakers will gather under a massive tent set up in the parking lot next to the Santa Monica. Pier. To celebrate the spirit awards they honor movies typically made outside the studio system. Among the nominated movies is eighth grade. It's in the running for four awards including best feature. The comedian. Bo Burnham who made it big on the internet as a teenager with YouTube videos wrote and directed eighth grade. And earlier this month, he won the directors guild of America award for first feature film, eighth grade is about a thirteen year old girl named Kayla who makes self help videos from her bedroom. Kayla's played by the newcomer Elsie Fisher, and the movie immerses you in her point of view in one scene. She's lying in bed scrolling through social media while an NGO song plays in the background when I met. Bo. Burnham after eighth grade premiered at last year Sundance film. Festival. He told me how he was able to reach Enya to license. Her song for his movie was like do. I write a note on like a salmon and put it new Fridays. Like, how do you contact like, how do you? Like like, a smokes they go on the air."