Dec 11, 2014

That's Entertainment!

No read has been more fascinating and scrumptious and has inspired more Talmudic parsing from me this year than the leaked emails from the hacking of Sony Pictures, which you can find here.
Part of the mysterious delight they bring is the frisson of schadenfreude at seeing a culture of grandiose self-delusion and out of control egos nakedly exposed and brought down to size through their own astoundingly naive and arrogant disregard for discretion.
And don't tell me that these communiqués were never meant to be public. You'd have to be either a three year old or a moron, or a Hollywood macher with delusions of untouchability to think that you can express yourself in writing so rankly without there being the possibility of a leak, accidental or malicious. Memo from David O'Selznick, this isn't.
The hack is a terrible thing, which has jeopardized Sony's employees' sensitive personal information among other bad fallout. It is also out of the realm of gonzo fiction, if, as suspected, it is orchestrated by His Craziness Kim Jong Un and his displeasure with a Sony movie starring his country, Seth Rogen and James Franco.
I am not gleeful at Sony's misfortune, yet if the executives at Sony had behaved electronically in a way that befits their standing and their salaries, we would not have been so mightily entertained, but they would have less appalling things to hide.
Consider the Kevin Hart email: A simple business negotiation. The studio wants him to promote his new movie on social media, his agent claims that he needs to be remunerated, as this was not part of the original deal. They could have had a perfectly civilized in-house discussion without resorting to calling the star "a greedy whore". Or they could call him a greedy whore all they wanted, but not in writing.
When email started being a thing, the company I worked for furnished us with a very useful set of rules. Besides the obvious plea to use civilized language, and to remember that we were representing the company and using a tool that did not belong to us, my impressionable mind never forgot the part that said not to assume that our messages could not potentially be seen by all the wrong people, let alone escape the company's or someone else's scrutiny. Just don't assume privacy of any kind. Ever. Even so, people sent embarrassing companywide emails meant for just one person. They thought they could say horrible things and no one would ever find out. As Ari Emanuel has now famously said: "Whatever"*.

This happened to Sony, but do not for a moment think that the rest of Hollywood does not comport itself this way. One only had to skim through Nikki Finke's Hollywood Deadline to be swamped by a barrage of malicious, arrogant, petty vitriol. I can imagine the armies of cyber security experts now building virtual fortresses for the rest of the studios. I can imagine executives daunted by the sheer thought of cleaning up the messages in which they excoriate the people who work for them. I wonder if executives express themselves in such a fashion in any other industry (besides perhaps the fresh hell of immature alpha male-dominated startups). I doubt it. Correction: maybe sometimes in advertising, when people don't get the company memo.

It's the best shit show on Earth.

As for the saga of Scott Rudin vs. Amy Pascal, and the Steve Jobs movie debacle, to me, this is a thing of beauty. A marvel in the annals of epistolary literature.
To this day, I do not understand what exactly created the conflict, but, and correct me if I'm wrong, it seems that Scott Rudin, an independent producer whose unpleasant reputation precedes him, was partnering with Sony to make a movie about Steve Jobs, starring Christian Bale (great), directed by David Fincher (great) and written by Aaron Sorkin (great). A golden trifecta of possible awards, a la The Social Network.
At the same time, Angelina Jolie wanted Fincher to direct her version of Cleopatra**, hence Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, did something to mollify the star at the expense of the Jobs movie, which had found financing and was ready to go. No small feat, considering all the giant egos and their schedules involved.
Thanks to Scott Rudin's extremely articulate, coherent and wonderfully descriptive emails I am now firmly on Team Rudin.  I wish I were on team Amy, but her writing style is very disappointing.
Now, let's be fair. Scott Rudin has little to worry about (he ruffled the massive feathers of the entire Jolie-Pitt clan, and of producer Megan Ellison, whom he labeled as bipolar, and who took it in stride on Twitter, calling herself merely eccentric). So what? He represents only himself.
Amy Pascal, however, is beholden to her bosses, to shareholders and to the company she leads. Perhaps she writes abysmally to protect herself.
Imagine her weighing the options. On the one hand, a prestige, niche project with a bunch of expensive alpha males, which may win awards and maybe make some money; on the other, Cleopatra, an epic extravaganza with Jolie, one of the biggest stars on the planet, which could potentially make gazillions because such monstrosities play well in Guangdong and Karachi, let alone Peoria.  From what we can glean, Pascal didn't handle all those competing projects and their respective egos well.
There are other gems, like an ass-kissing email from a Sony marketing guy and a ridiculous email from an agent begging Leonardo Di Caprio to consider playing Jobs, comparing the script to Citizen Kane, and Aaron Sorkin to Paddy Chayefsky. AS IF.
Leaks of the worst powerpoints on Earth will give you a glimpse about the paralyzing, generic idiocy of marketing. Executives claiming that Michael Fassbender is not yet a star add to the picture of a "creative" industry that only correlates success with money and seems to be out of touch with reality. 
You will learn interesting facts. For instance, that David Fincher asks $45 million dollars to direct a movie. He is very gifted, but isn't this insane? Or that stars like Tom Cruise, whom Sorkin originally wanted to play Jobs, bring their own writers to rewrite projects. Why are they allowed such a thing? (This is a rhetorical question: because they make the money). From these valuable exchanges, one comes to the conclusion that movie stars have become an unmanageable "clusterduck†" of entitlement.
The most damaging leak, in terms of public opinion, is the inane, pathetic conversation between Pascal and Rudin about a list of movies that Barack Obama might like, which turn out to be all for Black people. As a joke, it is painfully unfunny, and if it's for real, what disastrous poverty of imagination, to say the least. Still, even if this is the most scandalous leak, it also happens to be the most personal. It's not about business, and it puts sharply in relief how damaging and unfair it would be if any of us were not aware that the entire world is listening to our outrageous comments uttered in private. Which is why their apologies on this one sound forced and hollow. In particular when Pascal, who started the conversation, then claims that this does not represent who she is. If your private banter does not show who you really are, what does?
Sony needs some urgent spin control. I also don't know how this woman is not on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 
It is unfortunate that this leak is causing real distress to countless people, but this doesn't make it any less fascinating as an inside look at the movie industry.

* I just love that this word is what he chooses for a greeting. 
** Why would she think that David Fincher would want to do such a thing is beyond me. 
† As Amy Pascal dixit. 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Grande, I agree 1000 percent. This is delicious, sad and I can't turn my eyes away.