Can AI replace screenwriters?


It has become impossible to ignore the elephant (or robot) in the room. Over the last few years, the technology surrounding Artificial Intelligence has experienced exponential growth. The development of large language models, such as Chat GPT, which was introduced in late 2022, has since triggered a wave of transformation across numerous industries, not least within the audiovisual sector.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is on strike since May 1st and was recently joined by the SAG-AFTRA, and one of the issues at the heart of the dispute is the use of AI in screenwriting. The studios have expressed interest in using AI to generate scripts based on books and other content that fall under the public domain, and then having actual writers polish the scripts. This has led to worldwide concerns among screenwriters that AI could eventually replace them altogether. Between these developments and the studios' plans, one can wonder if AI is set to replace the screenwriting profession or if it is mere science fiction.

We can already observe that AI is being employed as an “author” in certain instances today. One notable example is the work of Simon Bouisson, a French director who has utilized AI to develop his storylines. While not completely relying on language models, Bouisson’s work uses AI and its technologies to automatise some of the screenwriter’s work with some tasks that can be repetitive. In this way, he was able to use generative AI to write his latest scripts. Although he admits that the technology today is still far from perfect, it is clear that the technology is very advanced for something that was introduced to the general public less than a year ago.

The emergence of AI as a potential tool for screenwriting therefore raises concerns about the future of the profession. While some view AI as a powerful tool to enhance the creative process, others worry that it poses a significant threat to the livelihood of screenwriters. As of today, AI can assist in generating initial drafts and having human writers polish them, which poses a risk of undervaluing the creative contribution and originality of the screenwriter. The screenwriting profession could be overshadowed by the efficiency and cost-effectiveness offered by AI.

Despite these concerns, it is essential to recognize that AI is not infallible. While it can generate coherent scripts, it often lacks the depth of emotional understanding and human experience that human screenwriters bring to their work. This was a point made by tech philosopher, and member of our British collective management organisation, ALCS, Tom Chatfield at the recent event of the European Internet Forum on ‘Generative AI, Art & Copyright’. The art of screenwriting involves crafting characters, dialogue, and narrative arcs that resonate with audiences on a profound level. Creative nuances and insights derived from human experiences cannot be easily replicated by AI algorithms. Indeed, generative AI challenges authors on several levels as it can ingest authors' works without their consent and generate content that mimics their creative works without any form of retribution. This idea was also developed further by Tom Chatfield in this podcast interview by Euractiv

It is therefore necessary to regulate AI. A first foundation has been laid with the adoption of the AI Act in the European Parliament. On this topic, the SAA has issued a statement recognizing a text that goes in the right direction with some aspects of generative AI but that does not fully address the challenges that creators face today. This is a first statement by the SAA that is monitoring closely the topic and exchanging with its members. During my internship at the SAA, I have learned that authors' rights are an evolving field, especially in a fast-paced industry where technology is constantly changing. While AI is not yet capable of replacing screenwriters, it is clear that the technology is developing rapidly. It is, therefore, crucial to understand the potential impact of AI as the industry could become dependent on it.

Safia Rakza

Former SAA intern