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Sony and the Interview, Once More

Discussions of North Korea, cyber war, the corporate cowardice of Sony Pictures, and THE INTERVIEW have been taking over the airwaves these past two days, and millions of words have been devoted to the issues.  I won't try to rehash them all here.

The most important words, and the truest words, were those spoken by the big man, President Obama.

I agree with everything the President said there.

One of the most important bits, in my opinion, is toward the middle, where he talks about the chilling effect the cowardice of Sony and the big movie chains could have on other filmmakers going forward.  This is a point that very few of the talking heads on television seem to be addressing.  It is not theoretical.  THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING. The damage has already extended well beyond THE INTERVIEW itself.  Paramount, a studio that has NOT been hacked, and has NOT been threatened, has already reacted by pulling TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE from all the theatres that wanted to show it as a substitute for THE INTERVIEW.  They have made no public statement as to their reasons, but I think their reasons are plain... they are afraid of drawing down the wrath on North Korea and the hackers.   Meanwhile, New Regency and Fox -- neither of them part of the Sony hack, neither of them theatened -- have scrapped plans forPYONGYANG,  a Steve Carrell movie about North Korea, based on a popular graphic novle.


This a textbook example of "chilling effect."  Nothing could be more clearcut.  Not just one Seth Rogen/ James Franco ( or Flacco) movie has been impacted, but three different projects, one ten years old, one still in preproduction.

 Of course, Sony has taken issue with the president's declaration that they "made a mistake."  (A very mild way of putting it, in my opinion.)  No, no, they did not make a mistake, they are insisting, they had no choice.  Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton instead tried to shift the blame to Regal, AMC, and the other movie chains who announced that they would not not screen the film.   "We have not caved, we have not given in, we have persevered, and we haven't backed down. We have always had the desire to have the American public see this movie," Lynton said.

Sorry, but that's bullshit.  Sony did have a choice.  They still do.   They can release the film tomorrow, if they want.

Sony is correct in one regard: the big movie chains are getting off way too easy here.  All the discussion has focused on Sony, but in fact the cowardice started with Regal, with AMC, and  the other monarchs of the multiplex who decided to bow to the threats and pull THE INTERVIEW from their screens.  But for Sony to suggest that once that happened they "had no place to show the film," is disingenuous.

I have already stated that the Jean Cocteau Cinema will show THE INTERVIEW here in Santa Fe, should it be made available to us.  And yes, we're a tiny little arthouse, only 125 seats... but the crucial point is, we would not have been alone.   According to NATO (the National Association of Theatre Owners, not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), there are 39,662 movie screens in the United States.  Regal, the largest and most powerful of the chains, has 7318 of those.  The other big chains have thousands too, but...

Do the math.  There are still THOUSANDS of screens out there not under the control of the mega-chains.  Smaller chains, regional chains, arthouses, and many many many small independent movie theatres like my own... theatres that would have jumped at the chance to show a big Christmas movie, an opportunity not often afforded them.  Regal may have been intimidated, but I don't think Alamo Drafthouse would have been.  I suspect Quention Tarantino and his New Beverly Theatre in LA would have stepped up, he's no stranger to controversy.  And there are thousands more.  So don't give us this "boo hoo, we have no choice, no one would have showed our movie" okey-doke, Sony, because it's not true.  The INDEPENDENTS would have showed your film.  We still will.  Release it, and see.

Rachel Maddow did an excellent story last night about the parallels between THE INTERVIEW case and the SATANIC VERSES incident, when Iran declared a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, threatening to kill not only the author but also his editors and publishers.  It is worth remembering that, in that case as in this, the big chains were the first to cave.  Waldenbooks, B. Daltons, and Barnes & Noble all responded by announcing that they would not be selling THE SATANIC VERSES.   But... here's the important part...Rushdie's publishers did not flinch, but stood firm for the book, the author, and the principle of free speech.  And who stood with them?  The independent bookstores.   All the shops around the corner, the specialty stores, the mom-and-pop operations came forth and said, almost as one, "We'll sell your book."  And they did, in unprecedented numbers.  THE SATANIC VERSES was a huge bestseller, not because of the chains, but in spite of them.

Maybe Regal is afraid is to show THE INTERVIEW.  The CEOs in the corporate suites are too scared by what their lawyers are whispering in their ears about potential liability.  But mom and pop have more guts, I'd bet.  Release THE INTERVIEW, Sony, and hundreds of small chains and indy theatres will snap it up all across the country.

And hey, Paramount, we'd snap up TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE as well.  So climb out from underneath your desks, and make it available for us to book. 


