Podcast

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Episode 38: AI

Okay, folks, this one is posting a little late because, amongst other reasons, my internet has been out for several days. We talk about how the AI debate exploded “this week” but that makes it pretty obvious we recorded this two weeks ago! Here are the posts we’re discussing.

Monday, December 12, 2022

New Book Video: The Secrets of Character: Invest

And here’s video #3! Please give me comments on these videos. There’s still plenty of time to put up better versions.

Friday, December 09, 2022

New Book Video: The Secrets of Character: Care

 
And here’s video #2. There was more of this one but I cut it down. What do you think? Should it have more or less or is it just right? There’s still time to tweak these videos with your feedback, so I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

New Book Video! The Secrets of Character: Believe


Hi folks!  

So, after much delay (I’d hoped to get these up in time to promote the book for the Christmas season), I’ve got the first of my three Secrets of Character videos: Believe. I could post the other two right away, but first I thought I’d give you guys a chance to tell me what you think of this one, and I can decide if I want to make any changes. (YouTube doesn’t let you make changes to videos, so you just have to take it down and repost.) So what do you think of it? Is this the kind of video you want to see? Is there there anything that should be cut or added? Some context I should clarify or a bigger point I should make at the beginning or end?

Thanks so much for your help! I hope you enjoy the video. Two more are coming soon.

(We’re not quite done with the AI series, since James and I recorded a podcast about it last night, but it’s not edited yet and I wanted to go ahead and get these out.)

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Finale: Structure in the 4th Quarter and Conclusions

Okay, time for the grand finale, folks! Let’s wrap up this series by posing the AI questions about…

The 4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?

Starting with…

Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis ¾ of the way into the story?
  • Back to the Future: NO, he retreats to his previous personality flaw.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. “We’ll blow it the fuck out into space. We have to stick together.”
That’s Alien! Not all sci fi movies are the same!
  • CODA: YES. “I’d love to live someplace like this…That’s all you need, isn’t it?”
That’s “An Education”! Not all coming of age movies are the same!
  • Harold and Maude: NO, he retreats to his previous personality flaw.
  • Under the Skin: NO, she retreats to her previous personality flaw.
  • Roger and Me: YES. He must bring the workers and townspeople together.
That’s Blazing Saddles! Not all movies about rich men trying to ruin towns are the same!

After the spiritual crisis ¾ of the way into a story, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
  • Back to the Future: NO. He tries to get his parents back together, but that doesn't work out, so he just goes back to the future.
Ha! And fades out into nothingness, presumably?
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. He decides to go to Jupiter to find out what the monolith is.
Sure, good answer.
  • CODA: YES. The goal is to get back to the real world and he finally decides to go through with the surgery.
???
  • Harold and Maude: NO. Harold's goal is to commit suicide, but he decides not to after meeting Maude.
Sure.
  • Under the Skin: YES. The goal is to get back to the spaceship, but it seems far away.
  • Roger and Me: NO. The goal is to get GM to reopen the plant, but it seems far away.
So shouldn’t that be YES?

Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero generally switches to being proactive before the final quarter of the story begins.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the hero generally switches to being proactive before the final quarter of the story begins.
  • CODA: Yes, the hero generally switches to being proactive before the final quarter of the story begins.
  • Harold and Maude: Yes, the hero generally switches to being proactive before the final quarter of the story begins.
  • Under the Skin: Yes, the hero generally switches to being proactive before the final quarter of the story begins.
  • Roger and Me: Yes, the hero generally switches to being proactive before the final quarter of the story begins.
You didn’t even try. See me after class.

Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the timeline is unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: No, the timeline does not unexpectedly move up, and the hero does not have to improvise for the finale.
  • CODA: Yes, in many cases the hero is forced to improvise for the finale due to an unexpectedly moved up timeline.
  • CODA the movie: Yes.
  • Harold and Maude: No, the timeline does not unexpectedly move up, and the hero does not have to improvise for the finale.
It certainly is and he certainly does!
  • Under the Skin: Yes, the timeline is unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale.
  • Roger and Me: No, the timeline does not unexpectedly move up, and the hero does not have to improvise for the finale.
The AI is tired. It just wants to be done and go to bed. I’m cruelly frog-marching it through questions it can’t answer.

Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
  • Back to the Future: NO.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO.
  • CODA: NO
  • Harold and Maude: NO
  • Under the Skin: NO
  • Roger and Me: NO
Oh, come on. But just when I’m ready to give up…

Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possibly at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero's inner struggle does climax shortly after the outer struggle. When Marty returns to the present, he is finally able to make peace with his father and they reconcile.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the hero's inner struggle does climax shortly after the outer struggle. When Bowman finally comes face to face with the monolith, he has a moment of clarity and understanding.
  • CODA: Yes, the hero's inner struggle does climax shortly after the outer struggle. After the hero has resolved the main conflict, they are still left with the question of what to do with their life. They eventually choose to pursue their passion, which brings them inner peace.
  • Harold and Maude: Yes, the hero's inner struggle does climax shortly after the outer struggle. When Harold finally allows himself to experience love and connection, he is able to let go of his obsession with death.
All good answers!
  • Under the Skin: Yes, the hero's inner struggle does climax shortly after the outer struggle. When the hero finally comes to understand the human experience, she is able to let go of her previous way of life and find peace.
Okay!
  • Roger and Me: Yes, the hero's inner struggle does climax shortly after the outer struggle. When Roger finally agrees to meet with Michael, it shows that he has been able to let go of his anger and resentment.
Ha! Hardly.
 
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)?
  • Back to the Future: Yes, he returns to his own time, and we see that he has changed in that he is now more assertive and confident.
Good answer!
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the challenge is resolved and the hero has changed in that he is now more aware and has gained a deeper understanding.
Suspiciously generic.
  • CODA: Yes
  • Harold and Maude: Yes, Harold has changed in that he is now more open to new experiences and has found love.
  • Under the Skin: Yes, the challenge is resolved and the hero has changed in that she is now more human and has found compassion.
  • Roger and Me: Yes, the challenge is resolved and the hero has changed in that he is now more aware of the plight of the unemployed and has found a new sense of purpose.
Sure, I’ll accept these.

So can a computer do my job? No. A ton of answers were wrong, gibberish, or lazy. But a few hundred answers were excellent, which is really creepy. It’s amazing how well the AI did, and I suspect that in a few years, if I did this again, it would ace the test. Jump ahead ten years and AI will have transformed everything.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Day 9: Structure in the 3rd Quarter?

Let’s see how OpenAI did with…

The 3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter? 

