UPDATE: Times of London journo James Dean says that he did not report last Friday that Sony production had shut down because of hacking, even though his article was hotly refuted by Sony after it was aggregated around the world. Dean says he was talking about agencies that shoot for Sony, not actual Sony film productions. You decide if he is on the side of the angels. The headline: Sony ‘suspends filming’ after hackers hit payments. The opening paragraph: “The Hollywood studio that made the James Bond and Spider-Man films has abandoned shoots after hackers crippled its computer network, and leaked four films and thousands of documents.”
Next paragraph: “Agencies filming for Sony Pictures have cancelled shoots because the problems have left it unable to process payments, a source told The Times.”
There is no clarifying verbiage before the article fades out into an appeal to subscribe if you want to read further. A Sony spokesperson said when they reached out to the reporter, he’d gone away for the weekend. In this moment of heightened sensitivity about Sony, perhaps the best approach is to say exactly what you mean, right in the headline and opening sentences, even if it renders your article much duller. Duller, at least, than the way it played around the world, prompting pickups in places like the New York Post, which is where I saw it, and which took it as news that productions had shut down. That entire article was also belatedly denied by the studio.
EARLIER EXCLUSIVE, SATURDAY, 7:40 am PST: Despite a spate of reports to the contrary, Sony Pictures has not shut down production of all its films because of the hack attack that has shaken the film division to its core. The James Bond film Spectre is shooting in the UK; the untitled Peter Landesman-directed film about football concussions that stars Will Smith is shooting in Pittsburgh, and YA novel adaptation The Fifth Wave, about an alien invasion, is shooting in Atlanta.
Insiders said that protecting these productions was made top priority the moment hackers breached the studio on November 24; shooting hasn’t been interrupted and dailies are being viewed by studio executives despite the tumultuous distractions. An unchecked and misinformed report from The Times Of London got aggregated everywhere, including in the juicy scandal coverage in this morning’s New York Post. Strangely, studio higher-ups consider this gossipy misfire is among the least troubling thing being reported by blogs and filtering to more legitimate publications, all sourced by the swarms of private e-mails sent by hackers to media outlets, ostensibly to try to upend Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton’s regime and to blackmail them into not releasing The Interview.
We received a new batch of files just yesterday, and we assume everyone else did, too, so these ill-gotten news reports aren’t going to subside anytime soon. Many of these emails reveal dishy harsh descriptions discussing talent like Angelina Jolie, and pay disparities on movies like American Hustle involving actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams; others describe discussions on developments that didn’t happen, like an idea for Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs helmers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller taking over the studio’s animation division. The bombshell that Pascal and producer Scott Rudin wrote a racially insensitive email back and forth (both publicly apologized) has so far been the one thing that rose above simple salacious gossip. But there is a whole different set of documents dumped to media outlets and elsewhere that is freezing the blood of top executives and staffers: personal data like private medical records on employees and families.
All this has inevitably put Pascal and Lynton on the hot seat, though many I’ve talked to feel the Sony bosses in Japan have to shoulder some of this blame. After the Playstation hacking, whose job was it to protect Sony’s global IT system? Was it maybe unwise to make scores of IT staff part of the layoff headcount, a move executed to appease the studio’s Japan-based bosses and noisy shareholders by shaving off some cash from the bottom line? IT isn’t considered a profit center, but the ramifications of putting those staffers on the street and leaving IT systems vulnerable might be a pricey byproduct of the cost slashing that has gripped so many Hollywood studios.