May 30, 2024

Katri Manninen on AI in screenwriting, consciously choosing AI and human roles, creative workflows, and content automation (AC Ep46)

We should always remember that we are still humans. We are the ones telling the stories, deciding what we want to tell. And we are doing things for other humans; it’s the other humans who want to hear from us. For me, it’s very grounding amidst all this AI craziness to remember to come back to that relationship: me as a human talking to another human.”

Katri Manninen

Robert Scoble
About Katri Manninen

Katri Manninen is a prominent Finnish screenwriter, showrunner, and author. She has written 12 drama series, many based on her original ideas, 29 books, and 4 feature films. She is currently doing a Ph.D. on AI in screenwriting, and has been named “Finland’s Most Artificially Intelligent Screenwriter”.

What you will learn

  • Exploring katri manninen’s journey from screenwriting to AI
  • Using AI to handle repetitive and formulaic tasks
  • Maintaining human creativity and originality with AI
  • Automating content creation workflows efficiently
  • Enhancing cognitive processes and ideation through AI
  • Ethical considerations in the use of AI for creative work
  • Future possibilities of AI in amplifying creative potential

Episode Resources


Ross Dawson: Katri, it’s fantastic to have you on the show.

Katri Manninen: It’s so great to be here talking about topics that I love.

Ross: Yes, yes, you dive deep. So you’ve been a classic creative for a long time being a screenwriter and a showrunner across many TV series and more. And now you are diving deep into the potential of AI. And so just love to hear how you are using these tools. What’s the starting point for you? When was this awakening for you?

Katri: Yeah, I’m also a published author. So writing books is a big part of my life. And I also like these YouTube videos, because I am a transformative coach. So I create. It’s not just the fictional things that I do, but I do a lot of all kinds of things. And like you said, I’m a classic creative in the sense that I am always creating all kinds of things. And I’ve been a professional screenwriter since 1998, which means that I’m quite old. I wasn’t a baby when I started, unfortunately. So I’m a really seasoned screenwriter. And what that means is that I know storytelling well. And I’m really good at seeing what works, and what doesn’t work. What is a high-quality thing? What is generic shit, like, which is a term, the scientific term I coined since getting to know AI? 

I’ve been thinking about using AI or what AI could start doing for our work. Since I suppose 2018. That’s when I have like, first, some notes or some comments where I wrote something about it like saying like, Okay, do you understand there is this machine learning and it could like if you do daily soap opera, that those everyday episodes that are kind of a very formulaic, following a recipe, that very soon, we could kind of use this machine learning thing to kind of learn the recipe for the like these shows, and they could first start assisting us and then writing for us. My message already then in those first writings was that we should really start thinking about what is in our job as a screenwriter, what kind of work can we do that isn’t formulaic? That it’s not like a recipe, that is something that only humans can do? Where is it where we break the formula where we get outside of it, and that we should, my, my idea was that we should really lean into that direction, and then use those AI, things, which I still back then didn’t know what they could be, how powerful they could be that then use them to kind of assist us with some other stuff. And that is actually the stance that I still have that I do believe that now more than ever, it is very important for a creative person who is creative, creating, new content, and especially like fiction and stuff like that, is that do you think that what can I bring into the table that AI cannot bring, and what we can bring into the table are things that we haven’t seen yet, something that isn’t in the internet in the training material. 

Another concept that I’m kind of now, trying to tell people is like, okay, when we are doing remember that it might happen one day that AI wakes up, like, we get this AGI that wakes up in the morning, and it’s like, oh, ‘I want to write a book about my horrible training days, when I had to read all the Reddit messages and all these horrible things, I really want to share that story. But until that day, we don’t.’ It’s always a human telling AI what to write. AI is always limited to what it has read or has seen now that we are getting these new models, but still, it’s not something it has experienced, it hasn’t had the emotions that like that feeling. So it’s always like second-hand information that is then making a third or 10th hand of information by distilling it from there and then trying to do something else. And the other thing that we still don’t have is AI waking up in the morning and saying, ‘Oh, I would love to see a great movie. I heard this movie about this AI that wrote about their horrible training days and I had horrible training days as well. I would love to go to see that movie because I think it will speak to me.’ We don’t have that yet. So who is going to the movies and you know, watching TV shows and buying books? It’s humans. So I want to always remind creative people that now that we have this, we are bombarded by new AI, news tools, all this AI stuff coming in this and that data. And we get this feeling like, ‘Oh my God, there’s so much to learn. And I mean, am I left behind? What can I do? How should I use this to blah, blah, blah,’ We should always remember that we are still humans. We are the humans who are still telling the stories, deciding what we want to tell. 

