The big story of last week continued to be the Sony hack, as The Interview was cancelled from a Christmas day release because of the threat of violence. The four biggest chains pulled it, leaving Sony in a no win situation. They were in position to scale back their release, shift it at the last minute to a VOD/Netflix deal or push it out to an undetermined future date and be out the marketing, publicity and advertising dollars already. None of the alternatives would’ve been good.
Any potential violence would be directly blamed to them being “defiant” and still releasing the picture. They’re either cowards for pushing it back or they are personally responsible for anything bad that happens at a movie theatre because of this film. In this litigious society it’s a no win situation if they would’ve gone ahead; they’d have an insane per theatre average but the several hundred theatres who could’ve had showings wouldn’t have made up for the several thousand that didn’t.
A last minute VOD/Netflix deal would be profitable to an insane degree because of the controversy but there’s no chance they’d get anything approaching favorable terms. No one is going to want to take this on without some guarantee against risk of being hacked themselves; thus they’ll take a significantly bigger portion of any profits the film could’ve potentially generated. The potential $200 million that Sony would’ve made in total receipts from a VOD of this film would’ve been sliced up severely against them most likely.
Pushing it makes the absolute best sense. Its appeasement, of course, but Sony is in the absolute worst of situations. If something did happen it’s on them and narrative suddenly changes into one where Sony goes from the victim to a defendant. All the bravado of “Screw North Korea, release the movie” would’ve turned into “How could you have provoked a terrorist attack on innocent people?” … kind of like how many of the loudest people who were for invading Iraq the most in the run up to the second Gulf War were suddenly the ones screaming that they were always against it.
So I do agree with Sony’s decision, even if the consequences of it mean that a lot of other things could happen in the future. And really there are winners, and losers, in all of this. Thus my last column of the cinematic year 2014 will be tackling who won, and who lost, in the fallout of the cancellation of The Interview.
Winner: Bill Cosby
No one has spoken about Bill, and his predilection towards rapey good times, at all since this story broke. The big news has been all Sony and people are forgetting that the Jell-O pudding endorser really likes drugging and raping women. The scandal will always be there, of course, but what had went from the biggest story of the year has now become something that’s done with. It’s sad, of course, but Bill Cosby’s personal scandal has now become something no one cares about.
Loser: James Franco & Seth Rogen
Franco & Rogen have gone from having a monster hit in the Christmas season to wondering if their film is ever going to be released. The two have also had armed bodyguards wherever they go, have had to cancel nearly every media appearance they were scheduled for in the run up to the film and now have careers that might be in jeopardy. When you make a film that triggers something as big as state sponsored cyber terrorism the leash you’ll be given for any other film is going to be significantly smaller. They’ll still have careers but the ability to get the kind of films they want made could potentially be in jeopardy.
Even if/when The Interview is released, and it becomes an insane money grosser, the damage is done. No studio is going to let these guys near anything resembling something prodding a group that could do significant financial damage.
No matter what Sony did they were going to be on the wrong side of public opinion. Whether or not they’re on the wrong side of history will remain to be seen, of course, but right now Sony couldn’t have done anything that would’ve been called correct. Amy Pascal was in a situation with nothing but bad options and she chose the one that was the safest to the studio. Right now the rumor is that it’s going to be released via Crackle for free but nothing has been confirmed. Any way you slice it this a disaster right now.
But in three months? This could be a spring tentpole that clears $200 million, potentially. The marketing now writes itself. This is the film that inspired an entire rogue nation to attack. You could do mock commercials imploring people to see this as their patriotic duty, et al, and you could have a film that might’ve made its budget back in theatres alone into something that could be the next big franchise.
Winner: Anyone with an Agenda
Are you a racist and don’t want a film glorifying someone of color? Are you a minority group offended that you won’t be painted in the most amazing light in a film? Are you a big enough group, and know someone good with a computer, that what you say can become a news story? Hell, do you just want to screw with Hollywood and see what they’ll do if you screw with them loudly enough?
GOOD NEWS! Hollywood will bend to your will if you push them hard enough.
That’s what Sony has officially sanctioned now. Anyone with an agenda, and the desire to threaten to hurt people, can now dictate the whims of an entire industry because they know the end result. Hollywood will cave if you threaten hard enough. The door is open and now look to Hollywood to become bland and avoid offending anyone, ever. But more on that in a moment.
Loser: Insurance company that bonded The Interview
Part of the reason why Sony pulled the film is that it probably looked at its insurance contract and an event like this would be an insurable event. Thus out of the $40 million budget for the film they’re bound to get most, if not all, of it back based on their insurance deal. They probably have to hold the film from release now based on the insurance contract they signed going into production but the bottom line is that Sony won’t have lost nearly as much money as we think.
Winner: Conservative political pundits
The Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world have one major talking point when it comes to Hollywood and its politics. Mainly its implying they’re out of touch with ordinary Americans, etc, and now they get another one. Either they’re trying to start a war with a foreign power or they’re cowards who won’t stand up for their art. Most likely the latter, because conservative talk radio seems to be filled with a lot of war mongering, but either point is likely. This is an opportunity to take a pot shot at an industry that doesn’t agree with their politics, en masse, and now they’ll fire back as Hollywood will just have to sit back and take.
