The film industry may have had its fair share of hits this week with the news surrounding Sony Pictures, but security is nothing new to Hollywood.
In conversation with Ryan Kalember, chief product officer at Watchdox, I asked him how their technology, which adds a digital watermark to a document to enable control of it, could be adapted to the film industry. He said it already is, pointing out customers including studios making superhero and family movies.
Some of these gross hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue globally, so security of the initial script has to be tightly controlled to avoid massive loss in investment and sponsorship for the studio. I asked Ryan how much a movie gossip website would pay for the upcoming Star Wars script? He claimed that the website would be virtually burned down if that happened, but the loss of such control would have a massive impact on the producer and distributor.
Kalember said: “Our technology is involved [in Hollywood] as there are still the old ways of doing things. There are those who are hyper paranoid, such as Christopher Nolan – his preferred method is to only print and number copies of the script, which are printed on special paper and with subtle, borderline-invisible watermarks.
“For example on page three of the script, five lines down in the second sentence he changes a letter ‘O’ to a different font, but only do that on copy seven of the script and do something different to other copies, so if it is leaked he can go back and forensically figure out which one it was that was leaked. That is ridiculous, but it is what he was doing, but it is hugely time consuming.”
Kalember said that the other option that happens regularly is in the early stages of development, where there is a script but not the talent, a script is printed off and couriered around the world to the actor. “One studio would rent a suite for an actor, courier the script to them and then courier it all the way back once they have read it,” he said.
“When you email it, they send to the actor and their agent, and the agent seems to be the biggest source of leaks. It is not a really big thing from a junior person who gets attachment and sends it on to someone else; they do that without thinking really.”
Kalember said that it offers a “screen shredding technology” option for those that are super secret, with a patented technology called Spotlight.
“So you cannot reliably do screen capture, you can do it on the desktop, but you can always use your phone to take a picture of the screen,” he said. “So what we do is add a dynamic watermark to the back of the document and if necessary, virtually shred the back of the screen that is around the cursor that stops you reading it and sharing it.”
Like the process of matching shredded photos in the film Argo, Kalember admitted that collecting and putting the jigsaw of shredded data back together requires patience and time, and in the case of a digital file, to strip out the screen shred, so it is built into the file.
He said that these days, more scripts are shared via mobile devices too, as “breakdown” files are sent to a broader set of people who are not employed by the studio, or are external third-party collaborators. “None of the devices are managed unless you do it as part of the production, which is incredibly rare, so you have to do security at the file level which is the only way that makes sense,” he said.
lember said that Watchdox work in the M&A and IP sectors for customers, but this was a more fun example of how its technology is being used. “This is a multi-billion dollar industry, not to mention the marketing budget and money being spent with a major production where it can be a $500 million project,” he said.
It is about control, he said, as if you want to share some information with the rudimentary controls o something like Snapchat, then that is better than nothing but you would want something more secure and controlled if you have $500 million in funding to manage. “It is about the basic means of control over what you are sharing, as we have lived with it for so long,” he said.
The current state of technology could be beneficial though, as Kalember said that “every 13 year old in the world has figured that Snapchat is a better means of sharing information than Facebook, because you at least have some control over it”.
Ryan Kalember, chief product officer at Watchdox, was talking to Dan Raywood