Forget about Tony Stark’s smarthouse in “Iron Man”: longtime Marvel director Joe Russo believes artificial intelligence will bring the stuff of comic book fantasy to life in a matter of years.
During a panel discussion with Epic Games CCO Donald Mustard moderated by Collider, Russo speculated that an entirely A.I.-made film is roughly “two years” away.
“The value of it is the democratization of storytelling. That’s incredibly valuable. That means that anyone in this room could tell a story, or make a game at scale, with the help of a photoreal engine or an engine and A.I. tools,” Russo said. “That, I think, is what excites me about it most.”
While Russo noted it’s a “mind-bending question” about how A.I. will impact Hollywood, the filmmaker noted that Gen Z is key to ushering in the A.I. age.
“We’re in a world where the entire generation has a facile expertise in it, and is also not afraid of it,” Russo said. “So potentially, what you could do with it is obviously use it to engineer storytelling and change storytelling. So you have a constantly evolving story, either in a game or in a movie, or a TV show. You could walk into your house and save the A.I. on your streaming platform. ‘Hey, I want a movie starring my photoreal avatar and Marilyn Monroe’s photoreal avatar. I want it to be a rom-com because I’ve had a rough day,’ and it renders a very competent story with dialogue that mimics your voice. It mimics your voice, and suddenly now you have a rom-com starring you that’s 90 minutes long. So you can curate your story specifically to you.”
Russo continued, “It will have to do with Gen Z, when they become the primary economic drivers of culture. You’ll start to see very radical shifts. They don’t have a movie star system, they don’t care, right? I can sit with my kids and say, ‘Brad Pitt is in X,’ and they’ll go, ‘Who?’ There’s a different assignment of value to how they spend their time, and to who tells them stories.”
Russo tied in Epic Games’ “Fortnite” property, using the video game as a potentially inspiring platform for film production.
“Say you want ‘Fortnite’ to be more of a horror game, right? Then you could ask the A.I. to ramp up the horror elements of it. So again, you could curate your experience,” Russo said. “I think that’s where it’s going. How quickly we get there, I don’t know, but that’s where it’s going.”
Russo, who noted he is “on the board of a few A.I. companies,” cited that there is a need for “A.I. companies that are developing A.I. to protect you from A.I.,” adding, “Unfortunately, we’re in that world, and you will need an A.I. in your life because whether we want to see it developed or not, people who are not friendly to us may develop it anyways. So, we’re going to be in that future. The question is, then, how we protect ourselves in that future?”
Russo shared that his company AGBO has been focused on “codifying the process” of filmmaking, specifically when it came to delivering Marvel films under deadline.
“Kevin [Feige] would poke his head in the door and go, ‘I need “Civil War” by a year and a half from now,’ and we’d go, ‘Well, we gotta come up with a story, give us 10 minutes,’ and then we would go to work,” Russo recalled. “We needed a very disciplined process where we would sit together around a table and figure out a story that would have global appeal and would continue the story of four other movies that were currently in production. So we needed a really focused process to do that, and it evolved with each film to the point where we were a highly efficient group at the end of ‘[Avengers:] Endgame.’ And so we thought, ‘Well, let’s just take this process forward and use it to develop other things.'”
As for the growing focus on franchises, Russo said, “We’re stuck in the sequel world because the cost is so prohibitive that it’s risk-averse to make preexisting content. And you need to get to a place where it can be high risk again, and that only happens when the costs come down,” such as with A.I.-generated properties.