Tim Robbins Becomes "Embedded" in Non-Conventional Distribution of his Latest Political Project
by Brian Brooks
Actor/director Tim Robbins is no stranger to the political fray in both his public and personal life. Back in 1992, he directed and starred in "Bob Roberts," about a right-wing folk singer turned senatorial candidate; while in "Arlington Road" (1999), he played an unassuming right-wing terrorist who moves his family outside the U.S. capital in order to hatch a plot against what he believes is a renegade government. Of course, Robbins is also an established Hollywood actor, with big-named titles under his belt, including the upcoming summer blockbuster, "War of the Worlds," by Steven Spielberg.
No doubt "War of the Worlds" will harness the bulk of the public's attention this summer as far as Tim Robbins is concerned, but he is also currently promoting another project, which he both wrote and directed, and is turning to a less than conventional method -- at least for an insider -- to distribute the film. "Embedded," starring Robbins and members of his fellow Actors' Gang theater company, portrays the "fictional" events leading up to a U.S. invasion of a Middle Eastern country in circumstances not unlike Iraq. Robbins penned the film in May 2003 after the real invasion to to topple Saddam Hussein. The play first hit the stage that July.
"I was getting my information [about the war] from alternative sources, and I was seeing how it was being portrayed in the major media and noticing a distinct difference between the two sources," Robbins told indieWIRE earlier this week when asked about the project. In "Embedded," he uses the stories of soldiers, their families, acquiescent journalists, and the political elite, to unveil a supposedly civilized country's willingness to roll-over and support an illegal invasion.
"There was an apparent illusory reality represented in the media," said Robbins, in criticizing the major outlets' approach to covering the Iraqi invasion. "People were finding this out through alternative media. The intelligence was fraudulent, and there was an effort to bully people into compliance. Yet, there were no weapons of mass destruction, and this was based on real material from real intelligence. The fact that we went ahead with [the war] is astonishing." Robbins cited alternative outlets such as Democracy Now! as examples of what he calls "real journalism."
The film version of the play, "Embedded/Live," was shot before a live audience during its off-Broadway run in New York. Robbins decided to forgo shooting it as an original film. "I wanted to capture the energy in the room [of the play]. Amidst all the compliance in the media, I wanted to show the audience [and how] they determined the play's success. [Audiences] kept coming to see it, and they would stay afterward to talk about what they had seen."
Robbins also decided to release the DVD through Netflix, the mammoth online movie rental service, skipping conventional distribution channels after initially probing some of the established film companies. "There seemed to be a lack of interest of the material from major indies, or maybe they just didn't like it," said Robbins. "Netflix was into the material, and they seemed a perfect fit for the backroads paradigm we're looking for. It's kind of like what Robert Greenwald did with is documentaries -- letting the film be seen without a major budget propelling it into the public consciousness. I believe it will find its audience."
The "Embedded/Live" DVD became available exclusively to Netflix's three million subscribers this week and the site will utilize its members' past film ratings and rental histories to identify and promote the film to "viewers with a penchant for such projects," according to a Netflix announcement.
For his part, Robbins will actively promote the film and its availability via Netflix in appearances for "Embedded/Live," and for "War of the Worlds," which should certainly prove advantageous.
[ For more information, please visit http://www.embeddedlive.com. ]