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David Poland

By David Poland

The Sky Continues Not To Fall

People in this business and around it are somehow comforted by the notion that things are going terribly, terribly wrong.

I was struck strongly by this today when I ran into Mark Harris’ Grantland piece, “The Birdcage (sub-hed) How Hollywood’s toxic (and worsening) addiction to franchises changed movies forever in 2014.

I read it. I read it again. You should read it now if you haven’t.

Mark is a really, really smart guy. He has great insight into art and history. But this piece is remarkably wrong on a number of levels. It trades on some of the mythologies about Hollywood that I have been writing about and arguing about for a couple decades already.

* The first big myth is that, somehow, the existence of one kind of movie displaces the existence of another kind (or kinds) of movies. People believe this instinctively. But there is little to no proof that this is the case.

Hollywood, for instance, is making many fewer adult dramas. But that isn’t so they can pay for more CG superheroes. It is greatly because dramas (and comedies) got fat on DVD money and started being budgeted for insane amounts. These films could have been made for much smaller budgets and profits thinned, so the gravy train had to stop.

If you look at the box office numbers on dramas you will see that the average numbers are up for those films as they are for the big dumb movies… they just aren’t the same kind of numbers. They never were. No one expected them to be. The standard is profitability, not size.

The adjusted gross for The Way We Were is still less than The Fault in Our Stars grossed this year.

This is not to say that studios are not obsessed with having franchises that are both huge and hugely profitable. But like any ambition for the highest level of success, there are nothing close to guarantees.

There were two Shailene Woodley films that grossed almost the same amount this year ($289m/$304m). One was a teen drama. The other was the first of a series of franchise films. Both made a profit. But the franchise film just hopes to be as profitable over 3 films as the drama was the first and only time out.

Of course, the franchise’s sequels are going forward and they will pray for growth, but won’t lose money if there is none. Also moving forward are multiple teen dramas involving author John Green. And the director of The Fault in Our Stars is now working on two Stephen King projects.

Did Fox, which made Fault, say, “We can’t make the teen drama because we are making an Apes sequel”? No, of course not.

David Fincher made his last three films for (reportedly) $120 million (Benjamin Button), $40 million (The Social Network), and $90 million (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). He made Gone Girl – with New Regency in the lead – for a reported $60 million. Is that the ghetto? Did Fox say, “We are spending more on Days of Future Past ourselves than we have on any movie before… so we can’t do Gone Girl with our partners?

Quoting Mark: “Almost everything else that comes out of Hollywood is either an accident, a penance (people who run the studios do like to have a reason to go to the Oscars), a modestly budgeted bone thrown to an audience perceived as niche (black people, women, adults), an appeasement (movie stars are still important and they must occasionally be placated with something interesting to do so they’ll be cooperative about doing the big stuff), or a necessity (sometimes, unfortunately, it is required that a studio take a chance on something new in order to initiate a franchise). A successful franchise is no longer used to finance the rest of a studio’s lineup; a studio’s lineup is brands and franchises, and that’s it.”

Well… are Fault and Gone accidents, penance, bones, appeasements, necessities or… exceptions?

Neither film can spawn a sequel. Both films are dramas. And they are amongst the most successful films of the year, though yes, neither is in the Top 15 for the year. So they must be exceptions.

How many exceptions challenge the rule?

Lucy, The Lego Movie, Neighbors, Fury, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Monuments Men… we’re now up to 8 “exceptions” in the $150 million club for 2014, total membership 41 this year-to-date. But don’t forget to lop off the 12 mega-budget movies that also top the charts for the year. So it’s 8 “exceptions” out of 29 titles.

There are another 7 “originals” in the club that aren’t aiming as high. I don’t know what kind of bone they gave Kevin Hart and Ice Cube for Ride Along or to Cameron Diaz to make The Other Woman. Was Annabelle a necessity or an accident or just another trend that studios have been keen on since Paranormal Activity, the under-$10 million thriller that can’t lose money and can hit a geyser?

* The second myth is that things have changed, in terms of the mindset of the studios, dramatically compared to the post-original-studio-system past.

Mark goes back to 1999 and spins a little about how many sequels there were that year. Well, I went back as far as Box Office Mojo goes with annual data, 1980, and of the Top 20 films that year, 6 were either sequels or would be sequelized and three more were follow-up movies or would be followed up by reuniting casts and/or directors to exploit the prior success (Stir Crazy and Seems Like Old Times, and Caddyshack).

“Even as late as 1999, for instance, only four of the year’s 35 top grossers were sequels.”

Eleven films from the top thirty-five of 1999 were either sequels or remakes/spin-offs of long-established characters. Six of the Top Ten worldwide were these films; Star Wars 1, Toy Story 2, Tarzan, The Mummy, Bond, Austin Powers 2. Then there were Wild Wild West, Sleepy Hollow, Pokemon 1, Inspector Gadget, and The Thomas Crown Affair. And yes, only one of those was a sequel.

And by the way, 11 of the Top 35 were sequels or remakes in 2008, too.

