Google Targets Filmmakers With Veo, Its New Generative AI Video Model

At its I/O developer conference today, Google announced Veo, its latest generative AI video model, that “can generate ‘high-quality’ 1080p resolution videos over a minute in length in a wide variety of visual and cinematic styles,” reports The Verge. From the report: Veo has “an advanced understanding of natural language,” according to Google’s press release, enabling the model to understand cinematic terms like “timelapse” or “aerial shots of a landscape.” Users can direct their desired output using text, image, or video-based prompts, and Google says the resulting videos are “more consistent and coherent,” depicting more realistic movement for people, animals, and objects throughout shots. Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis said in a press preview on Monday that video results can be refined using additional prompts and that Google is exploring additional features to enable Veo to produce storyboards and longer scenes.

As is the case with many of these AI model previews, most folks hoping to try Veo out themselves will likely have to wait a while. Google says it’s inviting select filmmakers and creators to experiment with the model to determine how it can best support creatives and will build on these collaborations to ensure “creators have a voice” in how Google’s AI technologies are developed. Some Veo features will also be made available to “select creators in the coming weeks” in a private preview inside VideoFX — you can sign up for the waitlist here for an early chance to try it out. Otherwise, Google is also planning to add some of its capabilities to YouTube Shorts “in the future.” Along with its new AI models and tools, Google said it’s expanding its AI content watermarking and detection technology. The company’s new upgraded SynthID watermark imprinting system “can now mark video that was digitally generated, as well as AI-generated text,” reports The Verge in a separate report.

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Netflix Doc Accused of Using AI To Manipulate True Crime Story

Earlier this week, Netflix found itself embroiled in an AI scandal when Futurism spotted AI-generated images used in the Netflix documentary What Jennifer Did.. The movie’s credits do not mention any uses of AI, causing critics to call out the filmmakers for “potentially embellishing a movie that’s supposed to be based on real-life events,” reports Ars Technica. An executive producer of the Netflix hit acknowledged that some of the photos were edited to protect the identity of the source but remained vague about whether AI was used in the process. From the report: What Jennifer Did shot to the top spot in Netflix’s global top 10 when it debuted in early April, attracting swarms of true crime fans who wanted to know more about why Pan paid hitmen $10,000 to murder her parents. But quickly the documentary became a source of controversy, as fans started noticing glaring flaws in images used in the movie, from weirdly mismatched earrings to her nose appearing to lack nostrils, the Daily Mail reported, in a post showing a plethora of examples of images from the film. […]

Jeremy Grimaldi — who is also the crime reporter who wrote a book on the case and provided the documentary with research and police footage — told the Toronto Star that the images were not AI-generated. Grimaldi confirmed that all images of Pan used in the movie were real photos. He said that some of the images were edited, though, not to blur the lines between truth and fiction, but to protect the identity of the source of the images. “Any filmmaker will use different tools, like Photoshop, in films,” Grimaldi told The Star. “The photos of Jennifer are real photos of her. The foreground is exactly her. The background has been anonymized to protect the source.” While Grimaldi’s comments provide some assurance that the photos are edited versions of real photos of Pan, they are also vague enough to obscure whether AI was among the “different tools” used to edit the photos.

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Struggling Movie Exhibitors Beg Studios For More Movies – and Not Just Blockbusters

Movie exhibitors still face “serious risks,” the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday:
Attendance was on the decline even before the pandemic shuttered theaters, thanks to changing consumer habits and competition for people’s time and money from other entertainment options. The industry has demonstrated an over-reliance on Imax-friendly studio action tent poles, when theater chains need a deep and diverse roster of movies in order to thrive… It remains to be seen whether the global box office will ever get back to the $40 billion-plus days of 2019 and earlier years. A clearer picture will emerge in 2025 when the writers’ and actors’ strikes are further in the past. But overall, there’s a strong case that moviegoing has proved to be relatively sturdy despite persistent difficulties.
Which brings us to this year’s CinemaCon convention, where multiplex operators heard from Hollywood studios teasing upcoming blockbusters like Joker: Folie à Deux, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, Transformers One, and Deadpool & Wolverine.

Exhibitors pleaded with the major studios to release more films of varying budgets on the big screen, while studios made the case that their upcoming slates are robust enough to keep them in business… Box office revenue in the U.S. and Canada is expected to total about $8.5 billion, which is down from $9 billion in 2023 and a far cry from the pre-pandemic yearly tallies that nearly reached $12 billion… Though a fuller release schedule is expected for 2025, talk of budget cuts, greater industry consolidation and corporate mergers has forced exhibitors to prepare for the possibility of a near future with fewer studios making fewer movies….

As the domestic film business has been thrown into turmoil in recent years, Japanese cinema and faith-based content have been two of movie theaters’ saving graces. Industry leaders kicked off CinemaCon on Tuesday by singing the praises of Sony-owned anime distributor Crunchyroll’s hits — including the latest “Demon Slayer” installment. Mitchel Berger, senior vice president of global commerce at Crunchyroll, said Tuesday that the global anime business generated $14 billion a decade ago and is projected to generate $37 billion next year. “Anime is red hot right now,” Berger said. “Fans have known about it for years, but now everyone else is catching up and recognizing that it’s a cultural, economic force to be reckoned with…. ” Another type of product buoying the exhibition industry right now is faith-based programming, shepherded in large part by “Sound of Freedom” distributor Angel Studios…

Theater owners urged studio executives at CinemaCon to put more films in theaters — and not just big-budget tent poles timed for summer movie season and holiday weekends… “Whenever we have a [blockbuster] film — whether it be ‘Barbie’ or ‘Super Mario’ … records are set,” added Bill Barstow, co-founder of ACX Cinemas in Nebraska. “But we just don’t have enough of them.”

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Max Password Sharing Crackdown Is Coming

Warner Bros. Discovery said a password crackdown for its Max streaming service is coming later this year, joining competitors Netflix and Disney. TheWrap reports: JB Perrette, WBD’s CEO and president of global streaming and games, said the initiative would launch later this year with a broader rollout in 2025. “We think, relative to the scale of our business, it’s a meaningful opportunity,” Perrette said during Morgan Stanley’s 2024 Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco on Monday. The push to crack down on password sharing comes as Warner Bros. Discovery narrowed its streaming loss to $55 million during its fourth quarter of 2023, down from a loss of $217 million a year ago. For the full year, it swung to a profit of $103 million, compared to a loss of $1.59 billion in 2022.

Looking ahead, WBD said its DTC business would have “modestly negative” EBITDA in the first half of 2024 before turning profitable in the second half. WBD is targeting $1 billion of direct-to-consumer EBITDA in 2025. In its fourth quarter, Warner Bros. Discovery added 1.8 million subscribers in its direct-to-consumer division for a total of 97.7 million. The DTC segment’s results include Max, Discovery+ and traditional HBO cable subscriptions. Parrette also discussed interest in transactional ads, notes Ars Technica. Per Perrette: “On the ad format size, we’ve made lots of improvements from where we were, but we still have a lot of ad format enhancements that will give us more things that we can go to marketers with, [like] shoppable ads [and] other elements of the ad format side of the house that we can improve.”

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Disneyland’s New ‘Pixar Place’ Hotel is Like Visiting the Studio

The Orange County Register reports:

The new Pixar Place Hotel next door to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is designed to look like you’ve walked onto the Pixar Animation Studios campus in Emeryville with concept drawings, character maquettes and final designs sprinkled throughout the hotel. “For those of you who are into the creative process, I think you’ll be really happy. This hotel really celebrates that,” Pixar Chief Creative Officer Pete Docter said during the opening ceremony for the hotel. “You get to see rough drawings, color studies and animation sketches as the animators were working. It really feels like you’re walking into Pixar in a way when you step in here.”

The multimillion-dollar transformation of the former Paradise Pier Hotel into the new Pixar Place Hotel debuted on Tuesday, January 30 after three years in the making at the Disneyland resort in Anaheim. The front lobby of the hotel is intended to feel like a gallery of curated artwork and custom creations inspired by Pixar’s famed studio in Northern California. The rear lobby takes visitors through the animated filmmaking process from hand-drawn sketches to wire-frame character designs. Red, yellow and blue bursts of primary colors serve as bold accents at the front desk in contrast to the muted colors of modern hotel designs.

More details from the Los Angeles Times:

The showcase piece of the lobby is a large mobile, situated above the Pixar lamp and ball, with abstracted, stained glass-like figures from “The Incredibles,” “Wall-E,” “Finding Nemo” and more. They are flanked by colored panels, which react to the music played in the area, an effect that is of course better seen in the evening.

“Pixar is a balance of sophistication and whimsy that really is core to their values,” said Kirstin Makela, an art director at Walt Disney Imagineering, the company’s secretive arm devoted to theme park experiences. “They’re a studio that’s been at the cutting edge of what they do. They take it very seriously that their characters are represented in that high esteem that they deserve because they are works of art. “So it really is about creating a space that feels like a living art gallery that allows for the work to be elevated and feel celebrated, and allows for the work to get that dynamic pop of color and energy,” Makela continued…

[I]ncluded in the rooms is the hardbound “The Art of Pixar” book, and various depictions of the Pixar lamp and ball, from an actual lamp on the desk to traces of the ball and the lamp in the bedding, carpeting and decorative pillows…

In a sampling of room rates throughout the year, I found nothing lower than $405 per night for a standard room, and about $100 more for high-traffic holiday months.

