Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Sony Hack Scrum

The situation has been changing so fast, I've had to rewrite this post multiple times. If there are any inconsistencies I've missed, apologies in advance.

When Sony Pictures Entertainment's computer systems were hacked, resulting in the leak of massive amounts of sensitive data, initially it seemed like a minor matter. So a few screeners got leaked, Hollywood accounting tactics were thwarted, and sensitive employee information got out. Though a lot of people were affected, it seemed like something that would blow over in a few days or weeks. Sony would have to cough up money for better security, to settle a few lawsuits, and maybe chip in for some credit monitoring for its employees. Big corporations have been hacked often enough that these situations are becoming fairly common. Much of the stolen data seemed fairly benign - a marketing presentation for "After Earth" and E-mails from various employees griping about Adam Sandler. It was embarrassing, but hardly seemed damaging.

And then the "Jobs" E-mails came out. And the insensitive Obama exchange. And the MPAA's anti-piracy strategy. And then the Spider-man reboot plans. And a screenplay for the next James Bond film is floating around now, along with some meeting notes that suggest the production may be massively over-budget. Then last week, the hackers started threatening Sony employees and their families. When the first rumors about the attack being connected to North Korea and the Seth Rogen comedy "The Interview" started circulation, I ran across several snarkers dismissing the whole thing as a publicity stunt. With the latest threats against movie theaters and the release of "The Interview" cancelled, everyone's taking it seriously now. I agree with Sony's decision here - averting a potential tragedy is worth taking the financial hit, but I'm also disturbed by the precedent it's setting. What happens when a movie or television show depicting something really controversial is targeted by future hackers?

There's also the question of how we process the information from the leaked E-mails. Aaron Sorkin penned a strong reproach to the gossipmongers for the New York Times a few days ago, pointing out that people's lives and careers are being ruined. Of course he's absolutely right. And I confess I've been ignoring him completely. I haven't watched any of those leaked screeners and wouldn't touch any of the stolen employee data with a forty-foot pole. I know Sony chief Amy Pascal said something about Obama she shouldn't have, but I don't know exactly what, and I do not care to. However, the inside baseball stuff has been fascinating. Being able to glimpse some of the candid negotiations and the politicking that goes on behind the scenes to get movies made, and seeing how the studio big shots conduct business is too much for me to resist. The E-mails detailing Sony's attempts to get a Steve Jobs biopic off the ground have been the juiciest since they involve so many big names, but some of the lower-profile exchanges have been just as dramatic. There's the way CBS and the NFL screwed over "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" this year, for instance. Or the whole business with the gender pay disparity for the stars of "American Hustle."

I know. It's wrong to be reading these stories. But I've only ever read about exchanges like these second-hand, years and years after the movies in question have come and gone, and somebody wants to write their memoirs. Getting to follow the conversations first-hand, some dated only a few weeks ago, is a rare thrill. And learning that the power players are human beings with often horrendous spelling and grammar is a thrill too. It's one thing to hear about Scott Rudin's attitude, and another entirely to read the insults he casually lobs at A-listers. There is no film obsessive who hasn't secretly dreamed of having this kind of access, to be able to confirm that the people who were responsible for "Grown Ups 2" disliked it just as much as its critics.

The price of that access, though, is a movie studio that has lost the ability to operate. This is a severe blow to Sony. These leaks are going to have serious repercussions for years, and may change how the entire film industry operates. Major projects are in jeopardy. Several of the Sony top brass will probably be going down in flames. It will take the company a long time to recover, and they will lose more than money before it's all over.


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