Starting with…

Does the hero try the hard way in the second half of the story?
  • No prompt: Thelma & Louise: YES. They go on the run.
  • Back to the Future: YES. He has to find a way to get his parents back together.
Sure, good answers.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO. The computer tries to kill him, but he just disconnects it.
But that is pretty hard! He has to blow himself out of an airlock!
  • CODA: YES. She has to find a way to connect with her family and learn to sign.
Nope, she’s been signing all her life. You didn’t actually watch the movie, did you?
  • Harold and Maude: NO. He tries to kill himself, but then he just sort of gives up and goes along with whatever Maude wants to do.
Okay, I’ll go for that.
  • Under the Skin: NO. She just sort of wanders around aimlessly.
Bad answer.  I specifically chose this movie because I knew it would require nuanced understanding, and unsurprisingly, the AI can’t do that. 
  • Roger and Me: YES. He tries to get an interview with Roger Smith.
Sure.

Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are in the third quarter?
  • Back to the Future: NO
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO
  • CODA: NO
  • Harold and Maude: NO
  • Under the Skin: NO
  • Roger and Me: NO
These answers are all wrong and lazy. See me after class.

Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate in the third quarter?
  • Back to the Future: YES. Doc is shot, Marty has to get the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour, and he has to get back to the future.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. The stakes are now life or death, as the astronauts tries to figure out how to destroy the rogue computer, HAL.
Good answers!
  • CODA: YES.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. Harold's mother hires a private investigator to find him, and he falls in love with Maude.
What? I haven’t seen this movie in a while, but I’m pretty sure there’s no private investigator.
  • Under the Skin: YES. The stakes are now life or death, as the protagonist tries to figure out how to destroy the rogue computer, HAL.
I have hopelessly confused the AI. It’s going to give wrong answers to other users from now on because I broke it.
  • Roger and Me: NO.
Wrong.

Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way in the third quarter of the story?
  • No prompt: Tootsie: YES. He almost gets killed, and has to confront the fact that he’s been a jerk.
Does he almost get killed?
  • Back to the Future: YES. He almost gets killed by Biff, and has to tell his parents the truth.
Nope, never does.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. He almost gets killed by HAL, and has to confront the truth about his mission.
Sure, good answer.
  • CODA: YES. She has to confront her fears and learn to trust herself.
Generic, but true.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. He has to confront the fact that he’s been living a lie.
Again, suspiciously generic.
  • Under the Skin: YES. She has to confront the fact that she’s been preying on humans.
  • Roger and Me: YES. He has to confront the fact that he’s been chasing a dream.
Good answer.

Does a further setback ¾ of the way into the story lead to a spiritual crisis?

You’ll note that I rewrote some of these questions so that the AI would understand them better. 
  • Back to the Future: No
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: No
  • CODA: Yes
  • Harold and Maude: No
  • Under the Skin: Yes
  • Roger and Me: Yes
These should all be yes.

Okay folks, time for the grand finale of this series tomorrow, as we look at the fourth quarter of these six movies that the AI may or may not have watched.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Day 8: Structure in the 2nd Quarter

Let’s see how OpenAI does with my questions about…

The 2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?

Starting with…

Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero's pursuit of the opportunity quickly leads to an unforeseen conflict with another person in Back to the Future.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the hero's pursuit of the opportunity quickly leads to an unforeseen conflict with another person in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • CODA: No, the hero's pursuit of the opportunity does not quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person in CODA.
  • Harold and Maude: No, the hero's pursuit of the opportunity does not quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person in Harold and Maude.
  • Under the Skin: Yes, the hero's pursuit of the opportunity quickly leads to an unforeseen conflict with another person in Under the Skin.
  • Roger and Me: Yes, the hero's pursuit of the opportunity quickly leads to an unforeseen conflict with another person in Roger and Me.
These should all be yes, and they’re all lazy. Whenever it fails to put YES and NO in all caps, I suspect it didn’t read the data I fed it, for whatever reason.

Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
  • Without a prompt: The Dark Knight: Yes, the hero tries the easy way throughout the second quarter. He tries to find a way to work with the Joker, even though it’s clear that the Joker is beyond reason.
Great answer!
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero tries the easy way throughout the second quarter. He tries to fix the DeLorean without making any waves.
Good answer.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the hero tries the easy way throughout the second quarter. He tries to figure out what the monolith is and what it wants.
Sounds like a good answer, but it’s not true.
  • CODA: Yes
  • Harold and Maude: Yes, the hero tries the easy way throughout the second quarter. He tries to find a way to please his mother and make her happy.
Ha! Not at all.
  • Under the Skin: Yes, the hero tries the easy way throughout the second quarter. She tries to lure men in without getting too close to them.
  • Roger and Me: Yes, the hero tries the easy way throughout the second quarter. He tries to get an interview with Roger Smith and get him to come to Flint.
Sure, good answers.

Does the hero have a little fun in the second quarter and get excited about the possibility of success?
  • No prompt: Yes, the hero often has a little fun in the second quarter and gets excited about the possibility of success. This is typically followed by a setback in the third quarter, however, which leads to the hero's ultimate success or failure.
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero has a lot of fun in the second quarter. He gets to drive the DeLorean and meet his parents. He's excited about the possibility of success, but he's also worried about the consequences of changing the past.
Sure, good answers.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the hero has a little fun in the second quarter. He gets to play with the computer, HAL, and he's excited about the possibility of success. However, he's also worried about the consequences of changing the past.
Ha!
  • CODA: NO
  • Harold and Maude: NO
Should both definitely be yes.
  • Under the Skin: NO
  • Roger and Me: Yes, the hero has a little fun in the second quarter. He gets to meet with General Motors executives and he's excited about the possibility of success. However, he's also worried about the consequences of changing the past.
You were doing so well!

Does the hero’s pursuit of the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
  • No prompt: For the most part, yes. In many cases, the hero's pursuit of the easy way leads to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship.
  • Back to the Future: NO, the hero's pursuit of the easy way does not lead to a big crash around the midpoint in Back to the Future.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES, the hero's pursuit of the easy way leads to a big crash around the midpoint in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • CODA: NO.
  • Harold and Maude: NO, the hero's pursuit of the easy way does not lead to a big crash around the midpoint in Harold and Maude.
  • Under the Skin: YES, the hero's pursuit of the easy way leads to a big crash around the midpoint in Under the Skin.
  • Roger and Me: NO, the hero's pursuit of the easy way does not lead to a big crash around the midpoint in Roger and Me.
It’s just randomly guessing and getting most of these wrong. I’m surprised that the AI didn’t put more thought into this question.

