June 22, 2024
Horror movie 'Late Night With the Devil' faces boycott over use of AI

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Late Night With the Devil, a new retro indie horror film starring character actor David Dastmalchian as a 1970s talk show host who attempts to commune with the incarnation of evil on live TV, was one of the most buzzed about projects to emerge from last year’s South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, earning an impressive 100% “fresh” rating on the the review aggregator service Rotten Tomatoes, for a time.

But the film and its co-director brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes now find themselves at the center of a controversy on X and other social platforms over the usage of AI-generated imagery as retro TV graphics in the film, including one of a skeleton.

Another apparently AI-generated interstitial (in between) title card shows an owl.

As more people have begun seeing the film — it officially begins playing widely in theaters in the U.S. tomorrow, Friday March 22, 2024, though it has been viewable previously at SXSW earlier this month and in select locations — a number of users on X, Reddit, and movie review site Letterboxd have posted to express their disappointment at the AI generated imagery.

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Instead, they believe the filmmakers should have used more traditional technologies or contracted an artist, called the usage of AI “depressing” and saying it “broke” their “heart.”

Some, including AI-critic and visual artist Karla Ortiz — one of the leading plaintiffs in a separate, ongoing class-action copyright infringement lawsuit against AI art generators including Midjourney and Stability AI over training on her artwork and those of other artists without permission — called for the filmmakers and distributors to replace the AI generated imagery with more traditional human-made art.

Late Night With the Devil‘s co-director brotherly duo the Cairnes told Variety in an article published today that AI was used for only “three brief interstitials” in the film. As their statement reads:

“In conjunction with our amazing graphics and production design team, all of whom worked tirelessly to give this film the 70s aesthetic we had always imagined, we experimented with AI for three still images which we edited further and ultimately appear as very brief interstitials in the film. We feel incredibly fortunate to have had such a talented and passionate cast, crew and producing team go above and beyond to help bring this film to life. We can’t wait for everyone to see it for themselves this weekend.”

Nonetheless, some social media users have called for a boycott on the film to send a message to Hollywood and indie film creators that AI-generated graphics, even minimal ones, are not welcome in the art form.

Meanwhile, in response, other filmmakers and cinemaphiles have spoken out against the boycott, noting that indie filmmakers need all the support they can get from audiences in a time when major film studios are more risk-averse and selective about greenlighting new projects than in decades, and that the boycott is unlikely to do anything except raise attention to the film.

The controversy is an interesting flashpoint as AI continues to spread throughout mainstream Hollywood, music, entertainment, and the arts more generally, with everyone from the creators of the latest season of HBO’s mystery series True Detective to the artist formerly known as Kanye West embracing it.

The use of AI in film and TV production was one of the biggest sticking points during the actors’ and writers’ strike against Hollywood studios last year, which ultimately resolved with new contractual agreements indicating studios couldn’t mandate the use of AI, and that any AI used in productions would have to be at the discretion of directors and creatives. Yet in this case, that is exactly what happened — the filmmakers chose to use AI — and still faced a public backlash over it.

I myself spoke up in defense of the use of AI in Late Night With the Devil on X, and predicted that at the current pace of adoption, AI visuals are likely to be found in most films made in US within two years. VentureBeat regularly uses AI to generate imagery and some text for our publication.

After all, the controversies around its training data aside, AI art and video generation is a new tool that can reduce the cost of films and time spent creating assets — and filmmakers as a whole have never been too timid to embrace the latest and greatest media technology to push the boundaries of the art, progressing from black-and-white silent films to talkies, technicolor, practical effects and makeup, and lately to computer generated imagery, motion capture, and projection screens.

AI is yet another option for filmmakers, and has already been used in some other acclaimed, award-winning productions including the 2023 Academy Award Best Picture film Everything, Everywhere All At Once and The People’s Joker.

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