digital media

Why We Need New Media File Formats For Web3

Each passing technological revolution (within the media space) has seen file types have facilitated the development of that technology. The Napster peer to peer media boom of the late 90s wouldn’t have been possible without mp3s, the file type allowed for audio to be compressed and encoded in more manageable file sizes that made use of P2P networks. The traditional film reel for movie theatres was usurped by the much more efficient Digital Cinema Package, increasing efficiency and cost in delivering movies to cinemas – whilst retaining the quality of the picture and being rich in metadata to allow for better tracking of films. “Web 3” is no different in this regard. The Web3 & NFT space has great promise: from better ownership of rights, better distribution of content, security and verification of identity. However for web 3 and NFTS to truly work more thought needs to be given to how new technology is made easier for the end-user and if NFTs are going to exist in any meaningful way for media applications, our beloved mp3s and mp4s need to be upgraded. We need to create a new set of Web 3 File Types (W3FTs).

The fundamental issue with the web3 space is that the NFT metadata and the media file itself exist separately and are poorly linked – which is partly what has given rise to the “right-clicker mentality”. We need new picture, audio and video formats, ones that are richer in metadata that can encode corresponding NFT information to which they relate to. The media files: be it a picture, audio or video rather than being static, will need need to be able to communicate back to the blockchain about how it’s being interacted with. In short, whether used on a local or a web 3 application a new set of W3FTs will be able to improve the overall user experience for blockchain-based media.

Some key benefits we might see with W3FTs:

Security: with a new set of W3FTs and applications that support them, we will be able to better reduce piracy of content, allowing only the people who have rights to access the content to view it. Web 3 browsers are a key growth area, having W3FTs can bring about a better native browsing experience.

Unique User Experiences: What if you wanted to thank your top supporters, who have streamed your movie, music or read your work? A W3FT may have the ability to know which user (wallet address or Web 3 id) has interacted with it and communicate this back through the blockchain to the rights owner. The rights owner can then easily distribute prizes, gifts, thank-you’s etc to these supporters; or even unlock hidden content to the users once milestones have been reached.

Upgradable Media Assets: Having media formats that can be upgraded to reflect an upgrade in a blockchain/token standard can ensure “evergreen” web3 media file types.

Web3 is a fractured space with a lot of potential. A lack of seamless interoperability between blockchains and continually changing token standards will mean developing the framework for these much-needed new media file types in a way that is chain agonistic – and then getting them widely adopted – will take many years (and failed attempts). However, we’ve already seen the potential of this type of innovation through the first generation of programmable NFTs. It will require the crypto community to collaborate in a way not seen before to develop these new file standards.

In launching our film & TV licensing platform, Cinnect, our vision is to be part of this new ecosystem, one that can better connect content owners with the rest of the world in new and exciting ways.

NFTs For “The Matrix” & “Pulp Fiction” Announced As The Film Industry Embraces Blockchain

Has the film industry finally bitten the blockchain bug? A new set of digital collectables have been announced: Warner Bros are releasing a collection of NFTS for The Matrix & Quentin Tarantino has announced a limited selection of NFTs for his classic film Pulp Fiction.


Given The Matrix’s themes surrounding the “metaverse”, the franchise seems primed to take advantage of a growing NFT space. The digital collection will feature both “red pill” & “blue pill” collectables. Fans of Pulp Fionction will be able to get their hands on seven uncut scenes from the movie, which will be available via auction on the NFT Marketplace OpenSea. This isn’t the first time a film company has entered the NFT space as Lionsgate has already released a series of NFTs for the Saw franchise earlier this year.

What are NFTS?

NFTs stand for Non Fungible Tokens. Much like cryptocurrencies (like Bitcoin) and crypto tokens (like Enjin), NFTs use Blockchain’s distributed ledger technology to provide digital proof of ownership. If you’re old enough to remember the Pokémon card craze of the early 00’s it’s the equivalent of being able to create digital collectables: they can be of pictures, videos, even VR/AR art, which can be accessed via your crypto wallet. Even the NBA has already “minted” and released their own NFT collection: NBA Top Shot. Blockchains are very much in their infancy, NFTs even more so, therefore it will be interesting to see how the minting of these collectables is received.

