Humans Shoot a Sci-Fi Movie Written by an AI
Ashley Allen / 3 years ago
Sunspring, a short sci-fi film which echoes the work of surreal auteurs David Lynch and Richard Kelly, has taken the Sci-Fi London film festival by storm. The short revolves around three characters – two of which are named ‘H’, the other called ‘C’ – spouting dialogue both tense and hilarious in its incomprehensibility; don’t ask me what it’s about, but I loved it. Oh, and the film’s script was written by an artificial intelligence. While its creators named the recurrent neural network Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM), the machine itself prefers to be known as Benjamin.
Director Oscar Sharp and his producer Ross Goodwin took the screenplay written by LSTM – commissioned for an entry in the Sci-Fi London film festival’s 48-Hour Film Challenge – and turned it into a charming short film, starring Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch as H, Elisabeth Gray as the other H, and Humphrey Ker as the smarmy C, all three adorned in gold sci-fi affectations. Sunspring also features an oblique song – with lyrics written by the LSTM – which was composed and performed by Andrew and Tiger.
Sunspring was awarded a top ten place following its screening at the Sci-Fi London contest – one judge, sci-fi author Pat Cadigan, joked, “I’ll give them top marks if they promise never to do this again” – after which the audience voted online for their favourite film from the list of ten. Goodwin and Sharp noticed that Sunspring’s competitors were getting thousands of votes which, ironically, could only have been cast by bots. Sharp concocted a plan: “I said, [LSTM] is going to outvote them at the last minute. So we had him vote 36,000 times per hour in last hours of the contest, and he crushed the cheaters.”
When Sharp confessed the deed to Louis Savy, the organiser of the festival, the latter cracked up and insisted on interviewing the AI on-stage during the award ceremony:
What do you think of your historic nomination against human opponents in this contest?
I was pretty excited.
I think I can see the feathers when they release their hearts. It’s like a breakdown of the facts. So they should be competent with the fact that they won’t be surprised.
What is the future of machine written entertainment?
It’s a bit sudden.
I was thinking of the spirit of the men who found me and the children who were all manipulated and full of children. I was worried about my command. I was the scientist of the Holy Ghost.
What’s next for you?
Here we go. The staff is divided by the train of the burning machine building with sweat. No one will see your face. The children reach into the furnace, but the light is still slipping to the floor. The world is still embarrassed.
The party is with your staff.
My name is Benjamin.
The experience has even made Goodwin reassess his own writing, seeing similar patterns from Benjamin’s script crop up in his own work.
“There’s an interesting recurring pattern in Sunspring where characters say, ‘No I don’t know what that is. I’m not sure,'” Goodwin told Ars Technica. “They’re questioning the environment, questioning what’s in front of them. There’s a pattern in sci-fi movies of characters trying to understand the environment.”
“I just finished a sci-fi screenplay,” he explained, “and it’s really interesting coming off this experience with Benjamin, thinking I have to have somebody say ‘What the hell is going on?’ Every time I use his tropes I think, oh of course. This is what sci-fi is about.”