Today an unwatermarked, time code free workprint of X-Men Origins:
Wolverine leaked on the internet. Within hours thousands of people had
a version of the upcoming Fox release, and once a file like this is in
the wild it can never be fully brought back in.
How the hell did this happen?
I got in touch with a friend of mine who works in a post-production
facility here in Los Angeles and he seemed to think my question was
funny. “I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often,” he said.
While studios bend over backwards to police film critics at press
screenings (I’ve become used to security guards with night vision
lenses staring at me while I’m watching a movie), the post-production
process is apparently porous. Burned DVDs are swapped around with
aplomb in this world; in fact I was told that the Wolverine DVD was
switching hands for the last couple of weeks. It’s hard to nail down
where in the post-production process the Wolverine leak originated; it
could have been someone working in digital FX, someone working on the
titles, or even someone working on the trailer. Hell, it could be
somebody working on the DVD release, for that matter.
My source told me stories of people blithely taking home DVDs of major
upcoming studio blockbusters – some with watermarks, some without – so
that they wouldn’t have to work overtime at the office. And it’s not
just the honchos who have this access. My source told me about interns
bringing DVDs home to watch with their friends. Even he seemed
incredulous about the lackadaisical security at most of these
I’ve experienced some of this stuff first hand. I had someone from a
post house meet me at a coffee shop and show me the Cloverfield trailer
on a laptop. I’ve had files emailed to me that are clearly watermarked
with post house names. I know a filmmaker who had his film pirated in
the post-production stage, and who managed to nail the guy who was
handing out DVDs to his friends. And I’ve come across some of these
DVDs myself, although I never knew that they were so rampant.
Post isn’t the only source of major leaks; these days getting a script
to an unmade movie isn’t even a badge of insider honor. They seem to be available to anyone who wants them. Someone told me that
the security on the script for [A Movie Whose Title I Was Asked to Delete Or Face Legal Action By the Studio] was so tight no one
would get it. Just to prove him wrong I got it three days later. I
don’t say that to boast but to explain how lax security is on the
script end; once something hits an agency, PDFs of it may as well be
deposited in the mailboxes of the biggest movie site writers. But while
that’s a problem – the mass leak of the script to Quentin Tarantino’s
Inglorious Basterds being one example – it’s not half as damaging as
the leak of an actual movie. Very few people will read a script. Many
more will watch a DIVX file.
I have a feeling that the Wolverine leak is the tip of the iceberg. My
source tells me that he suspects the person who leaked it may have been
motivated by a grudge against the house where they work – perhaps
someone who has been laid off or had his hours reduced (although to be
fair he did also say that it’s just as likely that this leak came from
a dumb intern who simply made a copy for a friend. My friend has no
actual knowledge of the particulars of this specific leak). The ease
with which a DVD can be ripped and disseminated makes it child’s play, and
the ubiquity of laptops make it simpler and simpler for someone to rip
a movie without even taking the disc off premises. Studios can keep
being worried about someone sneaking a Flip camcorder into a press
screening, but the real problem is right in their own system. So far they’ve been amazingly lucky, but how long can that luck hold out?