7 Hollywood Insiders on What the Sony Hacks Reveal About How Hollywood Works

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Photo: Maya Robinson

Three weeks into the Sony Pictures hacking scandal, there are no signs that the dissemination of internal emails and documents will halt soon. Evidence of gender pay gaps, racially insensitive emails, and star insults have been released alongside such genuine delights as the most Channing Tatum email ever. It has all added up to an unprecedented behind-the-curtain look at the modern Hollywood system.

But what do the rage-filled emails between Sony co-chair Amy Pascal and producer extraordinaire Scott Rudin tell us about the way studios and producers interact? What does the correspondence in which several Sony execs complain about Kevin Hart’s insistence that he be paid more to tweet in support of their film reveal about how movie stars are viewed by those who run the industry? We spoke to a series of execs, producers, agents, and publicists, who requested anonymity to maintain professional relationships, about the truth behind the hacks.

• “What's funny is everyone loved Nikki Finke because she was so snarky and edgy and now when people see that everyone in the business is snarky, they are shocked and appalled. But I think most are nice and good people; the ugly stuff you are seeing in the emails are such a minority of their daily exchanges. There's a reason it's taking those rifling through all the data to find this stuff; it's because most of it is mundane ...

Actors, directors, writers are all looked at as commodities. At the end of the day, these studios are relying on films to make them money. It's no different than apple selling iPhones or Honda selling cars. The product is the commodity and, in the film business, the films are made up of people. As for Clint's calling Kevin 'a whore,' my take on it is that Clint realized their contract did not explicitly ask for social-media publicity. I take it more as his frustration looking at the bigger picture that agents and attorneys were rightly going to ask for additional compensation for that sort of marketing work, when it wasn't required in their agreement. I can certainly understand his frustration at paying someone $3 million and then having to pay additionally for tweets and Facebook mentions, but it's the agent's job to get his/her client paid as much as they can for any and all of the work they are doing.” —Senior-level talent agent

• “[This kind of vitriol is] specific to those two individuals [Pascal and Rudin]. Giant personalities, giant egos, a dash of complete craziness, and feeling invincible because they're at that level. It's like Clinton getting head in the Oval Office — somehow you think that you're protected at that level. I know better than to talk shit in emails because I know that assistants are reading them, and assistants can forward shit anywhere! I don't know how they don't know that. It's hubris, or something ...

I know better than to email shit-talk about any kind of talent. If I need to speak that way, I call them up! Seriously! That's something I'm hyper-aware of, and I don't know how Amy Pascal is not. But I think knowing Scott Rudin a little bit, he was just trying to get [Jobs] made; it doesn't mean that he believes that about Angelina Jolie. I thought he was shit-talking her because he's trying to minimize her importance so that he could use that as leverage for the other project he was trying to make. He's extremely canny.” —Network TV showrunner

“It's just like any other industry. It's all money-driven and power-driven, and there is so much pressure on people to have the best and make the best and for movies to make that bottom line. People are always yelling at each other and competing; it's a competitive business and it brings out the best in people and the worst. Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin, they have a good relationship, but they had competing projects. Anybody's relationship with Scott Rudin is hot and cold. He's good at what he does and is able to get things done with his strong personality, but it seems like they were talking about competing projects and both wanting the same director, so of course it's going to bring out the worst in each other.” – Former top-level assistant/production coordinator

• “When my first script got optioned by a producer and he was training me on the rules of the industry, the first thing he said was, 'When dealing with business in Hollywood, never put anything in writing, because it can be forwarded to anyone. Always do it on the phone.' That's why phone meetings are still so important in Hollywood, even though it almost seems antiquated as far as their use of technology when you compare it to other industries. So if anything, I was just surprised that so many emails that were so revealing were actually written down to begin with ...

I’ve developed a couple scripts with studios, and executives are super hands-on with the development and become incredibly passionate and close to the material they're developing. Honestly, I think it's the executives' way of contributing to the creative process. They get three times to exercise their voice: reading the script, looking at dailies, and then working on the cut. They have been training to do this from assistants to junior execs to senior execs to vice presidents, and they're finally getting the chance to use their opinions to shape something. So far, in the experience I've had, they take that role very seriously. The problems usually lie when you realize you're making two different movies.” —Feature-film writer-director

• “I’ve had many people make horrible comments about a writer and then later on praise that person to the hilt. And I’m sure there are people who call me an asshole in private who I don’t necessarily think are my enemies, or vice versa. Hollywood is high school with money...