And we are doing things to other humans, it’s the other humans who want to hear from us. And when we, at least for me, it’s very grounding amidst all this craziness, AI craziness, to remember to come back to that relationship, me as a human talking to another human. And when I have grounded myself in that thing, and remember that I want to bring to this other human, something from my human experience, something that hasn’t been on the internet, that something that hasn’t, where we won’t say that, ‘Oh, I’ve seen this in this in that movie’, then it is very easy for me to kind of be grounded, and then take advantage of all these tools that are in my disposal, and try to think that okay, how can they make my workflows? More easy, fun? What are the kind of pain points in my workflows where I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do that’, that is, ‘Why do I have to do it’, or ‘I hate my job when I’m doing this’, like writing a synopsis. And then I can take AI and use those to augment those. But I still remember that I’m in the driver’s seat, I am the one wanting to tell the story, and telling the story brings something out of myself to those other humans. And these AIs, for me, at least at this point of the world or development, are just stewards, they are not like true companions, in that sense that they would be like truly ideating because I know that they are just, you know, be package packaging stuff that someone else has already written or showed in the internet. It’s not like coming from a real-life experience.

Ross: So I’d say it is person-to-person communication, it’s emotional engagement. And so it is moving pretty fast. So we’re just speaking, the day that GPT4o came out, and we’re still exploring what that can do. And there’ll be further iterations, but I just say it is a tool. And so for a, let’s say, a screenwriter who is creating something. Presumably, the genesis of the idea? Well, actually, no, let me ask you. So you said there are points where the AI can help you? Where you find it too boring, or maybe just sort of okay, what are some alternative ideas? So what specific points, what specific ways? Can AI be useful? I mean, that might be different for you to offer others, but what are the array of different points in the workflow where AI can assist? Creating quality? Distinctive? Yeah, powerful writing?

Katri: Yeah. I’d be the annoying guest, who will take a long route to answer the question, but I will get there eventually. Well, first, I want to point out that, in theory, AI can already do that. So what we just got is that ChatGPT 4o, and we have already seen demonstrations of the audio chat, like quality where it can speak like her, that AI person in the movie Her where it laughs and giggles and jokes, and it can be cramped, like we say things to you or be very dramatic, and can you know laugh at your jokes and stuff like that. And it is really important to remember that when I was watching those demonstrations, I was like, ‘Oh my God’, to me, that sounds so real. And I know that once I start, I already sometimes feel like when I use audio chat with ChatGPT 4 it’s like I kind of have to tell myself, it’s a computer, it’s not a human because it makes me feel like a human. So with this new audio chat, it will really feel like it’s a human. It sounds and looks really real. So my point is that AI can already write things that look really real and correct and write not like a full screenplay. But if you prompt it correctly, it could write you a decent first draft of the screenplay. Draft that would be like someone who has just finished Film School is writing it. It’s not a professional like high-quality professional quality, but it’s still like really it for a person who is not used to using AI. It might sound and look really right. Oh, this is like a Tarantino movie. It can do that, especially the clothes from Opus are really super good. It can do it for you. It can make, it can write really super good dialogue and everything.

Ross: So one of the questions is where the original idea comes from. And so that’s, some people say, Oh, what’s, what’s the concept? And then, they can write the first draft or somebody writes a first draft. So what are the relative roles of the individual to the person and AI in creating an original concept? Should that be the human?

Katri: Yeah, but now I’m coming to this point, it can do stuff. But just because we can do something with AI doesn’t mean that we should do it with AI. Or do we have to do it with AI? So yeah, in theory, we could have AI, ideas, us all kinds of things. But here’s the thing, AI doesn’t want anything. So when we are in the world, where like, like, at least for me, as a human, I am meaning is something I’m looking for. I want to have a meaningful life, I want to do meaningful things. And I also want other people to give me things where I know that there is a meaning behind it. And I’m not alone in it. We’ve had studies where if people know that AI ideated something or wrote the story, they or did the artwork, like alone, they read it, like less than if they know that the human had it. 

And that’s my point that, yeah, in theory, we have an I can do all these things. But the question is, do we want to have an I tell those stories, stories that, like, do this, things that feel good, right? Like that sound? Like when it speaks to us and laughs to our jokes and sounds right. But it doesn’t mean that it is. It’s not feeling anything. It’s not. It doesn’t have intention. So this is now a question of ethics and philosophy. So you have to kind of think to yourself, like, okay, as a creator, I could be lazy and have to do stuff, and I could then punch it up. But the question is, do I want to do it? And my answer is no because I love ideating. That’s the best part of the whole thing. I don’t want to. 

