The present and future of post production business and technology

Letting the Machines Decide

Letting the Machines Decide (If you get stymied by the WSJ pay wall, simply go to and enter “Letting the Machines Decide” and follow the link to the WSJ around the paywall.)

I know, not my usual stuff, but I have an abiding interest in all forms of artificial intelligence because, ultimately, I believe we’ll be able to apply a lot of the techniques and technologies developed for AI to automating Postproduction. Heresy, I know, but bear with me.

Anything that can be analyzed and systematized can be automated. When we were developing First Cutsour tool for taking long-form documentary log notes and converting them to very fast First Cuts – the most challenging part of the exercise wasn’t teaching the computer to do something, it was analyzing what I did as an editor to make a “good” edit. Just imaging how complex are the rules for placing b-roll!

So, with that background and a belief that a lot of editing is not overtly creative (not you of course dear reader, your work is supremely creative, but those other folk, not so much!). It can be somewhat repetitive with a lot of similarities.

Just like the complexities of stock trading: knowing when to buy, when to hold and when to sell.

The programs are effective, advocates say, because they can crunch huge amounts of data in short periods, “learn” what works, and adjust their strategies on the fly. In contrast, the typical quantitative approach may employ a single strategy or even a combination of strategies at once, but may not move between them or modify them based on what the program determines works best.

What I think is really interesting is that the software tools started to act contrary to what an experienced trader would do, but:

In early 2009, Star started to buy beaten-down stocks such as banks and insurers, which would benefit from a recovery. “He just loaded up on value stocks,” said Mr. Fleiss, referring to the AI program. The fund gained 41% in 2009, more than doubling the Dow’s 19% gain.

The firm’s current portfolio is largely defensive. One of its biggest positions is in gold stocks, according to people familiar with the fund.

The defensive move at first worried Mr. Fleiss, who had grown bullish. But it has proven a smart move so far. “I’ve learned not to question the AI,” he said.

And that’s what we discovered. One night – after a couple of glasses of red wine – we decided to throw a “stupid” combination of story keywords at First Cuts to see what it would do. Well, would you believe in the six minute edit that eventuated, I only wanted to move one clip, and its associated b-roll, one shot early (swapping it) and as far as I was concerned the edit was done.