What The Sony Hack Reveals About Hollywood’s Struggles With Technology

Author

Nicole Laporte

December 12, 2014

The more leaked documents that make their way across the Internet in the wake of the massive hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer network, the more we learn about the way Hollywood really works. Which is to say that for those who thought the hyperbolic antics of HBO’s Entourage were hyperbolic antics: think again. Most explosive so far is an email spat between Sony’s film division head Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin over the disastrous development of Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs biopic. The exchange makes fictitious über agent Ari Gold’s foul-spewings look positively G-rated.

Some highlights, courtesy of Defamer:

Rudin tells Pascal to “SHUT ANGIE DOWN BEFORE SHE MAKES IT VERY HARD FOR DAVID TO DO JOBS.” (He’s referring to Angelina Jolie, who wanted director David Fincher to direct her version of Cleopatra instead of Jobs.)

To which Pascal writes: “Do not fucking threaten me. I have been asking you [to] engage with me on this for weeks.”

Later, Rudin calls Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat” as well as a “camp event and a celebrity,” whom he has no desire to destroy “my career over.”

But beyond the sensational value of these and other revealed documents—which include code names for stars; the confidential information of Sony employees and talent (including Sylvester Stallone’s social security number); and unreleased movies, such as Annie—the hack illuminates Hollywood’s ongoing struggle to wrap its head around/keep up with technology. From piracy to streaming to 3-D, it’s never been an easy road for Hollywood to adjust to the fast-paced digital surge that is redefining how we make and consume entertainment. Although there are individuals and companies—such as Disney and DreamWorks Animation—that are taking bold steps when it comes to embracing digital content and platforms, many Hollywood operators remain wary at best of new tech. In part that’s because the recipe for merging traditional and digital media is not entirely clear—for all of the proof that YouTube and Vine are the preferred entertainment hubs for young people—as a story in The New Yorker points out this week—there is still not a clear and compelling monetization model.

As one cable network executive says in that story:

We have a lot of conversations about YouTube. We ask, ‘Is it to us now what cable was to broadcast in 1992?’ The parallels are there—lower production values; smaller, narrower audience—and it’s even cheaper, even more niche, even less profitable today than cable was then. Only”—he hesitated, not quite ready to change his frame of reference—”none of YouTube’s stars have really crossed over and landed a big show on Bravo or MTV.

This general ambivalence toward digital that courses through Hollywood—the sense that it is the inevitable future, yet a future that no one quite understands—at Sony has taken the form of denial as of late. According to the Los Angeles Times, when the Dept. of Homeland Security warned the studio that its upcoming release, The Interview, could incite a hostile response from the North Korean government in the form of a cyber attack, the studio looked the other way. Starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, the film is a fictitious account of two journalists who assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un—not known for appreciating self-parodies, particularly those forecasting his death. Both Sony and the Dept. of Homeland Security have denied any discussions.

Even the leaked emails suggest a naivete about the unsecure nature of digital communication. Washington officials surely (well, in most cases) know better than to put things down in writing, any form of writing, lest their documents be subpeonaed. Hollywood should behave no differently when discussing some of the most high-profile people on the planet—people upon whom their business depends—via their iPads.

At this point its unclear what the fallout will be for Sony. There will be the cost—estimated at tens of millions of dollars—of rebuilding its computer network, not to mention fending off possible lawsuits. But of greater consequence is how those who have been harmed (and those who do not want to be harmed in the future) react. Will Angelina Jolie take her next project to Sony? What about other filmmakers? Reputation is a harder thing to repair than a network.

If this were an Entourage episode, Ari would hug it out with those he’d defamed and swear off email. It won’t be quite that simple for Sony execs, though one can assume they will come out of this with a less insular attitude toward technology combined with a new appreciation of that old-school gadget, the telephone.

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