Everyone’s in a panic except the producer when unsubs digitally mess up a film. 2,382 words. Story and illustration by Mark Fearing.
The producer Bernie Polon sat behind his desk preparing for the emergency concerning the film he’d worked on for the last three years. The director had demanded a meeting in Bernie’s office at eight o’clock in the morning. Bernie wondered if people really have meetings at 8 a.m.? But he had to accommodate Desmond Bright, who was a temperamental British helmer that everybody hated to love. But the filmmaker shot fog-smothered landscapes with gauzy figures delivering modestly indecent lines while fighting Vikings or aliens or demons better than anyone. Also called into the meeting was Jon Wright, the film’s editor with all those credentials Hollywood needs an editor to have.
Though Bernie was pretty sure that soon eighth graders would be doing all the editing in town. Hell, in a dozen years, eighth graders might be doing Bernie’s job the way things were going in the movie business.
“OK, what is so fucking important that we need to meet in person?” Bernie demanded of Desmond, making it clear they weren’t going to be friends today. “Haven’t you learned how to use American technology yet? It’s called an iPhone and it has Facetime.”
Desmond’s cheeks sucked in. “My film’s been hacked!”
The producer had been in the movie business for 35 years and knew that the technical jargon of film changes every 30 seconds. But this was a new situation, even for Bernie.
“Our film,” Bernie corrected. “And what the fuck do you mean? How does a film get hacked exactly? It’s not an email server. Even I know that.”
“Hacked! Hacked!” Desmond wailed. Were those tears forming in his eyes?
Jon the editor talked with his hands, and they bounced with each word as if he were spinning the dials at an old-school edit bay. “After color timing, we moved over the final cut — it’s all digital — and it didn’t back-up, and the working files were on a drive that completely failed,” he explained. “We’ve been told by the hard drive rescue folks that it’s shit. All shit. And then it was hacked.”
“I don’t play video games. I don’t even know how to use this goddamned iPad my granddaughter gave me,” Bernie responded. “So what specifically are you talking about is shit?”
“What Jon and I are saying is that the one complete digital copy of the feature film we have was hacked. Someone went into the file and made a mess of it,” Desmond elaborated.
Bernie almost got upset. But in all his years of movie producing, he’d learned that every problem was just a solution in disguise and an opportunity to blame a nemesis. “Was this Megan’s fault? Did she cheap out and not get enough storage or computers or some such stuff? You know I didn’t want her as a co-producer on this but the studio gave me no choice.”
“Bernie, we don’t have a fucking movie!” yelled Desmond, growing more agitated by the minute.
“OK… Now you’re sure there’s no negative, right? That’s dead and gone?” said Bernie, trying to fully grasp the dire situation.
“I’m telling you there are no negatives and no actual film. This isn’t 1940: all the footage was digital and it’s gone. We had the final cut and we were going to dupe it this morning, but the drive it was on was accessible to the net and it was hacked,” Desmond finished.
“Can you remove the hacked garbage and get to our movie?”
“No. They overwrote the film. We have only what they left us.”
Bernie was still doing due diligence, something most people in Hollywood forgot how to do ages ago. “And what is it we have now exactly? Did they insert some sex scenes and naked bodies? Because, honestly, the film could use some fucking.”
Desmond looked to Jon whose hands shook like they could pour out an answer that made sense. “They inserted 33 scenes of Nicolas Cage laughing maniacally from at least 10 different Cage films.”
“Nic Cage wasn’t even in this film. It’s about the only movie he wasn’t in this decade,” joked Bernie.
“He’s in it now,” said John with utmost seriousness. “About every three minutes. It’s his giant head laughing and his eyes going crazy and his eyebrows dancing…”
“So I’ve got to call his agent and get permission to use these scenes,” stated Bernie.
Desmond sat there wondering if Bernie was truly this dumb or was it just a ploy for someone else to step in and take the blame. So Desmond stayed quiet. Jon, however, wasn’t as savvy.