What has changed is the proliferation of the mega-budget. Absolutely. A big change. And people who make smaller movies feel dwarfed by them. But they are still making the other films. And they are making them for more than they were in the DVD era. They aren’t making 1999 movies like The General’s Daughter for over $90 million anymore. They are making Notting Hills, though probably for $10 million or so less. Adam Sandler comedies have been reduced back to the kind of budgets he had in 1999 (which is likely why he is heading to Netflix). Aside from having 20/20 hindsight about what would hot and miss, I would like Mark or anyone else to tell me what studios movies were made in 1999 that might not be made by a studio today. I don’t see many, if any.

What I do see is a series of films that could not exist in 1999, before the CG era started in 2000 with Spider-Man, that now sit on top of what looks like a very familiar set of studio films in 1999 (the example picked by Mark). There were a dozen this year. The cost bit more than $4 billion to produce, distribute, and market.

Using Fox as an example from 1999… they distributed, but did not fund The Phantom Menace. The collective production budgets for their 15 other releases was, it seems, under $350 million. They probably spent nearly double that on worldwide marketing. But the entire year for under a billion. That is a different universe than the one in which we now live. But Fox put out 16 movies this year and the 9 movies that were not animated or “tentpoles?” A bit over $300 million.

*The third myth is that the mega-budget movies dominate the studios now and will do so more intensely moving forward.

This is a true thing at Disney. They have built out this strategy with their purchases of Marvel, LucasFilm, and indeed, Pixar.

But at the rest of the studios, we still see more balance than people think. Fox, I’ve already noted. At WB, for instance, there are 5 $100m+ budget movies this year and 16 “others,” none of which cost over $70 million. Paramount is releasing only 12 films and 5 are $100m or more… the rest all south of $60 million. Sony had only one mega-budget film and the most expensive of the other 16 releases was Fury’s reported $68 million with almost all the rest under $50 million.

*The fourth myth is that everyone who now longs for some of the numbers that Disney has delivered in the last few years would somehow be willing to walk the path that Disney is walking… or will surely walk it soon.

Just a week or so ago, Comcast’s CFO announced at an investor’s conference that this will be the most profitable year for Universal’s film division, ever. A couple of tentpoles moved into 2015, skewing the survey a bit, but they will have released 14 films this year, none of which have reported budget of over $70 million and only 2 of which are over $50 million.

They may lust for the parade of big grossers at Disney and they may repeat often… but they aren’t morons.

*The fifth myth is that the bubble in which most of us in the media and in the film industry tend to live is the only place where the multi-year announcements of Marvel and DC and others are taken as some sort of gospel, which is to be dissected as though it is a fait accompli.

This one is simple. If a couple of Marvel movies bomb, the strategy for years 4, 5, and 6 change radically. And anyone who tells you differently is full of crap.

Calling the shot is an old schtick. Sometimes, the guy hits the home run to where he was pointing. Mostly, he does not. The CG films have about a 2.5 year period from greenlight to release (varies based on all kinds of things). But “Untitled Marvel Movie About Obscure Character” in 2019 isn’t greenlit… doesn’t have a script… and relies on the ongoing health of the entire Marvel Universe.

* The sixth myth is that everything but mega-budget movies is now almost impossible to fund, that the mega-movies are happily funded, and that anything that is less than massive is in a ghetto of sorts.

Everything is hard to fund. Very few films of any size are being made by one funder in 2014. There are key funders, but while Megan Ellison may have brought us a lot of great movies lately, there are not underfunded or cheap… and her brother is bringing us the next Terminator, whether we like it or not.

Yes, there are giant funding organizations that are set up to fund really big movies at studios. And there are many small ones set up to help fund movies that can’t get pre-production distribution. And there are many in between.

Is it harder now to get “small” movies made than before? Yes and no. People are out there making a lot of them for very little money… some very, very good films. And some filmmakers who are used to getting $60 – $90 million pretty easily are finding that door closed. But Ron Howard is still making movies of skill and size and quality… maybe the best work of his career. Barry Levinson has his second truly indie film out this year. Tim Burton did Big Eyes on a smaller budget than any film he’s made since Pee Wee’s Big Adventure…. and the writers couldn’t get the funding with them directing… but hey, the movie made and out there.

You can write off the entire Oscar season as a bunch of freaks, but those films aren’t freaks. There is a system for them. And they live. And they thrive. Was there a time when Inherent Vice and Big Eyes and Boyhood would have been easily made at a studio? When? Where? Don’t fool yourself. The budget for The Long Goodbye was $1.7 million. UA released it, but it wasn’t mainstream or easy.

The future of the industry and the quality of films is forever changing. Just because they make a sequel to something or because it has a huge budget doesn’t make it unoriginal. And being inexpensive and inaccessible doesn’t make a movie either original or inherently good. This seems obvious. But broad strokes do not serve the reality of this world of film.

I think Mark has a lot of worthwhile things to say… but mostly, they seem to be about Disney and the path on which they seem to be being chased by WB. But you know, Warners was trying to reboot their DC movie business for 15 years since they killed it with Batman & Robin. And then, as Christopher Nolan made Bat-magic, Marvel came along and created the concept of the “Marvel Universe” and after a slow start, it took off beyond imagination. Given that WB is the only other studio that owns a historic mainstream comic book business, of course they are looking at the strategy. And they haven’t followed it exactly.

