An AI Created This Unsettling Trailer for Fox’s Show About an Evil AI

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To market its new series about an evil artificial intelligence creation threatening society, Fox commissioned a trailer created by—an actual AI.

The network partnered with digital agency Space150 to assemble a trailer for its thriller Next, debuting Tuesday, that was entirely written, edited and scored by AI. The tech-focused creative shop developed a machine learning algorithm that watched the entire series, and selected key themes, scenes and dialogue for what appears to be linear TV’s first AI-created trailer.

Last February, Space150 creative shop was behind the “Travis Bott,” a fake Travis Scott song and video created entirely by AI trained on the rapper’s music. That caught the attention of Fox executives, which had been looking for a unique way to market Next. (At the time, the series had been planned to air in the first half of 2020, but after Covid-19 shut down all production in March, Fox delayed the already-filmed season until fall, so it would have fresh content at a time when many of the network’s other shows would not be ready to return to the air.)

An AI-created trailer for a show about an evil AI “is the perfect partnership for the show to start establishing [this] world,” said Megan Wahtera, svp, content marketing and media, Fox.

To create the trailer, Fox gave Space150’s engineering team the entire season of Next, as well as the script and the score, and the agency had to inventory those three elements.

After making the Travis Bott, the concept of breaking down Next’s script and score and teaching the bot to write another script and score for the trailer was “pretty linear,” said Space150 executive creative director Ned Lampert. “The harder part was analyzing all of the visuals within the show.”

The team made a computer vision system to identify characters (using facial recognition), emotion (it created an “emotion index” for scenes) and objects, and analyze contrast, light and color. It took the system a month to look at and inventory the entire show.

The script was also analyzed for mentions of tech, which were then categorized in positive, negative and neutral feelings.

Then, it constructed a three-act trailer—starting with happy and optimistic, veering into suspicion and ending with violence and danger—and instructed the bot to find scenes for each emotion.

The AI wrote the voiceover script, using dialogue about AI, as well as the music, which Space150 turned into digital MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) notes. Space150 paired script lines with scenes the bot extracted and laid them to flow with the music, following the trailer’s three-act structure.

It took three attempts “before we got it to a place that was really good,” said Lampert. “And it wasn’t necessarily us meddling with the creative, it was waiting for the system to get robust enough to understand what we’re asking it to do.”

The unsettling final version of the trailer features creepy narration (“There’s a chance of existential risk…”) and unusual cuts.

“Those are all things the system thought were compelling and dropped in there,” said Lampert. “When we showed [Fox], everyone was fascinated and creeped out by those moments. So we kept them in there.”

After working in traditional marketing for so long, “it took me a long time to wrap my head around … what am I supposed to expect?” said Fox’s Wahtera, who wasn’t able to see a narrative or a storyboard ahead of time because of the way the AI operates. “It was hard to surrender at first and see where we came out—but I’m really thrilled with it.”

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