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Sony Hack Fallout Includes Unraveling of Relationships in Hollywood

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12/19/2014 01:29 PM
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Sony Hack Fallout Includes Unraveling of Relationships in Hollywood
[link to www.nytimes.com]

LOS ANGELES — As Washington considers a response to an online attack on Sony Pictures, Hollywood is trying to repair relationships that were shattered by the assault.

On Thursday, a day after United States officials identified North Korea as the hand behind the offensive against Sony’s now-canceled comedy “The Interview,” the White House said it was considering “a range of actions” in response. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, called the hacking a “national security issue.”

Sony shelved “The Interview,” about the assassination of the North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un, after cancellations by theater owners in the face of a terrorist threat. The studio on Thursday was searching for ways to eventually disseminate the film, but, for the moment, it could find none. Satellite operators, cable providers, or digital portals that might be asked to pick up “The Interview” could be exposed to the same online harassment plaguing Sony.
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The attack has disrupted the web of executive, business and talent relationships that stitches together Sony’s core moviemaking operation.
Complaints about Adam Sandler, left, were exposed by an online attack on Sony Pictures, headed by Michael Lynton. Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Prominent members of Hollywood’s creative community fumed about what they saw as failure by Sony to make a stand for artistic freedom. Steve Carell called it “a sad day for creative expression,” while Zach Braff described Sony’s move as “a pretty horrible precedent to set.” The filmmaker Judd Apatow and the documentarian Michael Moore also took to social media to lament the demise of “The Interview” as caving to the hackers.

The studio’s relationship with Adam Sandler, the star of Sony comedies like “Grown Ups” and its coming summer tent pole “Pixels,” got singed when online news sites published unvarnished executive complaints about his “mundane, formulaic” films. The disclosure of racially tinged emails from Amy Pascal, the co-chairwoman of the studio, led her to meet in person on Thursday with black leaders including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who had condemned the exchange between her and the producer Scott Rudin as “offensive, insulting” when it first became public.

Financiers are unsure whether to proceed with planned deals to back Sony films, as some talent agents — worried about management stability at Sony and long-term chaos — consider funneling scripts elsewhere. Even Sony’s relations with news outlets have been dealt a lasting blow, with the studio upset about the willingness of some reporters to dig through stolen documents and media contacts given an unusually candid glimpse into how executives try to manipulate coverage.

It is nearly impossible to calculate likely financial losses associated with “The Interview” until any option for displaying the movie has been closed off. For the moment, the studio is reluctant to consider the option of charging for it online, on the assumption that few consumers would share credit cards with a company under attack by hackers.

Over the last week, Sony’s attackers began threatening the company’s partners in the entertainment industry, beyond just theaters and theater chains, according to security experts who have been consulting with the companies. Several Sony vendors mentioned in the stolen data trove have begun receiving threatening correspondence from the attackers. Security experts said that “anxiety levels were high” and many vendors complained on Thursday that Sony’s decision to halt the release of “The Interview” might only embolden attackers.

In a more human calculus, a significant loser in the hacking may be Seth Rogen, the writer-director-star who became the principal public face of “The Interview.” There was a growing sentiment on the Sony lot that Mr. Rogen and his filmmaking colleagues had exposed employees and the audience to digital damage and physical threat by pushing his outrageous humor to the limit and backing the film to the last.