Would I have canceled The Interview? And would you?

There are some days when I dream about being a big time Hollywood Studio Movie Producer.

Yesterday was not one of them.

Like most of the world, I’ve been watching this The Interview crisis like it was an act of terrorism . . . oh wait . . . it was. And like I do with just about everything that involves a leader faced with a big decision (but especially those that affect the entertainment industry), I asked myself, ‘What would I have done?’ (It’s a great game, by the way – and this exercise helps you define your leadership style so you’re more prepared when you have to make a whopper of a call.)

That said, it’s also important to remember that quarterbacking on a Monday morning is nothing like being in a giant stadium, with 50 people on your team, 50,000 watching live and screaming your name (sometimes with nasty epithets attached), and another 5 million watching from home.

Making a decision under those circumstances ain’t nothing like making a decision after the fact, when you don’t have skin in the game.

That said, I couldn’t help but question whether I would have canceled the premier of The Interview, the Seth Rogen/James Franco movie about an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-un, after threats of violence at movie theaters scheduled to show the flick.

It’s a massively complicated issue.

My first thought, “Screw ‘em. Release the movie. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. And to back down now just opens up our entire way of life, in-and-out of the entertainment world, to threats by people who disagree with how we live our lives.”

But then I couldn’t help but think . . . wait a minute. This is a movie. A silly movie. And we’re talking about lives. Innocent lives. How would I feel if people were injured or worse because of a movie that’s just supposed to make people laugh? Yes, we don’t negotiate with terrorists. But we’re dealing with mad men here. Mad men who don’t play by any rules.

And then I’d have to look at the economic impact. Sure, this crisis and the cancellation has taken a lot of money out of the economy. It has already cost people jobs. But an incident at a theater? That could cripple an industry’s economy . . . and maybe a country’s.  It could put thousands and thousands of people out of work.  And a violent act on our soil that could be attributed to another country would be an act of war . . . which would mean we’d have to respond . . . which could throw the entire globe spinning off its already unstable axis.

Is it worth that risk for a movie?

And this is when that Monday morning quarterbacking is hard to do, because the fact is we don’t know what is really going on inside the huddle. There could be a whole lot more to this story than what is on CNN.  Beyond the threat, is there something else that Sony is protecting from getting out? And if they drop the release they are protecting themselves from something else entirely?  Does the government and Sony know something about these threats that they aren’t revealing to us that could help inform this decision?

The bottom line is that we don’t know the whole story. We don’t even know half of it. So whatever your opinion on this story (or any story you read in the press), just remember that there is more to it, that might change your mind if you knew it.

But I asked a question at the top of this blog about what I’d do. And I’m not going to sidestep it.

Would I release it?

Yes. I would.

BUT, not like you think.

I’d release it in one single theater.

I’d rent the biggest theater just outside of Los Angeles. I’d have more security than an inauguration. I mean serious. My invited audience would include all the biggest free-speech stumpers in the world, including those artists like Judd Apatow, Aaron Sorkin, and Mia Farrow that have taken to Twitter to say that they support the release.

Would it be the release that I wanted as the head of Sony? Nope.

Would it be the killing of the movie like the hackers wanted? Nope.

It would be a compromise . . . even without a negotiation.

That’s what I’d do . . . which is find another solution that allows you to stand tall on the principles you believe in, and also says to future bullies, we may bend to pressure, but we’ll never break.

Now. What would you do?

 

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Comments
  • Jared W says:

    Like many internet commentators, I think releasing the film digitally or on Video on Demand would have been a smart move. The movie still gets out to the public, and while the financial gain wouldn’t be nearly as big as a traditional release you would still get some of your investment back. But as video on demand isn’t a centralized physical location like a movie theatre, it would be much more difficult for the hackers to mount an attack.

    • Anzu Lawson says:

      I concur. More people want to watch this movie now more than ever and they would pay good money for it, just to defy North Korea & take a stand for freedom of speech.

    • I ALWAYS believed in free speech but I must admit, one of the films I’m working with has me questioning my belief. Nevertheless, a video on demand release is easily the best solution. Showing the film in a single theater can invite future consequences to that theater. It’s hard to say if you’re dealing with a mad man or a terrorist, but Isaac Asimov always felt that the crazies were far more dangerous that the terrorists.

  • Jed says:

    According to Sony, it was the theatre owners and distributors didn’t want to show the film. There was no place to show it. Sony is now looking for outlets, probably digital, to show it. But if they show it on demand who will stream it when having to give out your credit card online?

    • ThomT says:

      Sony is saying they are not looking for alternate distribution (Netflipx, DVD, VOD, etc.) which may, or may not, be a CYA move. And theater owners were advised by their lawyers and insurance companies to steer clear of screening the film.

  • Margie Goldsmith says:

    I would have chosen to go for a much bigger audience than one theatre allows. I would have shown it on HBO or Netflix. And at the end of the film, I would put a kickstarter appeal with carefully worded language saying we will never allow terrorists to rule our lives, and if you liked this movie and want to help recoup its costs, please make a donation (perhaps the price you would have paid at your local movie) theatre and give them a paypal and mailing address.

