When British director Scott Mann’s latest film, Fall, was about to receive an “R” rating from the MPAA for the number of “F” bombs dropped in a running time of one hour and 47 minutes, he did what any reasonable person would: He used artificial intelligence to digitally alter the actor’s performances to change the swear words into more palatable terms. One stroke of fuck genius, if you ask us.
For those curious, about 35 “F” words stood between a PG-13 rating and an R rating. Mann’s dilemma then became trying to figure out how to preserve the integrity of his film without reshooting or copying. Of course, this is more difficult than it sounds.
With a traditional film you just bite the bullet and shoot again. It’s costly, but it’s better than your audience losing immersion because they just heard a line different from what they clearly saw the actor say on screen. It’s a lot easier to read lips in 4K.
But Fall is not a traditional movie. It is a horror film about two women who climb a 600 meter high radio tower. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s practically shot down. That means they built a giant tower and filmed their actors on it.
When you think about the logistics involved, it becomes clear why reshoots aren’t really an option. Not only would they be even more expensive than usual, but the vulgar language was in many cases touted by the actors for the emotionality of the scene.
This means that Mann probably got the performances he was looking for, a feat that we can assume no director would willingly obliterate with something as trivial as foul language. Unfortunately, R-rated movies typically only bring in half of what their PG-13 counterparts owe.
Fortunately for Mann, he’s in a unique position among Hollywood directors. He is the co-CEO and co-founder of Flawless AI, a technology company that specializes in digitally modifying video to match an actor’s performance to a dubbed audio track.
For Fall, Mann and the Flawless AI team had to record the actors saying alternate phrases like “fricking” to replace the film’s vulgar language. They then ran both the new audio and video through the company’s bespoke neural network, or what they call “True Sync” technology. This essentially allows the team to deepfake the actors’ faces to speak the new lines.
As for the results, with a “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems no one saw the AI at work as they watched the drama unfold on the big screen.
Not only is the system cost-effective compared to reshoots, but according to Mann it is also relatively easy to put into production. He told TNW via email that about 80% of the workflow is automated and it’s designed to handle everything in the mail – it doesn’t require any special equipment or direction during film production. In fact, he says that “vubbing,” or video dubbing, can cut costs by up to 50% when it comes to reshoots.
But Flawless AI wasn’t just created to help filmmakers save money in post-production. In fact, the main focus of the company is on accessibility. According to Mann, “Accessibility is super important to us because we believe in the ability to share stories the way they were intended and preserve the performances of actors and how the directors planned the story.”
The company was formed after Mann saw one of his previous films, Heist, starring Rober Deniro, in traditional dubbed format. He found the status quo dubbing methods “limited and broken”.
“I saw how badly the traditional foreign dub hurt the film, because the writing, the performance and the meaning were lost,” Mann told TNW. “This led me to read a Max Planck Institute white paper on neural networks and ultimately led to the creation of Flawless.”
In the future, Mann and the Flawless AI team hope their work will enable storytellers to reach audiences around the world in a more intimate way. It’s one thing to know what an actor is saying because you’re hearing dubbed audio in a language you understand, it’s quite another experience watching them deliver the line with all the nuance and character it got in the original performance .
We tip our hats to Mann and the Flawless AI team for putting AI to good use. Art is for everyone.