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Innovation

Would you watch these cheesy holiday movies written by AI?

An experiment in AI movie generation gives a glimpse of the future for the big screen.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer on
AI movie poster of Santa Claus and people surrounding him

An AI-generated movie poster for the AI generated holiday movie premise: "Santa's Helpers."

Cinch

Holiday movies bring comfort and tug at heartstrings in the cheesiest ways. So, in our tech obsessed culture, what would happen if AI tried to take over and write a classic holiday movie? 

That goofy premise was put to the test in a novel case study presumably designed to remind me that writers are yet again dispensable. 

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A team at Cinch Home Services used AI to create 12 Hallmark-style holiday movies and asked holiday movie fans to rank them based on description. The movies even came with AI-generated movie posters

This isn't a new idea. The film industry is already utilizing powerful story generator algorithms in a variety of popular script writing programs. These apps utilize machine learning and natural language processing to build on inputs from storytellers. Examples include platforms such as Jasper, which has a useful feature called Longform Assistant, which storytellers can use to build characters and story ideas.

There are also dedicated AI script assistants and generators out there, such as DeepStory. Combined with viewer analytics, it's not hard to imagine a future in which Hollywood leans heavily on AI for idea generation and script execution. Way back in 2016, a short film written by AI and starring Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch debuted on Ars Technica, and it was kind of great.

So what happened when AI turned its hand to mocking up movie descriptions?

The results ranged from uninspired to actually kind of great.

On the uninspired end of the spectrum is The Christmas Wish, for which the AI came up with a pretty generic description: "When a young girl's Christmas wish comes true, she learns that sometimes, the best gifts are the ones you can't put a price tag on."

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Aside from being saccharine, the description doesn't really describe much. True you can say that about a lot of movie descriptions, but the AI can do a lot better.

One of my favorites is Santa's Helpers. Tell me you wouldn't watch this!

When the elves at the North Pole go on strike, Santa Claus has to find a way to finish all the toys by Christmas Eve. He decides to hire a group of out-of-work humans to help him, but it turns out that they are not as reliable as he had hoped.

So what did survey respondents think of the AI generated films? 

To spice things up, descriptions of real holiday classics like Elf and Home Alone were mixed in with the fake movies. Respondents were then asked to rank the movies they would most want to watch.

Somewhat surprisingly, eight of the top 10 films were created by AI, including three of the top five.

What are the takeaways here? For one, Americans seem more interested in movie premises cooked up by AI than some of the long standing holiday classics ... which maybe says something about our evolving tastes.

Also: I tested out an AI art generator and here's what I learned 

On the positive side, there was a definite trend toward wanting more LGBTQ representation in holiday films, which historically have tended to feature straight cis gender characters. A full 33.8% of respondents also wanted more representation of non-Christmas holidays, reflecting a growing desire to see diversity reflected on the big screen.

Ultimately, cheesy exercises like this one flick at a dawning reality. Even creative enterprises like movie ideation and execution are coming under the purview of AI and reinforced learning -- which raises what I think is an important question: What chance does a journalist have?

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