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.
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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.