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Joe Louis
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
Well Said
Couldn't agree more George. Cowardice breeds more cowardice.
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
Comedy Central
Keep in mind Comedy central (probably viacom) did a version of this once already. South Park for their 200th episode was going to have Muhammad be a character, and actually did it, but comedy central edited the episode. I don't remember everybody calling Comedy Central cowards. In fact all of the newspapers in America were too scared to run the Danish Cartoonists drawings of Muhammad in 2005. Wasn't that a free speech back down too?

So this pile on Sony might not be as warranted as it seems, considering the precedent has been already set.

And PS, I'm not some right wing loon who hates Muslims. I'm just pointing out that these colors have ran before, and those making threats didn't have nuclear weapons.
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:16 pm (UTC)
Many IT people predicted this a decade ago
Back when I worked in IT, in the late 90s and early 2000s, we were paid well and had a fair amount of people working in each department. Back then, network security wasn't as much of a concern because hackers back then succeeded more utilizing social engineering. However, we did a good job creating policies that made it more difficult to social engineer your way into sensitive systems.

AND THEN THEY FIRED/DOWNSIZED US and hired younger people, with less experience and education, to replace us. And of course paid them less... and hired a lot less of them. Not to mention, these upper managers had no understanding of the work these IT people were doing to begin with... they only saw dollars disappearing in IT departments but had no way to qualify how much those IT departments were SAVING THEM in potential revenue losses.

Today you have tens of thousands of former IT security experts who simply left the field. People who were great at their jobs... who had decades of experience and were critical thinkers. Millennials, by and large, are not critical thinkers, I am sorry to say. They're a good bunch of kids who are very accepting of the differences in people, but they're just not great at problem solving. And that's my generation's fault for raising them that way; we overcompensated for the terrible way Baby Boomers raised us, and held the hands of our kids for too long.

So that's how we got to this point. You have overcompensating Gen-X executives, who DO NOT UNDERSTAND IT SECURITY, hiring Millennials who can't think their way out of a box --and paying them next to nothing to do it- who live in an over-reactionary world where people expect you to FIX IT NOW, even if it makes no sense.
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:24 pm (UTC)
The Interview
Well stated! Thanks for stepping up!
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:25 pm (UTC)

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
"Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man's nose begins"
(с)"Freedom of Speech in Wartime" Zechariah Chafee, Jr
Sony made a bad movie. Offensive. Someone had to tell them that this can not be done. You can not do bad to others and talk about rights.
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:30 pm (UTC)
No one gets struck in the nose by watching a movie.

The "cure" for free speech is more free speech. If someone says something you think is offensive, you are free to say so, and why, and write scathing reviews, and tell people not to see the movie. You can even stand in front of the theatre with a sign saying DON'T SEE THIS MOVIE.

You are not free to silence them.
(no subject) - gringrin - Dec. 20th, 2014 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - scarybaldguy - Dec. 20th, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gringrin - Dec. 20th, 2014 07:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Matt Stedman - Dec. 20th, 2014 09:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Jim Guidry - Dec. 20th, 2014 09:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kavnn - Dec. 21st, 2014 07:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Seriously? - Jeremy Scholem - Dec. 21st, 2014 02:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - accordion_hero - Dec. 20th, 2014 07:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - scarybaldguy - Dec. 20th, 2014 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tilmon - Dec. 20th, 2014 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bunn - Dec. 21st, 2014 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC)
I think the difference between the Rushdie situation and the current one is that, in this case, it's not just the filmmakers and the studio that have been threatened, but innocent movie-goers as well. Given how fresh the Aurora incident is in everyone's minds, I can understand a certain reluctance to show the film. No, it's not likely that North Korea will follow through on the threats. But I can see why theater owners might not want to take the risk.

Do I think Sony should have caved? No. They should have allowed those willing to screen the film to show it. They should have released it VOD. They are scared of further hacks and leaks, plain and simple, and acting like they had no choice now is really very disingenuous.
Dec. 21st, 2014 07:34 pm (UTC)
There isn't really any difference. The fatwa on Satanic Verses resulted in threats to bookstores and a number of firebombings which were very much a danger to innocent patrons. Terrorism is not a greater danger today than it has been any time in the past century
Megan Lindholm
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:42 pm (UTC)
I believe we are only going to see more of this 'manipulation by threat' as we go along. I strongly suspect that the hackers have made threats of more information revelation if Sony releases the film anywhere. We don't know what those threats are but I doubt the hackers have used up all their ammunition.

