Hollywood’s Future Belongs to People—Not Machines

And it’s working. Aron Levitz, president of media and publishing platform Wattpad WEBTOON Studios, says access to that kind of data has empowered the platform’s writers and artists. “As a user, not only do you see how big the story is, how many subscribers it has, how many people have commented on it, how many people have liked it, you can see it in comparison to any other story on the platform,” Levitz says. “[Wattpad’s] creator portal can do an even deeper dive.”

But, Levitz stressed, none of that is a substitute for mentorship, which is often the next phase when a Wattpad WEBTOON writer has a hit. But for the artists on other platforms who lack mentors and support, their entire creative process has been unbundled in much the same way cable TV and newspapers were. From on-demand learning replacing universities to a broader array of platforms for increasingly specialized content, the entire mechanism of cultural production and consumption has itself been disassembled. So has the relationship between artists and their audiences.

But art is a team effort. One successful pitch for a book, game, film, album, restaurant, museum exhibit, or theme park ride can feed hundreds of people. The average television series employs teams of electricians, carpenters, and caterers, as well as writers, actors, and directors. Hollywood is far from perfect. It can be abusive, prejudiced, and wasteful. But entertainment remains an industry where people who don’t vote or worship together still work together to spin the yarns that become the social fabric.

Naturally, all this teamwork had to be shaken up.

The Great Disruption

Not that all of the disruption will come from algorithms. “I think the technology to replace physical production will accelerate as climate change makes physical production more unpredictable,” says Rogers. “We shot the first season of the Leverage reboot, Leverage: Redemption, in New Orleans at the height of Covid. We shut down for weather much more than we shut down for Covid. We had five hurricanes! And the Texas freeze! This year, we had to move all production indoors for two weeks, because there were Cat 4 thunderstorms that made it physically unsafe to operate machinery outside.”

This is not a new experience in film production. In 2014, crews on Fargo, The Revenant, and The Hateful Eight scrambled to find snow. When they couldn’t, they paid up to $100,000 a day for snow machines. These problems have only worsened. Location scouts can no longer promise green trees, white mountains, or even breathable air. So they’ve turned to virtual production technologies like The Volume. Nature itself is now a special effect.

Production designer Dave Blass, who most recently worked on Star Trek: Picard, says these technologies reverse the traditional production schedule by requiring effects to be produced months in advance. This limits improvisation and input from directors on set. Like the writers I spoke to, Blass sees fewer chances for crew members to spend time on a set and witness the situation on the ground. When the just-in-time manufacturing model is applied to film and TV, teams don’t learn from each other, or develop the shorthand necessary to work faster. He says Covid deepened this problem, because work-from-home policies kept team members out of sync.

Like Covid, climate change will force more artists away from traditional opportunities for community and inspiration. The pandemic turned drag Twitch streamer DEERE into a full-timer; as a makeup artist, her gigs vanished. So she focused on her passions: drag, horror games, and streaming.

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