Leaked emails about the fact-based football drama ''Concussion'' paint a complicated picture of the internal dealings between Sony executives, lawyers, external consultants and filmmaker Peter Landesman in the early stages of development of the head-trauma film.
Leaked emails about the fact-based football drama ”Concussion” paint a complicated picture of the internal dealings between Sony executives, lawyers, external consultants and filmmaker Peter Landesman in the early stages of development of the head-trauma film.
Below, in chronological order, are some key quotes from the emails, which were leaked in the Sony hack attack late last year and reviewed by The Associated Press on Tuesday and Wednesday. They illustrate both a concern about NFL backlash and a rigorous adherence to the truth:
In early July of 2014, Sony executive Hannah Minghella sent page notes to a group of executives from a pre-greenlight meeting. ”Rather than portray the NFL as one corrupt organization can we identify the individuals within the NFL who were guilty of denying/covering up the truth,” read one among many.
Later that month Sony chairman Michael Lynton emailed then-co-chair Amy Pascal something he’d just been told about the film. ”Aimee Wolfson took out most of the bite for legal reasons with the NFL and that it was not a balance issue,” Lynton wrote of Sony’s top lawyer.
Landesman and his assistant compiled a spreadsheet with ”draft-by-draft (script) revisions of unflattering moments for the NFL” to discuss with Michael Lynton. The assistant wrote: ”many times, of course, the line remains the same.”
Another round of script notes found Sony’s senior vice president of production, Jonathan Kadin, asking: ”Is the depiction of (t)he NFL/opposition as smart/strong/credible as it could be…”
In August of 2014, Minghella and her fellow Sony executives emailed in preparation for a meeting with Will Smith’s agent, Richard Lovett, and business partner, James Lassiter, who were curious about their strategy with the NFL. Sony Marketing president Dwight Caines suggested the following:
”Will Smith Positioning – We will conduct an interview with Will in print or on camera maybe linked to Start of Production where the following points are made: Will is a fan of football…Will is not anti-football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge.”
”NFL-We’ll develop messaging with the help of NFL consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest. We will always be careful of how we represent that NFL itself in key art and images (we need to comply with fair use) and we’ll walk a fine line as it relates to the ”David and Goliath” nature of this story. We expect a healthy amount of NFL in our media flight and we’ll seek to have sportscasters equipped to talk about this movie as an important development in the history of the game without casting blame or judgement (sic).”
Allan Mayer, the external consultant hired to manage the communications strategy with the NFL, wrote an extensive memo to Sony executives outlining possible ways to manage potential, and expected NFL backlash.
”As long as `Concussion’ focuses solely on what happened ten years ago, (a League representative) said, ”they’ll keep their powder dry.” On the other hand, he added, ”if anything in the movie impacts current management, all bets are off.”
Mayer’s memo continued: ”As we know, `Concussion’ portrays a number of current NFL executives, especially Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a less than flattering light. We should thus not be surprised if the NFL leadership, spearheaded by Goodell, decides to push back hard against `Concussion’-not simply to protect the brand but their own reputations as well.”
On Sept. 13, director Peter Landesman forwarded an email exchange between himself and Paul Hicks, then executive vice president of the NFL.
”You think there’s a conversation for us to have in which you help us accurately portray things inside your shop regarding CTE, or the Omalu article circa 2005, and help the league by influencing the portrayal? Again – keeping it to pre current administration…We are making the film and I want to do right by all,” wrote Landesman to Hicks.
Hicks responded: ”Always room for a conversation. Not sure how much we will be able to help, but perhaps we can help make you have the facts. Do you have a recent script for us to review in advance of that conversation?”
Landesman then suggested to a group of Sony executives that now might be the time to ”have a careful conversation with them. I don’t believe there is any way for them to sanction the movie, but there’s a possibility perhaps of getting compelling, cinematic – and legally defensible – drama. Those scenes inside the NFL offices we had to reconfigure – we may now be able to get that, more and better…. At this point I don’t see any downside to doing this. It can only give us more insight, and perhaps give us a window inside the NFL machinery and the movie more depth. At worst, it leaves us where we are, which is a very strong place.”
Sony executives and independent consultant Allan Mayer were not pleased with the outreach, advised that there would be nothing to be gained from a meeting and said the script was not to be shared with the League.
In October, Doug Belgrad, president of Sony’s motion picture unit, wrote a group of executives reiterating their need to fact-check.
”If we fudge or embellish the NFL’s actions on this issue, it could compromise the success of our pic. They will fight hard to protect their people and reputations. They do not want Goodell to be embarrassed… The NFL may attack the movie no matter how careful we are, but we shouldn’t be careless when portraying current and former NFL officials like Goodell, Tagliabue and Pellman and open ourselves up to criticism that we took too great a dramatic license.”