‘Aloha’: What the Sony Hack Revealed About the Bomb, From Anxious Bradley Cooper to Bill Murray
Cameron Crowe’s Hawaii-set ensemble flick is a trainwreck. And much of the behind the scenes drama was revealed during the infamous Sony hack.
Aloha is this year’s Gigli. It’s the type of star-studded, aggressively ill-conceived studio movie that gives Starbucks screenwriters a glimmer of hope and encourages L.A. Uber drivers to turn to you mid-ride and say, “I can make a better movie than that.”
Directed by Cameron Crowe, the film stars Bradley Cooper as disgraced military contractor Brian Gilcrest, who is tasked with overseeing a controversial weapons satellite in Hawaii. There, he gets caught in a love triangle with a plucky Air Force pilot (Emma Stone) and his married ex (Rachel McAdams). Oh, did I mention that Emma Stone, one of the whitest girls in Hollywood, plays a half-Asian named “Allison Ng”? And that nearly everyone in Hawaii is white? And that Stone’s character is vehemently opposed to a weaponized satellite sullying Hawaii’s sky, even though she’s a goddamned fighter pilot?
The film, which also boasts Bill Murray as a corrupt billionaire, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, and Danny McBride, opened to a miserable 18 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and $9.7 million opening weekend.
How the hell did this happen? How did the director of Almost Famous, Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Bill Murray make the year’s most notorious misfire?
The Daily Beast broke the news on December 12 of last year that Crowe’s then-untitled movie was in deep doo-doo after reviewing a cache of documents leaked online following the Sony hack.
On November 13, 2014, then-Sony Pictures Entertainment president Amy Pascal fired off a lengthy, Jerry Maguire-esque email manifesto on the state of SPE’s motion picture slate (including Crowe’s film) to most of her senior staff. In it, she highlights Crowe’s movie as an example of a big ol’ fail. “Cameron never really changed anything… People don’t like people in movies who flirt with married people or married people who flirt… I’m never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous and we all know it… Scott [Rudin] didn’t once go to the set or help us in the editing room or fix the script,” read the email.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Aloha’s hacked Sony emails—a bizarre series of correspondences that illuminates just how disastrous the production process was.
Originally titled Deep Tiki, Crowe’s film was green-lit in 2008, and after a series of rewrites, began shooting in September 2013. And things started out peachy enough.
In a series of emails dated November 26, 2013, and sent from Pascal to Crowe, the executive labeled him her “favorite director” and wrote, “My love for Hawaii is equal to my love for you.” She even toasted “to next years greatness.”
That same day, Bradley Cooper emailed Pascal to tell her that “deep tiki is like the greatest movie like ever.”
Pascal, it seems, visited the set over Thanksgiving weekend, and on December 15, Crowe wrote Pascal thanking her for the visit, and listing a series of potential titles for his as-yet-untitled flick.
They are: Payload, Holiday of Chill, Brave Angel, Things Are Looking Up, Pow!, Payload in Paradise, Spirit of Hawaii, Sky Warriors, Can’t Get There Alone, Look Up!, Above Our Heads, and This Holiday Life.
On December 19, 2013, came the first sign of trouble—an email from Cooper to Pascal detailing scheduling problems, with the Oscar-nominated actor writing, “This has been a very, very, very tough movie here in hawaii.” Two days later, however, the situation was seemingly resolved, with a happy Cooper emailing Pascal to say, “Just wrapped. Got some sick alt or additional ng gilcrest material. I think you will be very happy. Glad it all worked out. I'm heading home thanks to you!!! Thank you. Just wrapped a day that started yesterday at 630am. Holy shit. Be well. Happy holiday. See you soon!! Come on!!”
During February and March 2014, there are a half-dozen nervous emails from Cooper to Pascal asking how early cuts of the film are being received, with Pascal essentially placating the star by telling him exactly what he wants to hear.
An email sent from Crowe to Pascal dated March 31, 2014, indicates that things are still looking positive with the film. “Feel a little bit like we did on ‘Say Anything’—the movie tilted toward Cusack, the script tilted toward Ione Skye,” wrote Crowe, before apparently ripping on Bill Murray’s performance. “But our acting is better here all around, so we can hopefully get everything. Frankly, we have great options on all the performances except Bill Murray… who pretty much is what you saw.”
The very next day, Pascal shot an email to Cooper with the headline, “Soooo Between Us,” where she got (a bit) real about the film’s problems.
