The Sony Wreak

There is an old Hollywood joke about a studio called Miracle Pictures. The punchline is the company’s motto: “If it’s good, it’s a Miracle.”

Sony can now change their name. As the fallout continues over the massive hack of data from Sony Pictures, the damage will reach levels that presumably will weaken – if not demolish – any chance for Sony to effectively continue doing business in the film industry. Right now it is hard to assess the damage accurately only because it is still under way and the whole thing resembles a slow motion train wreak with boxcars still flying through the air.

Let me state right now for the record that I have not downloaded any of this illegally obtained information, nor have I tried downloading the stolen data from any of the bit torrent sites where it has been posted. Accessing this information may be an illegal act under federal law. Fortunately, other people are downloading the material and we can all just keep up with the daily reports.

Oh sure, a lot of immediate press attention has gone to the “personal” stuff. For example, Sony’s co-chair Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin spent one afternoon pondering various borderline racist assumptions about Pres. Obama’s taste in movies.

(Quick note to both of you knuckleheads: Don’t waste your time trying to second guess the cinematic tastes of political figures. Did you know that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s favorite movie was the British tear-jerker That Hamilton WomanThere is no way to explain this one.)

Then there is the trash talk about such Hollywood stars as Angelina Jolie. Obviously they thought that the internet was a safe place for a bitchy chit chat.

One thing that is confirmed by the hacked files, is something we already knew. Yes, the Hollywood film industry is predominately controlled by a small pack of over-paid white guys. Gee, who would’a thunk it?  Amy Pascal of Sony Pictures is one of the few gender exceptions. Based upon her emails, she is doing an excellent job of fitting in.

The mass release of all the personal and financial information on every employee at Sony Pictures is extremely unfortunate and, in my book, unforgivable. Come on. Most of these folks are underpaid and extremely put upon employees. They should never have been taken hostage in this attack. They work for Sony, so they’ve got enough problems. Leave them alone!

Some of the released material brings up major questions about the decision making process at Sony. And this is where the data hack will get really touchy. Real financial figures are treated as a virtual state secret in Hollywood. Both budget and box office figures are often treated as flexible numbers that can be creatively managed in various ways, both high and low, depending upon the intended use of these financial reports. The slow but inevitable emergence of real figures threatens to be a major destabilizing force in a business that has long depended upon illusionary account practices.

For example, we are now learning that there is a long list of low and moderately budgeted movies that actually made perfectly decent profits (often more than publicly noted). Eventually, we will be seeing figures for tent pole movies that took definite losses (mostly papered over in reports). The new James Bond movie Spectre turns out to be budgeted for $300 million and may have actually gone over this budget within the first week of filming. Meanwhile, senior executives at Sony are caught being snarky about the idea of making lower budgeted movies (a model preferred by the underpaid staff) while stumbling all over the place in their efforts to handle an out of control tent pole model.

In other words, the hacked data presents an industry that appears to be managed by mad men and idiots. Since there is a high possibility that the malware used in the Sony hack is already spilling over into other studio offices (yes, this type of malware is normally designed to do that), the fall out is bound to continue well into 2015.

So pull up a chair and enjoy the show. Hollywood as we know it has just been creamed.

Dennis Toth Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved