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Hacked Sony Emails Pull The Curtain Back On Hollywood

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Golden Globe nominations isn't the only thing Hollywood is obsessing about. The hacking of Sony Pictures last month keeps revealing more and more about the moviemaking business. The latest revelations come from thousands of emails belonging to Sony Pictures co-chairman, Amy Pascal. The Wall Street Journal's Ben Fritz calls the trove of information a once-in-a-lifetime find. And he's here to explain why and what the latest leaks show. Ben, welcome to the program.

BEN FRITZ: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So we should start by saying this is a very serious corporate hack - Social Security numbers, leaked salaries, film projects. What does it tell us about the day-to-day running of a studio?

FRITZ: Well, it's really an insight that we've never had into how the head of a major movie studio does her job, who she talks to, how she spends her time and what her priorities are. We've never really known that first-hand before. You can see an executive who's simultaneously dealing with a multibillion-dollar business and also diving in deep, very carefully negotiating with producers to make movies big and small.

CORNISH: Amy Pascal - she's behind "The Social Network" and "Captain Phillips" and the movie "Fury," which just came out recently. But you really see her wrestling with trying to come up with a big old summer franchise, right? What's going on there in Hollywood?

FRITZ: Well, the biggest thing for any movie studio are these big franchise sequel - kind of like superhero films are the biggest example now. The reason they make them, you can see in these emails, is they're the most profitable films to a studio. So you can see Amy Pascal really wrestling for the future, for instance, of "Spider-Man." It's the biggest franchise that Sony owns. But their last film, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," didn't do quite as well as the studio had hoped. They're not doing as well as the movies made Marvel, owned by Disney, for instance. And she's wrestling with what to do next. They even consider a partnership with Disney to help make "Spider-Man" movies going forward. They also are doing a weird merger nobody knew about. They're going to take the "Men In Black" franchise and the "Jump Street" franchise and put them together in, like, a mash-up.

CORNISH: That's "21 Jump Street," you're saying? (Laughter).

FRITZ: Yes, the "21 Jump Street" characters, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, are going to meet the "Men In Black" Aliens somehow.

CORNISH: So there's no email that says, for the love of God, we've got to stop ripping off movies we've made already. (Laughter). Let's come up with something new.

FRITZ: No, no, no. I mean, it says for the love of God, how can we keep these franchises going? That's what they're talking about. And while I know it can be frustrating to some moviegoers who like more sophisticated films, the bottom line is - you could see very clear - it just doesn't make a big profit.

CORNISH: Are you finding that people in the industry feel like this big corporate hack of Sony gives us a look at just how Sony works, or does it really give us a better understanding about how people are doing business right now, like, what the calculus is behind making films?

FRITZ: I think this gives us a look at of how the film industry in general works. Sony is a pretty big studio and it's not that different from its competitors, so you can really see how they're rustling with trying to spend their money in a time of financial constraints, and how they're also trying to make movies that matter. That's what executives want to do, but unfortunately the movies that matter are not often the most profitable films. So they are trying to balance all these interests, which is a very, very difficult thing to do. But you can see that's really the job of a studio mogul in 2014.

CORNISH: Ben Fritz, thanks so much for talking with us.

FRITZ: Sure, thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Ben Fritz, he covers the film business for the Wall Street Journal. He joined us to talk about what the latest leaks on Sony Pictures reveal about the movie industry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.