Whilst protocols that govern how information is shared across the internet is standardised, Blockchains operate on a number of different protocols, often without interoperability with each other, additionally, they often lack wallet solutions that are both secure yet easy to use for the wider public. So whilst fans of Tarantino and The Wachowski’s may want to get their hands on the digital collectables on offer, it may be a while before we see true broader public adoption.

Are NFTs Here To Stay?

Whilst it can be easy to dismiss Cryptocurrencies as a passing phase (and there are undoubtedly some outright scams in the crypto space), The crypto space has exploded since Bitcoin came onto the scene in 2009 to now a total market capitalisation of £2 Billion / $2.8 Billion (at the time of writing). Film studios are always looking for ancillary revenue; as merchandise sales and licensing provide additional revenue (MCU Merchandise generated $41 Billion for Disney in 2020) so digital collectables can be seen as part of the merchandising offering. Additionally, Blockchains are also starting to address environmental concerns of critics: Ethereum’s 2.0 upgrade will reduce the second-largest Blockchain’s energy consumption by 99.95% and carbon-neutral blockchains such as Wax.io have been developed to address environmental concerns – like those expressed by the billionaire Elon Musk.

The possibilities of blockchain use within the film industry are not limited to just NFTs; applications in film licensing and even crowdfunding can allow filmmakers to have better ways to track their work and help to avoid “Hollywood Accounting”. With Facebook’s rebranding to Meta, we can also expect more companies will make use of digital tools and environments to create new ways of engaging fans in the new virtual space. For example, one of the biggest media blockchains currently in the broadcast space is the Theta Network, which acts as an alternative to YouTube, the blockchain network has hosted a number of live stream screenings in collaboration with distributor Lionsgate Films. We’ll continue to see what the future holds for Blockchains & the film industry.

Also Read: Research Shows How Cinema Therapy Helps Reduce Anxiety

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Neurocinema: The Study of How Films Control The Brain

We all know that movies are great. A good film can make us feel a range of emotions, cry from sadness or laughter – sometimes in the same film! People often say there is nothing like sitting in a cinema, waiting for the lights to go down, but does watching films actually have an effect on our brains? The science of Neurocinema aims to find out!

What is Neurocinema?

A few examples of the experiments and effects of Neurocinema // Credit: Braincraft, 2015

Neurocinema is the study of how movies affect our brains. Different parts of the brain react to various stimuli, so one part will react to a loved one, while another to a papercut. By scanning brain activity during certain scenes or films, we can see which parts of the brain react to the film. Films that we are more engaged in show a bigger reaction, while less engaged have only small ones. Film is unique as an art form because of the amount of sensory input. Every image and sound is controlled and intended to create a specific response. Not only does the science explore what makes a good film, but also learn more about how our brains work

Alfred Hitchcock is famously referred to as “The Master of Suspense” with films like Psycho, Vertigo and Rear Window often cited as some of the greatest thrillers of all time. His films still have influence today, decades after their original release. It’s not really a surprise then that some of his works are used in many experiments. Especially the iconic shower scene. Despite films often offering various depictions of mental disorders, neurocinema is focused on how brains react to the film, rather than how the films depict things, although results from studies could lead to films finding the “scientifically ideal” way to show them.

What could it mean?

Horror films such as IT are often used in studies // Credit: Warner Brothers, 2019

At a basic level, these studies can tell us which parts of a movie are “good” ie, engaging, causing the right emotional response and “bad”. Directors can then re-edit or reshoot scenes to create the most engaging version. Linger on a shot of the love interest glancing back, or cut the boring villain origin story. Marketing executives can push these scenes in the trailers. The tension between the Avengers, or the iconic soundtrack of Star Wars.

Although this information is often gathered by focus groups, results can be unreliable. If test audiences are shown several trailers over the course of 30 minutes, it’s likely they’ll have forgotten the first one by the end. They also can often change their opinions because they want to give the “correct” answers. By scanning brain activity, they can look at responses in the moment, as well as collect thoughts after they’ve had time to think. Focus groups can be invaluable, but there is a lot of room for error or fudged results.