Their tactics worked. And so we can expect to see the same internet terrorism deployed again and again.

I've been watching in horror what has befallen Brianna Wu and her release of her game Revolution 60 as the 'gamergate' people have targeted her. The same internet terrorism tactics focused on Sony were used on her as an individual. She has been subjected to photos of her home with rape threats, mocking of her grief at her dog dying, publishing of her personal information, and changing the Wikipedia articles about her and her spouse in damaging ways. She's had to raise funds to hire someone to watch her back on the internet simply so she can devote time to being a game designer instead of constantly defending herself.

I don't know where it ends. There is not a single one of us, as businesses or individuals, who is not vulnerable to digital attack that causes real life harm to us.

George, I admire your courage in offering to screen The Interview at the Jean Cocteau Theater. I'd like to think I'd be as brave were in a position to do something similar. But I honestly don't know if I'd have that kind of guts. No one gets to find out how brave they are until they're standing in front of the target.

I admire you.

Dec. 20th, 2014 06:43 pm (UTC)
Do you agree with anything President Obama says about Russia?
We people just want peace and no game of thrones except one :)
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:49 pm (UTC)
I think at this point, having gotten a huge amount of attention for what would otherwise have been a money losing film, Sony is choosing to hold it back until they can figure out a way to get a wide release and rake in as much money as possible rather than have some kind of limited release where the money can only trickle in and it all fades away before they make their money back. By withholding it they are building up demand for it and when it finally is released it will be your patriotic duty to see it.
Dec. 21st, 2014 12:09 am (UTC)
Money losing film?
Seth Rogen films do ridiculous box office.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:08 pm (UTC)
Keeping skeletons in the closet
My guess is that the hackers have some pretty heavy stuff remaining in their booty, and that's what Sony's afraid of getting released.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:13 pm (UTC)

Well said, Sir. And thank you.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
Online Distribution
It seems to me that Sony missed a big opportunity to push the general public toward an online distribution channel of their choice. "Oh, major chains won't show a movie that has no requirement for IMAX or 3D or really needs to be experienced on a gigantic screen? What do we need them for, again? Almost everybody has an acceptable screen for watching The Interview on their computer / tablet / TV. Hmm... Should we make a ton of money from a contract with NetFlix or On Demand or do it ourselves via sonymovies.com*?"

Alternately, if Sony wanted to, they could purposefully leak The Interview on bit torrent and flatly deny it, and wring their hands, saying (quite believably) that they had been hacked...

*I made up the URL, but it actually checks out.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
It's a lawyer thing...
I agree with everything you said. I agree with the president too. I think Sony should have accepted the risk and released the movie but it's clear why they didn't. What would happen if the movie was released and a terrorist act was committed against movie goers? I think that chance of that happening is about one in a million, but just say it happened. Does anyone think that the families of those injured wouldn't sue Sony?

The problem, as I see it, is the litigious society we live in. Sony is a business. They are in business to make money. The risk-reward for them in this situation is the problem. One movie that makes a few million or potential (admittedly small potential likelihood)of devastating lawsuits.

I was in Mexico ten years ago at a Mayan temple. I crawled all over that thing. Went inside it too. At one point I was standing on a ledge, a hundred foot drop to my left. I looked at my wife and said, "Mexico must not have personal injury lawyers."

Like I said, Sony dropped the ball, but I see why the decided to drop it.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:38 pm (UTC)
I heard an interesting speculation on NPR this morning: that Sony is using the hack as a cover excuse to save themselves money.

There is a possibility that Sony had 11th hour crisis of confidence in the film, or they got information that their box office receipt projections were soft. The hack and subsequent threats give the people that decided they'd rather pull the movie than risk a financial flop enough cover that they can get away with it, even if it means weathering some well-intentioned criticism about freedom of speech & expression.

There is also a possibility that Sony may decide later to release the film anyway, but with all of this extra free publicity from the news helping to promote it.

As for why Paramount didn't want to let theaters show Team America: World Police... maybe they figure the redistribution costs were prohibitive but didn't want to say so. It didn't exactly do gangbusters when it was first released, and there may or may not be much of an audience for it that would think it's held up well enough to warrant seeing it in the theater again. Or maybe they decided to use the opportunity to grab Sony's coattails and get some free publicity of their own.

All told, it's still a complete lack of fortitude on Sony's part that they're not saying: "okay, we won't release it in theaters but NK can't stop Netflix or Time Warner/Comcast's on-demand options!" Just possibly for different reasons than what a lot of people are saying.

Edited at 2014-12-20 07:53 pm (UTC)
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George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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