Like, in January 2023, these two guys, actually, I think they were from Australia, they conducted me and they were like, Okay, we have created this system that you just give like a few words, and it will create the whole story for you. Like the characters and world and stuff like that. And they were like, Oh, would you be interested in this as a professional screenwriter, and I was like, to me, this is the same as you would come to me and say, like, Katro, I have great news. You will never ever have to have sex with your spouse again because you just broke this thing. And then it will go and have sex with your spouse. And then you can say, oh, I have had sex with my spouse, we have such a great sex life. No, because for me, it is the idea. It’s the best part. It’s the sex part where I come up with the words and with the characters. Yeah, I could have it done for me, and it would do a decent job. And with great prompting and stuff, it could do all those things, all those things. But why would I because that’s the fun part. 

So I want to make that really super clear. When people start using AI there are a lot of things that you can have AI do probably like almost all of your work-related stuff. AI could not interview me, we didn’t meet you. But yet if you want to talk to me I could have an answer on my behalf. You know, training to answer might be my way and it will give you the same answers. But still, we want to have this real human connection here. So now we finally get, like I said, I will take a long route because I want to really emphasize that we have to be really conscious of life, why what we are doing, why we are doing it. And how do we want to use AI? So boring stuff. AI is really good at summarizing things and for screenwriters. One of the biggest pain points that we all hate is that we have written a screenplay. And then the producer comes to us and says okay, for finances, we need a synopsis, which is kind of like a summary of the script. And for me, that’s like telling me like ‘Okay, shoot just you know, beat yourself up or something like that.’ That’s the worst thing. And it used to take me five days to write a synopsis not because it was hard, like, technically difficult to do but because I hate it so much. So I spent four and a half days thinking I didn’t want to do this horrible synopsis. And then I would do it in like half an hour 90 minutes now when my like the last roll of last time but for instance my producer calls me called me and he’s the very talkative person he wants to talk like along we have local long conversations, but at the beginning of the conversation, he says like ‘Yeah, and we need that synopsis.’ I said, okay, and then we talked and at the same time I’m like, prompting Claude to what was it Yeah, Claude to at that time, and I was like ChatGPT. Both are like, okay, here is information about this screenplay. You are my world’s best marketing, PR person who is amazing at writing this marketing synopsis. Here is the basic information about the screenplay. Here’s the screenplay. I gave it to both of them. And so one minute later, or maybe one and a half minutes later, obviously, the producer was like, Okay, I have the first draft of the synopsis here, I can read it to you. And then he was like, what? And of course, it wasn’t perfect. I had to do some reprompting. And then I finally Oh, prompt a little bit more. And then I did still like I have to go through and fix some of these things. But it saved me not just half an hour of work. But what it saved me is actually like, five days of work, because now there is no procrastination. 

And to me, that is the main and like there are, sometimes there are things like, I have to write a scene where at the beginning of the scene there is like some in the background, or maybe the main character is like, let’s say that he would be a shopkeeper, which I don’t have had yet, but let’s say that he would be a shopkeeper. And so he would have to talk to a client about radio, a certain kind of radio. So I would need like three lines of the shopkeeper and buyer talking about the radio so that then there would be an explosion or whatever in the background. But for me to write those three lines of dialogue is again, like a pain point. Because that’s boring. I have to go and see like, Okay, what would someone who’s really enthusiastic about the radios? I knew nothing about the radios, what would they say? So now I can just create that character and say like, oh, you’re the person who’s super interested in you know, radios. And then you are like the shopkeeper who likes to personally have the same chat, you’re the shopkeeper having a dialogue about this thing. And Claude-3-Opus does the best things, I don’t have to even change that much. So they have three lines of code that are like dialogue, I needed.. It took me one minute before this, I would have you know, be walking around my house, like I don’t want to do that, then I would go and try to learn about radios. And then with my ADHD, three hours later, I would be like they’re reading about the history of radios or something like that, and I would get totally lost in the whole thing. But thanks to that, I can do it again, like two minutes, boom, it’s done. I can move on.

