Lydia Tenaglia, a close friend and longtime collaborator of Anthony Bourdain’s many television series says the man himself would have “gotten a big laugh” out of the AI voice technology used in Morgan Neville’s Roadrunner documentary, which makes its television premiere this Sunday, April 10, on CNN.
Tenaglia served as a consulting producer on Roadrunner and was actually responsible for convincing Bourdain to enter the TV space way back in 2000 in the wake of the release of his wildly popular book Kitchen Confidential. Together, she and her husband Chris Collins convinced him to collaborate with them on Anthony Bourdain’s a Cook’s Tour (2002-2003), which they later followed with Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (2005-2012), The Mind of a Chef (2012-2015), and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2013-2018). Tenaglia and Collins served as executive producers on all of them.
As for the use of AI to make it sound as if the late Bourdain had spoken aloud some quotes in Roadrunner that he had only ever actually written down while he was alive, Lydia Tenaglia doesn’t think the man himself would have batted an eyelash.
“He would have gotten a big laugh out of that,” she said. “I think he would have thought, understanding filmmaking, that that was a useful device. Those were his words.”
Though Roadrunner director Morgan Neville has skirted around the specific places in the film where AI is used other than him reading an email to friend and fellow restauranteur David Chang, Tenaglia says it was only used in a few brief places.
“They were just three minimal but important lines in this Roadrunner film,” she said. “Three lines — that’s it.”
“He begins reading the email, and the email picks up in Tony’s own voice. It was really a question of like, ‘Do you ever stop and wonder is it all worth it?'” Tenaglia added. “I can’t remember what the line was specifically, but delivered in his own voice, I thought it had an incredible impact.”
Although the use of AI on Bourdain’s voice created quite a stir on the internet, including some blowback from Bourdain’s ex-wife Ottavia Busia, Lydia Tenaglia sees it as nothing more than a useful filmmaking tool.
“What’s fascinating to me is, like, documentary filmmakers use tools all the time. They use recreation. They use audio devices. I mean, when you’re making a documentary, you use archival [footage], and sometimes you manipulate that archival [footage], so even I could argue the very act of editing, or the juxtaposition of images is the documentarian’s use of tools to tell a story,” she said.
“So why is this not yet another tool? It wasn’t as if there was subterfuge going on, and it wasn’t as if the entire film back to back was done in that way. It was literally three lines, and I would argue that they were impactfully used. I was laughing at all the hubbub. Like, seriously? This is what people want to focus on? I mean, documentarians use these kinds of manipulative tools all the time. Why is this any different? It’s just another tool in the toolbox.”
Roadrunner premieres Sunday, April 10 on CNN at 9 p.m. ET and will be available to watch on CNN VOD via cable and satellite systems through May 11. Afterward, it will be available to stream on CNN+.
Main Image: Anthony Bourdain.