By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Over the past week, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the fourth in the Marvel/20th Century Fox franchise, was illegally pirated onto the Web and downloaded millions of times from file-sharing Web sites. “It’s been like Whac-A-Mole,” a studio exec tells me. “Every time we get it removed from one site, it pops up on another.”
Fox is describing it as one of the worst piracy scandals it can recall, since it involves a major studio and a major summer blockbuster. The studio is understandably in a panic. With the film opening on May 1, if those viewers don’t go to a theater to see it, this leak could cause incalculable damage to the box office. Moviegoers may still head for theaters, because the stolen work print is an incomplete early version missing many of its special effects, edited scenes and finished sound and music.
Now the FBI is investigating the crime. Fox forensically marks its content so it can identify sources that make it available or download it. The studio promises that the source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.” Indeed, in the past, the courts have handed down significant criminal sentences for such acts. One postproduction house in Australia was initially suspected, and a facility in Dallas was raided, but so far no arrests have been made.
Coincidentally, this came just days before U.S. Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, held a field hearing in Van Nuys on April 6 to assess the financial impact of global intellectual-property piracy. On April 30, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is scheduled to release its annual report on intellectual-property policies and practices in other countries. Last year’s report placed nine major offenders on the USTR’s Priority Watch List, including China, Russia, Thailand and Argentina. A RAND study released earlier this month alleges that organized crime is increasingly active in film piracy. Just one problem — that study was funded by the MPAA, the trade association for the Hollywood studios.
Meanwhile, the Web piracy has created a lot of buzz around the pic, both positive and negative. The Internet is filled with fanboy comments about whether Wolverine is any good.
One of those who reviewed the purloined print was Fox News entertainment gossip columnist Roger Friedman. Now he’s out of a job. The longtime “Fox 411” freelancer wrote on April 3 what his bosses felt was a blatant promotion of piracy, posting about finding “the whole Top 10 [of movies now in theaters], plus TV shows, commercials, videos, everything, all streaming away. It took really less than seconds to start playing it all right onto my computer. I could have downloaded all of it, but really, who has the time or the room? Later tonight I may finally catch up with Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man. It’s so much easier than going out in the rain!”
I broke the story about News Corp.’s response, which was swift and severe. First, Roger Ailes, who oversees Fox News, deleted the offending post after he was contacted by 20th Century Fox. Then Ailes fired Friedman as a freelance Fox News entertainment writer. “He promoted piracy. He basically suggested that viewing a stolen film is okay, which is absolutely intolerable. So we fired him,” a source told me Saturday. “Fox News acted promptly on all fronts.”
Friedman has written his gossip column, “Fox 411”, for FoxNews.com for more than a decade, and peppers it with celebrity items, industry news and off-the-cuff movie reviews. He is a controversial writer, who frequently angers the publicity machine surrounding actors, directors, producers, studios, celebrities, movies and TV. Occasionally he has scoops, especially about the music biz. Still, how could he not have known that his writings Friday would hit a nerve with his employers?
I also broke the news that IATSE’s Hollywood locals have declared war on TV programming supplier Larry Levinson Productions over issues of unfair labor practices. When IATSE declared a strike, LLP fired and replaced all the union-repped crews on its big-budget miniseries Mega-Storm, which NBC is purchasing. Picket lines have formed at LLP’s sound stages and shooting locations in Simi Valley.
LLP, unaffectionately known as “Lining Larry’s Pockets,” has been a longtime IATSE holdout, and I know Local 600 has been after the company for a while. Levinson does all those low-budget Hallmark movies nonunion. But the locals are joining to try to organize more work. And now that LLP is doing larger projects, I hear that it has become a prime union target.
IATSE accuses LLP of asking its crews to work 16-plus-hour days, and often six-day weeks, for less than minimum wage and without job security. LLP has signed contracts with both DGA and SAG but has been quoted as saying it will never sign with IATSE. The picket lines form at the anticipated crew-call and wrap times in an attempt to identify and contact the scabs, sitting inside a van with blacked-out windows, who are brought in by the production company.