The moment that Sony officially canceled the Christmas Day release for “The Interview,” all eyes in the indie world turned to the Alamo Drafthouse. The famously adventurous theater chain, run by the Austin-based CEO Tim League, has a track record for taking risks and making big statements about the continuing role of the movie theater in American culture.
So it came as no surprise, when Sony announced it had decided to book “The Interview” at theaters after all, that the Drafthouse was the first to sign up. The news came just a day after the Art House Convergence circulated a petition to Sony announcing the agreement by several independent exhibitors to show “The Interview.” They got their wish: “The Interview” will now open as planned at the Drafthouse and many other theaters, as the beleaguered movie finds a happy ending after all.
League hopped on the phone with Indiewire this afternoon to explain how it all went down.
So how did this happen?
We had tickets on sale for the first time around before the film got pulled, so we were definitely committed to it from the very beginning. Then yesterday we got a call from Russ Collins at Art House Convergence about the petition to show Sony that there’s a large number of independent theaters that are interested in supporting Sony and the release of “The Interview.” He had hundreds of theaters supporting it. That’s how my dialogue began with Sony yesterday. This morning, they contacted our programmers and said, “Yeah, we’re going to open it Christmas Day, what screens can you give us?”
What sort of reaction did you get from Sony when you first reached out?
We just reached to let them know what we were doing with Art House Convergence and that there were some independent theaters interested in supporting the film still. I got the sense that they were weighing their options. Most of the dialogue was just letting them know how many theaters we were and how we could release it on Christmas Day, that sort of thing.
What’s the overall plan for the release?
It’s an open-ended run. It just starts on Christmas Day. It’s just a regular release at this point without a lot of notice. [Laughs]
Could you expand it to more locations?
Yeah. Our Yonkers location is a good example. The only option there was the midnight slot, but when January 2 rolls around we can open up more screen time for it.
Do you get the sense that more theaters could get onboard now that you’re doing this?
Oh, we’re hoping, yeah. Certainly there are a lot of independents that have expressed interest in getting it booked today. I assume by the day is over there will be hundreds of theaters across the country that are playing it.
Any sense about the VOD plan from Sony?
I don’t have any information on that. There are sources that they are investigating it. We did poll the Art House Convergence members to see, if Sony were to release it VOD simultaneously, would that be an issue? It was a unanimous no, it was not an issue.
In a larger sense, why is this important to you?
The whole thing has transcended just “The Interview.” I happen to be a fan of “The Interview.” I saw it at Butt-Numb-A-Thon. I enjoyed it. I laughed until the end. But this is more about freedom of expression and the necessity of this to come out as planned. I’m really happy Sony realized that and is doing the right thing. Were it to have been absolutely scrapped, it would’ve set an unwelcome precedent, if you will, for anyone that might try to do this. At one point, the stories were coming out about scrapping that Steve Carrell movie [set in North Korea]. People were just being more sensitive about what types of content was going to get financed. There were dangerous discussions that were starting to happen.
Since you’ve seen the movie, is there anything about this particular story that is relevant to the topic at hand? Is it valuable to get it out there because it’s a satire of North Korea? Or is that irrelevant now?
[Laughs] I think… yeah, I don’t think the content of the movie is that important. I think it’s interesting that, much like “Team America: World Police” a decade ago, it’s got just as much to say about American imperialism. Its commentary relies as heavily on that as it does on the state of North Korea and that whole situation. It’s pretty even-handed in its satire.
So would you do this for any movie facing the threat of censorship or is there something about this particular case that made you want to get involved?
It was just so big, so crazy that a giant like Sony fell to this type of attack. I’m glad, looking back on the last couple of weeks, that they took time to regroup, assess and consider the pros and cons before coming back with a strategy. I’m happy they’ve done that and I’m proud to support them.
What do you make of the contrast between your ability to do this and the situation facing bigger exhibitors? The stories suggested that Sony initially gave the theaters the option to cancel their showings of “The Interview,” and once the theaters played along, the studio pulled the plug.
Well, I do want to be sensitive there about the reports that have come out after the fact. There’s been a lot of unclear stories, because of the speed with which stories drop. So a lot of the conversations with exhibitors were such that, hey, why don’t we do a standard release, or can we release it in two theaters and push the date of the release? So it’s not as cut and dry as it first was appearing to be. But we’re also a small company. We can react nimbly. I think that what the Art House Convergence group did yesterday was amazing — being able to mobilize and rally together as the first industry public show of support for the movie. It was very meaningful.
Could this be the start of a bigger role for Art House Convergence in the future of exhibition?
I would love it if that would come to pass. Russ [Collins] said some really interesting words yesterday when he was being interviewed about why we had to release a movie like “The Interview.” And he said that it’s part of the DNA of art house is to stand up for justice. In my mind, every single movie theater should consider itself a part of the community. So maybe there’s a meeting going on between what the commercial theaters and the art house theaters represent. But also maybe there’s a second phase where the Art House Convergence is the voice of all these independent community theaters across the nation. Once mobilized, we could do something very brave.
Do you expect to have elevated security at “The Interview” screenings?
We’ve contacted local police. In Austin, for example, what we’ve done is the police department came and did a full site inspection and assessed the risks of the venue. They also did best practices training for our staff. Ultimately there are hundreds of theaters playing the film. We don’t think the risk is that great for anybody. But we’re certainly on alert. But we’re not calling the SWAT team or anything like that.
Are you planning on doing anything funky or weird at the screenings per Alamo tradition?
Yeah, we’ll be doing live feeds with them. We got a “Don’t Talk” PSA from Seth Rogen that we’re going to play that was recorded during Butt-Numb-A-Thon. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Kim Jong-Un is quite smitten with frozen margaritas. So we’ll have a frozen margarita special. We’ll make it a special Alamo affair.
Any plans to invite President Barack Obama? From that press conference, it sounded like he wanted to see it.
[Laughs] I think he’s in Hawaii right now, but he’s more than welcome. We’ll save a seat for him.