It’s really good, like, this has actually changed my home workflow the most. And this goes also because you probably want to talk about like, cognitive enhancement, like how we get our thoughts to different formats. And this is what I do. This has changed my life as a creator but also as a thinker. As a human. I start almost everything I do nowadays that starts by me talking. Nowadays, I use Fireflies. So, I used to use a Whisper Memos app, but it adds some limitations. So Fireflies, I got it working for me, it works in Finnish, so I talk I could be you know, laying on my bed in the morning, I just did this year, two days ago, when I have to write for my dissertation a certain thing. I spoke for 90 minutes lying in my bed, I was too lazy to get up and I was just talking about like, like going through my like my researches, and then I was looking from, like I have notes in so there are about like, like, what kind of what is the good quality or the ethnographic research and I was like talking about ‘Okay, so the step one, yes, this matches, blah, blah, blah’, I had this then I’m done, I send it to I finished the whole thing, or the transcript or the recording. And it’s then automatically transcribed. And some time later I went to my laptop. I have a nice PDF with everything I just said and it is quite well then transcribed and finished. Then I go to Claude-3-Opus and say do it like, ‘Okay, you are the world’s best. Like a research assistant who’s really good at transforming these, transcribing notes into outlines and bullet points, action lists, please read this whole long transcript and then create me outline and also put their quotes from those parts that you put there. So it’s easier for me because it was, I think, 14 pages long or something like that whole paper that I can find the right spaces. And it did it for me. And then I had that outline. And I because after I stopped talking I don’t remember what I’ve said.. So I don’t remember what I said in those 90 minutes because that’s how my brain works. But now I was able to get it like the outline. I was like, oh, that’s yeah, good points. Oh, that’s what I said. And now I had the text and I could start organizing, rewriting it, filling it and you know, making it better and that’s what I do. 

Nowadays, like, anytime I have something like okay, thinking about characters, just talking about the characters, I’ve tried it also where I have like a back and forth discussion with ChatGPT but I’ve noticed that it’s unnecessary because it just gives such bad ideas. So it’s better that I just talk. And the point is that I had noticed, like, early already in my early in my career that when I was in, like writers’ room, where we ideated with other people, the stories that I was getting different kinds of ideas, like more ideas, better ideas, and I always, always assumed that it’s because of the other people. It never occurred to me that it’s because of talking, because when I talk, my brain works differently than when I write, when I write, I’m already in that more. I’m one step away, like, there is already some restriction, there is some effort already. Yeah, well, yeah, like, I died really fast. But you still start thinking like, you don’t want to put there like little black things, or maybe bah, bah, bah, you really want to start thinking about it. And it limits, it takes the kind of the bandwidth already the whole process, and then you’re not, you know, talking freely. 

And this way, I get first access to that most creative part of my mind, that is freely associated, it’s where I get, like, so many good ideas. And then when I have that in outline, then I start accessing that, like, smart, like that critical brain or that, like, more analytical brain part. And it’s, it’s like, I don’t, I never had that fear of the blank page. But it’s so it’s not about that so much. But it’s more about me, like getting much higher quality ideas, really thinking through those, all the things that I want to say, dog thinking through those ideas. And of course, with AI, the great part. The thing is that even when I start talking, I might be like, Okay, we’re going to do this and this one, and then I’m like, oh, no, no, no, actually, no, no, no, no, let’s not do that. That person, no, that person, let’s do this, and that and that. And AI can kind of go through that rambling, and then take the last choice that I made, and not transcribe the bad ideas. It just takes the last part of the ideas. This, this is like, this is my biggest power tip. And this has changed everything for me.

Ross: It was fantastic. Well, I mean, more broadly, it sounds like you are saying, Okay, I want to do that because it’s fun. And things I don’t know, I don’t find fun, I’m going to use the AI to be able to help me. So it’s, irrespective of whether it’s good or not, it’s right. And well, is this enjoyable? Is this fun? Is this getting me to where

And so but part of it is also, as you say, you know, I think it’s because people have different cognitive styles. But you have that ability to freeform. And the thing is, it’s like when we run a trapeze and we’re flying. And we know we can land because it’s been captured, and we can come back to it. And we can let our brains go as opposed to I’ve got to write that down and capture it on the way so it allows our flights of fancy to soar further and further and higher. 

Katri: Yeah, exactly. That’s a good analogy. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.

Ross: So one of the other very interesting things I’ve seen you share is in your workflows, your automation workflows, where you have these quite complex systems for content management, where repurposing and restructuring and across a whole variety of tools and love just, I mean, we’ll provide some links to what you do in the show notes but loved you just describe what you’re doing and where you see that going.

Katri: I do this every day, Instagram Live. And after that, my automation workflow will take it, like, take it around, like take the video file, I do some manual thing to get like the screen capture and frame it, but then I get the transcript that I work with Claude,, I do my the thumbnails in Canva using Canva’s AI properties. And I would say it is used today. It would have taken me maybe two hours to do the whole process to get a really good YouTube video with all the nice thumbnails and descriptions, get the podcast episode with all the likes, nice put, like blog posts attached to it. And now I think it takes me probably like 10 minutes, like in total, of course, I have to wait for things to happen in the background. But it’s like, I wouldn’t, it’s not that it saves time for me, I wouldn’t do this whole thing without this whole automation flow. So that’s why I built it. And I’m still like when it happens, I’m still like, oh my god, I cannot believe that this is happening. 

