UPDATED WITH SONY’S STATEMENT: Sony Pictures is releasing its controversial movie The Interview in theaters after all on Christmas Day — likely in fewer than 100 indie theaters. We’re told the turnaround came after a conference call with Sony distribution execs that just ended. Several of the smaller chains are beginning to unveil the news via social media. “We just got the call,” said Brock Bagby, director of programming at KC-based B&B Theatres, which has 408 screens in eight states. “Our film buyers did. Sony will be playing it on VOD and letting anyone play it who wants it.”
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Here’s Sony’s official statement quoting Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton:
Sony Pictures Entertainment today announced that The Interview will have a limited theatrical release in the United States on Christmas Day.
“We have never given up on releasing The Interview and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” said Michael Lynton, Chairman and CEO of Sony Entertainment. “At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”
“I want to thank our talent on The Interview and our employees, who have worked tirelessly through the many challenges we have all faced over the last month. While we hope this is only the first step of the film’s release, we are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech.”
Bagby said theaters were to give Sony an answer later today if they were going to book the movie. Several places are already aboard. “We’re going to put it in a theater,” Bill Barstow, owner of Midwest-based Main Street Theatres, told Deadline. “We’ve booked it at a 14-plex in Sioux City [Iowa].” (UPDATE, 4:03 PM: Bagby’s B&B Theatres has decided not to show the movie because of the VOD component of the plan: “B&B Theatres has never, and will never, support a VOD release. We simply don’t and won’t play day-and-date with a home video release.”)
Sony Pictures on December 17 officially scrapped its release plans for the political comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, about two journalists who try to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. That pic prompted an unprecedented hack attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment last month that has engulfed the studio in crisis ever since.
It’s not expected that those major exhibs — Regal, AMC, Cinemark, Landmark, Cineplex and Carmike among them — will participate in Thursday’s platform release, They pulled out after the hackers threatened to blow up movie theaters if The Interview was released — that’s serious exposure for multiplex owners who likely would need to add security, not to mention risking angering studios whose movies would have to be bumped during a crowded Christmas Week frame to make room for Sony’s pic. The major chains also have a policy of not participating in day-and-date release strategies, giving them an out here. (Even some of the indies are grumbling about the VOD play but are showing the pic anyway.)
Indie exhibitors have been vocal about being willing to show The Interview. Yesterday, a petition emerged signed by indie theaters part of the coalition Art House Convergence pledging to play the film if Sony let them (it currently has 500 signatures). In Los Angeles, the Cinefamily theater held a protest screening of the North Korea documentary The Red Chapel on Sunday in support of The Interview. Cinefamily and Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse publicly vowed to play the film if Sony released it.
“We cannot imagine the pressures that have been affecting Sony, at all levels of the organization they have been under attack,” Alamo Drafthouse boss Tim League said in a statement today. “Amidst this unwarranted chaos, they have regrouped and listened to the public, the government and the exhibition community and responded with resolve and determination. At 10:45 AM, Sony bookers approved screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and other arthouse and independent theaters across the country.
“This is the best Christmas gift anyone could give us. We, both distributors and exhibitors, have collectively stood firm to our principles and for the right to freedom of expression. Two days til Christmas, and I am proud to be an American.”
On Sunday, Art House Convergence, which reps 250 indie theaters, posted a letter to Sony Pictures’ CEO Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, saying they would screen The Interview, which might have played a part in setting the stage for the release reversal:
Dear Mr. Lynton and Ms. Pascal
Your Art House motion picture colleagues wish to support you and your company at this difficult time. We empathize with the ruthless attack your company suffered and we want to help in our small but powerful way.
The enormity of the attack your company has suffered and the difficulty of the decisions you have been forced to make in recent days are nearly unimaginable; similarly is the monumental nature of the business disruption your company has endured in recent weeks. Your life, and possibly your judgment, has been disrupted beyond comprehension. The financial bottom line impact will be, frankly, unfathomable for an independent Art House to comprehend. However, in life and art, values are the ultimate “bottom line” and striving for freedom and goodness are the sometimes conflicting, but paramount values of enlightened societies.
We understand that “The Interview” is on one level “just a movie,” meaning, in terms of human history, a probably facile entertainment and business investment. But circumstance has propelled this work into a nexus of values, both societal and artistic. It is also, as an artistic and national community, an opportunity to respond clearly to the behavior of an international bully opposed, by word and deed, to the value of freedom.
We, the independent Art House community, will gladly exhibit “The Interview” as a special, one-day showing without pecuniary expectation, or as a regular part of our cinema programming. We do this to express the value and power of freedom and to support you, our artistic and business colleagues, during a time of great vexation.
Best wishes to you and all your Sony Entertainment colleagues as you endeavor to restore normalcy (if that is possible in show-business!) to your work-life and your business.
Most Sincerely — Russ Collins, Director, Art House Convergence
BitTorrent and VHX, two direct-to-consumer digital distribution platforms, offered to release the film. It’s unclear which digital outlets will release the pic as part of the VOD strategy.
MPAA spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said today in a statement, “We are extremely pleased that audiences will be able to see the film.” Yet again, the studios’ trade group is late to weigh in on the issue, showing no leadership.