  • ThomT says:

    The problem with releasing the film is not the fear of what, if anything, North Korea might do but what all the mental unstable people in this country might do. How many copycat incidents would we have? How many people would use this opportunity to gain publicity? How many legally armed audience members might react, or overreact, to an innocent incident by another patron? I believe the North Korean threat to be disingenuous and without merit but I also believe it could be used as a way to create havoc (without their direct involvement) where otherwise there would have been none. If I were Sony I’d take the write out (it’s not like movies never lose money) and distribute the film digitally at no charge via the Internet.

  • Donald Jordan says:

    I think perhaps working in concert with cable and broadcast mediums, I would have worked to release it for free with a fund raising component where all proceeds went toward organizations that support and encourage global freedom of expression. I think had Sony showed the courage to lead in that way, without looking to recoup their investment in the film explicitly, it would have generated worldwide support and admiration for their position. As it looks now, they seem to perhaps have been cowed, which is the aim of every form of terrorism and bullying.

  • Elisa Clayton says:

    As for an alternative way to release the film, I’m confident that Sony will make a good business decision for themselves.

    However, what I find interesting is the fact that Sony is a Japanese company doing business in the United States. It says a lot for the brand that U.S. citizens aren’t seemingly making that distinction.

  • Todd Allan says:

    Well put Mr Davenport! Very creative solution! And good call-out on the possibility that we don’t know all the facts.

  • Ed Katz says:

    I agree with much of what you wrote, Ken, but I disagree on the one stadium-type release. I would be concerned about a Black Sunday kind of scenario. Think about it- you are identifying one single location for the terrorists to attack and they will look upon it as if you are daring them to carry out their threat (okay, maybe I watch Homeland and 24 too much). I would rather tell the theaters, “This is your call.” I would add that we will help pay for some added security but each theater owner should be able to decide for their own communities.
    Here is the problem, as I see it: Not only did they cave to terrorist demands (granted, there likely was more to the threat than was reported but we don’t know that so we can only go with the info we have) so this permits them to do this again and- worse- this could impact whether future potentially controversial movies even get made.
    Example- a movie plot where the head of the KKK gets assassinated by an African-American. Maybe right now such a movie plot doesn’t even get a green light because the KKK could make a similar terrorist threat to what the North Koreans did and the studios are too afraid of that.
    And there goes our freedom of speech.
    That is the real danger.

  • Sue says:

    I would have educated myself a lot better about North Korea in the first place, and I would not have made the movie. I would not make any movie about assassinating a world leader, especially a comedy about the murder of a real life maniacal dictator.

    • FrankieJ says:

      Good for you, Sue. How smart of you. But the creators WANTED to make a statement (and a funny film, I saw it on Dec. 10th) and they have every right to. So keep free expression in mind when you make your damaging comments.

  • Isn’t that old saying: “the cow s out of the barn…?” Something like that. We’re presented with many problems at this point: how to deal with international “hackers?” I don’t really care if I EVER see this film. I think it’s important that we…defend our right to SHOW this film. But I’d rather be fighting for a work of ART, rather than this…pretending to be. All freedoms, works, are not worth dying for. i would NEVER have greenlighted this film…any more than I would have greenlighted a right wing biased film on the comic assinnation of President Barack Hussein Obama.

  • Rich MC says:

    Sony should release this film to all distributors/ theaters that will show it. IMOP, other suggestions are just cowardly BS. Refrain, and a massive precedent is set for similar repression-or-consequences for any/all media/content any fanatical group or ideology deems unacceptable.

  • Dan Radakovich says:

    First I would accede to the demnds of my distributors and end screeners until determination of any threat was finalized deferring a final decision until that is discovered.re. release. IF someone yells “fire” in a crowded theater it may be trabscending the right of free speech but while the theater may insist on orderly exodus it must facilitate it, until a determination of safety is assured. Most likely it would be found they have no capability to physically interfere and I’d make a Korean translation then screen it on a hillside in the DMZ near Panmunjon as its premire if the ROK government would let me, then release it as usual. Lunatics may show up at the theaters, but they have already[remember Colorado?] -there are many theaters that are currently unused or abandoned around the country, if the main chains refused I would rent the old ones out. but I would likely cancel any red carpet orenuere. Those nitwit hackers gave all the publicity and more that such a show could generate in buzz. In fact the hackers if they defected and went legit would likely be hired for billions of dollars by all the Hollywood studios…as publicists.

  • Janis says:

    Maybe the whole thing is a marketing gimmick designed to aid Sony, a Korean owned company, to profit from a bad movie that was sure to fail in theaters anyway. Combine that with the terrorism goal of striking terror in the hearts of Americans and you have a winner for sure. Seems like the worst movies resort to the most bizarre marketing campaigns. Maybe this one was too bad for theaters and was headed for the Netflix/online market in the first place? Maybe we didn’t miss anything worthwhile.

