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Writing new chapters in the film business: Storytelling meets AI

Interview with Nadira Azermai, CEO of ScriptBook

European Business: Ms. Azermai, ScriptBook seems to turn a film producer’s dream into reality – to predict the future success of a movie. How exactly does that work?

Nadira Azermai: ScriptBook is an artificial intelligence company with a mission to assist stakeholders in filmed entertainment by providing automated script analysis and financial forecasts. Our vision is ‘to revolutionize the business of storytelling through the art of artificial intelligence’. Through machine learning, deep learning and natural language processing our intelligent solution delivers data-driven predictive decision support from script to screen. Our predictive algorithms are story and character-driven in order to accurately predict the commercial and critical success of film and television.

Our predictive algorithms are story and character-driven in order to accurately predict the commercial and critical success of film and television. Nadira Azermai

European Business: To have a claim is one thing, to offer proof another: What references can ScriptBook offer that forecasts and analysis are actually accurate?

Nadira Azermai: Films need to achieve critical mass to be profitable and to offset the costs of less lucrative productions. Based on a randomized, representative sample (n=157) of films released from 2015 to 2017, we are able to generate the indicative value creation of ScriptBook.

n=157 and represents the performance of the current industry decision making. This number means that 157 films received a ‘greenlight’ (i.e. a ‘GO’) for production, from the industry itself. Of the 157 films, 77 were indeed successful, rendering a precision of 48%. When we analysed the 157 scripts through ScriptBook’s solution, only 104 films received a greenlight for production. Of these 104 films, only 76 were indeed successful, rendering a precision of 73%. 53 films would not have been greenlit by ScriptBook. Of these, 52 films were indeed a commercial loss rendering a precision of 98%, and indicating our biggest value creation. Our solution not only increases total attainable profit by simply excluding value destructing film titles, it also prevents value destructing titles from moving forward to the next phase.

We provide data-driven and predictive decision-support for film projects based on various metrics, thereby lowering the associated risk in a highly volatile business. This enables stakeholders to back their subjective decision-making approach in order to make better greenlighting decisions. By cancelling out projects with limited commercial and critical value prior to greenlight, stakeholders can optimize their ratio of successful projects over total amount of greenlighted projects, without having to acquire risk through sunk production costs.

Our platform only requires a PDF version of the script to generate valuable insights into a film project’s potential.

European Business: Artificial Intelligence plays a major role in your business model and becomes also more important in many other industries. Still lot of people remain skeptical of its benefits. Why are we too afraid to embrace technological progress?

The film industry in particular is a slow adopter. It relies on traditional approaches, with human expertise and gut-feeling as the golden standard. Nadira Azermai

Nadira Azermai: The ever-evolving technology landscape has created endless opportunities for creative industries, but there is still debate over whether the technological future is one to be feared or embraced. The film industry in particular is a slow adopter. It relies on traditional approaches, with human expertise and gut-feeling as the golden standard. The possibilities of data-driven decision-making are insufficiently known, used and feared. The industry has already felt the first consequences of technology due to Netflix’s streaming service and intelligent algorithms. Netflix has trained the customer into the habit of an on demand, all-you-can-watch approach to viewing. It breaks the viewer out of the habit of being told what to watch, how much to watch and when to watch.

As for ScriptBook, the perceived irreconcilability between computerized algorithms and the human creative process. Hitherto, the filmed entertainment business is skeptical at the idea of having a script analyzed by a computer, stating that an automated process cannot grasp something as fundamentally human as a story. To many of them, the concept of having their work appraised by a machine instead of a person is almost offensive. This concern is understandable and essentially boils down to the question: to what extent is an A.I. capable of casting judgment upon human creative works?

The advantage of big data is a formidable one. While a computer may not be able to capture why we find a certain movie enthralling, it can compare the script of said movie to a very large dataset of other scripts and draw parallels to story structures in past movies that have been associated with successes or failures. While we have no doubt that a human reader will beat a computer in understanding the subtleties of an individual script, it would be very hard, if not impossible for humans, to compare that script against tens of thousands of others. It would be equally hard to correlate the content of all those scripts to financial and critical success in an objective manner, but this is something machines excel at. A reader will use the human approach; a combination of experience and subjective gut feeling. Gut feeling is not necessarily a bad predictor, of course, but it certainly is a very biased one (cfr. our blog post on gender bias).

It’s about time we stress the positive side of AI and the opportunities to embrace it instead of fearing it by focusing on doom scenarios of massive job loss. Nadira Azermai

European Business: Do you plan to extend your business model also to other segments, e.g. publishing houses: Could editors check a script for an upcoming novel by using ScriptBook?

Nadira Azermai: Our current AI system was built for film projects. It was trained and tested on film scripts but many companies have approached us with the question whether our AI could be used to analyze tv projects, series, etc. Our team customized our current product and soon (in September) we will launch our AI system for tv scripts.

European Business: One final personal question: What is your favorite movie, and do you think a check by ScriptBook’s AI would lead to a positive result?

Nadira Azermai: As a woman, I’m a great fan of Jane Austen. I read all of her books multiple times and I’ve seen all the film adaptations of her work. I would say one of my favourite movies (I have many) would be Pride and Prejudice directed by Joe Wright. We have the script for Pride and Prejudice and our AI gives it a greenlight every time we run it through our system.

Interview: Markus Büssecker; Pictures: ScriptBook, Graphics: European Business

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