Star Wars Leaks: A Film Industry Perspective

It takes a team effort to make the movies we love…

When it comes to information about a film as anticipated as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, official sources have been pretty limited. We know less about Episode 9 than we did at this point in waiting for previous films, so it’s only natural that fans are eager to learn whatever they can.

There have been some pretty detailed plot leaks out from two sources who may or may not have connections to the industry. These sources are by and large being trusted in the fan community. Since these sources have had confirmed leaks in the past, people are more inclined to accept them, especially when it seems that these specific leaks have also been backed up by others online as information they’ve received as well.

However, in light of this recent series of leaks that have been making their way to the internet, we at the Shadow Council decided to tap our own industry contacts (and very generous friends) to gain a better understanding from behind the scenes about studio security, the business of film making and likelihood of plot leaks.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Conn8d: Could you describe what you do and your experiences in the film industry?

PT – Most of the film  industry is a gig economy and my career path has been “giggier” than some, so I’ve hopped around a lot of different positions. I work in visual effects and am usually on the very tail end of movies. My jobs have predominantly been working on big budget feature films such as the Marvel, Star Trek, and Pacific Rim films (can you tell its very much a franchise-focused industry these days?) as well as some work in television, streaming, and VR projects.

The work I’ve been involved with has ranged from editorial, CG, animation, visual effects compositing, stereo (3D) conversion and correction, to DI (digital intermediary/color correction) services as well as dealing with various executives, vendors, and clients.

TL;DR, I work on the tail end of movies and generally get to see them as they are pretty far along in the process.

CM – Well, since I started in film, I’ve worn various hats depending on the level of productions I was hired to work on. The positions I’ve had the most experience in are Assistant Director, DP, Camera Operator, Producer, writer, Camera assistant, and editor. So, I’ve been involved in various stages of production: pre-production, principal photography, and post production…and it’s a good chance my involvement in these multiple stages is likely why I never get much sleep! 

Most of the time I would work for companies that would loan me out to productions for a couple of shoots or would take contracts and I’d be in servitude to them like I was Genuine. I’ve worked on premium channel shows like Shameless, The Knick, The Leftovers (And I still don’t know what the hell was going on in that show for the life of me), Dexter. Other times I’d be working for network Television, like USA Network, which allowed me to work on my favorite show at the time, “Mr. Robot”. 

The productions I’ve worked where I have been a writer, producer, and editor on were independent film productions, and depending on the production, I’d either be locked somewhere in a basement writing a script, securing funding as a producer/wishing I was somewhere else, or working alongside the director in either editing or as an AD. I will say this, nothing has been more painful for me than editing because I grow sick of seeing someone’s face or hearing their voice VERY easy.

KL – I’m an editor, right now I primarily do color grading and edits for national commercials. But over the years I have been a professional SFX makeup artist/technician, mold maker, set PA, various positions in the art department, and stand-in/photo double on major productions.

Conn8d: Can you give us a general sense of how the confidentiality, NDA, or secrecy regulations work in film and entertainment?

PT – It’s actually pretty simple. When you start a job (or in many cases, enter a building in which a project is being worked on), you sign a legal document stating that you will not speak about the project in question outside of the workplace. Now, each NDA agreement will vary in specifics, but for the most part – you talk about what you are working on, and they can prove it – you’re as good as sued. Often, this may be a hassle, but the industry is a small world. If you are a toxic asset and cause major leaks, the people around you probably know. So, even if it can’t be proven, it will be much harder for you to keep getting work in the field if you are known as the person who spills the beans. 

It’s definitely not fool-proof. Anyone can really mention anything at any time, even accidentally in casual conversation, but all of that is verbal. As for physical media, it’s very rare for actual footage to get out. Many studios have policies forbidding phones or cameras in the open at the workplace. In addition, most studios can track USB use (we knew the story of one fellow who plugged in a cable to get some reference material off of Google and got promptly fired). 

As I know this is a Star Wars themed group, of interest to you will be that Disney (and most other companies) also have their own additional and specific security measures that each vendor studio must comply with. Departments that have more access to material will likely be under higher security (even fingerprint scans at times!). In addition, a lot of footage in progressed is watermarked, so if it gets out, everyone knows who or what studio leaked it. Now, all that having been said there is one major caveat – it’s all up to trust! Its well and good that studios follow these measures, but no one watches the watchmen all the time. So things basically are all up to how much each place really enforces the rules. Places can only audit security so often, so a lot of it is on a Panopticon theory where you don’t break NDA on the chance that they are watching on the one instance you break it.   