But I remind you all that the man who employed John Calley at WB, Steve Ross, took over the studio by building an empire on a garbage, parking lot and limo business. The salad days at Paramount in the 70s were overseen by a rough character named Charlie Bludhorn. One of the primary importers of foreign language film in the U.S. was Roger Corman.

It’s easy to make fun of Kevin Tsujihara and Jeff Shell as “not movie people.” And they are not. But the idea that anyone running Universal would pass on another F&F movie or a spin-off of Despicable Me or the reboot of Jurassic Park that was on the stove long before Shell arrived at Universal is absurd. To suggest that Kevin Tsujihara is more prone to the Harry Potter spin-offs or getting DC on track than any of his predecessors, who tried and failed at the latter, is just going after what seems to be low hanging fruit.

It struck me really funny to see Josh Boone’s idea to make The Stand into four movies being mocked. Mark doesn’t see how it will be different than the TV mini-series, “except for the fact that it’s going to be “epic” (which is what we now tend to say when we mean some Peter Jacksonian combination of long, loud, and slow to climax).”

So Josh Boone, who had one of the most profitable studio movies of the year and made it for under $15 million is… what? A fool? And Peter Jackson, who brought Tolkien to life for 100 million-plus committed fans and did what he saw fit to do, meaning 9 – 12 hours for both Rings and Hobbit, and made massive revenues and made defining films for generations… a goof?

I have no problem with anyone disliking or not loving Tolkien or Stephen King or CG-driven movies, etc, etc, etc. But just because popular taste and your personal taste don’t jibe does not mean that alarms need ringing.

Have we crossed a bridge in 2014 from which the film business can never return? Not at all.

Here are some quotes…

“Film is not merchandise!”

“No true art has ever been a popular craze.”

“About six producers today pass upon [reject] 90 percent of the scripts, and cut and edit 90 percent of the picture… there are only a half-dozen directors in Hollywood who are allowed to shoot as they please… I would say that 80 percent of the directors today shoot scenes exactly as they are told to shoot them without any changes whatsoever, and that 90 percent of them have no voice in the story of the editing.”

American films “literally poison the souls of our children, young people. young girls, who are to be turned into the docile slaves of American multi-millionaires.”

“Film Dips To Only Terrific From Used-to-Be Sensational”

“The day of the big studios is finished. Their costs are two high and there isn’t any way to get those costs down – really get them down – without tearing them apart and rebuilding from the ground up.”

“Had I been able to foresee what cinema would become, I never would have invented it.”

“Tough for a movie that isn’t a big media-created event to find an audience, no matter how good it is.”

“There’s been a polarization of performance at the box office. The big movies perform well and everything else dies.”

I’m guessing that many of you have already figured out that these quotes and headlines are not from last week… though they well could have been. They come from (in order) 1926, 1930, 1939 (by Capra), 1945, 1947 (Variety headline), 1953, 1965, 1974 (Kael), and 1996. I thank the still-remarkable David Puttnam book “Movies & Money” for being the home of these quotes and many others that remind us that circumstances change, but the song remains the same.

There are, certainly, changes from which we cannot return. I have been going on about the shortening of windows for 20 years, because if the studios continue to push exhibition, they can kill exhibition. And 2500 IMAX screens will not be a full exhibition business, if it came down to that. Theatrical revenue has been under siege by the media and “forward thinkers” for decades and the thinking is simply wrong. As we move forward into a true “everything everywhere” future, theatrical will be one of the only true differentiators to the bottom line separating TV and movies. But if shrunken windows kill off another 20% or so of the theatrical business, exhibitors will start going out of business. And replacing them won’t be easy, if at all possible.

The idea of Disney or Warner Bros announcing slates for the next 6 years is dick measuring at its most primal. But in the end, they still have to make, sell, and release the movies. And it’s never been easy. And it will never be easy.

But strong films get made every year and will be made every year. And some years they will have higher budgets. And some years lower. And quality will sneak out where we least expect it. Art and commerce have always had a battle in the film business.

It’s not a perfect system. Not by a loooooong shot. But never forget that every film is a unique organism. Each one has a life and a mind of its own. And at Disney right now, it’s bread and circuses.

I get the idea that there seems to be more stupid, a much longer marketing window (which, I might explore another day, seems to be about making for a much shorter TV ad buy window, which is the biggest cost in movie marketing), and a whole lot more noise. But as we have found year after year, ComicCon, for instance, is great as solidifying the base, but studios still need to much more widely market all but the least expensive films if they want a big enough audience to see profits. ComicCon can be oppressive. But when you step away, you realize how few people really care what happens there.

In Mark’s closing graph he offers a view of 2020, asking, “Do you imagine that your taste will be exactly what it is today? Hollywood profoundly hopes the answer is yes. Your sameness is what it prays for.”