“You and Emma and Rachel and john are amazing,” wrote Pascal. “It's 100 percent your movie (which is good but needs to be a little bit corrected for so the love story fully works) it's different than the script in many ways much richer and more mythical \ The tone issue I now understand what you meant but it's about choices and degrees and it's really only one performance (not yours) and completely fixable. It's too long (way) and the biggest story issue is the one we've always had... Who knows what when about the launch.”
Crowe’s agent sent Pascal new script pages for the film on July 9, 2014, indicating significant rewrites following the initial production.
Nine days later, Sony Pictures marketing exec David Kaminow emailed Pascal and the entire SPE team with a suggestion for a title to Crowe’s movie. “In our 9am meeting, we came up with what we think is a great title for Cameron's movie: ALOHA STATE,” wrote Kaminow. “It accomplishes a few things: the most obvious is that it represents Hawaii without having to use Hawaii in the title, it is metaphorical for a state of mind and the spirit of the island and finally it means both coming and going, just like our characters in the film.” Despite the patent ridiculousness of that title, Pascal responded, “I love it,” while producer Rudin agreed, replying, “I love it. Super smart.”
By October 17, however, the shit seemed to completely hit the fan, with Pascal emailing Rudin about potential reshoots that Rudin estimates would cost between $3-4 million.
“This is the movie… No Reshoots… Do we need them? Will it make a difference,” wrote Pascal. “We have them budgeted in the number because we came in sunigantly [sp] under but have a look. It’s a fairytale and that’s what we went for… How can you justify destroying a weapon ized [sp] satellite with David Bowie… Answer… You can’t. Let me know what you think.”
The next day, Pascal emailed Rudin and Crowe with more notes. “I watched the movie with my family last night and they are the people who would run out to see this movie as they loved the characters but they were so confused by ghrilcrest [sp] And the fucking gate and the rocket and why he needed a watch dog and the relationship between the cia and Carson welsh and the military that it still got totally in the way of them settling into the characters.”
Rudin echoed Pascal’s criticisms, which caused Crowe to fire off a distressed reply to Pascal and Rudin: “Don’t really understand what you guys are saying here,” Crowe wrote. “Been chasing everybody’s notes for a year, most of them conflict with each other… and this will end with the same people, arguing over the same conflicting notes, in the lobby of a theatre where we’ve previewed. Mostly this all sounds like French to me, very elegant, but not a language I can fully translate. Plus, I’m gone after October 31st.”
Three days later, on October 21, Pascal sent Crowe a series of emails apparently annoyed with the filmmaker. One said, “YOUR [sp] AVOIDING ME WILL YOU PLEASE CALL,” while another said, “You can’t avoid me forever.”
In late October, Pascal was trying to schedule a “friends and family screening” with the team of Sony execs (minus Rudin), but Crowe seemed to think the movie wasn’t quite ready yet: “It just feels weird to me. After five months of waiting for you and SR [Scott Rudin] to get in the same room with me, it comes to this? I hate to be difficult, but I get a bad feeling,” wrote Crowe. “A rushed screening with an avid mix and cards… and no SR, no unified thinking with our brilliant producer — and for what? I’ve stood in that lobby before. The audience will not be prepared for the uniqueness of the film. There will be a destructive result if we aren’t super careful about how to proceed. I just can’t sit there and watch it happen. Soon you will have a beautiful mix and a finished version reflecting last weeks notes — a new NEW version that you and Arnon have not seen, more clear at the beginning — and you can show it to marketing and start to develop a plan and the best release date, etc, etc… and then great! Preview it later when we know we’ll have time to address anything that arises. I will always be your positive partner and have proven myself a tireless collaborator to all our executive and financial partners. I will be standing up on stage in November talking to the foreign guys and showing clips and answering questions happily… all good. But this is the rare time I have to say, with love, no… I can’t be there on Thurs under these circumstances. I will give you a beautiful version of this movie by October 31st and you can do whatever you want with it! I know you will do what you have to do, but I wouldn’t be true to my best instincts, the ones that have always served me, if I don’t ask you again to wait and screen the movie properly.”
By November, however, the tension between Pascal and Crowe seemed to have largely boiled over—prior to the aforementioned Jerry Maguire-esque mission statement.
That month, on November 21, Crowe even asked to direct Jobs, the Steve Jobs biopic helmed by Danny Boyle, “I’m ready to direct ‘Jobs!’ wrote Crowe.
Pascal, still behind the scenes-unimpressed with the film, merely replied: “Ha.”