Artificial intelligence used to be something that featured in science fiction films. Now, it’s writing the scripts. The next movie you go to see on the big screen may have an Artificial Intelligence in the credits as a writer, thanks to Greenlight Essentials, Founder –  Jack Zhang.

We met with Jack Zhang, and tried to understand some easier things like what all can AI do for the film industry and educate us on the future.

How do you see AI developing in the future in the entertainment industry?

I think the use of AI in entertainment is the content creators insight, wanting to see and so helping the creators and that’s where I see the future.


There are two versions of AI, one is to reduce the reliance on human labor and the other is its use in the entertainment industry. Everyone knows about VR being the next big thing and AI being the next level but nobody understands it entirely. 

So, you can categorise it into automation and also augmented intelligence. In creative industries right now and in the near future and forever after that it’s going to be augmented intelligence. The AI will assist us to understand the world better instead of replacing the creative. Just like computers and smart phones we are using today helps us function more effectively and more efficiently instead of replacing your job. That’s my view on entertainment industry and the use of AI.


Do you see AI helping in making films that work? 

Yes. We use AI in our films. You can tell us what audience you want and what kind of plot we need to put in the film to attract the audience and tell us exactly who these audiences are. But at the end of the day our writers still need to write the screenplay based on the elements or ideas which the computers come up with which accentuates what the audiences want. The computer does not create all this out of thin air, it’s taking the data from the audiences and generating insights based on that and giving that to the creators.


But do you think we’ll ever have a focus group fact base, which will give you every single permutation and combination of stories that people want to be a part of? 

In our system currently we have about 40,000 unique plot elements and you can do all kinds of combinations of them. It’s not the entire data set yet, but basically everything you can think of, there’s something to reflect that in it. So I think it’s already quite powerful, but in the future with more data we can make it even better and you could see grander level of things in films ultimately driving audience.


There’s always a recovery issue with entertainment. It’s not always easy to make the money back. And when you’re doing this, you might have to shoot the same things numerous times, the cost of making this could become bigger than what is recovered.

That’s a very good question. It’s true. So the recovery of money in films worldwide is very low. The films barely break even or even make money. So for us we use data to see that and we test if out, not only in theory. I don’t know if you’ve been reading about the impossible things we’ve been doing in our films.

What we did was that we picked horror genre , We made a concept trailer using just 30 dollars, hired high school students, there’s no named actors, no big stars, nothing, not even a screenplay yet and we put it on Facebook; we already have 2.2 million views, 20000 shares and people are commenting in the comment section saying that, “I want to go see this” and tagging their friends.

We created an audience for a film that doesn’t even exist. So you can test out your ideas, and see if people want this. Now investors and financiers can see that the risk just went down because compared to other screenplays, they have proof of audience, now they have millions of eyeballs on content and people want to go see it.


Do you think currently we are limited to horror as a genre in with AI. Would you imagine say a Rom-Com in VR using your AI?

When I initially started, I started as an animator. We picked Horror because they told us that horror wouldn’t require much investment, because an animated film costs 100-200 millions to make. We needed somewhere to start off and we picked horror. I don’t think we’ll ever stop making horror films, even though we will expand into other genres. We are already developing another animated film.

Jack Zhang in conversation with Sudhir Mishra at FIlm Bazaar Goa

Jack Zhang in conversation with Sudhir Mishra at FIlm Bazaar Goa

What do you think about Indian films?

I love 3 Idiots. I think India has been a key player in the film industry. Bollywood industry is huge. And there is a huge audience that wants to watch films. In China they love a really good story, if they have a really good story, it doesn’t matter where you made the film, or who’s making the film. Good story is good story, content is content. In this age, I think, content is going to remain king.


Have you been a part of the Busan and Hong Kong Film markets? 

I haven’t been to an Asian film festival except for this one.


What do you think about the content you’ve been watching at the festival here?

Like I said the location is the key here, it’s more than a billion people, it’s a huge market. A lot of international co production and production houses want to partner….. One of our key partners an animation studio that we work closely with in Vancouver, they have worked very closely with an Indian animation studio here. I do see a lot of potential and more collaboration with international markets happening here and you get to connect with a lot of local filmmakers, which is not so prevalent in other places.



The cost of production in countries like India and China is comparatively low. Do you think that in someway can over power Hollywood productions? 

Yeah, cost I think has been rising. Every year it’s always rising. And from business perspective you’re always looking for low cost of production to produce your product but quality also matters. So for India and China we see quality rising but we also see the wages rising, and we don’t know when it’s going to reach that point when it just doesn’t make any sense anymore. But you know right now I think it’s a win-win situation for everyone. We’re getting lower cost of production in these countries and filmmakers are learning from western industry how to make good quality cinema and they’re getting paid for it.


And what about the length of the films? You make an impactful film with all the right touchpoints and you make a VR film, which everyone loves. Do you think longer duration VR films can have adverse effects on the viewer, where they might lose touch with the reality if they are immersed in the virtual space for too long with everything they wanted to see? 

I think every technology has its advantages and disadvantages. VR at the end of the day is also just a tool and it depends on how you use it. Even today the computer screens we’re looking at are addictive. In South Korea they have rehabs for people who have screen addictions, VR is the same thing. It’s a tool, you have to control the balance yourself. What people need to learn is the balance.


Do you think unlike cinema which is a community experience, VR is an individual experience?

Yes. I personally don’t think cinema will ever be replaced. Essentially the filmmaker controls the camera movements and you just lay back and sit there and enjoy the story, in VR it is in somehow stricter and in some way it opens up more doors. You can have a very immersive experience, unlike in cinema you create this environment they can look at and they can look wherever they want to look, and you can’t really force them. You cannot do a pan, it’s a different art form coming out through this visual medium and I personally think that cinema will always be around.


What is your future plan?

I don’t really know yet to be honest.  But I look forward to collaborating with Indian filmmakers especially on the animation side.





Transcribed by: Divya More