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Point/Counterpoint: Was Sony right to pull ‘The Interview’?

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

Sony

Sony Pictures was slated to release “The Interview” in theaters around the globe on Christmas Day.

When word of the film got out, North Korea declared the future release “an act of war” and promised, as per usual, to destroy the United States for our insolence. And, of course, our country just shrugged them off. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg chugged along, undaunted.

That’s pretty important, considering what ended up happening next.

A few months later, a group called “The GOP (Guardians of Piece)” proclaimed that they had hacked into Sony’s servers and gotten their hands on over 12 terabytes of information: film prints, e-mails, pay slips, sales data and the like. The move was met with incredulous shock: the little nation that roared had seemingly, successfully attacked a major American film studio using sophisticated digital means that were thought to have been foreign to them.

The outrage that resulted was seen across television and the Internet, including everyone’s favorite online water cooler, social media. Reactions ranged from the understandably disturbed to absolutely batshit insane.

Here at The Workprint, we have differing opinions on the subject, so we would like to present a point/counter-point by writers Matt Perri and Keith Kuramoto.

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KEITH KURAMOTO: Why pulling ‘The Interview’ from theaters is a huge-ass deal.

On November 1st of this year, publishing giant Conde-Nast began moving into 1 World Trade Center, the building that has replaced the original World Trade Center Towers which were brought down on 9/11. The new building stands both figuratively and literally above all other buildings in Manhattan as a giant middle-finger, Come-At-Us-Bro beacon to any opposing force that thinks they can break our spirit. It’s a building that symbolically says, “Your backwards ideology of ‘Death to the West’ has been heard. Now here’s ours: Go Fuck Yourself.”

So color me disappointed, irritated, and annoyed that Sony has cow-towed to idle threats made in broken english across the series of wires and tubes we call the internets.

The decision made by Sony to pull ‘The Interview’ from theaters indefinitely is a big deal. It’s a big deal for the entertainment industry, for the current existence of film as an art medium, and sets a dangerous precedent for our technological future.

 To say that the “terrorists” have “won” is certainly hyperbolic, but only to a degree. I mean, after all it was just some dumb satire spearheaded by stoners that was brought to its knees, right?

This is all true, but the ripple effect of Sony’s ultimate decision and the hack that triggered it will be felt for years, perhaps decades. Under a sheer mountain of pressure from the original hack, to the ‘Jobs’ debacle, to the unfortunate and insensitive Obama emails, Sony Pictures was over a barrel.

And that’s not even including the rather unsexy news shifted to the backseat, of thousands of SPE employees at risk when medical records, social security numbers, and more were let loose upon the internet when the levee broke. This sensitive personal document leak, which is much more serious than Angelina Jolie being or not being a spoiled brat, isn’t the type of juice that readers want to squeeze, but it is just as, if not more important because it speaks to the larger scope of the problem.

Here’s the thing: we should not be told by someone else what we can or cannot watch, read, or listen to. Film is an art form (even those terrible Kevin Hart movies) and art should never have a gun aimed at its celluloid head. And I can’t help but think that if this wasn’t a dumb comedy- if it was awards bait, or a war film, or something with more gravitas- that people who don’t think this is a big deal would probably feel differently.

It was only 2 1/2 years ago that James Holmes walked into a theater screening ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and shot twelve people to death. But Warner Bros. continued to screen the movie as planned that summer. And people actually died. You could cynically argue that that decision was born more of a financial necessity than a moral one, but the point still stands. In that reality, when so little was known of accomplices, or bombs, or copy-cats, Warner Brothers did not have a knee-jerk reaction. They stayed strong.

And let’s not forget about that financial bottom-line. If the past decade proved it difficult for mid-range budgeted adult-demo movies to be financed and distributed, this Sony debacle is going to further that struggle. Now any movie that questions a world power’s leaders or actions will be under scrutiny by any distributor.

Whether or not the material is hot-button or not, Sony’s decision has told the business-end of the film community that such subject matter is now considered “dangerous”. And when the mere subject matter for a movie is something that distributors are afraid to touch- those movies eventually cease to be made. If ISIL or Al-Qaeda had the resources of North Korea, I can think of dozens of movies released post-9/11 in which this same exact scenario would have played out.

To think of a world in which films like ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, ‘Syriana’, or ‘United 93’ don’t exist due to development or release pressures is a sad and hollow place that I’d rather not think about.

