Creative talents’ worries have been in focus this summer in Hollywood amid the dual writers and actors strikes, along with much debate about whether AI could replace artists and upset production. Management consulting firm Bain & Co. is signaling there could be a less contentious future though, which it outlines in a new report entitled “Tech in Content Production: Will AI Kill the Video Star?”
The authors, Nicole Magoon, Andre James, David Sanderson and Imogen Rey, even offer an encouraging spoiler in the subtitle: “It might help them.”
The key to that is the Bain team’s clear recommendation on whether AI should be explored as a replacement for writers, actors and visual artists. “Studios should spurn that path, but they can use technology to reduce budgets by pulling more of the production process up front and streamlining production and post-production,” they appeal to entertainment companies. “The savings will enable studios to make more quality content for less.”
The research paper later also spells things out further with an emphasis on the importance of creative people: “Generative AI shouldn’t replace our creatives — not if we want quality content.”
Importantly though, new technology, such as generative AI, game engines and LED walls, “can also improve content quality with new creative possibilities,” the experts highlight. And it can help with financial savings and time savings. To reap those benefits, Hollywood players should “pull more of the creative process up front and streamline production and post-production,” the report urges readers. “Think more usable minutes per day of filming and doing half your visual effects (VFX) in pre-production. That means movies hit theaters or streaming platforms months earlier, some with a 20 percent reduction in budget or more.”
It then details two suggestions for the approach that Hollywood should take, and it does so fairly provocatively.
First, “don’t replace creatives with robots.” Because emerging technologies provide opportunities and challenges, Bain recommends companies and executives “protect the creative engines that power your business.” The experts divide that into two focus areas: “Don’t lose the heart of your business,” and “pay for the IP you use,” because regulation and compensation models are evolving, and playing out differently by region, which “can create both ethical and legal risks.”
Second, “do use new technologies to elevate creative ideas.” After all, used “appropriately,” new technological tools “can improve content quality with new creative possibilities and more efficient production, without replacing creative talent.”
Or, as Magoon, London-based partner in Bain’s media & entertainment practice, tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview: “Some of these technology tools streamline the whole process, which is better from a creative perspective because you can finish your product earlier, freeing up time and money for more creative work, which is a good thing.”
Since no two productions are the same, the Bain report also outlines three scenarios for different types of films and the potential cost and time savings they could achieve based on where technology is today.
Scenario 1: a $50 million comedy movie. Despite limited visual effects, this production can “still benefit from using generative AI before filming begins, for example, to block out scenes within game engine software and in post-production, including automatic coloring and localization,” the Bain report highlights. And it estimates: “Virtual production can shave 5 percent-10 percent off time and cost,” or around four weeks and $3 million-$5 million.
Scenario 2: a $100 million family movie, possibly with computer-generated characters acted by people. Production starts with game engine-driven previsualization, which means spending “much more time and money in pre-production and in the VFX budget to create top-tier graphics,” the Bain researchers note. “Game engines can also be used during production to render virtual elements in real-time, allowing live iteration and significantly reducing post-production effort.”
The result? “The bigger investment up front and the ability to complete complex shots digitally significantly streamlines the production process and … could shave (up to) 20 percent off time and budget,” according to the Bain report. It mentions savings of about 18 weeks of work and $15 million-$20 million.
Scenario 3: a $200 million sci-fi blockbuster sequel. Such a project “lends itself perfectly” to the use of LED volumes and game engines, the Bain team highlights. The likes of The Mandalorian and 1899 have used such technology. “The time and budget required up-front to build the digital sets and characters are significant. But the investment is necessary.”
And the savings can be substantial, emphasizes the Bain report. “Developing a significant portion of the movie digitally, saving travel costs, and lighting the set through the LED wall can cut production weeks by half and reduce production day costs as much as two-thirds,” it concludes, estimating cost savings of 15 percent-20 percent. “Overall, based on today’s benchmarks, these technologies could save $30 million-$40 million and around 25 weeks of production.”
The Bain team also highlights that “our estimates on the potential of generative AI are conservative, based on today’s technology and our current benchmarks,” adding that generative AI’s evolution “should turbocharge these savings, especially once IP issues are solved and the tech is adapted more widely for production use.”
If approached “with care,” studios and the industry overall can reap both creative and financial benefits, conclude the Bain experts. “You can transform timelines, get more from budgets, and thereby unlock capacity for more creative endeavors,” their report highlights. “More efficient production means more money to support more stories and grow the core of your business.”