Filmmaker Oscar Sharp and technologist Ross Goodwin have been collaborating for a couple of years now, exploring the boundaries of computer-generated creativity. Their most recent effort is the short sci-fi film "Sunspring" starring longtime Chicago improviser Thomas Middleditch and made from a screenplay written entirely by a computer they dubbed Jetson. (That name has since changed.)
Sharp and Goodwin tested their machine's capabilities back in April for The Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge. The resulting eight-minute film (available on YouTube) and the love triangle/workplace fever dream at its core is funny but also mesmerizingly off-kilter and, at points, weirdly poetic — as if it were (as one commenter noted) a bizarro mashup of "Solaris" and "Office Space."
Sometimes the dialogue sounds like a random series of unrelated sentences. Middleditch (who currently stars on HBO's "Silicon Valley") is joined by actors Elisabeth Gray and Humphrey Ker, and they have all somehow made sense of lines such as, "I know it's a consequence. Whatever you need to know about the presence of the story, I'm a little bit of a boy on the floor."
Here's how that's translated by Gray's performance as she speaks to Middleditch: (Patronizingly) "I know. It's a consequence. Whatever you need to know about the presence of the story" — faux conspiratorially, almost whispering to let him down gently — "I'm a little bit of a boy on the floor." That last bit she says as she touches Ker's arm meaningfully. Whatever's going on (and the dialogue is indeed confounding), the performance in that moment makes clear, she's letting her allegiances be known. And Middleditch is the loser in that equation.
Here's how the software works, per Sharp: "It's a language engine that essentially crunches all of the input that you give it" — in this case, lines of dialogue from thousands of pre-existing sci-fi screenplays, everything from "Independence Day" to "Logan's Run" — "and then it tries to create output that statistically looks the same as the input."
I asked if it was like putting a bunch of words in a bowl and pulling them out at random.
"Oh, very much no. The computer is doing something really extraordinary. If you look at the screenplay itself and you consider that the grammatical form of the dialogue is one person addressing another or asking a question, and then look at the action description passages — what people call the stage directions — it's written in the grammar and style of dialogue or description. It just sounds really weird because the computer doesn't know what it's saying, it just knows how to say it, so the end result doesn't feel sensical to a human being."
Read more here: www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/movies/ct-sunspring-ai-chicago-closeup-20160616-column.html