THE FIFTH ESTATE
Visualizing Information: The Submission Platform
At the core of WikiLeaks' bold idea was Assange's secure submission platform, allowing anyone to upload
information or documents in a way that, using a form of "deniable encryption," was entirely untraceable back to
a specific source. It was a brilliant, even life-saving, concept, but ephemeral enough that Bill Condon wanted to
find some way to put it into visceral, compelling visuals.
Thus was born a series of sets that would make concrete the "Rubberhose" file system, which was created by
Assange, Suelette Dreyfus and Ralf-Philipp Weinmann. They originally developed it for use by human rights
groups working in repressive countries, thus a name that brings to mind the rubber hoses used to beat prisoners
to get information. But it also became a seed of WikiLeaks, which would soon use a more sophisticated form of
encryption (allegedly designed by a programmer known as "The Architect") to move disguised information from
a leaker to the world so that no one in the organization could possibly know who was providing the top-secret
documents. Even if someone from WikiLeaks were interrogated, they would have no information to give under
The WikiLeaks platform did remain secure. But what Assange may not have accounted for was the human factor
that allowed a young Bradley Manning to talk openly about his leaks in a chat room to a former hacker who
became a government informant.
15To make the platform tangible, Mark Tildesley explains, "We conceived of it as a safe haven where all information
is free. So we start with someone typing into a monitor and then you see the letters gathering speed becoming
encryption code leading to a room filled with simple computers and documents flying in from all over. It gives
you a visual impression of how the information was stored."
It was exactly the kind of challenge Tildesley loves most. "It was exciting to try to take this story that is all about
people in front of screens and make it really cinematic," he says.
That aim followed Condon into the editing room, where he collaborated with longtime associate Virginia Katz
("The Twilight Saga," "Dreamgirls") to weave the final narrative. "Because of how we shot the film, it made for a
very intense editing period," Condon notes. "We had mounds of footage, and Ginny and I scoured for all the best
moments. It was long and involved, but worth it.
Another challenge of the editing was pacing, especially given that some climactic scenes take place almost
entirely in exchanges of text. "The big question was: How do you make the reading of text as dramatic as two
people shouting at each other? Ginny did a really, really beautiful job of making you hang on every word," says
The final touches on the film came in the form of the score by Carter Burwell, who has worked on several films
with Condon, as well as multiple films for the Coen brothers. For "The Fifth Estate" he was also able to tap into
his background studying electronic music at Harvard and MIT.
"There's a very specific sound to this period in Germany, a techno sound that inspired us," says Condon. "Carter
dove into a style that he's never really played with before. And we added to that a soundtrack of artists from
all over Europe and America. Techno is the dominant sound, but there's a very different sound for the State
Department sequences and another for the newspaper sequences. There's a whole wide range of musical styles,
and Carter pulled it all into a strong, cohesive whole.
Pulling multiple strands into a cohesive whole was the overarching aim of the entire production, but all the
filmmakers acknowledge that no matter how you look at this story, it keeps shifting like the fractals of a
kaleidoscope as the news itself keeps spinning. The recent NSA leaks brought to light by Edward Snowden only
serve to underline how the story continues to morph.
"I think now with Snowden, people have realized what happened with WikiLeaks wasn't a one-time thing,"
Josh Singer observes. "Manning wasn't a one-off. It happened again. And it could happen again, and again, and
again, because information transfer is so easy in our world right now. And, no matter where you come down, it's
something we all have to talk about."
Sums up Condon: "These are the questions we are all asking right now: Who will be the judge of which secrets
we need to know and which are too dangerous to share? Julian Assange believes almost no information is too
dangerous to be shared and that the majority of information should be free. Others argue that it's irresponsible
to reveal everything a government or company does and that, even in a democratic society, some things must
be kept concealed. These are complex questions but WikiLeaks has made them very, very real."
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