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How Would the Indie Film Community Handle ‘The Interview’ Fiasco?

How Would the Indie Film Community Handle 'The Interview' Fiasco?

Yesterday, the Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas/Ft. Worth responded to the news by counter-programming: The theater announced via Twitter that it will screen “Team America” in place of “The Interview.” The 2004 comedy from “South Park” duo Matt Stone and Trey Parker, also pokes fun at North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il, played by Parker. (Update: Paramount Pictures has cancelled screenings of “Team America” per Deadline).

But the Alamo isn’t the only company thinking about “The Interview” situation this week. We reached out to the indie film community to get a sense for how others were processing the news. We’ll continue to update the piece as more responses come in.

Mark Urman, president, Paladin:

Independent filmmakers wouldn’t find themselves in this position. They frequently fly in the face of convention, challenge popular notions of propriety and good taste, and routinely traffic in content that is controversial and potentially offensive to someone. That is their job. But, because they are small, no one cares. Because their films aren’t promoted to the entire world, they can be as daring as they want.  They can receive and withstand threats, because neither their film, nor the objections to it, will be front-page news. No one will hack their systems, assuming they even HAD systems, and, were that to happen, what they’d find wouldn’t interest many people at all.

Independent distributors can’t do what studios do, but the lesson here is that studios clearly can’t do what independents can.

READ MORE: Here’s the North Korean Satire You Can Watch Now Instead of “The Interview”

Richard Abramowitz, president, Abramorama

This looked like a goofy, funny stoner movie and I had it on the list of films I kind of wanted to see but probably wouldn’t get around to. Until all this nonsense started, that is, at which point I committed to seeing it in a theater. (Alright, I planned to pay cash so there wouldn’t be a paper trail…) That said, does anyone really think North Korea, an actual country, not some stateless terrorist outfit, was going to commit outright acts of war on American soil?

I understand the concerns for public safety but by pulling this film Sony has set a devastating precedent that gives license to any crackpot to effectively censor creative output. And they should have seen it coming a week ago. At this point, now that they’ve given up all chance of monetizing the investment, they should grasp for dignity and “leak” the film so that everyone can finally see it.

In retrospect, they should have let me distribute it. I’ve handled any number of films that no one’s ever heard of and that kind of obscurity could have come in handy here.

Emily Best, founder and CEO, Seed&Spark

There is so much that is unknown, speculation and rumor, it’s very difficult to parse fact from fantasy, fiction and schadenfreude. But this makes me think of internet trolls who often defend their actions by saying that provoking people gets them to reveal their true nature. I would think Sony COULD, if it really wanted to, release “The Interview” on VOD and possibly break every record ever set for VOD – fully utilizing the systems that are already in place to bypass theaters altogether and go straight to the eager fans. (Seed&Spark would host it.) They could make the year of the arthouses in this country who are publicly saying they would show the film in their theaters. Sony could use “The Interview” to create opportunities for other platforms and outlets, to stand by their project, to highlight how many other models their are for distribution. Instead, it seems their inclination is to hit up the insurance company and re-coup financial losses. Perhaps this is the ultimate troll – getting a major studio to reveal its true nature. (And let’s be honest, this is about what we’d expect.) I sure hope this film is worth an international incident.

Richard Lorber, chairman and CEO of Kino Lorber Inc.

As an “indie” distributor, a role we take seriously as having some higher values ascribed (often at box office cost), we would not have been involved in the first place with what I believe is likely an opportunistically crude satire with little depth of political insight, analysis or constructive provocation (of course, I have not seen it…). If that sounds arch or just ducking the question, so be it. But we’ll continue to take risks with smart political films like “The Red Chapel” –though much less obviously incendiary, or our Palestinian Oscar nominee “5 Broken Cameras.” I believe that courageous independent and art house exhibitors will stand behind they’re being shown. The opportunistic calculation by Sony to make “The Interview” meets equally craven commercial response by the movie chains housed by mall landlords at high shopping season. I don’t see a higher purpose in the controversy here. In any case, we indies are operating in a different universe and maybe no better point is how this incident sets that in relief.

Tom Hall, Executive Director,The Montclair Film Festival

My thoughts on Sony and their decision to pull “The Interview”:

Sony has already lost this fight. They lost when they lost control of their private information to an aggressive act of cyber terrorism by a nation state.

Pulling this film is by far the right decision, because Sony and the theater chains are not able to defend their employees/ information. They remain defenseless and need time to address their security; it is not wrong to stop losses and regroup when you can’t defend yourself. And who are they fighting? Do we expect a private corporation to launch counter attacks against a proxy cyber army funded by a nation state? That’s insane. This is an unprecedented attack. Lots of keyboard warriors not responsible for the data and security of thousands are eager for them to fight, but why? Pride? No. The threats about security in theaters may be bogus, but the cyber security issues– for theater chains (Moviefone/ Fandango consumer data), cable companies, further Sony hacks– are very real.

