For years, Sony Pictures has promised to make a movie about former Apple chief executive Steve Jobs based on Walter Isaacson's 2011 biography. But last month, Universal announced it had picked up the Aaron Sorkin-penned movie. We scratched our heads and moved on -- then the hack of Sony Pictures exposed exactly how the picture went from being the next blockbuster to a Sony Pictures quagmire.
Over at Gawker's Defamer blog, Sam Biddle has published blow-by-blow account of the e-mail chatter that led to the disintegration. Here are five things we've learned from it.
These leaks make Sony Pictures look like a total mess. It's unfair to judge a company based on a few heated e-mails from a few executives. But if the purpose here is to damage Sony Pictures's reputation, then the hackers that leaked these e-mails have definitely chosen their targets well.
In the leaked thread on the Jobs movie, Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal comes as needlessly aggressive, incompetent and totally willing to trash high-value talent such as actress Angelina Jolie to anyone when needed. And Pascal doesn't come off the worst in these hacks. From the leaked data on its gender pay gap to an enormous list of complaints from what appears to be an employee feedback survey, Sony Pictures looks like a bumbling, backwards place to work.
The upshot of this leak is not just a ploy to damage the company's security reputation or to prove a point about how it handles consumer information, which was the aim of the major hack of the Sony PlayStation Network in 2011. And it's not a hack for financial information.
This is character assassination.
Hollywood may be even more ego-centric than tech. Tech firms get a lot of well-deserved criticism for being self-absorbed and amazingly ego-driven. (In fact, Biddle's sort of the master of that.) But the size of the egos at play in this thread are staggering.
The bulk of the conversation leaked here is between Pascal and the Jobs movie producer Scott Rudin -- an accomplished Hollywood bigwig who's not exactly famous for his congeniality. And they're fighting, it seems, because Angelina Jolie wants director David Fincher to direct her picture about Cleopatra rather than the Jobs biopic. After numerous demands to Pascal that order her, in one form or another, to shut Jolie down, Rudin goes off on the Academy Award-winning actress:
I'm not destroying my career over a minimally talented spoiled brat who thought nothing of shoving this off her plate for eighteen months so she could go direct a movie. I have no desire to be making a movie with her, or anybody, that she runs and that we don't. She's a camp event and a celebrity and that's all and the last thing anybody needs is to make a giant bomb with her that any fool could see coming
And much more adept at spin. In an e-mail that is almost breathtaking in its mastery of spin, Sony marketing head Michael Pavlic waxes rhapsodic about Jobs, which Biddle reports "still basically just exists on paper" at that point. But to hear Pavlic tell it, it's a masterpiece:
"It's a mediation [sic] on Jobs himself. It's one of his early computers - closed end to end. It's insistent upon itself, it's relentless. I kept begging for someone to walk outside, for some daylight, for an opening."
We've seen some impressive pitches for vaporware over the years here at The Switch, but that's pretty darn good. Plus, there's no mention of innovation or disruption, or claims to be the "Uber" or "Tinder" of anything. Extra points.
Director David Fincher is hilarious. Pascal was upset when she saw an article saying Fincher was clashing with the studio and might pull out of the project. So she forwarded the article -- which had the headline "'Girls' Star Adam Driver to Play 'Star Wars Villain; David Fincher Eyed for Steve Jobs Movie; Josh Boone to Direct 'The Stand.'" -- to Fincher with one, um, word of commentary: "WTF."
His reply? "Adam Driver is a terrible idea, I'm with you."
Real lesson: Don't write things in company e-mails that you don't want published in headlines. In the comments on the article, Biddle said that, at one point in the e-mail exchange someone wrote the wisest words of the chain: "You are both crazy to put this in an e-mail."
Truer words have never been committed to the screen.
In other words, folks, if you're contemplating have a long, passive-aggressive (or outright aggressive) argument over a work matter, consider saving your best barbs for a series of lunches or phone conversations. Anywhere without a paper trail.
And also, as a sub-lesson: how about a little respect for the staying power of Steve Jobs? Even without this e-mail thread, Jobs was already making headlines because of his appearance in court this week, via a video taped just months before he died. The fact that the Hollywood elite and their studios as are still fighting to make a picture on Jobs a little over three years after his death says quite a bit about his lasting impact.