Let’s talk about drum machines.
When drum machines appeared, some drummers were threatened and believed that their livelihoods as professional musicians were threatened. And sure enough, for some, that’s what happened.
In some genres of music, the ability to play live to a virtuoso standard remains celebrated – some forms of jazz and heavy metal are all about technical chops. But not all listeners respond to that kind of virtuosity, and no surprise – some people enjoy forms of music where the ability to deliver a particular sound on time and in tune can adequately be recreated with electronics. In turn, people have learned to relish electronic noise in its own right. And sometimes, things go full circle – Daft Punk have made a comeback working with Chic’s disco maestro Nile Rodgers, and he’s got them playing actual instruments after a career in which they’ve been known for creating their sounds digitally.
And now it looks like something similar might be happening within the screenwriting world. I’ve been expecting this article, or one like it, for a while now. Essentially there’s a service which offers to analyse scripts in terms of their ability to generate revenues. All of which is predicated on what has happened in the past. So, a particular device worked better than another in the more profitable films of that genre, so it’s better to use that device and not the one the writer came up with.
Your hackles are rising, aren’t they?
And I get that.
But here’s the thing.
Drummers still get gigs. And the ones who get the most work are those who have integrated understanding of electronic rhythms into their playing, and play hybrid kits where tuned percussion sits alongside sampled sounds as well as regular bass drums and cymbals.
The film industry is already making a lot of conservative choices, and the glut of remakes, adaptations from one medium to another is not going to stop any time soon. That’s true at the bigger end of the market anyway. But at the same time, there’s ample room for inventive filmmaking, much of it in the realm of genre or genre fusion. Moon and Monsters are two great examples, and one industry buzzword at the moment is ‘elevated genre’. Which as far as I can make out means people who are not actually into genre approving of it if in some way it’s smarter than what they generally perceive genre to be.
I’ve recently written a screenplay, and a few people are reading it and providing feedback. And I wonder if I could tell the difference between the feedback from humans and the software mentioned in the article? I’m open to suggestions that will strengthen my story wherever they come from. And I’ve got enough ego to stand up to changes that I believe will compromise the story I want to tell.
There was another project I walked away from recently, and thinking about it for that one I really would have welcomed the feedback from script analysis software. The intent was to make a solid genre piece, and my heart wasn’t really in it – but sometimes there’s no harm in taking on a job for the challenge and the opportunities, and that one would be an excellent example of where I’d have been happy to consult software.
Everything Everything are one of the most exceptional bands I’ve seen, and in part because of the skilful way they utilise electronics into their sound. They blend everything from prog rock to R&B into their sound, and the result is some of the most exciting music I’ve heard in a long time. The Invisible’s first album was pretty much guitar-based and I loved it. Their second, Rispah, saw them use electronics as a foundation of their sound, and it’s different from and just as strong as their debut, technology blending with the singing at an African funeral to produce something heartfelt with a sound palette only possible in this decade.
Software that shapes scripts is only a threat to writers who can’t surpass what programming comes up with. And if a flesh and blood writer connected to their vision can’t outperform binary juggling or work with it to explore ways that their work might be improved, then something’s wrong. I – for one – welcome our new machine overlords.