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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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Frank Probst
Dec. 21st, 2014 04:24 am (UTC)
Worse than "The Satanic Verses"
I think this is far worse than what happened with "The Satanic Verses". With Salman Rushdie's novel, the threats of violence were actually credible--Rushdie went into hiding, and if (my often fallible) memory serves, a few of the book's translators were murdered. With "The Interview", there are NO credible threats of violence. The hackers have no history of violence and no evidence of a capacity for violence. And if ANY of the US's security agencies thought they did, you can bet your ass Obama wouldn't have said what he said. This is all naked corporate cowardice.
Dec. 21st, 2014 05:08 am (UTC)
Spot on
I logged into my ancient livejournal account just so I could vocally agree with you. Cannot endorse your position enough. Conflicts like this one are the frontier where the limits of free speech are arbitrated, so anyone who deeply believes in artistic and political freedom must feel compelled to respond.

PS: Damn North Korea for making me defend yet another James Franco film.
Dec. 21st, 2014 05:55 am (UTC)
Whatever happened to not letting the terrorists win?
Though one friend of mine suggested that Sony release the movie for free on the internet.

Intriguing turn of tactics. They won't do it, of course...

But if they did..
Dec. 21st, 2014 07:40 am (UTC)
This sucks. Also I'm rather sad that I couldn't get out to see Head On again because I remember that movie as the movie that made me notice Sibel Kekilli. It's quite brilliant.
Dec. 21st, 2014 07:55 am (UTC)
re: The President
My local theatre still has the Interview on their marque as coming Dec. 25. Maybe the guy who changes the signs does not come until next Fri. The president was right on the mark. Release it and see how America respond. Like the President I like Seth & James and would have seen the movie after a couple of weeks, but now I will see it right away if given the opportunity.
Dec. 21st, 2014 11:23 am (UTC)
Unfortunately, things are moving in the direction that there are less independent book sellers and, I assume, theaters, to stand up to this sort of thing. The big corporations are in it for the money, not to encourage reading or an appreciation of the arts. Anything that threatens their bottom line is to be avoided at any cost. What a lousy future we have.
Michael Miszczak
Dec. 21st, 2014 11:27 am (UTC)
Misplaced Outrage
My unsolicited opinion on the Sony movie hack I keep hearing so much about. - all the American outrage over this actually pretty funny...and so god damned sad. 'the interview' will get released in some form or another and it will make a boat load of cash. No one who worked on this film will suffer financially or otherwise, and the precious American right to "free speech" will remain as it always was (a borderline myth).
Now if only we can direct some of this massive outrage on shit that actually matters. Like American bombs killing children in the Middle East, NGO's stealing from the charitable causes they are funded to eradicate, the billion + people who don't have access to clean drinking water, the destruction of our natural environment by huge money grabbing corporations, the quality of life North Koreans are forced to endure, or even the oppression of Americans themselves by the entertainment media companies who have enslaved them in a cycle of apathy and ignorance. I guess none of those things are as fun as moaning and frothing about a dumb movie. Because, you know, the American government has never silenced anyone before...
Dec. 21st, 2014 11:50 am (UTC)
Would it be possible to simply play the DVD/Blu-ray version in cinemas, or is this more a rights issue rather than a technology issue?
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 21st, 2014 02:46 pm (UTC)
9/11 happened. From an outsider's view, it is both sad and terrifying to watch how the US are eroding the values they stood for. Condoned torture and spying on allies are only the peak of the iceberg. No wonder that sort of erosison takes place within the US as well, spreading fear and taking away rights, and because of the fear many people no longer notice how they are manipulated and what they have given away. The bad economical situation probably comes into play as well.
Dec. 21st, 2014 01:36 pm (UTC)
The idea that a dictator from another country could succeed in bullying us and censoring our freedom of expression in the great US of A is really infuriating to me.
jean carlo cardenas carrillo
Dec. 21st, 2014 10:30 pm (UTC)
Sony´s hacking.
I totally agree with you Mr. Martin. The whole Interview situation has been nothing but exaggeration. From the fact that a country threatens another because of a movie that depicts a leader in a cartoonish way to the fact that the U.S. took the threat serously and canceled the movie´s release it´s just another proof of misunderstanding and stupidity. I mean, look at Hot Shots, that film portrayed Saddam Hussein in a parodical way and nobody threatened anybody. It´s all just exaggeration and in this case both sides act like little children. Come on grow up.
Cárdenas Out.
iam noone
Dec. 22nd, 2014 04:55 am (UTC)
Unfortunately, due to the bombing threats from these hackers, most lawyers recommended not to show the movie. Can you just imagine the lawsuits that would occur if a bombing did happen at any of the theatres that showed the Interview?

That's a chance the theatre's are not willing to take.
Dec. 22nd, 2014 05:14 am (UTC)
But it is a chance they SHOULD be willing to take. Freedom of speech should outweigh any hypothetical liability suits for a million to one incident.
Dec. 22nd, 2014 05:57 am (UTC)
Good reason vs. Real reason
While the "good" (read: stated) reason for the yanking of the movie was violence against theaters and moviegoers, Sony could really care less.

The *real* reason they're pulling the movie has nothing to do with that, and everything else to do with what the hackers have, that has NOT yet been released. One of the concurrent things that SPE has surely been doing is going through their email servers to inventory what the hackers have, which is a lot more than a few petty things said about politicians and "talent".

What really caused Sony to cave is when the hackers started releasing ammunition for their foes. The revelation that Sony, as part of the MPAA, has been pulling strings and calling the shots for state attorneys general had aroused the wrath of Google, and justifiably so. At that point, it ceases to be just about Sony, but all their business partners are suddenly dragged into the mud. The whole ecosystem, of content creation, delivery, and control is at risk of RICO attention.

What Sony emails to its lawyers, and vice versa, is routinely protected by nothing more than a subject line or first line of the email stating that it is attorney-client privileged communication. That's sufficient for filtering it out of a lawful discovery process, but it also makes it trivial for the hackers to extract it from the mail they have. What huge trove of privileged emails are sitting out there, waiting to be released, irrevocably, to the public? Sony knows, and to the extent that their business partners were involved in collusion with them, those business partners know too.

It's not just about a single-day terrorist threat, it's about the prospect of airing an entire industry's dirty laundry.

THAT is what scares them.
Dec. 22nd, 2014 06:57 am (UTC)
Dear Mr Martin:

Sorry to disturb you again and again~
We love your books very much that why we want to make it a game in China. And we don't want it has infringement so we want to pay for it if you are interested in this.

Best wishes and Merry Christmas。


Edited at 2014-12-22 06:58 am (UTC)
Dec. 22nd, 2014 07:29 am (UTC)
Re: Cooperation
Thank you for the interest, but all the gaming rights to my Ice & Fire books are already under license.
Dec. 22nd, 2014 07:42 am (UTC)
You deserve a standing ovation for this entry. I work in the film industry and was absolutely appalled at the decisions Sony made not releasing this film. And to have other studios halt films with similar content takes many jobs away. Thanks for your thoughts.
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George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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