The raw fact of the matter is one that has been frankly over stated in the last decade: We don’t negotiate. It’s the bedrock of American policy for all threats, foreign and domestic. Sony should have had the backbone to share the same sentiments. Because now, any bored thirteen-year old in his parents’ basement can make idle threats to film studios (or banks, or retail companies, or food chains) on 4-Chan because he’s bored and wants to see a giant corporation acquiesce to asinine demands. This is swatting taken to the next level. And that’s the best-case scenario, because we’re merely talking about some asswipe degenerate and not a nuclear super-power.

We crossed over an invisible line in the sand last week. We are now living in an age of cyber-terrorism on an epic scale. Sony’s decision gives idiots and radicals alike the fuel they need to try their own brand of ill-conceived terrorism.

Imagine the initial leak of internal documents- containing employee medical records, Social Security numbers, banking information- happening at Chase or Capital One and suddenly the effects are felt by millions.

And if someone with immense power is sensitive enough to get butt-hurt by a dumb comedy, surely there’s a similar entity who has an axe to grind with our capitalist-pig economy. It tells people that think we suck eggs that the government might not waver, but the private-sector sure as shit will. It basically gives them a new strategy of the guerrilla variety, namely one we won’t see coming.

The real head-scratcher here is that Sony had a number of outs at its disposal. They could have said they were going to fully distribute ‘The Interview’ to theaters, but would leave it in the hands of the chains in question whether to screen it or not. They could have paid out of pocket to beef up security at theaters nation-wide. They could have simply stated that they were shifting the release date after “careful consideration”, released it on July 4th, and it would have been the biggest comedy of the summer. They could have released it on demand, partnered with Netflix or iTunes, had roadshow screenings to limit “danger”…the list goes on and on. But after all of the controversy surrounding the leaked emails, it chose the path of no resistance.

But don’t cry for Sony, Argentina. Sony will rebound. ‘The Interview’ will be released. Whether it is  an eventual theatrical release, or through some groundbreaking Day-and-Date 2.0 release that has never gained traction (this would be the perfect film at the perfect time for such an experiment…), the movie will see the light of day. That was never the problem. The problem was the action of self-censorship and how that move is perceived by people who are not our No. 1 fans.

Unlike the new trade center sending the message of ‘F-U’, Sony have sent the message of ‘F-Us’. We can only hope that when another mass-scale cyber-attack happens to another major corporation (and it will) that they at least try to fight back.

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MATT PERRI: Why pulling ‘The Interview’ from theaters ain’t no thang but a chicken wang.

On Wednesday, December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced a shift in relations with Cuba, calling for a detente, of sorts: a strengthening of economic and diplomatic ties which is already being contested by the Republican party, who are already proclaiming this a terrible idea for reasons I cannot even begin to fathom other than “because Communism, h’yuck”.

In any case, this is a game-changer. Cuba is legendary for being one of the last bastions of old school military strategy: an enemy buffer state viewed as dangerous and hostile to the United States, both frozen in perceived imminent conflict and a way of thinking that was supposed to be stale with the demise of the Cold War in 1991. They had been a major adversary to our country — most significantly during the Cold War when they were buddy-buddy with Russia, even going so far as to temporarily house their nukes there during one of the darkest moments in history, the appropriately-named Cuban Missile Crisis.

If you’re wondering why you clicked on an article about “The Interview” and got this instead, it’s because the two events are actually uniquely linked, despite their seemingly stark contrast, even if that link is frustratingly ironic.

Let me pause here.

Before I continue with this line of thought, my friends all know me to be very outspoken and, at times, cynical. I tend to look at things in a different light. There are always two sides to a story and always several ways to look at things. I’m analytical and grey, not black and white.

Outrage can be a wonderful thing. We only need to look at the reactions to the Ferguson debacle to know that enough outrage can change things. That is, unless everyone leaps onto the Next Thing You’re Supposed to Care About.

Like, did you know iPhones can BEND??? Yes, they do. Just like every other smartphone can bend over time.

Yup, that was something we all cared about for some reason. You think it that was a minor issue? It was all over my goddamn feed. Some idiot kid even went to an Apple Store and started purposely bending and breaking iPhones to prove some sort of conspiracy — which my friends ate up and used to prove that Apple was some Satanic company controlled by the Illuminati.

I’m just scratching the surface.

Salon has gone so far as to keep track of every single thing America was outraged by in 2014. When you look at that list, I’m somewhere between, “Oh yeeeeeah, that” and “Wow…people cared that Hello Kitty wasn’t a fucking cat” and “Boy, that was a huge injustice.” That latter bit was probably about 3% of what they recapped. The rest was overblown blather, as is the case with most minor stories that are blown out of proportion by the mainstream media.