CM – No matter what production I’ve been on, no matter how big or small, I have always had to sign a confidentiality agreement, an NDA, and even to this day, I still will have to get reminded about security regulations when working on any project. The fact is no one wants to hire someone who is going to leak their stuff. We live in a time where spoiler culture exists even for network television cartoons. Certain luxuries like having your phone on set is prohibited, and it’s not as easy as some make it sound to just start leaking information. It is a very black and white when it comes to this and no grey. 

When you are hired to work on a production, no matter what the job, you sign agreements that say you will not compromise that production. If you do so, you will get sued. It is not a threat, not a bluff, not an intimidation tactic. You will be getting sued and since this industry is not as big as it may seem, you will be out of job as well. Even if you are on set during principal photography, there is a chain of command when it comes to what information is known. Big budget productions aren’t handing out the entire synopsis of what is currently being filmed and depending on the level of secrecy and what job you have, you may not even know honestly what you are filming for.

KL – Pretty much any production, especially on the large scale, will have crew/cast/everyone involved sign an NDA upon hiring. The rules set in the NDA can sometimes vary in strictness based on production. Some sets aren’t as concerned as others about secrecy. But some of them are so concerned that they cover the cameras on everyone’s phones on set — cast, crew, extras, everyone — to avoid leaks. I’ve seen more than my fair share of people get immediately fired for slipping out info.

Conn8d: What are some major misconceptions people have about your field, especially where leaks are concerned?

PT – The biggest misconception in the age of a few corporations owning everything and all media being a franchise is that everything is organized. A big thing to keep in mind is that every production is its own job, particularly with movies. You would think that a franchise would have a set formula but it doesn’t. Most of the time every single movie is its own production with its own people organized its own way with its own methodology. Now, each production may be similar, but it’s not like “Congrats on finishing Halloween 3, now let’s start on Halloween 3: Part 2: No More Days Till Halloween!” The other misconception in regards to “leaks” is the degree to which industry people care. Now what do I mean by this? Well, frankly, if I am busy working towards the end of a movie, even if I were super disgruntled, I probably do not have the ambition or the outlet to blast the juicy details of my project. 

The sad reality is that by the time you get to the end of a project where you definitely know how everything turns out, you are likely already working like 16 hour days and barely getting enough sleep or coffee to sustain yourself. You probably do not care enough to find your nearest Mike Zeroh and wring your hands together like Snidely Whiplash as you gush about how the good guy beats the bad guy in the latest action movie. In fact, most of the people you casually talk to about media are also working on the same project as you are!

Many leaks may come from early in production, which I am not familiar with, but from my experience, until a movie has a proper edit, effects, and sound, you can never really tell the full tone and scope of a finished project. I’d say another major misconception is that you can tell how a project is going to be before it is done. I’ve worked on movies where I’ve seen the full edit in progress and effects, and still totally had a different impression of it when it had final color, edit lock and audio. We had one project that looked like total trash until it got final audio, and was released to rave critical reviews – you just never know. Even if you have a full script, you won’t really know if the project will “work” until its done!

CM – Since I’m actually a giant film nerd as well as a filmmaker, and basically my entire life revolves around either making them or watching them, there are so many misconceptions about the industry that actually drive my to the point of writing paragraphs of rants as to why X, Y, and Z can’t happen or why something doesn’t even make any sense in the realms of possibilities. 

Here is my Ted Talk when it comes to leaks from someone who has worked on different stages of production and that is this: No one is going to risk their career, their livelihood, their bread and butter, for some internet clout. Not even if there is money behind, because for one, the people who would have a decent amount of information to be leaked, would not be someone who would be willing to leak it. The more accurate information you know, the higher up on the food chain you are, and even less likely to leak something because it would be disturbingly easy to find out who the leaker was since information plot details on big budget productions are on a need to know basis. I’ve been on productions that have had fake scripts, misleading call-sheets, vague, ambiguous scene descriptions when I actually needed to just understand what I was reading. 

Not only that, but the first lesson I learned when working on anything is that a project is written 4 times: Once in the script stages, again during principal photography, re-shoots, and finally in editing. What does this mean? It means that the story of the project is ever changing. Something can be written one way in the script, and filmed another, but edited into a different context. So just because a crew member or extra on set thinks they know what they are seeing, in truth, they don’t. Not even lead actors or on set crew members always know how much has changed from the initial script to the final cut of the film off the top of their head, if they know it at all.

KL – I guess generally people seem to think it’s easy to get leaks out of a production? Like it’s almost a given that everything will eventually leak, and that’s not true? Sure, it’s probably inevitable that little scraps of info will get out, but whole plots? Definitely not, if it’s a high-profile production.

Also, leaks coming from extras should by-and-large be ignored. I’ve been an extra, and we like to speculate about the plot based on scenes we’re seeing, but usually, no, no extra will have seen the entire production and very unlikely to have seen enough to deduce the entire plot line, especially key moments. Extras aren’t given scripts, so unless they have friends in high places or are stealing someone’s shit off of set, they won’t know every detail of any scene, even the ones they’re present for.

Things that are meant to be kept secret will usually be filmed with a skeleton crew.

Conn8d: Can you describe in general the amount of information staff of various levels of a production know and don’t know about the plot?

PT – Much like my earlier answer, it very much is on a case-by-case basis. In VFX world, sometimes I get audio, sometimes I don’t, for example. I will say it really varies the most based on department. People at a supervisory level will often see many screenings of edits as they progress and will know more. You average artist may not know much, only seeing the shots to which they are assigned. Even if you are working in production as a coordinator, you could go through an entire project without seeing any footage. Editorial as a departments usually sees the most by virtue of what they do. However, in VFX, you never work on every shot in a movie.

So, your company may never get or see a full edit, they may only get the scenes they are working on. I have worked on movies and shows that I had no idea what they were until I saw them in theaters!

CM – It varies depending on the production you’re on, but from my history in the industry, it has always been a need to know basis on who knows what. The director, writers, and producers generally know everything about the film. Depending on the level of involvement though, usually it’s a best bet to only trust that the director knows literally everything.

I will say that no matter what stage of production you are involved in, unless you are in a very high position, you probably don’t know anything of value, and anything of value you do know, unless you are part of the top brass, you likely don’t have much context to the information you know and likely aren’t going to risk it all just to yeet that info to a shady podcast. There have been times I didn’t find out what I was actually working till long after the job was done and fading from my memory.

I can honestly say that plot details are usually above most people’s pay-grade, and again, the ones that do know it, aren’t saying anything about it online.

KL – Generally speaking, the only people on a production who will have an entire script are the people highest on the totem pole — writers (obvi), director, producers, script supervisor, etc. Sometimes not even the actors will have seen the entire script. The majority of the crew will only receive ‘sides’, which are only the snippet of script that we’re shooting that day.

And for things like tv shows that often are written and changed constantly, or shot out of order, we’re all just left trying to piece together little bits of story into a larger plot. Usually we don’t know what all is going on until we’ve gone through the entire production, and even then, some days might be split into multiple units meaning we only see what OUR unit is doing. We’re all just there to do a job and go home.

Most of us aren’t even concerned with figuring out the script.

Conn8d: How many people generally have access to entire scripts or complete footage, and in which departments?

PT – I don’t know since I’ve never gotten one in any position I’ve worked! Some folks who work in Production departments will get scripts, but not always. Even Editorial does not get scripts. VFX mostly works on a principle of doing what they are told by the client. Give the character jumping around a laser sword? Ok Mr. Mouse! By the time VFX gets shots, the script has been used to shoot principal photography already and make the creative edit.

CM – Full scripts? If its film, then you can trust the director and writer(s) to have access to the entire script of course. Depending on the level of involvement of the producers, they will also have full access to the script. Most of the top brass of the film, trusted directors, lead actors, producers, and other high ranking members of the production  will likely have access to the script, or at the very least, read the script. Though, to address the green elephant in the room, for a project in the MCU or Star Wars, the chances of reading the entire script, unredacted, even of the level of a main cast member, is very small depending on what stage the film is in. For example, there were episodes on The Leftovers were there would be a different director for different episodes, and sometimes that director would only have the script for that episode, other times they’d have access to entire season.

TLDR? Unless you have in a position of power in the set, you likely don’t have access to the script, and as I’ve said in almost each answer, if you do have access to the script, you’re not leaking it since it will be pretty easy for the powers that be to trace it back to you.

KL – Similar to the last question, the only people with access to entire scripts and footage are producers, director, editor, cinematographer, audio…. The actors will usually see all the footage, too. Point is, very very very few people will have access to both. Only the top, only the ones with the tightest-lips. The chances of this leaking are slim to none unless coming from post-production, but I doubt any editors would risk their livelihood to do something like that.

Anyone in those positions would get blacklisted out of the industry for that.

Conn8d: As an industry professional, what tips have you learned during your career to determine which leaks are credible and which are misinformation?

PT- This answer isn’t going to go – the way you think!

To be honest, I’ve never thought about it. This goes back to the apathy I had mentioned before.  By the time you have worked in the industry for a while, you tend to realize that movies and TV are a job like any other. So, when people talk really excited about reshoots or design changes or “What does it MEEAAAAAANNN!!!!????,” we often just see it as oh yeah, just more work stuff.

Sadly, leaks are really not things we think about unless it truly impacts the business or our ability to get more work. We will talk about them like anyone else talks about pop culture news, but not from any sort of informed perspective. Like the Sony leaks were big because they really impacted people’s jobs, but little plot leaks don’t really impact us. For the most part, if I am not working on a project, I am just as in the dark as you are. I will say, for credibility, if anyone sincerely leaks significant info, the people in the industry around them likely know and they probably would not keep getting work to leak so many times. And if the leaker consistently has a “track record” its very likely they are making safe guesses and rolling the dice, much like how psychics work.

Let’s face it, most audiences if they really think hard, can take a stab at what will happen in the next superhero movie.

CM – Yeah…I don’t actually view any types of leaks as credible depending on the time frame of when they leak. Most industry professionals are either have burnt out from lack of sleep, long days, or just generally trying to focus on getting through the day. If say someone has enough info where they are going to leak stuff, more than likely they aren’t going to do it due to the fact that it can and will be traced back to them. If the film is months away from coming out and the director says that he/she is still editing it, any plot leaks on that film should be taken with even less than a grain of salt because they are mostly fabrications and outright guesses at that point. 

Most accurate plot leaks for films only come out after the embargo lifts and certain people have been able to see the film. Most people who work in the various stages of production, don’t know much unless they are one of the people running the production, and at that point they aren’t going to leak anything. As for leakers that say they have reliable sources, those people should also be taken with a grain of salt because there is no such thing as a constant stream of leaks coming from the same place.

There is calculated theories mixed in with speculation of vague information that was given. Just from what I’ve heard of people talking about various Star Wars leaks, I would have to wonder if these people are actually paying attention to what the creators behind the film are saying or actually thinking logically in regards to how these leakers would get this much information.

More often than not, leaks are just people getting lucky and basing theories in a way that is vague enough where it sounds believable.

KL – As far as determining leak validity, photos are pretty sure-fire, of course. Really, leaks based on visuals are the ones I go for. Those are the ones that are believable because, yeah, most anyone present for the filming of these scenes WILL be able to describe them after seeing them for 25 takes in a row.

But if the leaker claims to be an extra — less validity. They’re usually on and off set so much it’s hard to know for sure if they saw a whole scene or not, or are just filling in the blanks with what they thought they saw. People claiming to have seen a script or know the whole plot? Unless it’s only a small portion like what would be seen on a daily side, I don’t buy it.

Higher ups don’t just leave their scripts laying around willy-nilly and these higher-ups aren’t going around telling secrets. People saying they saw so-and-so on set in whatever costume? Sure, I’ll bite. You’ll see actors walking around like that a lot. Set descriptions? Also good.

Conn8d: How much do crew members tend to share with each other?

PT – Oh everything. Even when people follow the rules, most people are generally aware of what’s going on in the industry around them. And much like anyone else, VFX people are all humans and will talk about the shared misery of work. I know, this sounds like Leak-a-palooza here, but it’s really not as bad as it sounds.

A lot of folks in the industry tend to socialize with other people in the industry, so the effect is a bit null. Like, if I told my coworker the end of a TV episode, they’d be like yeah, I know, I’m working on it. A leak is mostly novel to people who don’t already know it; it would be like telling a coworker that you got your latest paycheck. All that having been said, keep in mind, this is just from my experiences and, as I said, all of this is on a case-by-case basis. I can only speak from my limited experiences and as such, like all reading this, I don’t know what I don’t know!

I think that’s what makes leaked information fun for people. The information leaked is less enticing than the mutual experience of not knowing something and then – BAM – suddenly finding out what Santa is getting you for Christmas.

CM – Ehhhh, it really depends honestly.

In the stages of pre-production, there aren’t really many people involved in comparison to the other stages of production, so more often than not is easier to talk freely. On set or in post, eh, it’s kind of like any work place where people will share what they did that day and exchange experiences, but like I’ve said, considering that the information known by 85% of the crew is scarce and the ones that do know aren’t talking, there are very few times where the things we are talking about will ever matter in a larger scale because the other crew member will likely have been there.

Honestly, film isn’t as glamorous as it looks, and most of the time its like any other job. After a few years you actually get use to it…in an odd way. Though there are still days where you will get surprised.

KL – It really depends on the crew and the production, as far as how talkative everyone is with each other. Some I’ve been on have been so friendly regardless of rank that even the Unit Production Manager or Cinematographer or the cast would gladly just hang around, chatting about everything. On those productions, yeah, I could get a good idea of what the whole script was and who was doing what and when. But most large productions aren’t that lax — that one was a rarity.

Most have a hard dividing line between the regular crew and the higher-ups, and not a lot of fraternizing happens. At least, not on set around prying ears. On a production with a ton of extras? Definitely even more tight-lipped because extras are the main people who are the risk. People get hired on shows purely to come in and try to leak info. When that’s a possibility, the whole crew is on edge.

Special thanks to our 3 friends from the film industry for sharing their perspective. What do you think of leaks? Let us know in the comments!

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