Top Film Industry Stories of 2014 #4:
The 12 Days of Hackmas
By David Mumpower
January 8, 2015

Hunch hunch, what what, buh bo.

On the 12th day of Hackmas, North Korea gave to us...
Theaters bein' a-scared
Sandler films degraded
Sorkin's got no money
Kevin Hart unfriended
Jolie acts entitled
Spidey terminated
Employee private data
(*deep breath*) Fiiiiiive Sony films
Four lawsuits filed
The next Bond script
Obama’s movie picks
And a whole bunch of publicityyyyyyy

Unless you’ve been living in an underground warren over the past few months, you have heard about the Sony hack. Its implications have been so wide reaching that two different governments are engaged in a war of words regarding responsibility and ramifications. Rarely does a political situation also excite fans of juicy celebrity gossip, yet that is the exactly what has transpired. United States President Barack Obama even finds himself in the unlikely position of being included on both sides of this ledger.

The Sony hack began the week of Thanksgiving. As some unfortunate employees were fantasizing about turkey, their days were suddenly disrupted by an incident that would wreck their holidays. A message popped up on their computers, and the splash screen included the text: ““This is just the beginning.”

The more important message was, “Hacked by #GOP.” No, Sony had not angered Republicans. The Guardians of Peace, a group of computer experts working on behalf of North Korea, were notifying the corporation of their intent to wreak havoc in the coming days and weeks. They were as good as their (ominous) word.

What transpired next is historically significant in myriad ways. A major corporation was alerted to the fact that a third party had compromised their data. And I mean ALL of their data. Any employee of the company had their personal information stolen by these hackers. They warned that the company’s “top secrets” would be revealed if Sony failed to agree to their demands. Suffice to say that Sony chose not to negotiate with terrorists. Many numbers of Sony employees regret this choice. While nobody has been fired yet due to the public nature of the situation, proverbial heads are going to roll.

The first shot off the bow occurred on Thanksgiving during a day when most Americans were enjoying a decadent tribute to gluttony and sloth. The hackers who had pilfered 100 terabytes of Sony data chose that day to release five different Sony wide releases onto the various torrent sites. Brad Pitt’s Fury was the most notable of them since it was already a huge box office hit. None of the other four films had been released yet, which actually made their availability on pirate web sites a much bigger deal. One of them, Annie, was the Christmas Day anchor of Sony’s holiday revenue. Another, To Write Love on Her Arms, was not scheduled for release until March of 2015. The financial losses from these leaks are in the eight figure range, possibly more. Fury alone has been illegally downloaded millions of times.

Remarkably, the hackers had only scratched the surface with their malevolent intent. When employees returned from the Thanksgiving holiday, they discovered that they were still locked out of their computers. They also learned the salaries of all of their co-workers, an egregious breach of privacy. By this point, virtually every non-conspiracy theorist had deduced that the cause for the hack was not simple malice. North Korea was obviously the architect of the invasion. They were irritated by the impending release of a silly buddy comedy entitled The Interview in which Seth Rogen and James Franco attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un. This is akin to declaring war on Great Britain due to an innate dislike of Benny Hill.

Sony held their ground on whatever behind the scenes demands were made by the hackers. Days later, a more aggressive stance was taken by the #GOP. They published a series of email exchanges between vaunted producer Scott Rudin and longtime Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Amy Pascal. The discourse was…regrettable.

Presuming that they were speaking behind a veil of internet anonymity, the individuals discussed several Hollywood celebrities. Angelina Jolie was chastised for being bratty and “minimally talented,” Aaron Sorkin was derided for being too financially motivated and possibly broke, and Obama was, well, let’s say that movie suggestions were proffered on his behalf. They were straight out of the Blackula and Superfly days of the 1970s. Sony has apologized many times for the racial profiling demonstrated by Pascal and Rudin’s private correspondence, which is a strange situation all the way around.

Pascal in particular is a vaunted supporter of the Democratic party who has held multiple fundraisers for Obama. She was placed in the odd position of backtracking from comments she made in private, a key aspect of the entire situation. Every high profile executive in the world got a cold chill in their spine when they realized exactly how little control they had over their emails and texts in the digital era.

With Sony’s most powerful movie executive in full apology mode, the #GOP went on offense. They leaked documents that revealed how frustrated Sony strategists were by the quality of Adam Sandler movies. The longtime anchor for Sony films was discredited for his greed and the reductive nature of his most recent releases.

In another instance of Sony execs biting a hand that fed them, burgeoning superstar Kevin Hart was assailed for his unwillingness to make social media posts for his films without further financial compensation. The grudging Sony employees determined that such situations should be negotiated as clauses in future contracts. As one of Sony’s most reliable box office draws in recent years, Hart’s presence in such hostile messages went several steps beyond ungrateful.

As Sony continued to press forward with the release of The Interview, hackers grew more desperate. They released the working script for the next James Bond project, which is still a year away. They revealed the details of several upcoming projects under consideration. The most amusing of those was a potential union of the 21/22 Jump Street franchise with the flagging Men in Black franchise.

Also interesting was the revelation that Disney was trying to buy Spider-Man for their side of Marvel releases, which also meant that the current actor portraying the character, Andrew Garfield, was about to be unemployed. Put yourself in his shoes and imagine what hearing that news must have felt like.

The lingering impact of the Sony hack is being felt across the business and political worlds. Sony is already facing multiple lawsuits from current and former employees who are all rightfully outraged over the grotesque invasion of privacy. The arguments are valid, yet Sony’s culpability is something that is yet to be determined since the actions of the hackers were a criminal behavior they could not have anticipated. While some people wag their fingers that the company should have known, all businesses, big and small, are now quietly investigating the security of their digital information.

For everyone but Sony, this exercise has become a teaching moment. For Sony, it’s an unmitigated and historic disaster that has placed executives from their company in the awkward position of calling the American president misinformed. And they are doing this on the heels of finding the perfect Tyler Perry movie for him.

The ultimate outcome of the Sony hack is an issue that our staff determined should stand alone as its own Film Industry Story. So, that discussion will come tomorrow.