Do I get incredibly frustrated with [name of network exec], or have disagreements with how he does his job? Yes. Have I said things I don’t truly believe about him? Yes. Do I hate him? No.” –TV talent agent

• “In emotionally heated and critical situations, you've seen things escalate. On a normal behavioral level, that is not the way people in Hollywood conduct themselves. The normal way is respectful to the talent. When you're in a critical situation and hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line, people start getting emotional and like any situation or any industry when someone gets emotional, tempers are going to flare and you say things you don't mean. It's more of an emotional response rather than an intellectual response. It’s like a shoving match, but verbal. On a normal level, though? No. You don't disrespect people in writing. You don't disrespect people on the phone; it's not common. Some people will say that it is, but they're just spreading negativity and that's not the reality of the industry ...

Whenever money is on the line, exorbitant amounts, it's going to get a little bit heated. I don't know if it gets as emotionally charged as we saw there, but that's a unique case. You've got two people at the highest levels of their career having an argument about financial and thematic areas [of the business]. You're also talking about — Scott is a successful producer because he is passionate and combative ...

Let’s look at this. You had [Jobs], a lower budget movie that had high Oscar appeal that was ready to go with [David Fincher,] the best filmmaker you'd hope to ever make it, versus [Cleopatra], a very expensive period movie that was hinged on one star [Angelina Jolie] being attractive enough to the global audience to get them to watch a movie about the hot evil queen. If I'm Scott Rudin and I don't feel strongly about the story we're going into production with, that's a black eye on your career. Cleopatra has nothing; you have to convince people why they want to go see it. If it was Cleopatra in Space with a whole bunch of really cool shit going on and they called it Guardians of the Cleopatra, and had a really kickin' '80s soundtrack, I would probably go see that movie ...

[The script discussed] was so 'good' that Angelina walked away from it to do something else. Clearly it had problems and Fincher didn't want to do it. So you hope that you have a complete script going in and that it works but look, at the end of the day, you hope you're going into production with a good script. You want all of the elements to work, but think about how many movies have been made with total shit scripts. Remember the Volcano scripts? Men in Black 3 was a treatment they went into production with. It's like, 'Oh, we've got the schedules open, the actors available, we've got the concept, just fuckin' roll with it.' It's amazing.” —Head of a media company

• “At New Line, [Michael] DeLuca was the most passionate executive in Hollywood. He would fight all the time for projects he believed in with Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne and the powers that be at New Line. If he wanted to get something made like Boogie Nights, which was about a fuckin' dysfunctional porn star, he would fight and get it made. I don't think the scope of the movie matters. [Screen Gems president] Clint Culpepper will go to war with you on a fuckin' tiny little negative pickup movie ...

There was a spec script back in the early 90s called Last Action Hero that sold for an exorbitant amount of money. A huge amount of money was paid for it and it became like a snowball going down a hill. It's a nice little snowball at the top, but then it just keeps going so you pay a lot of money for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who directed it? John McTeirnan, who was the hottest director at the time in the action world, you hire him. And then the train is going, "Oh there's a window for Arnold, we've got to go." So the movie keeps going because everyone has schedules and it becomes this snowball that is out of control and then you make a movie like Last Action Hero. That was more like the '90s. People don't do that today, it's a more slow, methodical studio process ...

[That agent is] fighting for his guy Kevin Hart. ‘You know what? I think they should have paid Kevin more money for this. Fuck them, I'm going to get more money for my client. You want him to tweet? Look, it doesn't include that in the contract, there's no specific language, I'm going to use that against the studio now.' And the studio is like, 'Fuck you, we can't do that.' Can you imagine the precedent that would have? They'd rather the movie come out and bomb or do what it does because it would be devastating, the cost of that. That, to me, when Clint said it was Jeremy Zimmer demanding more money for someone who should be doing that as part of his [deal], you know. But maybe that's because I come from the studio background and see that. … The movie business is diminishing returns.” —Production executive