'Cut!' - the AI director

Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent
@BBCRoryCJon Twitter

media captionAI technologies from IBM and Microsoft were used to make the video

From Ex Machina to Terminator, artificial intelligence has long been a subject for film-makers. But what if AI could actually make a movie?

At the Cannes Lions advertising festival on Thursday morning, an audience was shown a series of short films in the annual New Directors Showcase, which highlights emerging talent.

One of the entries had AI as a director.

A few days ago, I saw Eclipse, a pop video featuring a French band, at the offices of Saatchi and Saatchi, which runs the Cannes showcase and commissioned the AI entry.

What is remarkable about it is not the production values - it is actually a rather dull piece of work - but a process that involved AI at every stage.

image copyrightSaatchi & Saatchi
image captionIBM's Watson was used to analyse the content of the song's lyrics

All the computer had been given was the track, Saatchi and Saatchi director of film and content Andy Gulliman said.

"We then relied on the machine to give us a script and then a treatment," he said.

Then, another machine took that treatment and directed the shooting of the promo, by cameras on drones, all connected to the "AI Spielberg".

Various AI programs, including IBM Watson and a Microsoft chatbot, Ms Rinna, were used at different stages.

Facial-recognition software was also involved.

During the edit, a program was created to decide where cuts should be made according to the beat of the music and its emotional content.

image copyrightSaatchi & Saatchi
image captionA Microsoft chatbot was used to get directions for the short film

Even the casting was done by a program that examined electroencephalogram (EEG) brain data from actors and matched them to the emotions it had detected in the song and its singer.

The production team took a view on the casting - but, luckily, the machine chose the same actor as them.

Mr Gulliman, who has produced many glossy adverts shot in locations around the world, found this quite a hands-off experience.

"As producer, my responsibility is to crew up and find the right people to deliver a script I have on my desk," he said.

image copyrightSaatchi & Saatchi
image captionHumans were involved in the filming, but were guided by the AI software

"With this, it's a case of sitting back and watching the machine take responsibility."

The treatment involved a starlit landscape, where the band's female vocalist is singing while a man runs towards her.

The visual effects were created with a neural art program, of the kind that learns an artist's style and then knocks you up a Van Gogh or a Monet from any photo.

Which brings us to the key question - can an AI direct, is it an artist?

It seems the band involved in the project thinks not.

The electro-pop group - who does not want to be named - has refused to allow Saatchi and Saatchi to release the video for the public to see, which is why we can only give you a partial glimpse of it here.

image copyrightSaatchi & Saatchi
image captionComputers decided which shots to use and when to cut

Even Mr Gulliman admits that the thing missing from the AI's work is what he calls the "happy accidents" of the creative process.

But he sees human directors increasingly working alongside machines as the technology develops.

What strikes me with every new advance in artificial intelligence is how blase we humans have become about some extraordinary achievements.

The response to a program that provides instant translation from one one language to another is to laugh at its mistakes.

A driverless car navigates the streets of a Californian town, and we sneer when it has a minor collision with a bus.

A computer directs a pop video - and we are sniffy about its rather dated 1990s production values.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe AI experiment was one of several stunts at this year's Cannes Lions festival

Eclipse will not win any awards for creative film-making, and its director won't be snapped up to make a Hollywood blockbuster.

But AI is advancing every day - and a decade from now, actors may find a computer sitting in the director's chair shouting: "Cut!"