    However if none of that is true, I like Ken’s idea. At some point we are going to have to risk our lives and possibly shed blood in order defeat terrorism. By not showing the movie (maybe) Sony is empowering the terrorists.

    Personally I would not make insult comedies to begin with. Insulting anyone is not funny to me. But then ridicule and obscenity appears to be the only comedy available at this point.
    Hoping for the best.

  • Ali Skylar says:

    Thanks Ken for a great piece. I especially love this idea: “…find another solution that allows you to stand tall on the principles you believe in, and also says to future bullies, we may bend to pressure, but we’ll never break.” AMEN (A Message Everybody Needs).

  • FrankieJ says:

    Very impressed you had the guts to write about this since so many are afraid. I would add trying to get a VOD deal into the mix. Right now SONY has stated the film is being shelved indefinitely. That’s the cowards way of dealing with things.

  • Eric Goldman says:

    I think showing the movie for one night is exactly right — but I would do it in D.C. so the President and the Secretary of State could attend. And then I would release it for home viewing on pay per view basis. And when PPV demand slowed down, I’d license it to Netflix.

  • Excuse my English translator google. The movie is a masterpiece? Is it a banal movie? No matter the answer. No innocent entertainment. The Great Dictator 1940 Charles Chaplin, was just to laugh … we could not see in Spain until the death of the dictator. It premiered in 1976 … in Germany in 1958.

  • Bill Avery says:

    Under the circumstances, I am content with Sony’s response to an uncertain, potentially dangerous situation. Waiting – even if it takes a year to understand what and who is involved, is an appropriately prudent tactic. It is like trying to determine if a bomb found in your theatre is real, or simply a prop.

    Given the real violence in our society to schools, children, women, and the World Trade Center, violence that happens all too regularly cool heads should prevail. A well thought out response (something that takes time) should be put in place.

    A story is told about a French farmer in the time of WWII. The Germans arrived and the commander called the farmer and said ” we are your conquerors, I will live in your house, you will move into the barn – I will eat your food – do as I like, and you will be my servant – do you agree?

    The farmer said nothing and went into the barn.

    As the war was ending and the allied troops caused the Germans to abandon their claimed lands – the commander was leaving, and as he drove out of the farm yard – the farmer ran up to the car and said “No!”

    The point is that one must wait until the odds are in your favor to win the day, and that, in my opinion is what Sony has done. We, who observe – must wait to see if they ultimately say “no”.

  • I so love the way you think outside the box, Ken!

  • Dan Kehde says:

    First, there’s no such thing as international freedom of speech. If we create a piece that’s going to anger someone, then we should be prepared to accept the consequences. Surely the folks at Sony understood the risks before they made the film. These are smart people, after all.
    Second, creativity incites reaction. The danger here isn’t so much that there will be reciprocity; it’s that future controversy in film will be denied.
    Third, while none of us wants to see people hurt or killed over a piece of art, who among us wants to see art sacrificed at the hands of political operatives?
    Roll the film.

  • Fran Clairmont says:

    Hi Ken,

    First, Sony is not a Korean company as someone stated above, but it is a Japanese MNC.

    Second, I think Sony should have put it on iTunes, NetFlix, Amazon, along with Showtime, HBO, Cinemax and Encore. They could have had two forms of revenue to help compensate them with their business losses, and the Guardians of Peace would not have won.

    Also, it would be very hard for the terrorists to bomb each and every house that watched the movie, let alone know who did watch it. And if there are multiple distribution outlets, they would have to figure out how to hack all of them, and by the time they did the movie would be out in the public. And the game would be over.

    I also think Sony should rethink sending their vast catalog of movies to China for DVD pressing since the best way to stop a lot of this terrorist activity is to quit funding it. China, if hit economically, now has an incentive to reign in North Korea and their organized hacker and cyber terrorist program. China also has their own group of military hackers and have been known to steal trade secrets and schematics from Corporate America.

    I am sure there are companies in other developing countries where DVD pressing factories could be constructed – and I am sure there are many countries that would love the revenue and the jobs. Corporate America, and Sony, can do better by thinking strategically and planning for the future, rather than chasing the lowest price for everything they do. It would even be good to bring the DVD pressing jobs and factories to the US. I am sure this would cut way down on piracy and grey market issues, as the US enforces patent and copyright infringement cases, unlike other countries.

    And I also think that Sony should spend some money training their employees (including their executives) on what every parent tells their kids – What you put in e-mail should only be those things you want the world to see or that you don’t mind the world seeing. Because there is no privacy in the online world.

    Last but not least Sony should spend the money to have a point to point dedicated network (yes it is expensive) for internal communications and for storing films, videos, commercials, scripts, and other confidential information. It is extraordinarily difficult to hack into a point to point network and doing so leaves fingerprints all over the place. A point to point network is very expensive. The $100M that Sony could lose from this one movie not being released would pay for it for about 50 years. In the scheme of things, it would have been a small price to pay.

    fran

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