`Tron: Legacy’ – a Data Project Turned Blockbuster

by Cristian Gal / 12 July

Few people realize that making movies like Tron: Legacy is also a huge data project. Doing a movie with that much computer generated content creates an enormous amount of data, amount that now is measured in petabytes. Also, because the computer generated content is integrated in the filmed content, usually the CGI companies involved are using at some point a more or less finished version of the movie. That makes them a prime target for hacking attempts.

The HBO hack of 2017, when Game of Thrones scripts and episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ballers were released online before their air dates, caused chaos for the premium cable network. The hackers were motivated by greed. The organization that went by the name Mr. Smith was seeking a ransom in the range of $6 million to prevent the release of this highly sensitive information. And this data breach is far from the first example the entertainment industry has faced.


The Sony hack of 2014, in which thousands of confidential company documents and emails were released, had a long-lasting impact on the company. It resulted in the ouster of Amy Pascal, head of Sony Pictures Entertainment, turned „The Interview” into a box-office bomb, resulted in a slew of lawsuits and, in general, caused a lot of pain and embarrassment to a lot of people.


And then there’s the release of Quentin Tarantino’s „The Hateful Eight” script. The Oscar-winning director closely guard his material. When it turned out that someone had leaked an early draft of the Western whodunit, Tarantino actually considered shelving the project altogether. Even though Tarantino went on with making the movie after all, it underscores an issue that many in Hollywood face, whether working in production or at a studio. That issue is: “how to ensure the security of information and intellectual property?”.


A movie or TV production can employ hundreds of people. And with each production there are countless documents and files – scripts, budgets, payroll documents and video – that could be very detrimental to the production and its staff if leaked out. Knowing hackers are looking for high-value targets, having a strong data security system in place is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, most in the entertainment industry – be they productions or studios – aren’t using the enterprise-grade protection they need to keep their information safe. Especially when it comes to productions, they’re simply using the most rudimentary of storage and security services.


To secure such a great amount of movie data against hacking and premature leaking, Hollywood had to embrace digital security.

As many other industries before it, Hollywood turned to a new class of technology companies, that for the last few years have been offering ways to manage the data slipping into employees’ personal smartphones and Internet storage services. They wrap individual files with encryption, passwords and monitoring systems that can track who is doing what with sensitive files.


The most sensitive Hollywood scripts were — and, in many cases, still are — etched with watermarks, or printed on colored and even mirrored paper to thwart photocopying.

Letter spacing and minor character names were switched from script to script to pinpoint leakers. Plot endings were left out entirely. The most-coveted scripts are still locked in briefcases and accompanied by bodyguards whose sole job is to ensure they don’t end up in the wrong hands.


But over the last decade, such measures have begun to feel quaint. Watermarks can be lifted. Color copiers don’t care what color a script is. Even scripts with bodyguards linger on a computer server somewhere.

And once crew members started using their personal smartphones on set, people started leaving with everything they had created for the movie production.


So the movie studios had to employ security solutions that give file creators the ability to manage who can view, edit, share, scan and print a file, and for how long. If hackers steal the file off someone’s computer, all they will see is a bunch of encrypted characters.

Also, some Hollywood studios are removing their movie editing software from the Internet employing a process known as “air-gapping”— so that if hackers breach their internal network, they can’t use that access to steal the data.


One of the quirkier features that some studios use is adding a digital spotlight view that mimics holding a bright flashlight over a document in the dark. Everything beyond the moving circular spotlight is unreadable. The feature makes it difficult for anyone peering over your shoulder — or a hacker pulling screen shots of your web browser — to read the whole document.