Can AI Be a Source of Good Documentary Story Ideas?

My fascination with the whole AI thing, so far, has mostly led to no good. Or, perhaps, not much good.

I asked it some questions about documentary filmmaking and got back mediocre, freshman-level dreck. There were some interesting moments that stunned me. And I suppose I’m impressed that ChatGPT can achieve a level as high as freshman-level dreck.

So I do have a real need to generate ideas for documentary projects just like every other non-fiction storyteller. That need has become particularly acute now that I’m living in a different country and culture.

So I asked ChatGPT to give me some “original” project ideas focused on Portugal. Here is one of the results (not the best or worst one):

An original documentary film idea could be about the effects of climate change on small island communities around the world. The documentary could explore how rising sea levels and extreme weather have impacted the lives of these communities and their ways of life, and how they are adapting to the changing environment.

That’s not bad. But it’s also not yet good. It’s a nugget of an idea. It’s a direction to go in, a path to follow. It’s a prompt for further thinking.

Unlike some of the other ideas, this one isn’t as Portugal-focused as I would have liked — although there are island communities in Portugal. We can also consider “island” to refer to any isolated community. Plenty of those in Portugal.

Telling a climate-change story about an isolated community is not an original idea. But this is something I tell students to do: start with an archetype and then go looking for an “original” and salient conflict.

Once again, ChatGPT does an interesting job in creating a text that is far more a start to something than an end in itself.

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