Sony To Allow Limited Screenings of The Interview

Reversing a previous decision, Sony will allow The Interview to be screened in a small number of theaters.

Sony Pictures Cancels Releaase Of "The Interview" After Hacker Threats

Reversing a decision it had made at the end of last week after every major film distributor and theater chain had backed out of showing the film, Sony Pictures has decided to make The , Interview, the Seth Rogan/James Franco comedy that depicts the assassination of Kim Jong Un and which came to be at the center of a hacking attack and threats of violence from sources the F.B.I. has traced to North Korea, available for screening after all:

LOS ANGELES — Sony Pictures said on Tuesday that it had secured a limited theatrical release for “The Interview” on Christmas Day.

“We have never given up,” Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Entertainment, said in a statement. He added that in addition to the limited theatrical release, “We are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”

Last week, about 80 percent of the theaters in the United States and Canada refused to show “The Interview” in the face of a terror threat. But over the last day Sony reached out to theater owners again, asking if they would rebook the film.

One person briefed on the effort said on Tuesday that it appeared unlikely that big chains like Regal or AMC would come on board but that Sony was likely to patch together distribution for the film in 200 to 300 smaller theaters. Already some theaters, like the Alamo Drafthouse chain, based in Austin, and the Plaza Theater in Atlanta have said they would show the film.

“Sony has authorized screenings of ‘The Interview’ on Christmas Day,” Tim League, the chief executive of the 30-theater Alamo chain, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning. Mr. League did not immediately respond to a query.

Representatives of the four largest theater chains in the United States either declined to comment or had no immediate comment. The people who were briefed on Sony’s effort insisted on anonymity because the negotiations over the film’s release were continuing.

Even a 300-theater run would be largely symbolic in financial terms. Sony had planned to release “The Interview” on 2,000 to 3,000 screens in North America.

A new facet of Sony’s discussions with theater owners is any simultaneous video-on-demand effort. Theaters, worried about the possible impact on ticket sales, remain adamant about refusing to open their doors to any film that is showing or about to show elsewhere, according people briefed on the discussions. Studios typically give theaters a monthslong exclusive window to play new movies.

It remained unclear, however, whether any on-demand service would take “The Interview.” According to people briefed on the matter, Sony had in recent days asked the White House for help in lining up a particular technology partner but no deal had materialized. Sony had particularly hoped for a partnership with Apple.

A release plan would end a mad scramble on the part of Sony to find a way to get “The Interview” seen and begin a new period of disquiet for the studio and its partners. The hacker group that digitally ransacked Sony beginning late last month, and that threatened theaters with violence if they played it, also warned that the assault would continue if alternate distribution plans were made.

(…)

The Interview” had been scheduled for release on Christmas Day. But when hackers on Dec. 16 warned of 9/11-scale violence if the film were shown, multiplex owners canceled their bookings in the face of pressure from their lawyers, shopping mall landlords and even Sony competitors, which were worried about their own films.

Theater owners and government officials have been trying to assess the threat’s credibility. One person briefed on the exhibitors’ deliberations said law enforcement officials had become less inclined over the last few days to see the threat as serious.

Still, people briefed on the deliberations said theaters showing the film might take unusual security measures, perhaps by banning backpacks or packages or posting signs advising customers of added risk.

Sony at first said it was shelving “The Interview” completely but quickly decided to look for a mainstream cable, satellite or online movie distributor to adopt the film. Worried about the repercussions of allowing a foreign power to censor American artistic expression, a wide range of people — President Obama, Salman Rushdie, numerous Hollywood stars — publicly pressured Sony to find an alternative.

At least to some extent, this decision brings to an end what had turned into something of a public relations disaster for Sony that started when the President criticized the company for deciding to pull the movie, a criticism he did not back down from even when Sony pointed out that it had little choice in the matter when virtually its entire distribution chain had pulled out of deals to screen the movie starting on Christmas Day. Balancing out the public relations side of the equation, of course, is the issue of the threat that there will be renewed hacking attacks, not just against Sony but also against the companies affiliated with the theaters that will show the movie. There are also the threats of actual violence directed at the theaters showing the movie, but it is never been entirely clear just how credible those threats actually are, and in any case one imagines that there will be stepped up security at the theaters where the movie will be screened as well as the corporate offices of the theater owner(s), just in case. Overriding both of these concerns, of course, is the issue of the monetary hit that Sony would take from pulling the movie on a permanent basis. According to some reports, The Interview cost from $40 million and that Sony’s total losses from shelving the movie permanently would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million if not higher. Given that, it’s not entirely surprising that the company would look for a way to get the movie out there in an effort to recoup at least some of its losses. The question now will be whether North Korea, or whomever has been running the hacking attacks on its behalf, will respond further.