An MRI scan of a subject viewing the trailer for Avatar // Credit: MindSign, 20th Century Fox, 2009

James Cameron, always one to harness new technologies, actually referenced the technology during the development of Avatar, stating his belief that a scan would show that audiences enjoyed 3D more than 2D. Although he may have been wrong (it’s really hard to find any information about something he said 10 years ago), he did use the technology on one of the trailers. With a test audience viewing the trailer in a modified MRI scanner, Cameron and his team were able to pinpoint the most engaging bits of the film to use in the trailer

Another genre that has been heavily influenced by science is horror. With studies showing that some films like IT are able to tap into audiences primal fears. When people jump or scream in the audience, it’s because the brain has “forgotten” they’re watching a film, and reacting on instinct. This works especially well with films that rely on actual phobias, like clowns.

Neurocinema is an exciting and new field, with a lot of potential to enhance the way we enjoy new movies, as well as offer fresh insights into old favourites. The brain is such an interesting thing to study, and the fact that films can stimulate it so could lead to some interesting discoveries. Who knows what this could lead to?

Also Read: Research Shows How Cinematherapy Can Help Reduce Anxiety

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The New Hollywood: Streaming Giants

The Hollywood film industry has changed a lot across the decades. Many of the titanic studios of yesteryear have either practically disappeared, been taken over by other companies, or have had to evolve to keep up with the advancements and competition posed by the internet age. But why did this happen?

Let’s take a trip through history and the current media landscape and see if we can begin to understand what led to the decline of the old studios and the rise of the streaming giants.

Where They Are Now?

In Hollywood’s Golden Age (between the 1920s and 1960s) there were eight studios that made up the biggest movie production houses: MGM, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, RKO Pictures, United Artists, Columbia Pictures, and Universal Pictures. These companies were responsible for producing some of the greatest films, both of the golden age and of all time. However, after the golden age, these studios had many varying fates.

RKO Pictures was largely folded by the late 1950s. The company was later revived, but it had little success. Its most recent film was 2015’s Barely Lethal. Along with this the other iconic studios are now all owned by other companies. Sony bought Columbia Pictures in 1989; ViacomCBS has owned Paramount since 1994; Comcast owns Universal; Disney purchased 20th Century Fox in 2019 and rebranded it as 20th Century Studios; AT&T controls Warner Bros; MGM acquired United Artists in 1981. And despite facing bankruptcy in 2010 MGM survived and is currently being purchased by Amazon.

Several things have contributed to the current Hollywood landscape. For example, the loss of studio control over cinemas and the prevalence of television were major factors in ending the golden age. This left many studios floundering financially and needing to be saved through buyouts. Many of these production houses have managed to recover thanks to buyouts, cinema box office, and distribution deals. But a new market is providing huge competition for them.

Five of Hollywood’s major film studios during the golden age [Source: Pintrest]

The Streaming Wars

Movie streaming platforms have emerged as a huge market force in the past decade. This is because streaming and VoD services offer more flexibility for viewers, allowing them to view a wide range of movies from home for reasonable prices. Which has led to a huge audience frequenting these services.

And with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing cinemas to close, over the last year streaming sites were able to rob big Hollywood studios of their control of the market. Allowing these platforms to effectively become the new Hollywood studios, bringing out big new movies weekly (both original and distributed on behalf of other companies) that captured attention.

The most prominent players in the western world of streaming are Netflix, which has 208 million subscribers worldwide and earned around $25 billion in 2020, Amazon Prime, which has 200 million worldwide subscribers, and Disney+ with over 100 million subscribers. All these companies provide wide catalogues of films and TV shows, new and old, while also having their own brands of original content. However, the way these companies acquire said content is very different.

Netflix and Amazon Prime get their originals through producing and acquiring the distribution rights to various projects. Disney+ similarly produces and has distribution rights for many IP’s. But they also have their own film production studios. Meaning Disney is fully capable of making their own original content to put on their streaming sites. Thus ensuring they keep 100% of the revenue, which makes Disney+ much more like a traditional film studio. This makes it a huge threat to other film companies because of its ability to pivot effortlessly between streaming and cinematic distribution for its movies.