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Avatar VFX Workers Vote To Unionize

Visual effects artists working on James Cameron’s Avatar movies have voted to unionize in a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. From the Hollywood Reporter: Of an eligible 88 workers at Walt Disney Studios subsidiary TCF US Productions 27, Inc. who assist with productions for Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, 57 voted to join the union and 19 voted against, while two ballots were void. These workers include creatures costume leads and environment artists as well as others in the stage, environments, render, post viz, sequence, turn over and kabuki departments. Management and labor now have a few days to file any objections, and if none are raised, the election results will be certified.

This bargaining unit doesn’t include employees of VFX facility vendors, notably Weta FX, which is the lead VFX house on the Avatar films and employs the vast majority of the more than 1,000 artists who work on a typical Avatar movie. But unionizing the group represents a major inroad for the VFX industry labor movement, believes one VFX industry source who spoke with THR. “While insignificant as a number, this is the core team that answers to Jim Cameron,” says the source. “They are not necessarily impressive in size, but in influence.”

The workers first went public with their organizing bid in December, when they filed for a union election with the NLRB. At the time, participating workers said in public statements that they were aiming to gain comparable benefits and pay to their unionized peers and have greater input into in working conditions. “Every one of my coworkers has dedicated so much time, creativity and passion to make these films a reality. So when you see them struggling to cover their health premiums, or being overworked because they took on multiple roles, or are just scraping by on their wages … you cannot keep silent,” said kabuki lead Jennifer Anaya.

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Writers of ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ Had Imagined an Even Darker Sequel

The writers of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story “had an idea for a sequel that would have been even darker and more morally ambiguous,” writes Screen Rant:

Rogue One told the story of how the Rebel Alliance gained access to the Death Star plans, and further explored the sacrifices that needed to be made to defeat the Empire. Famously, the movie led straight into the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, and most of its main characters died, so there was never any true hope for a direct Rogue One sequel. However, the writers of Rogue One did once discuss an idea for a thematic sequel that would have delved into the moral ambiguity of the Rebellion.

Co-writers Gary Whitta and Chris Weitz conceptualized a Rogue One sequel show that would have involved a “Mossad-style Rebel team” tracking down fleeing Imperial war criminals after the fall of the Empire. This would have been an interesting continuation of Rogue One’s narrative; a Star Wars show in which the darker side of the Rebel victory could be explored. In that scenario, the Rebels would have had to fight on the offensive, not defensively, reversing the war’s dynamic entirely. The show could have explored how far the Rebels were willing to go to hold onto their hard-won freedom, and whether it mirrored anything the Empire did to hang onto its dictatorship.
At the time Lucasfilm was experimenting with “one-and-done stories within blockbuster movies,” the article point sout. But Solo: A Star Wars Story “was unable to replicate the same winning formula” as Rogue One. “After that, the ideas for Star Wars’ anthology movies fizzled out, essentially replaced with Star Wars TV once Disney+ launched in 2019.”
And in an earlier article, Screen Rant points out that The Mandalorian “has already filled in the story gaps that the Rogue One writers were looking to explore. That series dug deep into the criminal underbelly of the post-Empire galaxy and how the remaining imperial loyalists chose to spend their time.”

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Prime Video Replaces Netflix As No. 1 Streaming Service In US

Prime Video has supplanted Netflix as the No. 1 subscription streaming outlet in the U.S. in an annual ranking compiled by research firm Parks Associates. Deadline reports: The company didn’t disclose its methodology for how it isolates the number of Prime Video subscribers, a metric long cloaked in secrecy due to Amazon’s general reluctance to disclose statistics about its Prime business. Still, Parks has been a reputable tracker of the streaming space for more than a decade. For many years in the 2010s, its rankings looked consistent, with the former “Big 3” of Netflix, Prime Video and Hulu sharing the top three spots, always with Netflix at the top. Today, the rankings are much more fragmented given how many new players have entered the scene. The list reflects total subscribers through September 2022, via the OTT Video Market Tracker, a Parks offering described by the firm as “an exhaustive analysis of market trends and profiles of the nearly 100 over-the-top video service providers in the U.S. and Canada.”

Amazon said last year it has more than 200 million Prime members, with Prime Video among the program’s benefits. Several weeks ago, the company also recently said The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been viewed by more than 100 million Prime subscribers worldwide. […] Netflix, meanwhile, has hit a plateau in the U.S., even shedding a small amount of subscribers over recent quarters. The company reported 73.4 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada as of September 30, up 100,000 from the previous quarter but below levels in 2021 and earlier this year.

On a global basis, of course, Netflix continues to lead the field with a bit more than 223 million subscribers. Disney has been hot on its heels, with Disney+ now at 164.2 million and the company overall reaching 235.7 million across Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. The rest of the 2022 chart looks relatively similar to the 2021 edition, though NBCUniversal’s Peacock broke through to take the No. 10 spot as Showtime dropped out of the picture.

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