Actually, not. Because no more than 10% of the people reading Mark Harris at Grantland (or this column, really) have the taste for the endless loud noises that the imagined fiendish “Hollywood” offers now. And in 5 years… you’ll all be too damned old to go to the movies regularly… or not quite old enough to have the time to do so. For the big, dumb movies, Hollywood wants whoever is under 24 and over 8 in your house. And the rest? “Hollywood” just hopes you will get off your couch and the endless parade of content streaming and MVPDing into your home and go to the movies half-a-dozen times a year.

It’s fun and easy to feel like the victim of the noise and the loudest, brightest (maybe lest challenging) films on the market. But if you really love movies, there were about five movies I could recommend to you in any major city on any week of this year… and surely in years to come. Hail Hydra!

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45 Responses to “The Sky Continues Not To Fall”

  1. Bob Burns says:

    Thanks – good piece.

    Blaming the tentpoles rather than the loss of the DVD windfall is very common…. will continue to be because thse things are in our faces all the time and few remember all that DVD cash.

  2. K. Bowen says:

    Good piece, David. Very informative.

    I wrote a couple of comments on Mark’s Twitter discussion. I’ll repeat here and add a few more.

    1) 10 years ago, the pessimists were questioning whether there would be theatrical exposition in 10 years. So I guess everything else is gravy.

    2) 5-8 comic book films in a sea of, what, 300 American films in a year doesn’t strike me as a crime against humanity.

    3) How many films were released in the years that Mr. Harris is discussing? The Wikipedia for 1977 has somewhere around 120-ish entries. Couldn’t find one for 1999. I guess my point is significantly less, suggesting there is more opportunity for smaller films now.

    4) Some high-end filmmakers are making more on their films now than in the seventies or nineties. Scorsese’s biggest hits (adjusted gross)have been his past few films. Aronofsky’s last two films, hardly conventional, have gone over $100 million domestic. Wes Anderson has never seen close to $60/170.

    5) If the studios overdose on certain types of films, then they will pay for it.

    6) I do think that Harris has a better point about the number of sequels to modest hits that seem lined up, which seems excessive.

    7) I’m just going to be happy about some films I really like being in the Oscar race.

  3. K. Bowen says:

    Oh, and one last thing, Mr. Harris in the past has talked about the seventies as a golden age where films like Shampoo were big hits. But that’s one especially great era. Sure we would all like it to be that way, but I’m not sure it means that we’re living in some horrible movie age. If anything, the market for quality films might be better now than any time since then.

  4. Stella's Boy says:

    I don’t like comic book movies and when I look at Marvel’s slate for the next 5-6 years, I don’t see anything I want to see. I don’t care about the Star Wars reboots or DC’s slate either. But I still don’t think the sky is falling. There’s too much out there to be enthused about for that. Boyhood is my favorite movie of the year. I really liked Interstellar and Snowpiercer. I loved Nightcrawler. I saw a ton of great VOD stuff. I am dying to see A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice, Birdman, Selma, Wild, The Babadook, Under the Skin, Grand Budapest Hotel, and Whiplash (a baby at home severely cut into my moviegoing this year). That’s hardly a comprehensive list of the year’s well-received films. There’s still a lot to be excited about as a movie lover.

  5. Kevin says:

    Great piece.

    One little thing:

    “I don’t know what kind of bone they gave Kevin Hart and Ice Cube for Non-Stop”

    Non-Stop is the Liam Neeson movie. Kevin Hart and Ice Cube did Ride Along this year.

  6. John Rieber says:

    David, terrific analysis. Yes, the movie business seems driven by a certain type of film right now, but as you point out, this is nothing new…to me, your point about the role of DVD in keeping budgets up is key…that market wasn’t shrinking until the studios sold their films to a new method of distribution – netflix – a distribution method that they didn’t own – in order to get another revenue stream going. That stream ended up killing off a huge revenue source for them, and as you say, caused budgets to contract on films that needed that secondary source of revenue to be profitable…again, great analysis as always

  7. Christian says:

    David, you still write columns claiming Netflix is on its way to disaster because of “x” and “y.” So you’re not the go-to-guy for this analysis. Try actually getting a non-brand, non-tentpole film made and Harris explains why that is becoming harder and harder. This paragraph is simply true writ:

    “If you asked a bunch of executives without a creative bone in their bodies to craft a movie lineup for which the primary goal is to prevent failure, this is exactly what the defensive result would look like. It’s a bulwark that has been constructed using only those tools with which they feel comfortable — spreadsheets, P&L statements, demographic studies, risk-avoidance principles, and a calendar. There is no evident love of movies in this lineup, or even just joy in creative risk. Only a dread of losing.”

  8. David Poland says:

    Christian, I know you love beating the same drum forever, but I never have said that Netflix is on its way to disaster. I have always said the stock is wildly overvalued and that there will be massive competition in the next 5 years. Both remain true. And that last paragraph, I am afraid, is only true if you ask a bunch of executives without a creative bone in their bodies. I know the fantasy is that this is every executive. But that is just a fantasy.