Those that Survived

Streaming has transformed Hollywood and movie production/distribution over the last few years. And even with cinemas reopening big studios will need to take steps to mitigate the financial damage done by the pandemic. This means that studios are now, more than ever, having to consider pivoting to streaming to recoup their losses.

Comcast entered the streaming wars last year with Peacock, made to showcase films from Universal. ViacomCBS also replaced their streaming network, CBS All Access, with Paramount+. But other studios are going to larger lengths to win over audiences.

Through its $8.45 billion purchase of MGM, Amazon hopes to boost the content it can offer. In addition, some also speculate that Amazon will use MGM to produce content for Prime, rather than letting it remain a standalone entity. Similar to what Disney is doing with its studios. And recently AT&T announced that it will merge Warner Media and Discovery into its own streaming platform. This will put the back catalogue of Warner Bros, CNN, Turner, and Discovery (as well as the streaming services HBO Max and Discovery+) into one place. These moves have the potential to really shake up the market.

Amazon-MGM-Source-Deadline
Amazon buys out MGM for $8.45 billion [Source: Deadline]

But while this influx of new streaming platforms from movie studios and the move towards studios making content for streaming may be financially beneficial and offer consumers more content, it also shows that streaming services are slowly moving towards offering content produced exclusively by them and their affiliates. Thus customers may soon have to subscribe to various sites to get everything they want. Rather than having a diverse range of material on various sites.

What do you guys think of the effect the streaming wars is having on the American film industry?

Also Read: The History of Paramount Pictures

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Netflix and The Success of South Korea

Entertainment from South Korea has been going from strength to strength recently. Especially in regards to its international appeal. This has been exemplified by the fact that Netflix recently committed to making a huge investment (of $500 Million in 2021) in content produced by the country for its platform.

Today we are going to look over Netflix’s commitment in more detail. As well as what this could mean for Netflix and the media produced in South Korea. But first, we are going to look at what led to this decision.

South Korea’s International Stardom

South Korea has been producing critically well-regarded media for years. Movies like Oldboy, The Host, Train to Busan and Burning (among others) found critical acclaim across the world. Some films also performed moderately well at the international box office. The Handmaiden was one of the highest-grossing foreign-language films in the UK in 2017. Burn the Stage: The Movie also had moderate success in the UK in 2018. K-dramas also rose in appeal over the years. With Winter Sonata, My Love from the Star (Both listed in the book 1001 TV shows to watch before you die) and more gaining international cult followings. However, the successes of Korean media still seemed relatively small in western territories such as the UK and USA. Until 2020.

Parasite had a large impact on how western cinemagoers perceived South Korean cinema. It won the 2020 Best Picture Oscar and became the highest-grossing Korean Language film in the USA and the highest-grossing foreign-language film of all time in the UK. Subsequent streaming hits, including the zombie film #Alive, which was US Netflix’s 4th most popular foreign-language film in 2020, and the TV show Sweet Home, which acquired 22 million viewers worldwide, appearing on the Netflix Top 10 in the UK and USA, showed definitively that western audiences were ready to devour South Korean entertainment.

South Korean zombie film #Alive
#Alive is a big success for Netflix // Credit: Netflix

Netflix’s Investment

With successes both nationally and internationally, particularly on Netflix (Netflix recorded 3.8 million paid memberships in South Korea by the end of 2020, largely fuelled by the Netflix content produced in Korea. Its K-drama viewing figures also rose by 100% over the last year in the US), proving that there is a growing appetite for more of what Korea has to offer, it is only natural that Netflix would want to capitalise on this opportunity and do what it can to keep subscribers happy and increasing.

Recently Netflix’s VP of Content for South Korea, Minyoung Kim, announced the company would be investing almost $500 million into Korean content. It will be working with both established creators and emerging talents to, “add more variety and diversity to our growing slate”.

A Recipe For Success

This investment is fantastic news for both fans of South Korean entertainment and the content makers themselves.

