Will AI be the nail in the coffin for the filmmaker? Is the creative just some abstract concept we’ve stubbornly held onto through the ages, ready to be erased in the grand sweep of new generative technologies?

Not quite, I’m happy to report that filmmakers and creatives will survive the haunting spectre of AI. The commercial industry that surrounds the filmmaker? A much different story.

OpenAI’s Sora tool is a step above what we’ve seen so far in generative AI. ChatGPT is not far in concept to the ELIZA chatbot (developed back in the 1960s) and image generator DALL-E essentially just re-interprets existing flat images to create a new, sometimes bewildering, whole.

But Sora is full-motion video that simulates the fluid world that we live in, produced by typing in a few prompted sentences.

It’s not perfect but it’s close, very close. A promotional video shows a woman walking through the neon lights centre of Tokyo, “directed” in a way that suggests Sora understands basic cinematic language. The illusion is slightly off, however. Limbs get cross-wired, objects lack consistency and begin to morph, and so on. It doesn’t quite mirror reality as it does a strange dream state where the details aren’t exact.

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But Sora showed up sooner than expected, and the creases will be ironed out in no amount of time. This will have major knock-on effects for the creative industries. The commercial sector of film will see a significantly reduced labour force as a result, for starters.

The advent of AI is another way for studios to smooth out the human imperfections that come with artistic expression into a broadly appealing consumable. The hearts of Hollywood sing for the industrial advantages of AI; no more paying the incomes of sprawling production crews on huge-budget popcorn fare, no more pesky writer strike negotiations to grind the machine to a halt. AI could streamline a terrifyingly large amount of commercial film production.

But will this create anything of value? It’s apparent that the thought process of many studio executives fails to extend much further than ‘x film made money, so y film will make money’. This race to the bottom would only accelerate the divide between the authentic human connections formed through experiencing a film and the stale by-committee process that has over time rendered the major studios hollow and confused.

The damage AI will inflict is regrettable, but it is a consequence of a collective mindset. Through our incessant need to commodify all experience, film has become a commercial industry foremost, with artists having to create, produce and distribute work under the same economic rules. Capitalist societies have no motive towards art for art’s sake, commodification is the endpoint. One of the effects of this is a societal irreverence towards film and its importance as a medium of expression and ideas, enabling the context where a tool like Sora can arrive and so instantly become existentially threatening.

Sora will not be a replacement for filmmakers or creatives – it is only mimetic, lacking the ability to replicate a creative pulse. AI can only draw from the well it’s been given thus it cannot generate unique ideas or imagine new worlds or new thoughts on old worlds. It is not sentient (yet). The human brain has the upper hand.

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The assumption that Sora will kill the role of the filmmaker is a pessimistic one. The genie is never put back into the bottle so there is little reason that such technologies can’t be in addition to a modern creative workflow. Filmmaking is an incredibly expensive, exclusionary process and the use of AI not only cheapens production costs for major studios but also for independent artists. There is potential for a sliver of equalising on the field.

We have already seen this kind of advantage with tools like Blender, the open-source graphics software that can streamline the process of 3D animation to such an extent that a teenager in their bedroom can create works that only Lucasfilm would have previously had the resources and knowhow to make.

The Backrooms, a video uploaded to YouTube when its creator was only 16 years old, is a mysterious little horror short created using Blender. It shows a series of never-ending empty corridors, as a first-person view attempts to escape an unknowable threat. The idea plays off an internet obsession with liminal spaces, those transitional places that feel familiar to everyone as part of a collective consciousness. These spaces usually inspire a sense of nostalgia or comfort, yet the video inverts the space to be more of a lonely purgatory.

The Herald: A still from The Backrooms, which was created in 3D animation software Blender – have you been in this location before?A still from The Backrooms, which was created in 3D animation software Blender – have you been in this location before? (Image: Kane Pixels)
The short demonstrates that new technologies and concepts can live comfortably side by side; the non-existent budget it facilitates, its addition to the canon of ideas propagated first in online discourse, and its wide accessibility through YouTube (it has achieved a staggering 54 million views, a reach greater than conventional film distribution could allow). The barrier to entry for Blender is already low, Sora’s barrier to entry will be even lower.

AI will be a boon to the greed and excess of the profit-driven commercial film sphere, but it will also blindly accelerate its downfall. We can embrace new technologies without framing them purely on their shifting effect on industry. Instead, let’s experiment, see what new thoughts and ideas blossom, and gawk on the sidelines as Rome burns.