It’s preaching to their congregation, of course, but the key is that now they have ammunition. “These people talk a big game,” I can imagine someone like Michael Savage saying, “but when the rubber hits the road they’ll become cowards who refuse to stand up for their art.”
Loser: Hollywood’s Guts
Hollywood LOVES talking about how progressive it is, how they stand up for things many years before it’s popular to, et al, but what all we heard from the studios were silence. No statements supporting Sony and their decision, et al, just silence from the biggest power brokers. Many actors launched tirades but it was too little too late. People saw Hollywood cow down after years of awards ceremonies where they talk about how brave they are, et al, and now ssee them as nothing but empty suits. They’ll talk tough about their politics and their art, et al, but when someone decides to stare them down and say “let’s dance” they walk away in fear.
Imagine if a white nationalist group decides they don’t like a film about a black superhero fighting the KKK in the ’60s. And then they decide to issue a threat to a studio that they’ll firebomb a theater if this is released. Before this we’d expect Hollywood to tell them to piss off, et al, and release it alongside a free screening of the “Bigger and Blacker” Chris Rock comedy movie immediately afterwards. Now … now I’m not sure if they would respond with some guts.
A bunch of artists who have spent Oscar ceremonies talking about how they stood up for civil rights, etc, now look like ninnies who only stand up when they won’t get physically hurt. It may not be the truth but the narrative is one where Hollywood has no problem trashing Tea Party conservatives or Evangelical Christians but when the face of evil says “I don’t like this” they go “Yes sir, we’ll not do that sir.”
Winner: Al Sharpton
Al Sharpton, a Reverend from a church that somehow has no name, will now “Have a say” in Sony Pictures. That’s right … the guy who perpetuated the Tawana Brawley hoax, is now going to have a say in a major motion picture studio to advance his agenda. An e-mail from Amy Pascal that was leaked has now made her out to be a racist, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and now Sony can’t just give Al and Jesse Jackson their usual bribes. Now they have the ability to dictate things, as opposed to merely leaching off the system in the name of “change.” This is kind of a scary proposition as now a tax cheat has access to the highest levels of Hollywood in a creative capacity.
Loser: Amy Pascal
One of Hollywood’s few female executives now has been thoroughly undercut as a leader and as head of a studio. In an industry that tries to hide how thoroughly sexist it can be on occasion she’s someone young women can aspire to. Now, with all her dirty laundry exposed, her ability to be anything but a fall guy for anything that goes wrong is diminished.
Sony might have to replace her with someone because her ability to lead the studio could legitimately be up for question. Pascal has done nothing that any other studio head has done; if you combed through the emails of the rest of the studios you’d find an insane volume of unflattering stuff too. It’s just she’s the one that got exposed, nothing more. And she might wind up paying a substantive price for it.
Winner: Marvel Studios
There had been talks of a joint effort between Marvel and Sony to incorporate Spider-Man into the modern Marvel cinematic universe. Because of licensing that can’t happen now unless Sony allows it because any cinematic version of the webslinger is now their property. Marvel owns the character in any other medium, of course, and now with Sony being in a state of chaos they have a chance to lowball the studio for the rights to Spider-Man as a movie character again. And they’ll get it cheaper than they could’ve before all this, as well, as Sony could spin this as something along the lines of “We want Marvel to have their chance to do something special with the character” to get some positive publicity out of all of this.
Loser: Anyone involved in Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was supposed to launch Sony’s big wave to rival the Marvel universe but managed to under perform spectacularly both critically and commercially. Now the talk has been of Sony lending the character, but not Andrew Garfield, out to Marvel Studios for a Captain America sequel among others. I think we might be looking at the end of Spider-Man as a Sony property and anyone involved in the franchise currently won’t be coming along for the ride. Marvel will salivate at their chance to reboot the character, and the excitement will make them an insane amount of money the first week alone.
Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq
I got nothing of note to share, mainly because I’m still putting my phone and remote back together from the Bears game. So thusly I wish you, my readers, a good holiday season. Here’s a good motivational speech.
If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound
The Gambler – A remake of the James Caan film from the ’70s with Mark Wahlberg.
See it – It’s gotten awful word of mouth so far but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, if only because this was a passion project for Wahlberg.
Into the Woods – Singing and dancing stuff.
Skip it – Anna Kendrick should be barred from singing unless it’s in a Pitch Perfect film.
Unbroken – The real life story of Louis Zamperini, who competed in the Olympics and spent time in a Japanese POW camp in WW2.
See it – Angelina Jolie has had an interesting career as a director so far, enough that I wanted to write on it (before the Sony story kept being interesting). Maybe next week.
American Sniper – Clint Eastwood tells the tale of the most legendary sniper in American history.
See it – Bradley Cooper is slowly developing the resume of serious leading man instead of matinee idol, like his looks would dictate. I’m curious the sort of performance Eastwood gets out of him.
Selma – A look at the Selma voting rights marches in 1965.
Skip it – This reminds me so much of Bobby, which focused on an important event but was just filled with “hey look, there’s that guy” moments.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .
Tags: Monday Morning Critic, Sony, The Interview