“But we had 100 minutes of edited film and now about 40 minutes of that are Nicolas Cage laughing. It’s not that I don’t like Nicolas Cage. It’s just that the film makes a whole lot less sense now.”
“I imagine it would. The film wasn’t exactly clear to begin with,” criticized Bernie.
“I take umbrage at that,” the director grimaced.
“Good for you,” said Bernie, not at all sure what umbrage was.
“We no longer have a film,” Jon summarized.
Bernie sat back in his chair and swiveled. He loved to swivel because it made him feel like he was at an amusement park instead of in a dingy office on the Warner backlot. As a producer he was paid, and often paid very well, to solve what seemed to be intractable problems. On this particular film, this wasn’t the worst or biggest problem so far for Bernie to solve.
“Now tell me if I have this wrong, but we completely finished our feature film, and then some punk broke into the computer it was on and overwrote portions of it with clips of Nicolas Cage acting crazy? And we don’t have anything before it was overwritten?”
Jon and Desmond looked at one another and nodded their heads. Bernie liked that. One of his jobs was to define problems clearly. And this was one big fucking problem now defined. Bernie continued.
“The movie I worked on for three years, to get financed so all you fine folks are paid to work on it, it’s gone. Poof.” Bernie marveled.
“Poof,” echoed Jon, using his hands to add emphasis.
“Pewf,” said Desmond with a nice British edge to it.
“Poof,” repeated Bernie.
A lot of things were going through Bernie’s mind. It’s said that neural synapses can fire so quickly that time seems to slow.
“Well, this is a son of a bitch,” Bernie stated.
Desmond had never personally seen Bernie go ballistic but had heard stories. Usually, Bernie saved his temper for after the problem was solved. But right now Desmond was disappointed by what he saw as Bernie’s nonchalant attitude to their terrible situation.
“I don’t know why they edited in Nic Cage,” said Desmond.
“Cage always makes an impression,” suggested Jon.
Bernie knew what had to be done next. It wasn’t a long walk and soon enough they all were seated in the screening room. The projectionist, if that’s what the person is still called, was sworn to secrecy for not the first time in his life about what he was about to show.
The film started with a beautiful sunrise over wild country. Eventually, the audience realizes it’s not Prehistoric Earth but a distant planet as two suns pass above the horizon, one casting a beautiful blue light and the other an eerie orange glow.
“Really terrific effect, the match to the practical plate is amazing. Just watch how seamlessly we track into the actors…” Desmond was saying. And just then a very young Nicolas Cage took over the screen laughing like crazy. It was from an early film, maybe Vampire’s Kiss.
“Kind of breaks the mood, no?” dryly commented Bernie.
After a minute or so the scene cut back to a rugged actor who looked right out of the Stone Age and was staring at an old spaceship in a foggy field. It was an effective if clichéd visual.
Desmond was crying now. “We got up at 3 in the bloody morning to get that shot. That’s real fog, not CG shit! And the bottom third of the spaceship is a practical. It was beautiful…” he said between sobs.
And quickly enough the scene cut once again to Nick Cage, probably from Bringing Out The Dead. The hackers had magnified the actor’s face this time so it was somewhat blurry and truly insane.
Then the scene cut back to a huge alien creature bearing down on a woman dressed like she was in a music video. And it wasn’t just that visuals that left an impression. The soundtrack cuts were jarring but surprisingly fulfilling, making for an odd audio experience.
And so it went. For 100 minutes. And when the film finished, Desmond was weeping so hard, his sobs echoed in the hallway.
“It’s very unnerving. But I noticed the pacing. They cut a pretty nice rhythm to it,” noted Jon.
“A nice fucking rhythm! That’s what you have to say?” Desmond exploded.
Jon’s hands instinctively clasped together and he shrank into his seat. “I was just saying that, upon a second viewing, it’s not random. It has a syncopated rhythm. Shows some skill.”
