By Peter Funt
The Sony hacking story is the gift that keeps on giving. It's got it all: cyber crime, international intrigue, political posturing -- plus a tantalizing trove of corporate and celebrity gossip.
But most remarkable is how all of the above combine to make "The Interview," a silly little film once destined for mediocre reviews and tepid grosses, a hit. Not even the best and brightest in Hollywood's PR industry could have mounted a campaign to rival the work of the North Koreans.
"Local theater to show 'The Interview,'" screamed the page-one headline in one California daily, the Monterey Herald. Imagine that: page one! Several websites such as Gizmodo published a complete list of theaters, nationwide, showing the film. A complete list! Every theater from the Kew Gardens Cinema in Queens, N.Y., to the Magic Valley Cinema 13 in Twin Falls, Idaho.
It gets better. Congressman Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, has invited Sony to participate in a screening of "The Interview" in the Capitol. The U.S. Capitol! When was the last time a movie got special treatment like that?
"Everyone is talking about 'The Interview,'" stated Sherman, as he joined those talking about "The Interview." "I think it's important for Congress to know, and see, what we are talking about." Booya!
As the Christmas gifts were being unwrapped at Sony, one of the film's stars, Seth Rogen, tweeted: "The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed!"
A headline in the San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed, "'Patriotic duty' pulls masses to movie." How special. Sony's near-fiasco has become more than entertainment, it's a "cause."
Nothing will stop the public relations juggernaut now that Sony is cleverly marketing the movie concurrently in theaters and via in-home, pay-per-view streaming. In just the first four days sales totaled $3 million at the box office and an astounding $15 million online.
Yet, buried in an NPR report on the complex Sony tale is this nugget about the cyber hack job that started it all: "Some experts also doubt whether [North Korea] has the capability to carry out such an attack."
But if not Kim Jong-un and his band of Commie movie critics, then who? Who would have access to private documents at Sony and would profit most from publicity that would transform an easily-forgettable film into one of the year's biggest stories?
Amy Pascal, chief of Sony's movie division, might not get invited to future White House Christmas parties, but she's now in the running for Hollywood's Executive of the Year. Imagine that! When the hacking hit, Gawker.com analyzed her position, saying: "Pascal's department has taken something north of $50 million of Sony's money and lit it on fire in the most spectacular and embarrassing way possible." The article was one of many that predicted she would be fired.
How big will the bonuses be for Pascal and her colleagues after "The Interview" turns a tidy profit? The only thing that could trump the Sony story as we already know it would be a leak showing that Pascal and Co. left the digital doors unlocked, hoping that North Korea would take the bait.
What's next? Perhaps: North Korea warns Americans not to eat at McDonalds! Pyongyang issues threat to anyone shopping at Sears!
It's all totally, as the showbiz paper Variety would say, boffo!
Peter Funt is a writer, speaker and sydicated columnist.