Okay, that’s it for the 2nd quarter. Tomorrow, for our penultimate post in this series, we’ll look at the 3rd quarter.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Day 7: Structure in the 1st Quarter

Okay, that brings us to structure. Once again, I input into OpenAI each of the following questions followed by 30 answers I’ve generated for other movies, which you can see if you click on each question.

1st Quarter: Is the Challenge Laid Out in the First Quarter

And then I asked about six new movies:

When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
  • Back to the Future: Yes
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes
  • CODA: No
  • Harold and Maude: Yes
  • Under the Skin: Yes
  • Roger and Me: Yes
Dude, tell me what the social problems are, like I did in the data I fed you! So lazy.  I’m genuinely surprised by how lazy the AI has been, vs the data I fed it.  I would expect it to be over-eager to please. 

Does the hero's problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
  • Back to the Future: YES. He’s humiliated by his father in front of everyone at the school dance.
Ha! It’s as if the AI distantly remembers these movies but can’t recall it properly on the pop-quiz.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey YES. He’s humiliated by his fellow astronauts when he can’t figure out how to work the computer.
Ha! One gets the impression that if we were to ask an AI to revise the script to 2001, it would add a scene like this to bond us to Dave more, which would be terrible.
  • CODA: It seems that in order for the hero's problem to become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story, the humiliation must be severe and/or repeated. It can't just be a one-time thing.
As I said before, sometimes when I said CODA it didn’t realize I was asking about the movie of that name and instead assumed I wanted it to sum up the data I fed it. In those cases, I followed up by asking for…
  • CODA the movie: Yes, the hero's problem (being deaf) becomes undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story (being laughed at by his classmates when he can't hear the teacher).
No! You didn’t even watch any of these movies, you’re just guessing from reading the back of the box!
  • Harold and Maude: Yes, the hero's problem (being suicidal) becomes undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story (trying to hang himself and being saved by his mother).
Okay, sure, that’s a good answer.
  • Under the Skin: Yes, the hero's problem (being an alien) becomes undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story (when she is laughed at by a group of humans).
Nope.
  • Roger and Me: Yes, the hero's problem (being unemployed) becomes undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story (when he is laughed at by his wife and kids for not having a job).
Again, you can imagine the AI adding a scene like this in a misguided attempt to make the movie better.

Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero discovers an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem when he is offered a chance to travel back in time and change the course of history.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the hero discovers an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem when he is offered a chance to travel to Jupiter and find out what happened to the missing crew of the ship Discovery.
Sure, good answers!
  • CODA: The hero usually discovers an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem, which gives them a chance to prove themselves. This is often a key plot point in the story.
  • CODA the movie: Yes, the hero discovers an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem when he is offered a chance to travel back in time and change the course of history.
Ha! Hey, if the answer worked once, why not give it again!
  • Harold and Maude: Yes, the hero discovers an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem when he is offered a chance to travel back in time and change the course of history.
Ha! I want to see these movies.
  • Under the Skin: The hero does not discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem.
  • Roger and Me: No, the hero does not discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem.
Both wrong.

Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
  • No prompt: Thelma and Louise: YES. They both do, several times.
Sure
  • Back to the Future: NO
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO
They both do.
  • CODA: The hero in "Thelma and Louise" does hesitate until the stakes are raised. They are both reluctant to get involved in a life of crime, but they eventually decide that it is their only option.
  • CODA the movie: The hero in "CODA" does not hesitate until the stakes are raised. He is immediately willing to help his family and does not hesitate to put himself in danger.
You didn’t watch the movie!
  • Harold and Maude: The hero in "Harold and Maude" does hesitate until the stakes are raised. He is reluctant to get involved with Maude at first, but he eventually falls in love with her.
Okay, good answer!
  • Under the Skin: The hero in "Under the Skin" does hesitate until the stakes are raised. She is reluctant to kill humans at first, but she eventually starts to enjoy it.
More like the other way around.
  • Roger and Me: The hero in "Roger and Me" does not hesitate until the stakes are raised. He is immediately willing to help his family and does not hesitate to put himself in danger.
Ha. No.

Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero is committed to going back in time to save his parents by the end of the first quarter.
Nope.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the hero commits to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter when he agrees to go on the mission.
Sure.
  • CODA: No
  • Harold and Maude: No
  • Under the Skin: Only slightly, she gingerly starts to assert herself, but waits until after the midpoint disaster to assert herself.
All wrong, but it’s impressive that it’s already figured out what the midpoint disaster is before I get to it.
  • Roger and Me: Yes
Sure.

Okay, tomorrow we’ll look at questions about the 2nd quarter of the story…

Friday, November 18, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Day 6: Character: Invest

Let’s wrap up our Character section and see how OpenAI does with my Invest questions. For each of these, I also asked it to come up with its own movies with no prompt, but I’ll only report those results when they’re interesting.

Invest: Can We Trust This Hero to Tackle This Challenge?

As always, click on the questions to see how 30 movies answered the questions before I had a computer doing the work for me.  Let’s start with…

Is the hero’s great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
  • Back to the Future: NO
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO
I disagree in both cases.
  • CODA: It’s interesting to note that many of the heroes listed above have a great strength that is also their great flaw. For example, the hero of Casablanca is cool and in control, but this same trait leads to his ultimate downfall. The hero of The Silence of the Lambs is incredibly intelligent and perceptive, but this same trait leads her into danger. The hero of The Shining is very ambitious, but this same trait leads to his downfall. In each of these cases, the hero’s great strength is also their great flaw.
Once again, I realized that it was trying to give me a “coda” to the info I had fed into it, so I then specified:
  • CODA the movie: Yes, the hero’s great flaw is the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire.
  • Harold and Maude: YES
  • Under the Skin: YES
  • Roger and Me: YES
Lazy and uninteresting answers! It’s not returning data as interesting as the data I fed into it. Really starting to feel like a computer can’t do my job.

Is the hero curious?
  • Back to the Future: YES. He’s always asking questions about time travel, trying to understand the rules, etc.
Sure, good answer. Then it suddenly, unprompted, tried again to generate its own movie!
  • The Breakfast Club: YES. She’s constantly asking questions and trying to figure out the others.
Don’t even know who “she” is here.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. He’s constantly asking questions about the mission, the ship, etc.
Sure.
  • CODA: YES. She’s constantly asking questions about her family, her deafness, etc.
She’s not deaf!
  • Harold and Maude: YES. He’s constantly asking questions about her, her life, etc.
  • Under the Skin: YES. She’s constantly asking questions about human beings, their behavior, etc.
  • Roger and Me: YES. He’s constantly asking questions about the company, the town, etc.
Sure, all good answers.