From the fan’s perspective, it means that more projects will be made available. Which will include Netflix financed original productions. Movie projects such as Carter and Moral Sense, dramas like The Silent Sea, the documentary My Love, and Netflix’s first K-sitcom So Not Worth It are already planned. And also thanks to partnerships with major South Korean companies other programs may have the chance to have wider distribution. With well-received shows like My Love from the Star and The Good Detective already being made available through their platform.

The Good Detective
The Good Detective has been getting quite a bit of attention // Credit: JTBC

And for the makers, it is an exciting opportunity. It will allow older creative talents to make projects they’ve always wanted to make. Thanks to Netflix’s ethic of creative freedom. Newer creators will have the opportunity to showcase their talents on a well-regarded platform. And it means both will be able to have a large worldwide audience.

Conclusion

After years of acclaimed and moderately successful South Korean products being exported internationally, Parasite showed how successful South Korean media can be in western territories. And with the growing number of South Korean Netflix subscribers and an international audience hungry for more of the country’s movies and TV shows, Netflix’s investment into production and distribution, as well as its pledge to work with creators both new and old on a variety of projects, is not only a smart move for Netflix but an exciting one for Korean creators and K-fans.

Also Read: #Alive (Review)

Read More: Parasite Director Bong Joon-Ho Once Described The Oscars As Very Local

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Did High-End TV Replace The Mid-Budget Indie Film?

In recent years, TV has come to rival films, not only in scope but also in budgets. With blockbuster TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian costing around $15 million an episode, a whole season of these can cost more than some blockbusters, never mind a low budget film.

But what about films that fall in the middle? After all, not every director can get hundreds of millions to make their film. When studios have to decide between one small film or a whole season of television, the series seems like much better value for that money. So could this be the end of mid-budget films?

The Mid Budget Movie

Seven - Morgan Freeman & Bradd Pitt
Fincher’s Seven is a perfect example of a successful mid-budget movie // Credit: New Line Cinema, 1995

A mid-budget film can often be hard to define. As things like inflation and marketing costs can make them hard to determine. While there is no hard rule for what counts as mid-budget, it’s usually something around $5 million to $50 million. The lower range of these tends to be debut indies, films like American Psycho, 28 Days Later, The Blair Witch Project and Christopher Nolan’s Memento all had budgets of under $10 million.

At the upper end of this scale, can be a whole range of things. Many low brow comedies and rom-coms are often hugely profitable. With most of the budget being spent on the cast and a few set pieces, such as The Hangover, Bridesmaids, Zombieland and 21 Jump Street.

Other films that made in this range are often thrillers, often with a big name attached or a simple hook, a lot of mid-budget sci-fi tends to do well at the box office, with films like Seven, Looper, District 9 and Limitless being good examples. There are also occasional adaptations of books, however, these tend not to be franchises. Some Oscar contenders and winners have been produced with less than $50 million, including The Help, Straight Outta Compton, American Hustle and Bridge of Spies.

The Rise of High-End TV

The Mandalorian
The Mandalorian costs around $15 million per episode // Credit: Lucasfilm, 2020

It’s a common complaint that most of the big films that come out are franchise films. Either a sequel, prequel, spin-off, or a reboot, it seems rare that a totally original film makes an impact. Because audiences are familiar with the Avengers or Fast and Furious franchises (Understandably so, they’re great), they are a safer bet for a studio. If they have the option of investing $30 million into a one-off thriller, like Seven, and making $80 million, or investing $200 million in the next Bond and making a billion, the latter usually wins.

At the same time, shows like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos have proven that viewers enjoy those types of stories. Not only is a season of a tv show cheaper (Breaking Bad cost around $3 million per episode at its peak), it also builds a larger audience the longer it goes. When a show is released weekly, like Game of Thrones or The Mandalorian it becomes a talking point every week.

For creators, writers often have much more say in TV, rather than film. Matthew Weiner had total freedom on Mad Men, and that story could not have been told in the span of one film. The Streaming Wars seem to be focused on series rather than films, with Netflix investing in shows such as The Crown, Stranger Things and The Witcher, for it’s biggest numbers. This in turn has left other studios trying to catch up. Disney recently announced that two of it’s biggest franchises, The MCU and Star Wars, were both going to be focused on TV for the foreseeable future.