Desmond continued to sniffle woefully. But Bernie had on his producer’s hat and that meant, first, he needed to know who to blame and he knew that more or less. Then, second, how to pay to fix this mess which was tied to who to blame. And then, third, to find a solution to make this something less than a tragedy which it most certainly was. True, compared to wrongs in the world, this wasn’t the end of human life. He had worked on far bigger clusterfucks and this film was unfortunately already well on its way to sucking and everyone involved knew it except for the director and the editor.
“This is bad. But it seems like a malicious act of vandalism and we have insurance for that,” said Bernie, demonstrating practicality.
“Fuck!” wailed Desmond.
“Fuck is right,” agreed Bernie.
Suddenly Desmond’s eyes lit up and he wiped the tears from his cheeks and stuttered some words. “Bernie, I need to shoot it again! We can be faster this time, we still have the sets, and…”
“No,” Bernie decreed.
“No?” Desmond asked.
“Not gonna happen,” Bernie said and got up from his chair.
“But we don’t have a film!” Desmond cried.
“We have one,” decided Bernie. “But it’s gonna be a bitch to clear.”
Bernie walked out while Desmond wept and Jon bounced his right leg as he tended to do in stressful situations.
“Did they overwrite the scene with the Gondola beast?” Desmond asked Jon after falling quiet for a bit.
“I think most of it, yes. It’s a laughing-slash-crying Nic Cage now from that Vegas film, I think. Very dramatic.” Jon answered.
Desmond wailed anew.
Bernie was grabbing a latte from the commissary where there were 20 guys dressed as pirate squid. He made some calls. At Bernie’s office, two cybersecurity guys showed up minutes later and ran through the suspects they knew who were mainly foreign hostiles.
“You think North Korea or ISIS or that group of women, Femen, who defend sexual equality with their breasts by protesting topless in 17 countries, care about an action sci-fi film?” Bernie asked
“Hard to know, sir,” replied the cybersecurity man called Brent.
“Well, I can tell you they don’t give a shit.”
“We have your hack traced to some servers in the country of Letoniahegozorvia.”
“Never heard of it.”
“We hadn’t either, and then we found out it’s some kind of masked black-web server cluster running out of San Bernardino. But it’s tied to either Russia or China or North Korea. But maybe M.I.T.”
“Well, you guys are on the case and I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” said Bernie, not at all expressing reassurance in the slightest.
The studio was upset when it learned about the hack even though the executives had already removed the film from summer contention based on the desultory dailies. And they made sure the insurance policy would pay out, because that’s what insurance policies do where there are 23 attorneys enforcing the contract.
Bernie still had some cleanup work in front of him, but in this day and age that wasn’t nearly as difficult as he’d first thought it would be. Because as long as each and every Nic Cage scene hacked into the film was called out in the end credits, there was almost no issue.
Besides, Bernie had worked with Nic Cage long before Nic Cage had become Nic Cage. The actor recently had garnered headlines for owing a huge debt to the IRS. He was acting his way out of it, so why wouldn’t he want seven figures from Bernie for doing nothing?
Six months later when the movie came out, Desmond was there opening night along with Nic Cage — though Desmond wore a more pained and constipated expression than usual, Bernie thought.
The marketing department had a challenging time selling the picture because, frankly, it made no sense. But they created an app that let fans recut the hacked Nic Cage scenes. Then they staged a “Find The Hacker” contest to see who could break into a computer. The feature opened big enough to pay off handsomely, especially since it now was considered a “new” work and the studio plus Bernie had already collected on the insurance from the hacked film. It also became the most streamed movie on Netflix and Amazon over the next year. And it reignited Nic Cage’s career to the point where he actually turned work down because he was too busy.
Bernie sat in his office on a hotter than comfortable late spring afternoon accompanied by his granddaughter. She was in the eighth grade and knew more about how the modern world communicates than he did. “Maybe someday I’ll edit a real movie,” she said.
“That was a real movie, dear. And without your work, it would have flopped like a dead deer on the side of the road,” Bernie told her.
“Gross! Grandpa, why do you have to talk like that?”
“Just part of the business, honey. Lots of things are just part of the business.”