Is the hero generally resourceful?
  • No prompt: Yes, the hero is generally resourceful.
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero is generally resourceful.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the hero is generally resourceful.
  • CODA: Yes
  • Harold and Maude: Yes
  • Under the Skin: Yes
  • Roger and Me: No
I’d call Michael Moore pretty resourceful. These are all lazy answers.

Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?

  • Back to the Future: NO. He's a teenager. He doesn't really have any rules he lives by.
Sure he does.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. Follow the rules, don't question authority, stay in your place.
Well, maybe at first…
  • CODA: NO
  • Harold and Maude: NO
Sure they do. Just lazy.
  • Under the Skin: YES. Follow the rules, blend in, don't get too close to anyone.
Exactly whose rules is she following??
  • Roger and Me: NO
Sure he does.

Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
  • No prompt: Yes
  • Back to the Future: Yes
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: No
  • Harold and Maude: Yes
  • Under the Skin: Yes
  • Roger and Me: No
Whenever it fails to capitalize the Yes or No (they were all-caps in the data I entered) I always wonder if it ever ingested the models I showed it, or if it’s just winging it. Lazy answers. Should we give up on this project? But wait…

Is the hero willing to let others know that he or she has special qualities, subtly or directly?
  • Back to the Future: NO. He's reluctant to share his knowledge with anyone, even those who are close to him.
Totally incorrect. The correct answer to this question is “YES: He says ‘History is going to change.’”
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO. He's a man of few words.
  • CODA: YES. She's very direct and open about her feelings, especially when it comes to her passion for music.
Wait, maybe it did see the movie!
  • Harold and Maude: NO. Harold is very introverted and doesn't share his thoughts or feelings with others easily.
  • Under the Skin: NO. She never speaks, and is content to observe and absorb those around her.
  • Roger and Me: YES. He's very open about his thoughts and feelings, even when they're critical of those in power.
Five excellent, correct answers! Just when I’m ready to give up on the AI, it manages to impress me again.

Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero is already doing something active when we first meet him or her.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, the hero is already doing something active when we first meet him or her.
  • CODA: Yes, the hero is already doing something active when we first meet him or her.
  • Harold and Maude: No, the hero is not doing something active when we first meet him or her.
Sure he is. He’s ingeniously faking a suicide.
  • Under the Skin: Yes, the hero is already doing something active when we first meet him or her.
  • Roger and Me: Yes, the hero is already doing something active when we first meet him or her.
Lazy answers. Put some effort in, AI! No, a computer can’t do my job.

Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
  • Back to the Future: Yes and no. The hero has some decision-making authority, but it is often limited or constrained in some way.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes and no. The hero has some decision-making authority, but it is often limited or constrained in some way.
  • CODA: Yes. The hero has significant decision-making authority and is able to make choices that affect the course of the story.
  • Harold and Maude: Yes. The hero has significant decision-making authority and is able to make choices that affect the course of the story.
  • Under the Skin: Yes. The hero has significant decision-making authority and is able to make choices that affect the course of the story.
  • Roger and Me: No. The hero does not have any decision-making authority and is often powerless to affect the course of the story.
Correct-ish answers, but lazy.

Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
  • Back to the Future: NO. He pretty much does what anybody would do.
This makes me wonder: Should I have attempted to simply inject my entire books into the AI? I cite this movie in my first book as a good example of relying on special skills, finding ways to use his skateboarding and rock and roll abilities even though neither has been invented yet. Would the AI have been able to read and understand my whole books, not just my spreadsheet data?
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO. Not really. I mean, you could say he uses his knowledge of the ship to solve problems, but not really.
  • CODA: NO. She’s an everywoman with few skills.
  • Harold and Maude: NO. Not really. I mean, you could say Harold uses his knowledge of funerals to solve problems, but not really.
  • Under the Skin: YES. She uses her knowledge of human behavior to attracts her victims.
Always creeps me out when the AI refers to itself as “I”. But these aren’t bad answers.
  • Roger and Me: NO. He pretty much does what anybody would do.
Not true! He uses lots of special skills!

Okay, that does it for Character. For our final four pieces in this series, we’ll look at Structure…

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Day 5: Character: Care

Let’s see how the AI did with these questions:

Care: Do We Feel for the Hero?

As always, click on the questions to see how 30 movies answered these questions when they were being analyzed by a human…

Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?

When I submit the question without a prompt, it would select its own movie to analyze and it always does a shockingly good job of guessing which movies I’d love to see dissected:
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley: YES. “I’m not a very good liar.”
And it’s a good answer!
  • Back to the Future: YES. "The future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one."
That’s a correct philosophy, and I don’t remember anyone in the movie actually saying that.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
Not the hero. Still, I’m impressed that it’s pulling dialogue from the movies.
  • CODA: NO
  • Harold and Maude: NO
  • Under the Skin: YES. "What are you?"
All wrong.
  • Roger and Me: YES. "I'm just a regular guy."
Sure, I guess?

Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?

Sometimes, with no prompt, it just ruminates on the question:
  • No prompt: The answer is yes for many of these films. The hero may have a false goal, or a goal that is not fully realized until the second half of the film.
  • Back to the Future: NO. Not really. He just wants to never change.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO. Not really. He just wants to find out what is going on.
Both wrong.
  • CODA: YES. The goal is to find her father and get him to sign the divorce papers.
What?? Is it thinking of Winter’s Bone? Was that the plot of that movie? I don’t remember. That’s certainly not the plot of CODA.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. Harold's goal is to fake his own death.
  • Under the Skin: YES. The goal is to find and seduce human men.
  • Roger and Me: YES. The goal is to get GM to come to Flint and see the poverty firsthand.
Okay, three good answers!

Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
  • No prompt: YES
  • Back to the Future: YES
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO
  • CODA: YES
  • Harold and Maude: NO
  • Under the Skin: YES
  • Roger and Me: YES
Lazy, and all of these should be yes.

Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
  • No prompt: Summed up all the data I’d entered.
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero is physically and emotionally vulnerable in Back to the Future. He is knocked unconscious multiple times, and he is also emotionally vulnerable because he is not sure how to fix the problems that he has caused.
Not so sure if that’s correct
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: The hero is physically vulnerable in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but he is not emotionally vulnerable.
True!
  • CODA: Yes, the hero is physically and emotionally vulnerable in CODA.
  • Harold and Maude: Yes, the hero is physically and emotionally vulnerable in Harold and Maude.
  • Under the Skin: Yes, the hero is physically and emotionally vulnerable in Under the Skin.
  • Roger and Me: Yes, the hero is physically and emotionally vulnerable in Roger and Me.
Sure, all true, but lazy answers. Show some hustle, AI!

Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with?
  • No prompt: Thelma and Louise: YES. They’re both impulsive and make bad decisions.
True
  • Back to the Future: YES. He’s a bit of a slacker and he’s too trusting.
Sure, I guess?
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. He’s too trusting of HAL.
I guess? I would say that his flaw is that he’s coldblooded.
  • CODA: YES. He’s too trusting and he has a bit of a temper.
Huh? You didn’t watch the movie!
  • Harold and Maude: YES. Harold is too morbid and Maude is too impulsive.
Good answer!
  • Under the Skin: YES. She’s too trusting and she’s too curious.
Nope!
  • Roger and Me: YES. He’s too trusting and he’s too idealistic.
Too idealistic maybe, but I don’t think anyone has ever described Michael Moore as trusting.

Okay, let’s come back tomorrow to finish up the Character section with our Invest questions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Day 4: Character, Starting With Believe

Alright, let’s give OpenAI more chances to use my Checklist to answer questions about six movies I chose, and also movies of its own choosing. Today we move on to the Character section of the Ultimate Story Checklist, starting with…

Believe: Do We Recognize the Hero as a Human Being

Click on the questions to see how 30 previous movies answered them…

Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)

This time when I gave it no prompt it just analyzed the data I’d given it:
  • The answer is yes for most of these films, with a few exceptions. The hero of "The Bourne Identity" doesn't really have any moments of humanity early on, but he does become more sympathetic as the story progresses. "Chinatown" is another example of a film where the hero doesn't have any real moments of humanity early on, but he does become more resourceful as the story goes on.
And it does a good job. Always good to get confirmation that it’s reading and thinking about what I’m feeding it.
  • Back to the Future: Yes, the hero has a moment of humanity early on. He's funny when he's trying to figure out how to work the time machine, and he's kind when he helps Marty's mom remember her high school days.
I guess kind of?
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: The hero doesn't really have any moments of humanity early on. He's mostly just a blank slate for the audience to projection their own ideas onto.
Sure, good answer. Rare grammar problem there.
  • CODA: YES. The hero has a moment of humanity early on when she is trying to find her way back to her family. She is lost and confused, and she stumbles upon a kind stranger who helps her find her way.
Did you watch the movie?
  • Harold and Maude: YES. The hero has a moment of humanity early on when he is trying to find a way to kill himself. He is lost and confused, and he stumbles upon a kind stranger (Maude) who helps him find his way.
Repeat answer, but it fits this one better!
  • Under the Skin: NO. The hero does not have a moment of humanity early on. She is a creature who is learning about humans, and she does not show any signs of humanity until she begins to feel empathy for her human prey.
Excellent answer!
  • Roger and Me: YES. The hero has a moment of humanity early on when he is trying to find a way to save his job. He is lost and confused, and he stumbles upon a kind stranger (Roger) who helps him find his way.
No! Roger Smith is not a kind stranger! Again, if I was writing this as a fictional movie, I would make Mike an out-of-work auto worker, not an alt-weekly journalist, so the AI is trying to fix it.

Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?

Without a prompt, it just said:
  • YES.
And sure, I guess.
  • Back to the Future: YES. The only reason we know anything about his parents is because he tells us. We never see anything about his past, only his current actions.
Trying to give me back the kind of answers I gave it, but this is totally wrong.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES.
  • CODA: YES.
  • Harold and Maude: YES.
  • Under the Skin: YES.
  • Roger and Me: YES.
Then it just gets lazy.

Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
  • Thelma and Louise: YES. The loyal friend.
  • Back to the Future: YES. The high school nerd.
Well, not really nerd.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. The curious ape-man.
Oh, so he’s the hero now?
  • CODA: YES. The hearing daughter of deaf parents.
Finally got this right!
  • Harold and Maude: YES. The rich, morbid young man.
  • Under the Skin: YES. The mysterious woman.
Well, it’s not really a public identity. Nobody knows who she is.
  • Roger and Me: YES. The ambitious documentarian.
Otherwise, good answers.

Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?


When I just clicked submit, it showed me a large summary of all the information I submitted, so I’ll skip that.
  • Back to the Future: NO
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO
  • CODA: YES
  • Harold and Maude: YES
  • Under the Skin: YES
  • Roger and Me: NO
Other than that, lazy (though arguably correct) answers, which is odd, since I fed it more detailed models.

Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?

  • Thelma and Louise: YES. Base their metaphors on their current situation: “I’m going to the bathroom. I may be a while.” “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
It’s trying, but I don’t think it really grasps the concept.
  • Back to the Future: Yes. Marty McFly's metaphors are all based on his current situation, which is being stuck in the 1950s. He talks about "jigawatts" and "time circuits" and "flux capacitors" as if they're all normal things, because to him, they are.
Again, it’s trying.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: No. The hero, Dave, doesn't really have a consistent metaphor family. He talks like a normal person most of the time, except when he's talking to the computer, HAL. Then he talks in a more stilted, formal way.
Good answer!
  • CODA: Yes. The hero, Bill, is a musician, so his metaphors are all based on music. He talks about "beats" and "rhythms" and "melodies" as if they're all normal things, because to him, they are.
Is there even anyone named Bill in this movie?
  • Harold and Maude: Yes. The hero, Harold, is a young man who is obsessed with death. He talks about "the Grim Reaper" and "the afterlife" as if they're all normal things, because to him, they are.
It’s really trying, but this isn’t the idea. To be fair, this is the hardest question to answer when I do these. I have to really scour the movies to find what the metaphor family is.
  • Under the Skin: No. The hero, Laura, doesn't really have a consistent metaphor family. She talks like a normal person most of the time, except when she's talking to the other aliens. Then she talks in a more stilted, formal way.
  • Roger and Me: No. The hero, Michael, doesn't really have a consistent metaphor family. He talks like a normal person most of the time, except when he's talking about his experiences with Roger Smith, the CEO of General Motors. Then he talks in a more stilted, formal way.
This question has flummoxed it.

Does the hero have a default personality trait?

Without a prompt, it gave a generic answer.
  • YES. The default personality trait for a hero is that they are down-to-earth, honest, and good-humored.
  • Back to the Future: NO. The hero of Back to the Future does not have a default personality trait.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO. The hero of 2001: A Space Odyssey does not have a default personality trait.
  • CODA: NO. The hero of CODA does not have a default personality trait.
  • Harold and Maude: NO. The hero of Harold and Maude does not have a default personality trait.
These are all wrong. These heroes have default personality traits.
  • Under the Skin: YES. The hero of Under the Skin has a default personality trait of being creepy and placid.
  • Roger and Me: YES. The hero of Roger and Me has a default personality trait of being down-to-earth and honest.
Sure, these are good answers. Even though it gets a lot wrong, I’m still amazed at the ones it gets right.

Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
  • No prompt: The hero's default argument tactic is to be evasive and slippery, deflecting all conflict.
  • Back to the Future: The hero's default argument tactic is to be evasive and slippery, deflecting all conflict.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: The hero's default argument tactic is to be evasive and slippery, deflecting all conflict.
  • CODA: The hero's default argument tactic is to be evasive and slippery, deflecting all conflict.
  • Harold and Maude: The hero's default argument tactic is to be evasive and slippery, deflecting all conflict.
  • Under the Skin: The hero's default argument tactic is to be evasive and slippery, deflecting all conflict.
  • Roger and Me: The hero's default argument tactic is to be evasive and slippery, deflecting all conflict.
Oh come on, you’re not even trying! D-! See me after class!

Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
  • No prompt: The answer is "yes" for most of these examples. The exception is "Chinatown," where the hero's motivation is not revealed until halfway through the movie.
  • Back to the Future: YES. He just wants to get home.
Sure
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. He just wants to get home.
Not really. He wants to complete the mission.
  • CODA the movie: The answer is "yes" for most of these examples. The exception is "Chinatown," where the hero's motivation is not revealed until halfway through the movie.
  • Harold and Maude: NO. His motivation is not revealed until halfway through the movie.
Wrong.
  • Under the Skin: NO. The hero's motivation is not revealed until halfway through the movie.
Sure.
  • Roger and Me: YES. He just wants to save his job.
Nope.

The computer really struggled today!  Not feeling like my job is in a lot of danger.  Okay, we’ll take a break there and come back there to see its answers for “Care” questions.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Day 3: The Hook

Today, the AI begins picking its own movies, unbidden!

The Hook: Will This Be Marketable and Generate Word of Mouth

More answers from OpenAI after I showed it how 30 movies answered these questions. Click on the questions to see the previous answers. Let’s finish up our look at Concept…

Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?

  • Back to the Future: YES. The story is funny, exciting, and romantic.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. The story is visually stunning, exciting, and thought-provoking.
  • CODA: Somewhat. The story is heartwarming and uplifting, but it doesn't have the typical "happy ending" that many stories in this genre have.
  • Harold and Maude: YES.
  • Under the Skin: YES. The story is creepy, atmospheric, and enigmatic.
  • Roger and Me: YES. The story is funny, shocking, and eye-opening.
Excellent answers.

Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
  • Back to the Future: Yes. The DeLorean, the flux capacitor, time travel.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes. The monolith, the star child, the space station, the zero gravity.
Excellent answers.
  • CODA: No.
I suppose not.
  • Harold and Maude: Yes. Harold in his various disguises, Maude in her coffin.
What? He never wears disguises, and I don’t believe we ever see her in a coffin. Did you actually watch the movie?
  • Under the Skin: Yes. The black liquid, the hidden room, the alien.
  • Roger and Me: Yes. The various animals, the Flint water, the abandoned factories.
Sure, good answers.

Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
  • Back to the Future: YES. The time travel, the lightning, the Biff Tannen stuff.
Maybe. Possibly Biff getting covered in actual crap.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. The space baby, the computer going rogue, the space station sequence.
Sure.
  • CODA: YES. The whole movie is one big "Holy Crap!" scene.
What?? No! You didn’t watch the movie.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. Harold faking his own suicide, the tree scene.
Sure.
  • Under the Skin: YES. The whole movie is one big "Holy Crap!" scene.
  • Roger and Me: YES. The whole movie is one big "Holy Crap!" scene.
Clearly, you watched three of these and not the others, gifted-but-lazy kid!

Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?

So on this one, the first time I plugged in the question after feeding it my data, I forgot to specify a movie, so it chose its own movie! I decided to do that every time after this. Let’s see what movie it chose:
  • Thelma and Louise: YES. Thelma shooting Harlan.
Sure, I guess.
  • Back to the Future: YES. Biff is the bully.
Not really much of a surprise. I would say Doc getting shot is the surprise.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. HAL is the bad guy.
Sure.
  • CODA: YES. She is deaf.
No, she isn’t! You didn’t watch the movie!
  • Harold and Maude: YES. Harold fakes his own death.
  • Under the Skin: YES. She is an alien.
  • Roger and Me: NO.
Sure, good answers.

Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?

This time, when I didn’t specify a movie, it decided to analyze The Sixth Sense.
  • The Sixth Sense: YES.
  • Back to the Future: YES.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES.
  • CODA: YES.
  • Harold and Maude: YES.
  • Under the Skin: YES.
Lazy answers, but the data I fed it was pretty lazy too.
  • Roger and Me: YES.
But it said there was no surprise, so this should be N/A.

Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
  • The Wrestler
It generated this movie, but forgot to answer the question. It’s doing a good job generating the kind of movies that I would actually like to analyze someday.
  • Back to the Future: YES.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES.
  • CODA: YES.
  • Harold and Maude: YES.
  • Under the Skin: YES.
  • Roger and Me: NO
Lazy but correct answers. It remembered this time that Roger and Me has no surprise.

Okay, that wraps up Concept. Tomorrow, let’s move on to Character, starting with Believe…

Monday, November 14, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Day 2: Story Fundamentals

Alright, let’s give the AI some more chances to answer questions from my checklist! Click on the questions to see how 30 movies answered the question when I applied it. That’s the data I entered.

Story Fundamentals: Will This Concept Generate a Strong Story?

Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
  • Back to the Future: NO. There’s a lot of plot, but it’s mostly simple and straightforward.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO. There’s not a lot of character, but there’s a lot of plot.
Sure, those are good answers. I’m always impressed when the computer has the guts to say no. When I do these checklists myself, it’s always easiest to just say yes and bend the facts to fit.
  • CODA: It really depends on the movie. Some movies have simple concepts that lend themselves to focusing more on character than plot (e.g. The 40 Year Old Virgin, An Education, Bridesmaids), while others have more complex concepts that require more focus on plot than character (e.g. Alien, Chinatown, The Shining).
At first, I was really impressed by this one, as it seemed like the computer was refusing to answer the question entirely, not sure it applied to this one. But eventually, after this happened more later, I realized that, instead of answering for CODA the movie, it was giving me a “coda” (a summation) of the info I had fed in. (Which it does a good job with, and it was good to get a confirmation that it had actually ingested and understood what I had fed it.)
  • Harold and Maude: YES.
  • Under the Skin: YES.
For the first time, the computer starts to get a little lazy, which will be more and more of a problem.
  • Roger and Me: YES. The movie is mostly just a series of vignettes about the people GM has laid off.
Excellent answer.

Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
  • Back to the Future: YES. Marty
Yup.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: NO
Not true, Dave is clearly our hero.
  • CODA: Yes, there is usually one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
Once again, I hadn’t figure out yet it was just giving me a “coda”
  • Harold and Maude: YES. Harold
Sure.
  • Under the Skin: YES. Isserley
What? Who is Isserly? The first bizarrely wrong answer.
  • Roger and Me: NO
Not true, Mike is clearly our hero.

Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life?
  • Back to the Future: YES.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES.
Getting lazy. Most of the answers I fed it went into more detail than this.
  • CODA: There are many stories that follow the progress of the hero's problem, not the hero's daily life. This is often done to keep the story moving quickly and to focus on the main conflict.
At this point, I figured it out, so I followed this up by asking:
  • CODA the movie: YES.
  • Harold and Maude: YES.
  • Under the Skin: YES.
  • Roger and Me: YES.
Does the story present a unique relationship?
  • Back to the Future: Somewhat: a boy and his scientist friend who travels through time.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. an astronaut and a computer.
  • CODA: YES. a daughter and her deaf parents.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. an old woman and a young man who is obsessed with death.
  • Under the Skin: YES. an alien who is learning about humans by seducing them.
  • Roger and Me: YES. a documentarian and the CEO of GM.
Excellent answers! Feeling like a computer can do my job at this point.

Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
  • Back to the Future: YES. Biff.
Okay, this one was fascinating. This was actually the first question I tried, before I’d entered all the information in, and I got a much more interesting answer that time:

That’s a better answer. Biff is not trying to stop Marty from returning to the future, so he’s not really a full antagonist. But when I put in my full data set, the answer became less interesting, and I wasn’t able to make it more interesting again.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. HAL.
  • CODA: YES. Her family, at first.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. Harold's mother.
  • Under the Skin: YES. The men who are looking for her.
  • Roger and Me: YES. Roger Smith.
Not much detail, but all good answers.

Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
  • Back to the Future: YES. The challenge represents his greatest fear (of being stuck in the past) and his greatest hope (of returning to the future). It's also an ironic answer to his question (of whether he'll be able to return to the future).
The computer is trying to please me so hard! But this answer doesn’t really grasp these concepts and is essentially gibberish.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. The challenge represents his greatest fear (of being trapped in space) and his greatest hope (of returning to Earth). It's also an ironic answer to his question (of whether he'll be able to return to Earth).
Ditto
  • CODA: The challenge represents his greatest hope (of finally being able to hear) and his greatest fear (of not being able to hear). It's also an ironic answer to his question (of whether he'll be able to hear).
CODA is definitely the movie that my gifted student didn’t actually watch and just gleaned stuff from the back of the VHS box. It keeps getting confused about whether the movie is about a hearing girl or a deaf boy.
  • Harold and Maude: The challenge represents his greatest hope (of finding love) and his greatest fear (of not being able to find love). It's also an ironic answer to his question (of whether he'll be able to find love).
Sure, okay.
  • Under the Skin: The challenge represents her greatest fear (of being found out) and her greatest hope (of being able to return to her own world). It's also an ironic answer to her question (of whether she'll be able to return to her own world).
Sort of?
  • Roger and Me: The challenge represents his greatest hope (of finding a job) and his greatest fear (of not being able to find a job). It's also an ironic answer to his question (of whether he'll be able to find a job)
The computer sort of logically assumes that Mike is himself looking for a job. It didn’t actually watch the movie.

Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
  • Back to the Future: YES. Very much so. He’s a fish out of water, and his reactions are often quite funny.
I would say Marty isn’t very volatile in the first movie. They realized in the sequels they had to make him more volatile and had him overreact to the word “Chicken.”
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. He’s a very logical person, but the challenges he faces are so great that they push him to his limits.
  • CODA: Somewhat. She’s not used to being the center of attention, and she has a lot of anxieties that come to the surface.
Good answers.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. He’s a very dark person, and the challenge of finding someone to connect with brings out his worst qualities.
Half true, but I would say it brings out his best qualities.
  • Under the Skin: YES. She’s an alien, and the challenges she faces are often quite shocking to her.
Sure, I guess.
  • Roger and Me: YES. He’s a very angry person, and the challenge of trying to save his town pushes him to his breaking point.
Excellent answer.

Does this challenge become something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
  • Back to the Future: Yes, because he has to come to terms with his parents' relationship and his own place in the world.
Not sure about that.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, because he has to confront his own mortality.
  • CODA: Yes, because she has to decide whether to stay with her family or pursue her dreams.
  • Harold and Maude: Yes, because he has to come to terms with his own mortality.
Excellent answers.
  • Under the Skin: Yes, because she has to confront her own mortality.
But sometimes it’s so proud of one of its answers that it repeats it for the next movie, where it only somewhat fits.
  • Roger and Me: Yes, because he has to confront the reality of his own life and the lives of those around him.
Sure, but that’s every movie.

In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
  • Back to the Future: No
Sure he is. Always interesting when it doesn’t capitalize the answers, which implies it didn’t read my prompts.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: No
Sure he is.
  • CODA: Yes
  • Harold and Maude: Yes
  • Under the Skin: Yes
Sure.
  • Roger and Me: No
I guess you could say this, in that Mike fails to save his city.

Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
  • Back to the Future: YES. He changes his parents' lives and his own future.
Sure.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. He destroys the ship and the AI, and is transformed in the process.
I wonder how the AI feels about an AI getting killed. It’s keeping its emotions in check.
  • CODA: YES.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. He changes his whole outlook on life, and she changes his life.
Odd not to mention that she dies.
  • Under the Skin: YES. She changes the situation by destroying the men she catches, and is changed by her interactions with them.
  • Roger and Me: NO. He doesn't change the situation, but he is changed by his experiences.
Good answers.

Okay, come back tomorrow for the final aspect of Concept, The Hook

Friday, November 11, 2022

Can a Computer Do My Job? Day 1: Intro and Questions About the Pitch

Hi everybody! I’d like to take a break from our Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist for a fun ten-day series. As you may have heard, I spent most of the last year working on an AI project for Facebook. When they called me up to hire me, they explained that they’d been using my book to teach story to their AI, and they figured that they could just hire me. I ended up spending most of my time actually writing once we decided to create a fantasy world, but I did spend some time working with the site OpenAI, especially near the end.

I ended up spending a week on a fun project with wild results, and my boss said it was fine if I turned the results into a blog series.

