Opinion for VillainLabs about future of creative writing for movies and TV. Written by Rogue Saint.
Hollywood is a massive entertainment hub. While movies are Tinseltown’s most visible products, businesses in and around the town cater to all parts of the industry. Just like Detroit for the automobile industry. So even the slightest potential for the LA metro area to sink into a Detroit-type chaos conjures up images of a hellish scenario from the worst dystopian nightmare. Those who claim LA will not be a horror sequel to Detroit rightfully point to the relative health of the industry. The Hollywood business model definitely needs change but appears vital and profitable enough. There's no need for bailouts and government interventions. There certainly isn’t a cataclysmic collapse on the horizon either.
Hollywood has, however, already done its fair share of outsourcing. The question is, whose job is next to go? Could it be the writers, who achieved relative success after the 2007–2008 strike and to a great extent avoided the fate of outsourcing? Is the union going to help them save their jobs? What about agencies – shouldn't they be worried about losing commissions?
I understand creative writing isn't a factory job to be easily shipped abroad. I understand a belief that professionalism, quality of work and established personal connections with executives hold strong value for both parties and tend to work in the interests of both. After all, why would any studio look for a cheap alternative to somebody with a great track record of creating the needed material? Well, the same question left musicians shocked when Hollywood outsourced fifty percent of movie-scoring jobs. Almost all lower-tier jobs have been outsourced in animation. And we all know story of VFX. These are all creative positions, aren’t they?
I know you want to interrupt me now. All three examples of massive outsourcing are in sound and visuals. Sound and visual images are universal. The English language is not, at least not in the relevant shape and form. In the end, English is the only filter through which to convey Hollywood creativity. You're correct on all points. However, regardless of the arguments that outsourcing writing jobs is impossible (or costly and highly unlikely), it is not. Unfortunately, it's inevitable.
There are two ways to outsource writers. While both are possible, the second is far more damaging in the long run. The first way to outsource creative writing is obvious, and it flies on the strong argument that creativity itself is not bound within US borders. I agree. There are many talented storytellers outside of the US. For those living in non-English-speaking countries, language may be a strong barrier. But an even bigger stumbling block is distance from the hotspot of entertainment, as well as a lack of established paths to create careers in writing for movies and TV. All three obstacles – language, distance and lack of established career paths – will be easier to overcome in the near future of our digitalized world.
I won't spend much time on language. Virtually every country on this planet teaches kids English, and many do so from the first grade of primary school. To say that the number of English-speaking people on planet Earth is rising is an understatement. As for distance... there are many opinions on this, but in the years to come, distance won't matter. The studios will definitely expand their operations to other territories by building new lots, establishing development departments and production potential, etc. Which leaves the third barrier explaining why we haven't seen outsourcing of writing jobs yet.
While in the US the path to establish a career in creative writing for movies is known and available (at least in theory) to every kid in high school, circumstances are much different abroad. Very few countries have anything resembling the road writers take in the US. Simply, movie and TV markets in many other countries are nowhere near the size of the market in the US, severely limiting opportunity for establishing a career. In the coming years, with movies becoming a planetary business and with the rise of SVOD powerhouses like Netflix, many people abroad may finally see the opportunity.
The VFX industry knows what I’m talking about. Within a decade (2005–2015), the number of people doing VFX outside the US exploded to unprecedented, even abnormal levels. Advancement in software, availability of that software and global expansion of the movie industry enabled this phenomenon. I want you to remember this last sentence. We will come back to it.
To sum up, expanding studio operations outside the US and subsequently tapping the local creative talent market is a traditional way of outsourcing. It can take some time, but once mechanisms are in place, things can really boom. The studios could effectively curb any deal with the unions in the US and render them less relevant or completely irrelevant. That’s why I believe unions are facing a judgment day. Simply put, unions have failed to stop the wheels of globalization. We’ve seen that in virtually all industries.
As for agencies… I don't think agencies could put up a fight over this. The smaller ones don't have the means to wage war with the big studios. The large ones have vastly diversified their portfolios in recent years. They make more money off NBA benchwarmers than off entire literary departments.
The other way of outsourcing may seem a little too far in the future, but quite frankly it is the future. Its potentials are so far reaching that it will fundamentally transform writing for movies. It is no secret that major Hollywood studios are very interested in analytics. Analytics, trend predictions and consumer behavior will become of outmost importance to the entire entertainment industry. If you have any business in Tinseltown, you should know that the studios are already on board with this. Currently, the studios employ many different tech companies and startups to create propriety software. However, it is analytics software, in sync with the stunning development of artificial intelligence, that will reshape the world of entertainment.
As I wrote in “Hollywood and Analytics – an Imminent Love Affair,” advancement of AI, social bots and proprietary analytics software will give Hollywood studios a comprehensive grip on the entertainment world. The human brain is powerful and creative, but as of 2016 has been defeated by machines in many areas. I personally have seen over 1,000 movies and TV shows. I remember many of them, but I have forgotten even more. Add books and other creative material like comics, short videos, etc.... I simply cannot remember all of them, but a machine can. It can memorize every single line and use it accordingly.
If you task an expert Hollywood screenwriter to write you the next great thriller, he may come back to you within a week with the first draft. The AI we anticipate for the near future, with superb analytics software and info from social bots, could provide a final draft of 50 different thriller scripts. Within a single day, that is. You want changes, a different approach? Rewrites and additional drafts come for free, and they'll be available for your review tomorrow morning.
In our example of outsourcing writers, the future of a writers’ room for a TV show may look something like this: executive producer/showrunner, analytics expert, AI. A little boring, but time saving, and money saving, which is more important. With the advancements of AI in recent years, it would be foolish for studios not to pursue development of one for creative writing. All the money and time invested would be priceless in the long run. Agent Smith from The Matrix blessed us with this quote: "Never send a human to do a machine's job." That line may bear weight in the lives of creative writers sooner than expected.
Sending major business operations abroad and developing proprietary software for creative purposes isn't an overnight job. It takes time and money. It is a process of trial and error. However, if an opportunity for sweeping change in favor of business exists, you can bet somebody will jump on it. All those who underestimated the speed of globalization and automatization of labor through advanced technology are now unemployed.
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