  9. movielocke says:

    The main myth originates from the generational changeover of studio leadership that occured in the 60s. Where are Fox’s miles of studio property worth billions and billions? oh yeah, they sold it because Cleopatra & Doctor Doolittle brought down the studio when they went over budget, literally crowding out all other movies in production.

    Today’s studios are better run businesses that know the value of diversified product & revenue streams, respectively, but most of these myths exist because of the studio business crises that occured after the Paramount decision in 1948. That led to a long process of spin off that reduced the studios’ power and guaranteed profitability. Vast swathes of hollywood product pre 1948 are total crap, or at best mediocre pablum, more akin to sitcoms than film in their bourgeoisie embrace. (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not any good as art).

    What that means is the studios did not know how to make films that competed and so they were facing competition from AIP and it’s ilk on a broad scale and from the Easy Rider type of success on the anecdotal scale. As a result they made some great films in the fifties but the tendency was to use Reagan’s cold war strategy: ensure success by outspending the next guy. It is no accident that the biblical epics began exploding as a genre in the fifties, the comic book movies of their day. And each one got bigger and louder and more expensive.

    That coincided with the mass-die-off of the founding movie executives and moguls who had run the studios from the twenties to the sixties. So you literally had a changing of the guard at the very instant that the old generation’s business model had been increasingly frantic ALL IN bets on one or two films a year–and while they were making other films, the reality was that those giant films were crowding out the creation of other films because the studios really were ALL IN on their films.

    As a result you have the screeching halt of the biblical epic and a radical shift in the movie production business happening all at the same time, wherein executives switched to the safe and boring business strategy of funding cheap films that are now celebrated as the pinnacle of American film art by the generation that grew up with those films as teenagers.

    But this also put the film business on a more healthy business cycle. After fifteen to twenty years the studios began cycling in a new guard of leadership, Eisner et al in the eighties, and fifteen to twenty years later the same cycle repeated itself. We’re a few years out from big changing of the guard, but the business itself is diversified enough over the last fifty years that those small films Harris laments are far more effectively nurtured by the overall health of the industry than ever before. To suggest that super hero films are crowding them out is epic nonsense.

    What you do have and what Harris doesn’t recognize, is the fingerprint effect. Meaning executives measure themselves based on their participation in or shepherding of mega grossers or award winners. The ATTENTION of the executives is focused mainly on the two categories that can earn them status, and that ATTENTION means that a lot of pundits and filmmakers are quite literally snubbed continually because they are barking up the wrong tree, trying to get their project noticed by people whose entire career and self-image is tied up in something very different than what they’re being pitched. It’s like trying to convince an american to eat Natto, they’re going to be very rude in the vehemence of their rebuff. The nature of hollywood egos is that everyone rebuffed thus takes it personally and as evidence that the system is against them and they are a victim. What it really proves is that they don’t know how to work the system to get their project made, and instead are ignorantly barking up the wrong tree, futilely for years on end, but they sure are eager to whinge to equally eager reporters about what victims they are.

  10. David Poland says:

    Yes. Fixed now. The weird thing is that this was bothering me in the back of my head and after working this piece over a few times, I thought I had lost that graph and never went and fixed it. Apologies for that.

  11. EtGuild2 says:

    Great analysis. Though, you have to admit, it’s kind of funny you wrote this piece on the same day AMC announced it’s forming an alliance with MoviePass, and all the national chains are dropping “The Interview” from their slates.

  12. John E. says:

    Team America: World Police and Red Dawn hit theaters, but The Interview we cave to North Korea over?

  13. JS Partisan says:

    What’s the difference between those two movies and this movie? KIM JONG UN! He doesn’t fucking play. Read about what he did to his uncle, then go read about how they wanted to kill him in the fucking Interview. It’s staggering to me, how a Japanese owned studio, would think it was wise to put this film out. It’s a god damn geopolitical disaster, that they weren’t going to show it in most overseas markets. Leaving me to wonder, what’s the fucking point of this movie, other than pissing off a nuclear power? Steve Carrell making his own fucking North Korean movie, makes me wonder what the fuck these god damn studios have to do to realize, that poking a stick at North Korea is a bad idea.

  14. Lynch VanSant says:

    Such a bad precedent, caving in to anonymous threats. So, basically you’re going to pull a movie from theaters now that anyone issues a threat over it? Even movies with a lot of protests over them like Hail Mary or Last Temptation of Christ weren’t pulled from theaters. Is it because 9/11 is mentioned, that people quake in their boots now?

  15. EtGuild2 says:

    OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN and TEAM AMERICA made coin. (For the record, Gerard Butler called Kim Jong-Un a “bitch” during promotion for that one, and Antoine Fuqua mocked Jong-Un repeatedly in the press). And Seth Rogen’s last two efforts as a producer/writer/star made $400 million worldwide on a combined $50 million production cost. So my guess, JS, would be MONEY.

    Also, yes, it’s going out wide overseas…wider than Rogen’s movies normally do, or was scheduled to.

