Warner Bros. International Will Use Artificial Intelligence To Help Select Release Dates [Updated]

Update: An in-the-know source has reached out to correct some of the information in this story. Turns out that Cinelytic is only being used by Warner Bros. International as an additive tool to help select release dates, and not, as many have suggested, in any sort of major creative capacity. Our original story continues below.

The frequent tug-of-war between art and commerce means that there have long been Hollywood studio executives whose jobs include looking at analytics and trying to assess whether greenlighting a certain film will be financially beneficial to their shareholders. Now Warner Bros. is inviting artificial intelligence into the equation, because the studio has signed a deal with a company called Cinelytic to use its project management system and "leverage the system's comprehensive data and predictive analytics to guide decision-making at the greenlight stage." Is this situation as bad as it sounds?

The Hollywood Reporter has the story, saying that Toby Emmerich's film division of Warner Bros. is going to utilize this system, which is supposed to help find patterns in the numbers that might be missed by human eyes. The platform is capable of "assess[ing] the value of a star in any territory and how much a film is expected to make in theaters and on other ancillary streams", and it's supposedly going to "reduce the amount of time executives spend on low-value, repetitive tasks and instead give them better dollar-figure parameters for packaging, marketing and distribution decisions including release dates."

According to Cinelytic head Tobias Queisser, who invented this system four years ago, "The system can calculate in seconds what used to take days to assess by a human when it comes to general film package evaluation or a star's worth." But as Thor and X-Men: First Class screenwriter Zack Stentz wrote on Twitter, "the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe was built on [Jon] Favreau convincing a bunch of executives that a middle-aged actor not long out of rehab and prison, who had described himself as 'box office poison' even during his earlier 1990s heyday, would be the perfect Iron Man...these analytics that purport to tell you which actor is worth how much in these territories are useless compared to the casting intuitions that end up creating magic onscreen."

Still, I can sympathize with this level of desperation. It's easy to see why studios would be eager to minimize risk and find a way to compete against Disney, which absolutely crushed all competition last year and became the first studio to cross the $10 billion mark in a single year (the House of Mouse pulled in $11.12 billion total worldwide). And it's not like all of a sudden every movie will be chosen by an algorithm – Queisser says that "an AI cannot make any creative decisions" and explains its real intended use in this setting. "What it is good at is crunching numbers and breaking down huge datasets and showing patterns that would not be visible to humans," he said. "But for creative decision-making, you still need experience and gut instinct."

Emmerich has been in this business for a long time, and anyone who expects him to just cede all creative control over to Skynet is misreading this situation. I'm betting the studio will look at these AI-crunched numbers to help figure out better release dates every once in a while, and leave the real creative decisions to the people who are getting paid millions of dollars a year to make them.