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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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Dec. 20th, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
The Interview
The spinelessness of Hollywood's response to this attack is the most nauseating part of the story. The idea of a bunch of North Korean hackers sitting around, slapping each other on the back, and laughing it up over the way they just shut down a $44 million movie is intolerable. My worry is that the "response" that has been promised by the President will never amount to anything substantial and that the chilling effect you mentioned will become a normal part of the decision-making process for Hollywood going forward, and as the President mentioned, the news media as well.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:51 pm (UTC)
I agree with every word you said! Sony was not standing up for freedom of the press, free speech or even the right to peaceful protest. They were speaking up for their bottom line. They are running scared and I'm afraid at this point any choice they make is going to cost them dearly. They should have never caved to being bullied. If Sony is going to go down, they could at least go down fighting.
Evan Adams
Dec. 20th, 2014 08:12 pm (UTC)
movie rights
How does this impact how you woud view Sony or Paramount for future GRRM film projects? It would be awesome for GOT feature film to get an independent theater preference.
Dec. 20th, 2014 08:36 pm (UTC)
Agreed re: Satanic Verses analogy, though the problem there was that we had book-burnings in the street in W Yorkshire, by people who hadn't even read it, and there were people in the literary/critical establishment who tried to make excuses (I went off Karen Armstrong completely after this). Then there was the case of Bezhti, a play critical of misogyny and oppression in the Sikh community, which was pulled because of threats outside the theatre in Birmingham. The Christians tried to jump on the bandwagon, too, re: Jerry Springer: The Opera. A lot of them seem to suffer from fatwa-envy and wish they had the power to repress with threats of violence.
Dec. 21st, 2014 06:05 am (UTC)
I got a great Satanic Verses story
My Fairly Goth mother told me that she bought the book, read some and just couldn't stand the writing structure. Apparently really bad writing. Anyway, she left it on the coffee table and went to get more coffee. She came back to find her cat Dice Bag (earned named, two vets trips) had knocked the book onto the floor and took a dump on it.
That cat had never done that before to ANYTHING.

Thus became "Dice Bag: Champion of Allah, Defender of Mecca"
Dec. 20th, 2014 09:24 pm (UTC)
The Interview
Honestly, if Sony were concerned about a terrorist attack or a lunatic shooting up a movie theater, then they should've released it via on-demand or pay-per-view or what have you. Direct to the consumer. Movies like Margin Call, Parkland, and others have been released that way to varying degrees of success. With all the hoopla surrounding this film and the public outcry against their cowardice, it's free advertising and a sure thing that they'd make their money back. North Koreans won't be able to bomb or shoot up a theater if they did that and they'd be able to give them the middle finger for the hackings in turn.

Edited at 2014-12-20 09:30 pm (UTC)
Jim Guidry
Dec. 20th, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
One point however...
While I agree with you on the unbelievable apathy that everyone is showing about the precedent that Sony and the movie theaters have set here, and said as much yesterday (Yay! GRRM and I think alike!), I doubt the President's sincerity very much. It is more like arrogance, considering he blamed the Benghazi tragedy on a film and had the filmmaker imprisoned without due process...

It is easy for him to say after the fact what the proper course should have been. But now that thousands of innocent moviegoers were threatened with terrorist attacks, I would like to know what his government is going to do about it besides expel hot air. I won't be holding my breath.
Dec. 21st, 2014 01:24 pm (UTC)
Re: One point however...
Yes, I'll bet it looks like arrogance, especially when you define arrogance as "That way the Obama always looks whenever he says or does anything."
Re: One point however... - Jim Guidry - Dec. 22nd, 2014 04:36 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2014 09:36 pm (UTC)
From the Mel Brooks version of "To Be or Not To Be," when the Polish Foreign Official Boyarski comes to shut down Bronski's (Mel Brooks) Hitler comedy bit:

Bronski: What gives you the right to stop my show?
Boyarski: Mr. Bronski, we are trying to stop a war!
Bronski: What's that got to do with a comedy number?
Boyarski: Your presentation could be construed as a direct insult to Chancellor Hitler!
Lupinski [a Jewish actor in Bronski's troupe]: Construed, conshmued, it was meant to be an insult!
Bronski: [aside, to Lupinski] Lupinski, shut up!
Boyarski: I'm sorry to tell you this, Mr. Bronski, but we cannot allow you to ridicule the leaders of the Third Reich, it's too risky.
Bronski: Let me tell you something, Dr. Boyarski. The curtain's going up again! And we're gonna finish that number! We are not. Backing. Down.
Boyarski: Then we're closing this theater!
Bronski: [pause] We're backing down! Strike the sets, out of those costumes!
Dec. 20th, 2014 09:46 pm (UTC)
Dec. 21st, 2014 02:24 am (UTC)
Steven Porojames
Dec. 20th, 2014 10:36 pm (UTC)
They have won
And when I say THEY I don't mean North Korea, but every country/organization/group that advocates for censorship. Look at history, every time someone imposed it, progress was delayed or even set back.

This is only a movie, mostly for the US, but the implications are major, and have a worldwide effect.

