Last week, Wikileaks published more than 30,000 documents and 170,000 emails from the infamous GOP Sony Pictures hack. With a searchable database WikiLeaks made it really easy for the curious among us to tap into the thought process of a big Hollywood studio. Almost immediately Sony Pictures entertainment called on news organizations to ignore the documents WikiLeaks published. Ignoring appears to be the politically correct means for censoring these days.
Well, I was curios. And Sony’s call made me even more curious. So I had a look at what WikiLeaks had on storage for us about Sony Pictures. And so did others. In the comment section on the VFXSolider blog, a user hinted to an e-mail titled “What I learned” from Amy Pascal, the then chairperson of Sony Pictures. In 21 points Amy Pascal gave her revelations about what she had learned by watching X-Men: Days of Future Past in May 2014 . Her points describe exactly Hollywood’s current recipe for tentpoles. I don’t know how serious the legal threats are from Sony not to link to WikiLeaks. So what follows are in my own words Amy’s main takeaways from her observations from X-Men.
Amy’s 10 Blockbuster Commandments
- You shall not need big movie stars (better / cheaper to use almost movie stars.)
- You shall need actors with gravitas for depth.
- You shall not chase kids (since most blockbuster tentpoles are made for kids – it can be bad if they don’t like that.)
- You shall not waste the best action scene in the middle of the film.
- You shall not have too many VFX because this can kill your movie. (Audiences show now signs of tiredness towards overblown VFX movies.)
- You shall need a 3-D Stereo version, even if no one except China cares: Therefore don’t waste time / money to perfect it.
- You don’t have to make a pretty looking movie to make money.
- You shall use a title instead of a number in front of the newest part of a franchise.
- You shall feature skinny women who still have a curvy body but are as strong as men.
- You shall feature lots of locations. The more interesting and exotic the better.
Bonus Commandment: You shall not sleep until your marketing campaign is kicking some serious ass!
Her “What I learned” e-mail pretty much confirms my own observations and research about Hollywood tentpoles as I describe it in my book Inside VFX. WikiLeaks make it a breeze to find even more validation for my research:
An e-mail conversation called “Pixel” that happened between Sony, Propaganda Gem (a company specialised in product placement) and BMW demonstrates how much thought goes into the design of the MINI product placement in Sony’s upcoming film Pixels.
A email threat titled “India” deals about the shutdown of Sony Imageworks India. The analyst writes that India is not competitive anymore due to its high inflation and therefore rising labor costs. Thanks to tax incentives, Vancouver has enabled Sony to significantly lower their effective labour costs. This email mentioned as well that India’s VFX business finds itself in a contraction. Cheap labour alone just doesn’t cut it anymore these days.
Yet no email I stumbled upon was as revealing about the film business as Amy Pascal’s email “recap for meeting”. As a first point Amy confirms my IP analysis that Disney has left pretty much everyone in the dust with their purchase of Lucasfilm. Todays movie business has changed and is all about IPs and trademarks now. Amy also points out that Sony is worse off than most of their competitors due to lack of true IP ownership (e.g. Spider-Man, Bond, Smurfs etc).
Judging by the sheer volume of the leak, we can only assume that these few emails are only a glimpse of what’s coming. It will be interesting to see what else a crowd of curious VFX and film people will dig out. Maybe we will be even able to find a document that finally proves the blacklisting that is going on in the VFX and film industry.