Waterloo's Jack Zhang uses computer program to help co-write horror film script
Computer analyzes plot elements audiences respond to, developer says
The next movie you go to see on the big screen may have a computer in the credits as a writer, thanks to Waterloo's Jack Zhang.
The University of Waterloo graduate and computer programmer has created the first ever feature-length film that has been co-written with a computer.
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"Before a single word was written, we used a computer program to analyze a massive amount of data to see what kind of plot elements in the film were driving audiences. So we correlated that with audience taste and behaviour data and see what type of plot would draw in what type of audience, and then feed that information to screenwriters who would closely work with our computer program to create that screenplay," Zhang told The Morning Edition's Craig Norris Monday.
Films and statistics
For example, in an article on Zhang's LinkedIn page, he analyzes the success of the film Gone Girl. He notes the cast of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were "statistically, a suitable fit" but being adapted from a successful novel provided very little to no benefit. However, the data from past movies shows audiences enjoy watching a psychological mystery thriller with a missing person.
"It turns out that combining 'husband-wife relationship' with 'missing person' in a 'psych-mystery thriller' produces 100 per cent performance over the benchmark," Zhang wrote.
Computer co-writes horror flick
Zhang attended the Toronto International Film Festival last week and said in previous years, those in the industry didn't want to hear much about his company. Critics said it could take away the creative process.
But the reaction was different this year, said Zhang, and production companies are starting to see the benefit.
"People are creating the patterns, we're just funneling the information through to screenwriters," he said. "If you give 50 screenwriters the same elements, they'll come up with 50 different screenplays."
Two companies – Productivity Media and Concourse Media – are onboard for his latest project, a horror movie called Impossible Things. The movie is about a young family and the mother is a workaholic whose life changes dramatically after the death of one of her twin daughters.
His company created a trailer for just $30, posted it online and it's already had more than 665,000 views.
He said they hope to shoot the film next spring.
He said he hopes more people in the industry embrace the technology.
"It's the way of the future. The old ways of writing films, writing content, without using any data that's available today is not maximizing our opportunities," Zhang said. "What we are doing is really adding to the creative process."