Why AI script coverage is bad, and how to spot it

AI script coverage (that is, script coverage generated by AI or “artificial intelligence”) is starting to take hold of the screenwriting space, and it doesn’t bode well for screenwriters looking for honest, critical feedback on their screenplays.

When I started this script coverage company in 1999, AI was firmly in the realm of science fiction. Even Spielberg’s feature film A.I. wouldn’t be in theaters for another two years.

But now generative AI tools like ChatGPT are becoming part of day-to-day life for many screenwriters and filmmakers. A quick search provides a dozen or more online apps and services offering AI to write a script completely based on prompts (textual instructions) provided by you, the writer. While most screenwriters are likely repelled by the very thought of a computer app taking their place, a market clearly exists for these AI services—services which offer their AI screenwriting tools under the fig leaf of “freeing up your time to be more imaginative” and claim to be able to “enhance character arcs,” “write captivating dialogue,” and “overcome writer’s block” and other argle-bargle.

AI script coverage doesn’t come close to coverage by a real human

What’s more, script coverage companies—especially who offer script contests—are now starting to replace their human readers and AI script screeners with AI, offering not only AI-generated script synopses of their customers’ screenplays, but AI-generated script coverage critique and commentary as well.

And the quality of the AI-generated script coverage, or AI-generated screenplay, is dubious at best. But don’t take my word for it. Read what No Film School had to say about it here, or a specific example of an AI written script here, or a more broader take by the Guardian here.

How to tell if your script coverage is written by AI

Script coverage written by AI is fairly easy to spot. Here’s a few telltale signs:

Content is thin

1) It offers little or no actual critique of the work. For example, there is little or no commentary on the strength of the characters, or the dialogue, the plot, or other story elements.

Weird commentary

2) It contains non-sequitur commentary that has nothing to do with your script. For example, it may comment on your script through a “nanny-like” lens (e.g. you’ve written a script about drug use and the coverage contains the line, “Drug use is generally bad for one’s health and could lead to long term problems.” What?)

Demographics / marketing-heavy

3) It may tend to focus on the marketing aspects or demographics of the script. This is because it’s apparently easier right now for AI to sort a script into a genre and comment upon the economic viability of an overall genre than it is to compose meaningful specific critique of the story or other script elements.

Repeated text

4) It tends to repeat phrases or words or patterns. When feeding a screenplay into an AI to generate coverage, a human generally has to provide that AI with a text prompt to tell it what kind of composition he wants the AI to generate. Often that AI will rely too heavily on that text prompt and you’ll see that text prompt or similar word choices appear multiple times in the script coverage.

Sterile or awkward tone of voice

5) AI coverage reads as sterile or overly objective. Remember: when a human is writing a script coverage, she’s doing her best to be as objective as possible but there will always be biases and there will always be subjectivity in both content and tone. An AI coverage can’t fake either of those (at least not yet).

Not good with indirect comparisons

6) AI is not good at making critical points by drawing together two or more strangely connected story elements. For example, a script reader may write in his script coverage that the scene in your animated script that features a dog sled chase across the tundra has a similar vibe to the mine car chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. An AI, as of the time of this writing, will not be able to paint that picture in a way that provides you with a valuable script note.

While I agree that AI screenwriting will improve as the tech improves, I see that improvement only happening by the AI models being fed the material composed by real writers, in order to learn from that material.

AI script coverage is using your hard work to train their AI models

Many of these AI script coverage companies are likely using customer-submitted screenplays to “train” the company’s AI model. In other words, the screenplay you worked so hard to complete is getting fed into a company’s AI algorithm and being used to “teach” a company’s AI how to write screenplays or write coverage.

This is perhaps why so many of these AI screenwriting services and AI script coverage services can offer such low prices: (a) no humans are doing any actual work, so they have little or no labor costs (perhaps some small costs associated with paying for their AI software, either via API or development costs), and (b) they’re having you train their AI algorithm for them. So they’re incentivized to keep prices low, for now, until they’ve fed enough customers’ scripts into their AI to make it “smarter” and therefore more marketable.

Things to keep in mind when considering AI coverage and AI screenwriting apps

If you want an AI coverage company to critique your script, or if you don’t mind paying $50 to enter a script contest that promises to provide some AI feedback, or if you want to use AI to write your script, I can’t stop you, but I can give a few pointers to those who want to avoid paying for AI feedback or paying for lofty promises of screenwriting that AI simply is incapable of delivering, and will be incapable of delivering for many, many years to come.

Low prices? You’re paying in other ways.

1) Keep in mind that if the script coverage company or script contest is offering very low rates, that company is probably using AI. They’re making their “money” by feeding your script into their algorithm, meaning your script’s exact text and story and characters could provide the basis for someone else to write a script or script coverage later.

Charts and graphs? It’s not script coverage.

2) Remember that the purpose of script coverage is to convey to an agent, actor, or producer whether or not a script is worth spending the time reading to consider for development. If the script coverage is merely an AI spewing out box office numbers of previous films in a similar genre, or providing a graph of how the action rises and falls, or a graph of where the dialogue increases and decreases, it’s not a script coverage. It’s a textual analysis, not a creative commentary. Not script notes.

Producers can spot AI a mile away

3) Be aware that most agents, managers, producers, and their assistants can spot an AI-generated screenplay or AI-generated script coverage on page one or two. If you fail to mention your script is AI-assisted or AI-generated when you send it in, and if the person you’ve sent it to has a functioning brain, that person will probably assume you are a fraud. Even if you do tell them in advance that your script is written by AI, most people working in the film industry will probably not be willing to give you more than a, “Oh how interesting,” before ignoring it or at most giving it a quick curious glance.

When in doubt, ask if your script will be used for machine learning

4) Ask any script contest or coverage company whether or not your screenplay will be used for machine learning in anyway, or indeed, if your material is retained by the company at all after your service ends. If you’re comfortable with either, fine, but in my experience, most writers aren’t. Don’t be shy. Ask.

AI generated screenplays and coverage are not writing

Using AI even lightly (for idea generation, name generation, scenarios, etc.) is not something that’s going away, and is indeed part of the screenwriting landscape forevermore, and some might say that I can’t legitimately slam the use of AI any more than I can slam the use of a digital painting app or traditional screenwriting software.

But if you’re looking for feedback on your screenplay, just keep in mind that AI is being used by a lot of companies right now to generate that feedback, and that number of companies is only going to increase. You have every right to purchase AI-generated feedback, but you also have the right to know the difference between it and real, human script feedback. Be careful out there!

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