The overall point is that, despite how large this may loom, this is peanuts. It’s another Stupid Thing We’re Supposed to Care About.

As far as “The Interview” goes, I don’t care about it one way or the other. If it’s released in the future, fine. If it isn’t and it’s indefinitely shelved, that’s fine, too. I think the film is in pretty poor taste. This is coming from somebody who thought “Team America” was brilliant. The difference is simply that Team America was done with careful thought and poked fun at dumbass dictators, Liberal naivety, and overeager Conservative jingoism utilizing the style of an 80’s action piece. More on this movie in a minute…

Plus, it just has the greatest American theme song of all-time.

Having said all that, I am completely dumbstruck over the vitriol that Sony is getting for pulling this movie. For the last 48 hours, my Facebook feed has been inundated with my friends going off the handle because they suddenly wanted to see Seth Rogen’s latest dick-and-fart-joke bouquet about killing a sitting Communist dictator in fairly violent fashion — and even praised the scene’s “coolness”, saying such dumb things as, “Kim Jong-Un’s head exploding is a beautiful dream”. Yes, this attitude continues to prevail despite admitting they didn’t care about seeing this film before this mess started.

Celebs took to Twitter in pure rage:

“”What if an anonymous person got offended by something an executive at Coke said?” asked noted overrated writer/director, Judd Apatow “Will we all have to stop drinking Coke?”

Hyperbolic Rob Lowe (another variation of Handsome Rob Lowe, I guess) compared the incident to giving up territory to the Nazi’s, stating, “Saw [Seth Rogen] at JFK. Both of us have never seen or heard of anything like this. Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today.”

Quietly, Steve Carell tearfully Tweeted, “Sad day for creative expression,” despite the fact that a studio is not beholden to the Bill of Rights or the Constitution and can kill any production at any time for any reason — something that had already happened to the film once.

It’s time for some much-needed perspective here.

First, suspicions about the film’s quality are quite correct: the movie was getting panned before the hack and it’s currently sitting at 54% on Rotten Tomatoes. Hell, despite having the U.S. State Department’s blessing, and ok’ing the gruesome ending, even Sony’s execs didn’t think much of it and really wanted nothing to do with it. That assessment of the film is telling for a company that churns out Adam Sandler flops like the soda dispenser in your company break room.

Just to recap this: people are begging to see a shitty movie from a corporation who laughed their asses off when mean ol’ Kim Jong-Un declared the film to be “an act of war”, kept pushing the film — then, when shit got real, proceeded to pass the buck and make the cancellation of the film’s release up to the theaters who, along with studios like 20th Century Fox, they have helped fuck over in the past which, in turn, fucks over the average moviegoer with upcharges, expensive theater food, and needless branding and advertisements all over the place.

All this because ‘Murica!

It would be a complete joke to me if it wasn’t so frightening how easy it is to stoke these kinds of feelings in people. I’ve seen my Liberal friends declaring the country “a nation of pussies” now and that the “terrorists have beaten America without firing a shot,” and posting Jong-Un’s face-melting scene from the film as their profile picture. This is something I’d expect from my Conservative friends. It’s the same frenzied froth the public was whipped into when the Bush Administration wanted to go to war with Iraq and I can’t help but just shake my head in pure disbelief.

If that’s not enough, Alamo Drafthouse opted to screen Team America instead of “The Interview” — only to have Paramount pull the film. I’d like to speculate that this was due to distribution rights (I can’t imagine Alamo Drafthouse getting the rights to screen that quickly), but we’ll probably never know. Paramount Pictures, to their credit, has pretty much kept mum on their reasoning and, really, given everything I’ve already said, it really doesn’t matter. They don’t need to be pulled into Sony’s bullshit drama. No studio should.

I mentioned Cuba before all this — and I apologize for taking so long to get to this point. Before recent developments, the country was much like North Korea: standoffish and virulently anti-American. The thought of peace with Castro and his people was beyond unthinkable.

Things change.

It’s ironic that my country can make peace with a former enemy while, at the same time, pound their chests and speak up for a film that, by all indications, is a vanity piece made by a hack actor and his co-star, James Franco, who nobody gave a shit about following the Oscar hosting gig.

If you listen to nothing else I’ve said, listen to something a friend of mind said during a recent debate about the film: “Part of living in the greatest country on Earth is acting like it — with humble pride and dignity.

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About Matt Perri and Keith Kuramoto

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