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...
Apparently moviegoers of 2020 aren’t into Henry James: The Turning — the new horror based on the classic author’s oft-filmed Gothic novel The Turn of the Screw — is not only underperforming at the box office, but, as per Deadline, it’s earned that rare distinction: an F on CinemaScore, the market firm that reports what regular audiences really thought about movies. What’s more, it’s the second movie of 2020, and therefore the new decade, to suffer a similar blow from moviegoers, after The Grudge.
The Turning — which moves the action from the late 19th century to the 1990s, and stars Mackenzie Davis as a nanny whose latest young charges, played by Finn Wolfhard and Brooklynn Prince, may be conspiring with possibly deadly spirits — didn’t fare much better with critics. Over at Rotten Tomatoes, its score is a mere 13%.
But The Turning nabbed another milestone: It’s only the 21st in history to accrue a CinemaScore F. Mind you, that group — a list of which was helpfully compiled by Collider, among others — isn’t filled with objective garbage. It’s truly a mixed bag, filled with titles most can agree are duds Alone in the Dark, Darkness Falls, Fear Dot Com, Disaster Movie, but also with daring, auteurist works that were too hot for the mainstream. Those include William Friedkin’s Bug, Robert Altman’s Doctor T & the Women, Jane Campion’s In the Cut, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris, and maybe the most notorious of all: Darren Aronofsky’s mother! There’s also at least one notorious film that’s since been partly reclaimed: the peerlessly titled, Lindsay Lohan-starring I Know Who Killed Me.
Is The Turning one of those ahead-of-its-time works that future audiences will proclaim visionary? Could it be secretly as strong as 1961’s The Innocents, the Turn of the Screw adaptation to beat, starring Deborah Kerr and available on the Criterion Collection? Only time will tell, though the majority of horror films awarded a CinemaScore F have yet to see similar fates. In any case, right now the Henry James estate is almost certainly freaking out.