“The future is now!” may be a quote from The Cable Guy, but it’s a very true statement. By the time you finish reading it, we’ll be that much closer to autonomous cars and robot maids like Rosie in The Jetsons.
Alex Garland’s screenplay and subsequent movie Ex Machina feature a world in the not too distant future that explores the questions that rise when humans live with creations that may or not be sentient beings possessing artificial intelligence. The screenplay very clearly introduces the audience to Nathan and Caleb, two brilliant men who are trying to see if Nathan’s android creation Ava has actual intelligence or is feigning it to survive.
Ex Machina is by no means the first or best example of A.I. in movies. The Terminator and The Matrix movies, Steven Spielberg’s A.I., and Blade Runnerare a few predecessors to Ex Machina that explore the theoretical relationship between man and intelligent machine. However, Ex Machina is in the visually stunning, thought provoking, captivating sci-fi movie club that draws audiences in for a gripping ride.
When writing a screenplay that involves artificial intelligence, keep these suggestions in mind.
Introduce The World Where The AI Exists
When in time and what kind of world will your artificially intelligent being live? The future? The past? A galaxy far, far away? Twenty thousand leagues under the sea? Wherever you decide to set it, paint a clear picture of the setting and its inhabitants. Take us there with descriptions in the action lines.
The Ex Machina screenplay first shows Caleb in an office at his computer, surrounded by other office drones. He is then whisked away to an expansive mountainous estate in a Rolls Royce. Not only does the screenplay describe the great natural outdoor setting, but Caleb and the chauffeur discuss it as well. The chauffeur is accustomed to it, and is used to guests being amazed by it. The rest of the movie takes place at Nathan’s (CEO of a giant online search engine) high tech compound, in the middle of the mountains and trees, which is a great juxtaposition between nature and technology. When writing your artificial intelligence screenplay, set it in interesting places and have the settings add to scenes or even overall themes of your movie.
Juxtapose The AI With Humans
In Ex Mahcina, Nathan brings Caleb onto his compound so that Caleb can give Ava The Turing test to see if she really has artificial intelligence, or if she’s feigning it. But throughout the movie, Ava does things that indicate intelligence and other human qualities. She shows compassion when Caleb tells her that his parents died in a car accident. She makes a sarcastic joke at Caleb’s expense during one of their sessions. She says she loves Caleb and asks if he loves her.
In many sci-fi movies where humans share the story with artificial intelligence, the two types of beings exhibit similar traits, one being made to mimic the other. Or exterminate the other. In you’re A.I. screenplay, show how different and similar the humans and A.I. beings are. Add intrigue and suspense to the story if one group’s intentions aren’t clear. Audiences will love playing the guessing game as your story unfolds.
Show Conflict Between All Characters
Disagreements and overall conflict are essential for A.I. screenplays, the same as they are for any narrative. It’s important to have ambiguity and mystery around the A.I., between the created beings and the human beings. But remember to have some friction between your human characters as well.
In The Matrix, human characters side with the artificially intelligent machines humans created, even though the machines have enslaved humanity. This betrayal leads to battles between humans and humans, in addition to the war humans wage against the A.I. machines. Blade Runner has similar battles between people when dealing with artificially intelligent Replicants that fight to become human themselves.
Conflict all around lends to the allure of a screenplay. It’s interesting to see where people’s loyalties lie and what they’re willing to do to develop, maintain, or defeat A.I. in sci-fi screenplays. Be sure to highlight the humanity in your characters’ decisions in your A.I. screenplay.