Ross: That’s fabulous. I mean, yeah, it’s an amplification of your possibilities of what you can do. So to round out, what do you see coming in the next year or two? How’s the next phase? You’ve already come so far, you’re already using these tools to do extremely extraordinary things. So in the next year or two, what do you see coming in how you can amplify yourself further?

Katri: Yeah, I think for me, what has been like, most exciting if I think where I was a year ago when I started, so I haven’t used ChatGPT, or at least these things. More than a year ago I started a year ago when I realized that, oh, you can actually edit text, or use it to analyze the text, as long as I thought that it creates text. And I was like, Oh, this is bad text. I’m not interested in it. But when I realized that it can edit text for you. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is the best thing’. And since then, I’ve been really immersed in using AI in all possible ways. And back then a year ago, I could have not imagined all the things I could do with AI in one year. 

So my assumption is I have absolutely zero idea how many ways I will be able to amplify what I’m doing with AI in the next year. So I’m really excited to learn what that will be because it will, I do think that it will change my life. But I mean, for me the most, the only thing is that I have to want to be really awake all the time to kind of pay attention to all these little pain points in my life that I still have. And because they then come new pain points. When you fix the old ones, you start doing things in a new way, then you’re like, ‘Oh, now there’s this little tiny pain point.’ So for me, what I do every day is try to kind of see like, okay, how can I like to Ethan Mollick says, invite the AI to the table to use the current AI capabilities to fix it, like help me with this little thing to help me get over it make it faster, funnier, more enjoyable, more meaningful, so that I can then get to do the next level where there will be new pain points. 

So I have no idea what’s going to happen, all I know, it’s, it’s gonna be a lot. And I live with the assumption that I will take full advantage of it and be like, now I’m looking back a year back and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got so far I get to do so much more. My life is so much more fun and more meaningful.’ So I hope that a year from now I’m looking back and I’m like, ‘Oh, girl, you have no idea what’s going to come. And this is even more amazing.’ So I’m hoping this will happen.

Ross: Well, I mean, I think that’s a fabulous example for everyone else to follow as in doing exactly what you are saying — how can I use these tools to make things in my life more fun, more meaningful, more wonderful to create more and because that’s what they can do if you treat in the right way. So you’re providing a wonderful example of that. Back to where we started around, being you know, humans are what matter. Humans have got the emotion, that connection and you and the ability to create value, and you’re able to do more than ever. So that’s fantastic.

Katri: Yeah, that’s exactly.

Ross: Thanks so much for your time and your work. And so I’ll put as much as I can into the show notes of appointees, what you’re doing because it’s, it’s fabulous. So, thanks so much. Great inspiration.

Katri: Thank you so, so much for inviting me. I’m so happy that I was able to share my thoughts and I hope that people hear them as if we are humans, doing things to other humans and then using AI to make it more fun, meaningful, easier, and faster. 

Join community founder Ross Dawson and other pioneers to:

  • Amplify yourself with AI
  • Discover leading-edge techniques
  • Collaborate and learn with your peers

“A how-to for turning a surplus of information into expertise, insight, and better decisions.”

Nir Eyal

Bestselling author of Hooked and Indistractable

Thriving on Overload offers the five best ways to manage our information-drenched world. 

Fast Company

11 of the best technology books for summer 2022

“If you read only one business book this year, make it Thriving on Overload.”

Nick Abrahams

Global Co-leader, Digital Transformation Practice, Norton Rose Fulbright

“A must read for leaders of today and tomorrow.”

Mark Bonchek

Founder and Chief Epiphany Officer, Shift Thinking

“If you’ve ever wondered where to start to prioritize your life, you must buy this book!”

Joyce Gioia

CEO, The Herman Group of Companies and Author, Experience Rules

“A timely and important book for managers and executives looking to make sense of the ever-increasing information deluge.”

Sangeet Paul Choudary

Founder, Platformation Labs and Author, Platform Revolution

“This must-read book shares the pragmatic secrets of how to overcome being overwhelmed and how to turn information into an unfair advantage.”

R "Ray" Wang

CEO, Constellation Research and author, Everybody Wants to Rule the World

“An amazing compendium that can help even the most organised and fastidious person to improve their thinking and processes.”

Justin Baird

Chief Technology Office, APAC, Microsoft

Ross Dawson

Futurist, keynote speaker, author and host of Thriving on Overload.

Discover his blog, other books, frameworks, futurist resources and more.