  16. JS Partisan says:

    It’s not an ANONYMOUS THREAT. It’s North Korea. That’s who threatened them, and Sony had to be told by someone to take this seriously. Why are people acting like this is just some hackers? It’s a state with NUCLEAR FUCKING WEAPONS, threatening the citizens of the United States. It’s damn near an act of war, but let’s focus on the stupid movie. Yes, the movie being pulled is the story here.

    Ethan, you haven’t read shit from the hacks. If you had, then you would know that most of SPE reps around the world, didn’t want much to do with it. Sure. You can site MONEY, but guess what? A Japanese owned studio financing this movie, is probably what led to this nonsense. If it were Warners or any other studio, then Pyongyang, wouldn’t give a shit. It’s Sony, and they got pissed.

    Does it change, at all, that this is bullshit? Nope. It’s bullshit that actors and moviegoers were threatened. It’s bullshit, that Sony has been brought to it’s knees, by an attack from a foreign nation. It’s bullshit, that this stupid ass movie isn’t getting released, but guess what? Sometimes, we fuck with the wrong people, and there are consequences.

  17. Amblinman says:

    Yes, JS, there’s nothing more threatening than a country held together with glue and band aids. They can’t even feed their people. They are not in any way a serious threat to this country. Shit, even in a direct war with South Korea they’re bombed into the stone age.

    It was The Interview this time. Next time it won’t be over a dumbass movie.

  18. PcChongor says:

    Well, at least now the KKK knows how to get rid of “Selma” and the Mormons can do the exact same thing when “50 Shades of Grey” finally rolls around too.

  19. JS Partisan says:

    Amblinman, that’s the standard Western view of North Korea. China, Japan, and South Korea don’t fuck with them for a reason. This movie being released by Sony probably has a lot to do with all of this. This is geopolitical shit, and people getting all 1st amendment about shit, are forgetting that North Korea are not the biggest fans of Japan.

    Pc, the two things do not correlate. They just don’t.

  20. jesse says:

    K. Bowen, point #4 is especially strong, I think. You look at the last couple of years — which to me seem inescapably high-quality in terms of movies, with 20-30 very strong movies each year — and you can find:

    GONE GIRL: David Fincher, $170 million domestic
    NOAH: Darren Aronofsky, $101 million domestic (with a big overseas bump)
    THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: Wes Anderson, $60 million domestic (big overseas bump)
    GRAVITY: Alfonso Cuaron, $275 million domestic
    AMERICAN HUSTLE: David O. Russell, $150 million domestic
    THE GREAT GATSBY: Baz Luhrmann, $145 million domestic
    THE WOLF OF WALL STREET: Scorsese, $116 million domestic
    CAPTAIN PHILLIPS: Paul Greengrass, $107 million domestic

    Those look like pretty great numbers to me. And on the flipside, are there a lot of big auteurs who are totally on the skids despite making great movies? (That is, as much as I liked PASSION, Brian De Palma doesn’t really count.) P.T. Anderson followed up his lowest-grossing movie in years in record time, with another difficult movie from an even bigger studio. The Coens have another comedy up and running after their low-grossing but masterful previous film.

    Now, some of that nonetheless involves the aggravating studio myopia that Harris is describing. $190 domestic for Ninja Turtles is SEE? We TOLD you that franchise could be big! While $150 million for an adult-driven drama is treated as a fluke. It’s crazy, as he points out, that $8.5 million for NIGHTCRAWLER was not a business any big studios wanted to be in, not even Lionsgate.

    But the movies get made and in many cases get seen (unless North Korea doesn’t like it, I guess). That’s the important thing, isn’t it?

  21. LYT says:

    ” China, Japan, and South Korea don’t fuck with them for a reason.”

    Yes, because they don’t want the refugees if it collapses. If China took Kim seriously as a threat he’d be gone.

    As for GONE GIRL not getting a sequel – David, did you perchance think SILENCE OF THE LAMBS wouldn’t get a sequel? It’d be easy to get one made if the will were there. It’s not inherently a story that CANNOT be sequelized, as the major characters are still alive at the end.

  22. amblinman says:

    ” China, Japan, and South Korea don’t fuck with them for a reason.”

    Yes, because they don’t want the refugees if it collapses. If China took Kim seriously as a threat he’d be gone.

    LYT has bingo. SK isn’t a threat. They have no money, they have no infrastructure. That’s not a “Western view.” That’s military and economic reality. Math doesn’t lie.

    And yes, I’m getting all 1st amendment about shit because this is a very simple and direct issue for us: will we allow a foreign power dictate what we are allowed to watch, read, hear.

  23. arisp says:

    ”China, Japan, and South Korea don’t fuck with them for a reason.”

    Why would they? Who wants to fuck with anybody? No reason for them to unless they are provoked.

    And also, if north korea really pulled the trigger on ANY kind of military action, they would be bombed to smithereens in about 20 mins. And not one nation on Earth would give a shit.

  24. storymark says:

    “Well, at least now the KKK knows how to get rid of “Selma” and the Mormons can do the exact same thing when “50 Shades of Grey” finally rolls around too.”

    Hmmm…. I wonder if that’s why my local, Mormon-owned chain is publicly applauding the move…?