Are Mid Budget Movies Dead?

Knives Out
Could Knives Out have renewed interest in this type of film? // Credit: Lionsgate

While it certainly seems that a lot of things are heading towards TV, it doesn’t seem like it’s over yet. Spielberg has relaunched Amblin Entertainment, which almost exclusively focuses on these types of films, and has found success. Recent films from established, indie directors that have found success often occupy this space, such as Taika Waiti with JoJo Rabbit.

Some of the genres mentioned previously simply don’t need a huge budget to be profitable, such as comedies, and films like the upcoming The Little Things are telling stories like True Detective on the big screen. Crime films especially seem to do exceptionally well in this range, with the recent Knives Out and Murder On The Orient Express proving surprise hits. Likewise, many Oscar contenders are often made for a more modest budget, so while the future might be changing, it doesn’t look like these mid-budget successes are going anywhere just quite yet.

Also Read: Fast & Furious: The Making of a Billion Dollar Franchise

Read More: The Mandalorian – A New Hope For Star Wars

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Fast & Furious: The Story of A Multi-Billion Dollar Film Franchise

It’s hard to believe, but when Fast 9 releases next year, it will have been 20 years since we first met Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Connor in The Fast and the Furious. In that time the series has transitioned from street racing to globe-trotting spy action, while still maintaining the core of being about “Family”.

The franchise now sits as the 10th highest-franchise of all time. With 9 films released, and several others in development. While the main story is set to end with part 11, it’s unlikely “la familia” will be driving off into the sunset for good. It’s fair to say that the series has lasted longer than anyone anticipated.

“A Quarter-Mile at a Time”

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker weren’t big names in 2001 (Universal, 2001)

Inspired by an article about street racing, the original film “The Fast and The Furious” wasn’t trying to be the next billion-dollar franchise. On a modest budget of around $38 million and relative unknowns starring (Diesel’s biggest credit was Pitch Black). The film did much better than the studio expected, opening at number one and quickly earning over $200 million. A sequel was quickly greenlit.

While Paul Walker returned, Diesel decided to work Chronicles of Riddick instead. This led to Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris being cast as Roman and Tej, who would later rejoin the series in bigger roles. While 2 Fast, 2 Furious wasn’t reviewed as highly as the original, it managed to knock Finding Nemo off the number one spot at the box office, and greenlight another sequel.

The third film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, has no actors from the previous films returning, despite a brief cameo from Vin Diesel at the end. The original script actually followed Toretto learning to drift while solving a murder but was rewritten to focus on new characters. Introducing us to Sung Kang’s Han, an instant fan-favourite, as well as Justin Lin, who will direct several other entries. The film did well at the box office, but was the least successful of the trilogy, leaving the series future uncertain…

“From Misson: Impossible to Mission: In- freaking-sanity!”

The introduction of Dwanye Johnson’s character Lucas Hobbs was part of the series’ transformation (Univeral 2011)

Vin Diesel’s cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift renewed his interest in the series and managed to reunite the main cast of the original film for the first “true” sequel. Lin directed again, and Kang reprised his role as Han, shifting the timeline to resurrect him. The car culture elements were toned down, giving the series more general appeal. It was a huge commercial success and renewed interest in the series.

The real change came with Fast Five. Featuring only one actual race, focusing on action and heists, as well as introducing Dwayne Johnson to the series. This is where the series becomes how we recognise it today. Considered by many to be the best in the series, it was a huge critical and commercial success, and perhaps the first instance of a trailer being revealed on a star’s Facebook Page. The films continued to be massive hits onwards, during press for Furious 7 Diesel announced spin-offs were being discussed, the first of these, Hobbs & Shaw was released in 2019.

“Let’s make some money”

 Hobbs & Shaw
The first spin off, Hobbs & Shaw was a huge success (Universal, 2019)

After the release of Tokyo Drift, theme park attractions based on the franchise started. While starting as just vehicle stunt shows, they have gradually expanded into full experiences and rides, with characters from the films “appearing”.

