Only a minority of the screenwriters participating in a questionnaire conducted by Anton Breum for NFTVF embrace AI tools in their work.

Over 220 screenwriters from various backgrounds in the Nordic countries answered the survey that was initiatied as part of Nordisk Film and TV Fond’s 2024 theme Talent in the Age of AI.

The respondents were from all the five Nordic countries. A majority of them stated that they don't use AI tools in their creative work. The survey was distributed to all members of Nordic writers’ guilds to spot current habits, views and wishes in the age of AI. Even with the limited number of responses, it is still possible to draw some preliminary conclusions from the survey.

Almost 60% reported not using AI tools in their work, while just over 40% have adopted the new technology. Among the 40% that use AI, the primary applications are brainstorming, translation, research, image generation and writing synopses and pitches. The respondents also expressed some general AI scepticism and a need for discussions that dive deeply into how AI affects our industry.

Anton Breum, a Danish screenwriter with a masters degree in political science, conducted the survey and analysed the results in collaboration with NFTVF. Breum expresses surprise at the high number of screenwriters who have not incorporated AI into their work, despite the extensive discussion and media coverage surrounding AI, along with its significant role in the Hollywood strike.

“We hear so much about AI, and yet only a minority is using it. And the ones that are using it, aren't even using it for writing. I think this shows that a significant portion of writers, when they look at this technology, see something that they have a negative perception of in terms of what it could do to their job and their industry.”

Among the 40% of respondents that use AI, the top five purposes are:

1. Brainstorming
2. Translation
3. Research
4. Image generation
5. Writing synopses and pitches

    The benefits, according to the respondents who use AI, were that they could generate ideas faster, do research faster, write faster, and receive instant feedback.

    The results suggest that AI is primarily seen as a tool for support and efficiency, rather than for creative work, says Anton Breum.

    “The writers who use AI today are not relying on it to do the actual writing for them. Instead, they are utilising AI for tasks such as brainstorming and research. It's easy to imagine writers interacting with an AI similarly to how they would with a personal assistant, if we all could afford one — someone who is always available to help out with research, or to quickly brainstorm ideas.”

    The most commonly used app was ChatGPT, with others mentioned including Midjourney, Perplexity, DeepL, Claude and Poe. Most of the writers used AI less than once a week for their writing process, and when asked if they had paid for it, the answers were divided almost 50/50. Only a handful had been asked to use AI by an employer.

    The high ranking of writing synopses is not for initial project development, but rather for later stages when writers already have scripts or treatments, and synopses are needed for pitching to producers or financiers, something which most writers don't find very enjoyable, Breum speculates.

    “Writers’ passion lies in creating, figuring out the story, and actually writing it. However, after that, they may need a brief description of a series, to be used on a streaming service or a website, which can feel more like busy work. Writers don't trust AI to write drafts or dialogue, but they may be more likely to delegate the less creative task of writing synopses to AI.”

    The bottom five uses are writing drafts, writing dialogue, writing treatments, proofreading and providing feedback. The fact that writers don’t seem to use AI for the actual writing, highlights a key perspective, Breum says.

    “While those outside the writing community might think: "Great, Silicon Valley has created a tool that can write scripts for you, speeding up the process," writers see it differently. They might respond: "You mean you've made a machine to do the most enjoyable part of my job for me? No thank you.”

    This prompts an interesting reflection, not just for writers but for other industries as well, Breum continues. Is it possible to incorporate AI in a way so that it supports, not replaces, human creativity?

    “Do we want tools that can handle the tasks we're most passionate about, or do we prefer machines that take on the tasks we're not as skilled at, that take a long time, or that we find boring? Should machines augment writers or replace them? Moving forward, how can we ensure these machines make life easier for humans in general and writers specifically, rather than replacing them?”

    The primary challenges using AI included output not meeting professional standards, finding the right AI tool, and AI performing poorly in a native language. Other concerns were that use of AI tools disturbs or destroys the creative process, and a lack of educational resources and support.

    While the present impact of AI on the profession is seen as neutral by most participants, the majority view the future impact of AI very or somewhat negative.

    Top concerns include:

    1. AI tools potentially driving down wages
    2. Expectations from others to work faster
    3. Concerns about compromised data privacy
    4. Fear of losing one’s job to AI tools
    5. Job changing so much it becomes unenjoyable
    6. One’s ideas could become less original and creative

      “Most writers are critical thinkers, so it's not surprising that, given the current development of AI tools, they lean towards a negative outlook. Writers are very concerned about the potential development of AI in the future. I think that underlines how important it is for us to be speaking about AI right now. How do we avoid a future that people perceive as very negative?” Breum says.

      When the screenwriters were asked what pan-Nordic actions would help them in the AI jungle, many writers mentioned the need of legal advice, some expressing fears of having one’s own work end up as AI material: “An organized resistance (is needed) to stop tech giants from illegally mining copyrighted material to train their LLMs with”.

      Common wishes were educational resources such as online tutorials and guides for using AI tools for writers as well as case studies of successful uses of AI for writers.

      Some writers expressed deep concern and the need for industry forums that dive into the impact of AI. One longed for “reasoned skeptisism” instead of promotion of AI tools: “Let's do what needs to be done, not what is already being done by multibillion dollar corporations.”