Just when you thought it was safe to embrace the newest tech:
How Canadian-made artificial intelligence is helping Hollywood write better scripts
by Dianne Buckner
Movie theatres, as usual, are jam-packed with sequels this summer.
Hollywood is addicted to sequels for one reason: A proven concept can reduce the risk of failure in a business where hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake.
But some Canadian tech entrepreneurs believe the the odds of making an original hit movie could be greatly improved — and so could sequels — with the help of artificial intelligence.
“Hollywood is using very primitive data analytics,” said Jack Zhang, of Greenlight Essentials in Kitchener, Ont.
His company’s software analyzes movie plots, audience profiles and box office ticket sales to predict a film’s future success and help identify who will watch.
Aron Levitz, of the Toronto-based Wattpad Studios, is just as confident in his technology.
“We want to change the entire entertainment industry,” he said. “Whether scripts are in Turkish, or French, or English — or whatever. We could put hundreds of millions of dollars back into the industry.”
Wattpad is a story-writing platform with 65 million users worldwide, where anyone can self-publish books via the website or the app. Users can also read and comment on stories written by others.
The company uses artificial intelligence to mine its readership data for insights into what’s popular, which has helped turn some of its writers into bestselling authors. Now Wattpad Studios — a two-year-old offshoot of the original brand — is increasingly producing more movies and TV series.
Wattpad Studios head Aron Levitz listens as a staff member describes the plot of a story posted on the Toronto-based company’s platform. (CBC)
One of the most-watched movies on Netflix right now, The Kissing Booth, started as a story written on Wattpad by 15-year-old Beth Reekles of Wales. She landed a book deal with Random House, and the book spawned the movie.
Then last month, Wattpad announced Hulu had picked up the platform’s supernatural thriller, Light as a Feather, in a straight-to-series deal, while Sony acquired the rights to a series of stories called Death is My BFF.
And Wattpad’s analytics track the whole chain of success.
“We can see this story is growing faster than any other story this week. This story got 15 comments before any other story got 15 comments,” explained Levitz, giving an example of how the system works. “This story has 6½ times more reading time than any other story in that genre.”
The company’s technology not only identifies popular stories with potential, Levitz says, but also helps with the script-writing process.
“You can go and see what people think about page 50 [or] Chapter 6,” he said. “We know nobody commented on Chapter 7, for example, so we can leave that out of the script.”…