  25. palmtree says:

    So to sum up, as far as free speech goes, the sky IS falling?

  26. PcChongor says:

    Sorry, but I’m still bitter at my local Mormon chain for banning “Borat” until they finally caved to public pressure. Why the fuck do Mormons even own local chains in the first place when they probably wouldn’t watch the vast majority of films themselves?

    And I don’t think the argument should be that a “foreign power” is dictating what we’re watching, but that anyone is controlling our content, which is something that both sides of our very own political spectrum have been getting pretty involved with as of late.

    It’s not like there were any other studios chomping at the bit to get this movie made in the first place.

  27. JS Partisan says:

    Sorry, but they made the movie. Movies do not get released all the time. If they didn’t make the movie, then your first amendment argument works. Now? Not so much. They pulled a movie, that garnered threats from a possible foreign power. Apparently, we’ve forgotten about Aurora, because Americans love to forget. Nevertheless, the movie will see the light of day. It will be seen, and that will be the end of it.

    Arisp, countries fuck with one another all the damn time. It’s apart of the political nature of planet earth. The thing of it is, we leave North Korea alone for a reason, and those reasons are China, South Korea, and Japan. If there is to be any retribution towards North Korea about this hack. We are going to have to run it by China at the very least, and hope they agree with it. This is the way of the world, and you just don’t blow up a nation, even if it’s North Korea.

  28. Monco says:

    JS don’t be stupid. There is nothing to argue here. Any lover of movies or art has to be deeply dismayed by Sony’s decision. You are obviously cool with a little fat psychopath dictating which movies you get to see. The rest of us are not.

  29. storymark says:

    You’re asking too much, Monco.

  30. EtGuild2 says:

    JS, you make a good point re: Sony as a Japanese based conglomerate….but have you seen “Team America?” Kim Jong Un (regardless of whether he killed his uncle) is actually quite a bit more liberal, and sane, than Kim Jong Il, and the fact there was no fallout from “Olympus” or “Red Dawn” probably influenced Sony’s decision.

    But if we’re going to talk geopolitics, this is a massive blunder on North Korea’s part. The Koreas had the most significant meeting on the peninsula in, arguably, 40 years last month. Simultaneously, tension between South Korea and Japan was at an all time high thanks to the Tatsuya Kato case. “The Interview” situation has done the impossible: provoked South Korean citizens to defend a Japanese company, when, three weeks ago, there were protests calling for the deportation of Japanese citizens.

  31. Ryan says:

    Uh, I thought JS was just being contrarian until I read this:

    “Sorry, but they made the movie. Movies do not get released all the time. If they didn’t make the movie, then your first amendment argument works. Now? Not so much. They pulled a movie, that garnered threats from a possible foreign power. Apparently, we’ve forgotten about Aurora, because Americans love to forget.”


    A guy walking into a theater dressed as Batman and killing/injuring people is akin to the leader of North Korea being offended by a movie showing/theorizing his own killing, and then ordering a cyberwar on an international entertainment conglomerate and invoking 9/11 to make terrorist threats on movie theaters in America-HOW exactly? And, the Aurora situation didn’t exactly get Batman pulled from the theaters, or give anyone pause about making more Batman movies. Just saying…

  32. PcChongor says:

    BTW, as much as this has now been turned into a freedom of speech issue, the hackers only started saying “The Interview” was the motivation behind their hacks AFTER the media themselves already started saying it was.

    It still makes no sense as to why North Korea would put everything on the line for this film vs. “Team America” or “Olympus Has Fallen,” and so far this whole fiasco looks more like the work of a Europe/Russia based group doing it “for the lulz” than the concerted efforts of an entire nation (that still shoots their state sponsored nightly newscasts on VHS and DVCAM) looking to go to war.

  33. JS Partisan says:

    Monco, I am not dying on this fucking hill. It’s a stupid fucking comedy. This is not great art. Yes, it’s cinema. Our great art, but watch Rogen on Colbert. He obviously, didn’t get the geopolitical situation, and decided that fuck it. LAUGHS! Sorry, but there are repercussions in this world, and this is one of them, Monco. I love cinema, but fuck this movie. Fuck it in the ass. If it were to be released on Christmas, because Sony loves releasing stupid shit on Christmas. It would have died on this vine, but this stupid shit has happened. It’s stupid, but I don’t give a fucking shit. It’s not censorship. THE MOVIE EXISTS! It’s a studio pulling a movie, and that shit happens all the time. Does it happen this stupidly? No! It does fucking happen, and we will see this movie. The moment Apatow or someone, helps Rogen buy it back from Sony. Any fucking lover of cinema… blah blah fucking blah. If you think you love cinema more than me. Think again but I wasn’t upset when they moved Jupiter Ascending, and I sure as shit am not sad about this stupid, ignorant, shit being moved either… a movie that again… WILL SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY!

    I do love, that storymark (even uses it on GAWKER MEDIA) continues to think that I am some sort of buffoon, who could never understand the depths of humanity and art, like he does. Sure, I am not a guy that has nick, that indicates I am a MARK FOR STORIES, but that’s just me.