I really feel for Sony and their employees. I think the e-mail leaks are despicable, reporting on them has been gloating/ personal (and often irresponsible), and while I do not endorse some of the awful things people said in confidence when they thought no one was listening, I also think publishing it as the result of a cyber attack is super cheap and very disappointing.

Anyway, spare a thought for what you would do if you were responsible for the cyber security of thousands and, in the case of Sony and exhibitors, the potential physical threat against millions– threats against which you are wholly incapable of defending. Backing down is not cowardly, it is completely responsible and I commend Sony for doing the right thing here.

Dan Nuxoll, program director, Rooftop Films

I am sure that most individuals who run any sort of film-related organization have had a similar reaction to the Sony scenario: it is a no-win nightmare that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. But, considering the situation, I think that Sony has made the only decision available to them. We can all surmise about whether or not this is the work of a foreign state or a rogue band of hackers, but that doesn’t change the equation much for Sony. The fact remains that any commercial entity associating themselves with the release of this film is—at the very least—putting their businesses at substantial risk. If Sony was incapable of defending themselves against these attacks, then any business on earth has to worry that they might suffer a similar fate, and I can’t see how any corporation would take on a risk like that without considerably more assurance of safety than they have at the moment.

Whatever your feelings about capitalism and corporate control of mass media, it seems unreasonable to expect that any business that exists first and foremost to make money would take a stand against such a dangerous and mysterious opponent for the sake of a film that they don’t have any particular personal stake in, so you can’t fault the theater chains for pulling out. Once those chains pulled out, how could Sony possibly release the film theatrically?

It might be a different equation for an independent movie chain, producer or distributor that could weigh their personal convictions against the financial risks (assuming they didn’t believe there was any threat of actual violence). And it could certainly be a different set of choices for a non-profit in some sort of comparable position, should that organization believe that their greater artistic mission outweighed the risks to their infrastructure.

But for a publicly traded international corporation? The decision seems pretty cut and dry—until they could be sure that the threat to their own business interests and to that of their business partners had been minimized, I don’t see how they could rationally go forward with the release. It’s a terrible position to be placed in, but I think they have handled themselves as well as one could expect.

James Kaelan, Editor-in-chief of Bright Ideas Magazine

After James Eagan Holmes murdered 12 people in Aurora, CO during an opening-weekend screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” Warner Brothers—quite courageously—refused to be cowed by the threat of terrorist copycats. Theaters heightened security around the country, but moviegoers turned out to see the film in huge numbers. And no one else was hurt.

That Sony has acquiesced to the demands of a nebulous terrorist organization sets an incredibly dangerous precedent. What’s stopping the white supremacist National Socialist Movement from suppressing “Selma”?
If Sony won’t release it, we need to disseminate pirated versions of “The Interview” and publicize illegal group screenings. To let this film disappear would be a free-speech disaster.

Daniel Cantagallo, Director of Sales and Marketing, Cargo Film & Releasing

So, the big screens go dark. The hackers promised a world full of fear, and so it is. Is Mitt Romney right for once? Should Sony fight cyber-terrorism with cyber-freedom and offer a “gift” of their own on the small screens? With everyone, everywhere talking about this movie, Sony has the chance to make a bold and radical move, while taking a stand against a chilling effect that is bound to ripple through the industry. Now, it doesn’t have to be for free, but we say, let the hostage go, online. 

Rick Allen, CEO, Snagfilms (Indiewire’s parent company)

Ultimately, Sony had to make the call, and physical security should take precedence over putting a comedy into theaters on a fixed day – but were all options considered and key impacted parties consulted? What’s not been in any of the coverage is that the decision didn’t have to be binary: while it’s hard to delay release dates, it does happen frequently.  Did Sony consider delaying the release? P&A were already sunk costs and there’s broader public awareness of this film now than any marketing budget could ever accomplish.

So pull it off the release docket; have the authorities determine the extent of a credible security threat over a reasonable cooling off period; devise a release plan (including perhaps an exclusive VOD release via their own platform, Crackle, which surely could add a DTO front end for it); and in the meantime determine how to protect its corporate information better going forward. Sony wasn’t even facing end-of-the-year pressures for a write-off – they’re on a March 31 fiscal year.

I’d also be interested to learn the extent that the White House, the other studios and the theater owners via their association NATO were consulted – since they will inherit this precedent too.

READ MORE: Some Questions about the Sony Hack

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