While I can’t say I have any overriding desire to see this movie, or indeed anything else in the genre of comedies that it belongs to, it is good to see that it’s at least being released. President Obama was correct to when the criticized Sony, and by extension the theater owners and distributors, for caving in to threats so quickly. The only thing that doing so accomplishes is to send a message that such activity can be used to accomplish similar goals in the future. At some point, we have to agree as a society that responding that way to threats, whether its from anonymous hackers or agents of a foreign government, simply is’t acceptable. The consequences otherwise are to open other American businesses, if not the government itself at some point, up to a 21st century version of extortion that would be very hard to combat or prevent. So, in that sense I guess, good for Sony for letting the movie go forward.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Entertainment, National Security, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    The Republic is saved!

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I’ll see it if it’s available. I’m not a huge Franco fan but I like Rogan. I think he’d make better movies if he wrote first drafts straight and punched up the jokes while high because weed does not help structure, nor does it help self-discipline and rigor, but it’s really good at helping you to hear the language and finding le mot juste.

    Or so I’ve been told.

    Anyway, I’ll see it.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, if anyone in Hollywood is reading this: live action Beavis and Butthead with Rogan as Butthead (heh heheh heh) and Franco as Beavis (I am the great cornholio!)

  4. gVOR08 says:

    D**n. I really, really had no desire to see this thing. Now I feel like it’s almost a patriotic duty. Of course Sony’s counting on that reaction – and all the free publicity. That will draw in more of a box office eventually than they would have without the hack. Big enough crowds that on second thought, I don’t feel obligated after all.

    I assume someone has slowly and carefully explained to NK that hacking Sony is vandalism, blowing up or shooting up a theater really is an act of war.

  5. Liberal With Attitude says:

    Gotta say- if this WASN”T a clever marketing ploy, it sets the gold standard for the future.

    Start optioning The Interview- Pt. II- Showdown at Maison Cheney; and The Interview III- The Palin-ing!

  6. Pinky says:

    @Liberal With Attitude: Yes – I was just thinking the same thing. What if Sony is genius?

  7. Franklin says:

    The problem with the idea that this is a clever marketing ploy is that Sony would have to be able to trick the FBI into thinking North Korea attacked them. I suppose this is possible, but it seems unlikely.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    It was not a clever marketing ploy.

    Sony executives just pissed off half of Hollywood. This will cost Sony more than the movie could ever have made. And both Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton’s heads may roll.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    when Sony pointed out that it had little choice in the matter when virtually its entire distribution chain had pulled out of deals to screen the movie starting on Christmas Day.

    You still buying that claptrap Doug? I heard them say it would never be distributed, then come back and say they want to but nobody wanted to help, then say they could not do it with out help, and now this?

    I got some land in Florida for sale Doug, You would be the perfect mark I mean, it would be perfect for you.

  10. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And both Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton’s heads may roll.

    They should. Considering that Sony faced security problems in other of their divisions Kazuo Hirai´s head should also roll.

  11. edmondo says:

    While other presidents have turned to foreign policy to kill time till the end of their second terms, Obama has turned into a fluffer for Sony Pictures.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @edmondo:

    Even for you that’s stupid. Do us all a favor, and see if you can’t raise your game to at least, oh, fifth grade level.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    Sorta OT, but have you seen the snit-fit Rush Limbaugh has been having over the possibility that Idris Elba play James Bond?

    I pulled up some pix of Idris, and man, that guy is HOT. (Take it from a grumpy old broad in her mid-fifties.) Plus he’s got a charming English accent. What else do you want??

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:

    You know who else isn’t Scottish? Daniel Craig (Chester, just outside Liverpool) and Ian Fleming’s own choice for Bond, David Niven.

    But of course Limbaugh doesn’t really mean that Bond has to be a Scot, just white.

    I wonder how he feels about the very gentile Kiwi Russell Crowe playing Noah?

  15. Davebo says:

    During a drive two days ago at, shall we say, an undisclosed location in central Texas I passed a lot where they literally sold bridges.

    Honestly, they had a huge sign proclaiming “Bridges for Sale” and damned if they didn’t have lots of rather large bridge structures including one elevated with an old car on top for sale to the public! Right there on the side of the road.

    Just an interesting metaphor I guess but I got a big laugh reading this after seeing this.

    There will always be buyers.

  16. Mikey says:

    @grumpy realist: There was a similar sort of grumping when Elba was chosen to play Heimdall in the film adaptations of Marvel’s Thor comics. He turned in great performances and the naysayers were silenced. Nonetheless, it’s a shame he had to “prove” himself.

  17. anjin-san says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Idris Elba would be a perfect Bond. Women want him, men want to be like him – that’s Bond personified.

    Aside from his being black, Elba, just by being who he is, reminds someone like Limbaugh that he could never play anyone but the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Hence the rage.

  18. CET says:

    @grumpy realist:
    I agree – he’d make a great bond.

    Though I think it would be a different direction than the franchise has been headed. He might be the older, more emotionally complex Bond that Connery never quite managed. And I think it’s a safe bet that he’d be better than Brosnan’s fop or Craig’s Americanized action hero.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Mikey: I read somewhere they felt it was necessary to cast one of the Norse gods as Black to make sure they distanced themselves from the white supremacists who use Norse mythology.

  20. Mikey says:

    @gVOR08: Interesting–perhaps that’s also why they chose Heimdall, described in one translation of Norse tales as “the whitest” of the Norse pantheon.