What happens if ISIS decides tomorrow to make threats to bomb every major news corp in the US, if they show any news involving them, what will happen then?

Sony, you screwed up big time! Now be a good corporation and sell the Spider-Man rights back to Marvel, before you go bankrupt :)
John Ingram
Dec. 20th, 2014 11:09 pm (UTC)
A comedy about killing a foreign leader....now everyone is offended
from PBS Newshour, Dec. 19

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn now to Ambassador Jack Pritchard, Former U.S. Special Envoy for Negotiations with North Korea.

JACK PRITCHARD: "...take a look at the history of North Korea.

It’s been led by one family, the grandfather, the father and now the son. And throughout the history of North Korea, any attack on the leadership required North Korea to respond.

So it’s not surprising they did, regardless of what we may think of the — how funny the movie is or whatnot.

From a North Korean perspective, it’s an attack on the core of their being, and it requires a response.

What we weren’t prepared for is the level and the fact it was this type of cyber-attack. But, clearly, we knew something was going to happen.

You know, every time you talk about the North Korean leaders, using their name, it raises the hackles of the North Korean leadership.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, in terms of a response, we heard the president say that it’s going to be proportional and he said it’s going to at a time of the U.S. choosing. He’s not going to be announcing it. It will be done behind the scenes, presumably. What are the options?

JACK PRITCHARD: Well, you know, in basic terms, there are three things could be done, diplomatic, military and economic.

On the diplomatic side, we don’t have a relationship with North Korea. We can’t leverage something that they may want to preserve, so that’s out.

On the military side, anything that we would contemplate would have to have the full cooperation and understanding and approval of South Korea, and that doesn’t fall within the proportionality that the president is talking about.

That leaves you economic aspects to deal with.

And from my point of view, I think there are probably three things that the administration’s looking at right now. One, it’s a coordination, consultation with the other members of the six-party talks, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.

I would expect they’d also take this to the United Nations to kind of put it on the record in the world spotlight, if you will.

And, third, and what will actually be the proportionality that will do some damage to the North Koreans would be financial sanctions.

If you think back to 2005, when the Treasury Department imposed sanctions that affected the Banco Delta Asia, a small bank in Macao that only had about $25 million worth of North Korean money, it caused a great deal of angst in North Korea that ultimately led them to additional bad behavior, but finally brought them back to the negotiating table.
Dec. 20th, 2014 11:35 pm (UTC)
Censorship is No Joke
There are so many forms of censorship in the United States. So where is the line drawn and by whom? Parents and schools have the right to tell their children not to swear, speak out about (insert religious belief here), etc. Organizations, on-line forums, networks, companies, etc. have the right to censor others' content or voices on their platforms; within controlled environments, censorship becomes just another rule of the road. Freedom of speech seems to be limited to only certain avenues and is typically rated or scaled accordingly. For the most part, these practices are accepted as the norm. However, to allow outside influences to project their sense of entitled censorship onto others is simply not acceptable.

Artists are in full control of their own censorship practices, and if a company, such as a distributor or studio is fine with the artist’s content, then they can choose to publish or release said content. In this case, the artist had a clear vision and went with it, Sony chose to pursue releasing that content, and then distributors allowed others, outside their sphere of influence, to dictate (literally) what to do with said content. America has relatively clear lines drawn for censorship, so please do not start crossing that line; it’s a very slippery slope. This is just my two cents on the matter.
Dec. 21st, 2014 12:12 am (UTC)
This is just an example of how fearful we've become. Scared of North Korea? Really? What are they going to do? Hack the popcorn machines and burn everyone's popcorn? Hack everyone's cell phones and make them ring during the movie? You can't be worried they'd actually send a guy over here to cause trouble... the plane ticket alone would be half their entire economy. When did everyone's balls fall off?
Dec. 21st, 2014 01:10 am (UTC)
Consider this a ticket order
Of course I'll take just about any opportunity to go to the Cocteau. As a newcomer to Santa Fe, from Hoboken, I'm very happy that Mr. Martin has rejuvenated the Cocteau and supported the community.

As a writer I'm even happier he's supporting artists that have something to say even if it is a stoner comedy.
Dec. 21st, 2014 01:32 am (UTC)
CNN Interview with Sony Pictures CEOS Michael Lynton
It should be noted that in his CNN interview, Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton stated that they would love to release the film via Video On Demand (VOD), but that no VOD distributors have stepped up and said that they'd be willing to distribute it.

What Mr. Lynton is neglecting to note is that Sony owns Crackle, a streaming VOD site/app for movies and TV shows. So, to put it simply, there absolutely is a distributor available in none other than Sony Pictures, as long as Mr. Lynton is true to his word when he says that they'd love to release it.
Dec. 21st, 2014 01:51 am (UTC)
The Korean hackers said they would attack any cinema playing The Interview using terrorism. If the Jean Cocteua shows the Interview they may attack it.
Dec. 21st, 2014 06:16 pm (UTC)
Our website seems to crash twice a month on its own. If North Korea brings it down, I am not sure we'd notice.
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