    Ethan, I have, but Alec Baldwin is the real villain in that movie, and good point about Japan and South Korea. Remember though: the South and North Korea meeting, may not have been condoned by HE WHO DOES NOT POOP!

    While Ryan (Dude, I am too god damn old to be contrarian for contrarian’s sake), why have midnight showings gone away for the most part? Aurora. If you don’t think there’s an email, where Aurora is brought up in Sony’s decision, then you are very mistaken. Is this shit stupid? Yes. Let me type this again, because some of you seem to be missing this point. THIS IS STUPID! It’s stupid on MULTIPLE LEVELS. However, it’s happened, and it’ still stupid. I simply refuse to act like this is the Last Temptation of Christ or Life of Brian, being assailed or pulled from theatres. When it’s not. It’s a movie by a Canadian, who thought it was a good idea to have a foreign leader’s head explode on film.

    Let me reiterate one more time: THIS IS BULLSHIT! Yeah. It sucks that a foreign nation has decided to fuck with our movies, but it’s a movie. It’s a movie, that will see a release. It will not be hidden forever. Sometimes, you lose, even to assholes. I am just sick of people acting, as if this is the end of all things. It’s the end of one movie, for now. What it can create in terms of geopolitical ramifications for, you know, THE PLANET EARTH! Bothers me a whole hell of a lot more.

  34. Ryan says:

    Midnight showings have not gone away in my area of the country. The Hobbit kicked off at midnight last night around here (Iowa). I’m assuming that wasn’t the only place.

    I still don’t understand your argument and Aurora comparison-if someone from Sony can be quoted in an e-mail comparing the Aurora situation to the situation from “The Interview”, well, then I guess, they’re not the brightest either?

    To be fair though, if I were going to name an actor who would star in a movie that started an international geopolitical incident, obviously my first thought would be James Franco.

  35. Bulldog68 says:

    So if The Avengers had a North Korean enemy, would it be okay to pull that movie based on their threats, JS?

    It’s a slippery slope that opens the door to more threats. Agreed with the above comment that the KKK can now threaten theatres screening Selma and being more confident that they will be taken seriously and possibly achieve their objective.

    As a lover of film The Interview was not really high on my list of things to see, but not even living in America, I would have somehow felt even more emboldened to see it because of this if I was. If you can’t make a stand on this, then what can you stand on?

    I disagree with you JS on the mere principle of what type of movie it is. So if it was an Oscar potential with sweeping views and starred Streep, Amy Adams, Anthony Hopkins and God himself, you would think differently? They didn’t just get a movie pulled from release, they took away your right to see it if you wanted to. The reason for the pulling is more important than the pulling itself.

    I remember when South Park showed Saddam Hussein getting butt fucked. Ah yes, the good ole days.

  36. Pete B. says:

    Sony is in a damned if you do/damned if you don’t situation. They are getting vilified for pulling the film. Had they released it, and something bad DID happen, they’d be lambasted for letting it play in theaters.

  37. Ray Pride says:

    A surmise is racketing around that insurance will cover the film as a loss only if it’s permanently shelved.

  38. PcChongor says:

    That was my guess too. The vague threat of physical harm was the exact out they were looking for since the hack started, and at least this way they’ll have a way of recouping their physical production costs. It’ll probably be one helluva of a court case to get there, but at least Sony won’t be the defendant.

  39. Stella's Boy says:

    Weren’t all the other studios pleading with Sony to shelve it too, for fear that people would stay away from their movies by avoiding movie theaters over the holidays?

  40. John E. says:

    Interesting. Source?

  41. Amblinman says:

    Anyone who comments on this blog defending Sony doesn’t know, care about, understand film and artistic freedom. Anyone not absolutely enraged when they read the threats warning Sony to never let a frame of this film see the light of day isn’t anyone I’ll ever take seriously when discussing these topics.

    This is ugly, dangerous stuff. If yo think it stops with a stupid buddy comedy you didn’t care about, you’re an idiot.

  42. Hallick says:

    “What it can create in terms of geopolitical ramifications for, you know, THE PLANET EARTH! Bothers me a whole hell of a lot more.”

    The greater geopolitical ramification here isn’t “The Interview” getting stuffed back in the box, it’s North Korea flexing hacker muscle, throwing in some threats against theaters they never have to back up, and finding out that the country of “give me liberty or give me death” is more like “give me liberty or give me permission for it, please, sir, thank you”. Whether you think this movie is a masterpiece or a piece-of-something-all-right, the fact is that the MOST POWERFUL COUNTRY IN THE WORLD BUM-BUM-BUMMMMMM just caved in to a pipsqueak nation (with nuclear weapons).

    This is North Korea’s (and any other country with a cyber warfare program) proof-of-concept moment. From this point forward, the regime can now say, “Yep, THAT shit works. Who can we threaten and what can we get for it now?”

  43. Joe Leydon says:

    Stella’s Boy: You do know that other studios offered to buy (and destroy) Citizen Kane to keep Hearst happy, right?

  44. Stella's Boy says:

    Yes Joe I do. While I was not around then, I have heard that.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon