Hollywood could probably teach the CIA a thing or two about secrets. Increasingly, information about films is doled out strictly on a ”need to know” basis, and even stars are routinely asked to sign ”secrecy pacts.” Long a mainstay of the high-tech field, such pacts are now de rigueur for studios — and the new breed of L.A. pusher now says, ”Pssst. Wanna know about the next Star Wars?”
Consider the number of actors cowed by gag orders. When pressed for details about Stanley Kubrick’s highly anticipated Eyes Wide Shut last year, Nicole Kidman, who stars in the picture with husband Tom Cruise, firmly demurred: ”I can’t say anything about that. You guys don’t want me to get in trouble, do you?” Similarly, Winona Ryder, who costars with Sigourney Weaver in Alien Resurrection, backed away from questions about how Weaver’s character, Ripley, will be brought back to life. Says Ryder: ”I’m dying to talk about it, but literally, they made me sign something.”
It’s not just actors who are clamming up, either. Steven Spielberg had virtually the entire set of The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park, placed under lock and key. Among the precautions taken during filming: No visitors were allowed on the set, the crew was required to wear ID badges at all times, and guards maintained watch 24 hours a day. ”Anyone connected with this project is told when they join of the desire to maintain secrecy of the story and elements of the production,” says World spokesman Don Levy. Similarly, George Lucas is fastidiously guarding the Star Wars prequels, which are in preproduction. Visitors to Industrial Light & Magic, Lucas’ special-effects factory, are required to sign nondisclosure agreements as they enter.
Why the current wave of silence? Increased competition, mostly. With dueling films a fact of life in Hollywood (e.g., Dante’s Peak vs. Volcano), productions have gotten touchier about sharing plots. ”As a trend, it’s happening more because studios are spending more,” says one exec, who chalks it up to guarding one’s investment. ”If I were to tell you the story line of a movie in production now, someone else could crank out a similar product before we got to the screen.”
Fox, for example, had been keeping an airtight lid on a crucial plot point in its upcoming Alien Resurrection — that the titular resurrection would be done through cloning. The strategy was changed only when a marketing opportunity, in the guise of a cloned sheep, presented itself. ”We were going to keep it a secret,” says one insider at Fox. ”But with Dolly in the news, we wanted people to make the connection.”
Then again, one other factor forced Fox’s hand: the Internet. Alien‘s producers discovered that the cat — or in this case, the acid-bleeding xenomorph — had been let out of the bag when the script had been reprinted online. ”It’s pathetic,” says Clein & White publicist Jeff Hill about online leaks. ”It’s also illegal. But it happens.”
Cyberspace has become a growing problem for studios, since any stagehand with a PowerBook can gab about a production without fear of reprisal. “When you release information online you have the option to be anonymous,” says an exasperated industry executive. “There is a loss of control here.”
Which simply adds to the studios’ sense of urgency to keep things quiet. In the end, competition and big investments aside, Hollywood execs say the main concern is still the ticket buyer. “Secrecy is maintained always with the audience in mind,” says Levy, “to let them see the movie fresh.” If only the same could be done for the popcorn.