Several videogames based on the franchise have also been released, mostly mobile games but several console games. The highest-profile games are arguably the expansion for Forza Horizon 2 and the Dodge Charger in Rocket League. Several replicas of the cars used in the films have been produced by Hot Wheels and in 2020, a LEGO model of the Dom’s Dodge Charger was announced. In 2019 Fast and Furious Spy Racers, an animated series focusing on Toretto’s cousin aired on Netflix.

Against all odds, The Fast Saga has not only survived but it has gotten stronger than ever. Even the tragic death of co-lead Paul Walker hasn’t been able to stop it, with Furious 7 going on to gross $1.5 Billion (£1.1 Billion) worldwide alone and the entire film franchise grossing more than $5.8 Billion (£4.4 Billion) in cinemas worldwide. With the main series set to end with number 11, it seems like there is nothing that can stop it.

Also Read: How To Revive A Franchise After Many Years

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Artificial Intelligence: The New Art of Storytelling?

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication. It is how we handed down the ancient myths and legends and how lessons have always been taught. Before written words, stories were communicated through pictures or symbols. Stories help to stimulate our imaginations and, perhaps most importantly, build a relationship between the storyteller and their audience.

The same can be said for media texts; they are stories which the writers and directors feel need to be shared and they have particular ideas about how these tales should be told. These decisions are influenced by numerous factors including environment,  personal experience and emotional ties.

So is the emerging trend of using Artificial Intelligence (A.I) taking away the personal touch that writers, directors and editors bring to a production? Or is this simply the direction that the film industry is moving in and we just need to get on board or get left behind?

AI has been used in other areas aside from the film industry to help predict the success of a piece of work. Wattpad is an online program and app which currently has 65 million users worldwide. People are able to publish books via this website and it has seen some become bestselling authors. Sounds brilliant, but where does AI come into it? The website uses ‘plot-analysing software which is able to determine which subjects and content have previously been successful, profile audiences and basically create the perfect plot for a target audience -all a user has to do is write the book to fit.

One person who did just that is Beth Reekles, author of the highly successful book ‘The Kissing Booth’ which she published at just 15 years of age. In 2013 she sold the film rights to Netflix and it is now one of the streaming sites most popular searches.

Wattpad now has its sights set on the film industry with its additional creation, Wattpad studios, and aims to continue its successful use of artificial intelligence.

Jack Zhang’s company, Greenlight Essentials, uses a specially created algorithm to discover which plot will be successful based on existing lucrative productions.

Greenlight used this strategy to come up with a script for a new horror called “Impossible Things” – they made the trailer for just $30 and it accumulated 2.3 million views on YouTube. Needless to say, potential investors quickly showed an interest.

Surely though, this reliance on computers is sapping the feeling from the scripts being created? That’s one thing artificial intelligence is yet to master: emotional intelligence.

This possibility was tested when director Oscar Sharp and Ross Goodwin, a New York University AI researcher used a ‘recurrent neural network’ (that helpfully named itself Benjamin) to create a sci-fi script called Sunspring. The machine was fed scripts of existing sci-fi success stories including classics like Ghostbusters and more recent offerings such as Interstellar and created its own script in a similar way to predictive text on your smartphone. (The term “predictive” implies that creativity isn’t a crucial factor here!)

The result? A script that consisted of completed, coherent sentences individually yet, when these were put together, it all started to go a bit downhill! The film created looks professional and the actors played their parts well but these aspects had nothing to do with artificial intelligence, highlighting that human influence is surely a prerequisite of a successful production.

Zhang agrees and feels that the creativity is still the most vital aspect of storytelling stating; “If you give 50 screenwriters the same [plot] elements, they’ll still come up with 50 different screenplays.” This seems to be the crux of the issue; artificial intelligence can help in the creative process prior to production by looking at what elements have proved successful, although even that could take away from the next surprise hit.

I’m sure Zhang won’t mind me saying that he sums it up perfectly:  “[A.I] is like a compass, but someone still needs to sail.” Based on Sunspring, I don’t think scriptwriters have too many stormy seas to navigate just yet!