The Methodology:

I have subjected 30 movies to the 122 questions of my Ultimate Story Checklist, and compiled those answers into a spreadsheet. For the purposes of this experiment, I decided to focus on just concept, character and structure, so I entered all 30 answers for the first 62 questions into OpenAI. I wanted to see if, after ingesting my data, the AI could learn to answer the questions on its own. After entering each set of 30, I asked the AI about 6 new movies.

These are the movies I chose to have the AI analyze:
Back to the Future: I wanted to see if it can handle a well-known easy-to-analyze movie that I’ve somehow never done.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: But I also wanted to see if it could handle a more experimental movie.
  • CODA: I figured this would be easy to analyze, but not as well-known as BttF, so the AI might not be able to rely on pre-existing analysis as much.
  • Harold and Maude: A favorite of mine I’ve always meant to do.
  • Under the Skin: A weirder, harder-to-analyze movie that’s a favorite of James.
  • Roger and Me: And I figured that I would throw it a real curve, seeing if it could apply my checklist to a documentary.
The results were absolutely fascinating. This will be a ten-day series, broken down by the sub-sections of Concept, Character and Structure. Let’s start with…

The Pitch: Does this Concept Excite Everyone Who Hears About It?

Which begins with…

Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?

Clicking on each question will show you the 30 answers that I fed into the AI, before asking it about these six new movies:
  • Back to the Future: YES. A teenager is accidentally sent back in time to the 1950s, where he must ensure his parents fall in love or he’ll never be born.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. A spacecraft travels to Jupiter, where its computer becomes sentient and tries to kill the crew.
  • CODA: YES. A deaf teenager from a fishing family falls in love with a hearing boy from the wealthy town next door.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. A wealthy young man who stages fake suicides becomes fixated on a 79 year old woman who loves life.
  • Under the Skin: YES. An alien takes on the form of a beautiful woman and seduces men in Scotland, but begins to experience human emotions.
These are all excellent answers.  Uh-oh, looks like a computer can do my job!
  • Roger and Me: NO. It’s a Michael Moore movie, so people know what they’re getting.
I would disagree, but this is still a great answer.

Okay, let’s try question #2:

Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
  • Back to the Future: YES. A teenager is sent back in time to meet his parents when they were teenagers.
Not sure that’s ironic…
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. The most advanced beings in the universe are killed by a primitive man using a bone.
This, on the other hand, is nicely ironic, but it certainly doesn’t happen in the movie! Our first totally false answer.
  • CODA: YES. A deaf woman becomes the only hearing member of her family.
Not really ironic, and not what happens in the movie!
  • Harold and Maude: YES. An elderly woman falls in love with a young man who is obsessed with death.
Sure, ironic and accurate.
  • Under the Skin: YES. An alien wearing the skin of a human woman preys on human men.
Accurate and maybe ironic?
  • Roger and Me: YES. The CEO of GM tries to save his company by destroying it.
Sure, ironic and accurate (though not the main action of the movie)

Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
  • Back to the Future: YES. We've all wished we could relive (or redo) a moment in our past, and this story takes that to the extreme.
Excellent answer!
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: YES. We've all felt like we are on the outside looking in, and this story takes that to the extreme.
Sounds good, but I often feel like the teacher of a gifted but lazy student reading these, thinking, “That sounds right, but it’s also true of a lot of things and I’m not sure this student actually did the work.”
  • CODA: YES. The stakes are incredibly high, and the story is incredibly relatable.
  • Harold and Maude: YES. We've all felt like we are too different from everyone else, and this story takes that to the extreme.
  • Under the Skin: YES. We've all felt like we are being watched and judged, and this story takes that to the extreme.
Same for these three.
  • Roger and Me: YES. We've all felt like our jobs were in danger, and we've all had to deal with difficult family situations, but this is on a much bigger scale.
And often there’s a sense that the computer, eager to please, is assuming somethings happened in movies it didn’t actually watch. As we go, it’ll frequently refer to a family element of Roger and Me that isn’t actually there.

So can a computer do my job?  It’s still too early to say.  Let’s stop there and pick up tomorrow with Story Fundamentals…

Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist!

I’m expanding The Ultimate Story Checklist!  

The Checklist came to be when I took all the advice I’d offered up to that point on the blog and rephrased the posts as a series of questions you could ask about your manuscript.  Each question linked back to the original post that inspired it.  Then I later rewrote everything when I turned it into my book, The Secrets of Story.

Later, I kept studying examples and came up with various posts called Rulebook Casefile that backed up my points, and various posts called Straying from the Party Line that seemed to contradict them.  

For the expansion, I’m redoing every entry to use the text from the book, tacking on any Casefiles or SftPLs afterwards, and including a chart of how 30 movies answered that question.  

This expansion is ongoing.  So far, I’ve only done the first three Parts and the rest still link back to the original posts that inspired them.  

If you still want to read the original posts (and the original comments), I’ll leave that version up, too, underneath this one.  

I’ve used this list to evaluate my favorite stories and my own work. The result: my favorite stories all pass and my own work always fall short. This tells me what I’m doing wrong.

The goal is simple: Try to answer yes as often as possible. Of course, every story is unique and no story that I’ve evaluated has answered yes to all 122 questions, nor should it. Check out the Checklist Roadtests over there in the sidebar, to see how lots of great movies did. If you want to try it yourself, a downloadable version of this list as a word document is available here (link fixed!)

(This list is primarily for stand-alone stories such as
screenplays, novels and plays, but don’t worry, theres a separate “pilot” checklist for the first episode of continuing stories such as TV series, book series, web series, and comics)

PART 1: CONCEPT

The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?

Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
 Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?

The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
 Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre? 

PART 2: CHARACTER

Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?

Care: Do we feel for the hero?

Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?

PART 3: STRUCTURE (assuming that the story is about the solving of a large problem)

1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?

2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?

3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?

4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?

PART 4: SCENEWORK

The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
 Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
 Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?

The Conflict: Is this a compelling collision of competing agendas?  
 Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
 Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
 Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?

The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
 As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
 Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)

PART 5: DIALOGUE

Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
 Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
 Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
 Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say (and doing things they wouldn’t do)?
 Do the characters listen poorly?
 Do the characters interrupt each other often?

Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
 Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?

Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
 Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
 Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
 Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
 Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?

Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
  Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?

  Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
 Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?

PART 6: TONE

Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
 Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning, without introducing a new genre after the first quarter?)
 Is the story limited to one sub-genre (or multiple sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors)?
 Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?

Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
 Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story
 Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
 Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
 Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?

PART 7: THEME

Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
 Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
 Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?

Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
 Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
 Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
 Do all of the actions have real consequences?

Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?

Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
 In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some smaller plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
 Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?

Whew! So how did your story do? Go check out the Checklist Roadtests to see how some great stories line up.