Sony Hack: Studio Won't Provide Security for 'The Interview' Theaters

The Interview Poster - P 2014

Even as about 200 cinemas rush to play the comedy, many exhibitors are furious at the way the studio has handled the movie's release

Theaters showing The Interview — the controversial comedy that prompted the group claiming to be responsible for the Sony cyberattack to threaten 9/11-style violence at any cinema playing the R-rated film — are expected to put added security measures in place.

Sony, though, isn't planning to assist the theaters with added security, leaving it up to theater owners to foot the bill, per normal practice, insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter.

On Tuesday, in a stunning reversal, Sony announced it would release The Interview in selected theaters on Christmas Day, its original release date. The studio is also looking to make video-on-demand a component of the release, although it didn't immediately announce specific VOD plans. The move came after President Barack Obama said cancelling the movie's release, which Sony did last week, was a mistake, and after a number of independent theaters said they still wanted The Interview despite word from the FBI that North Korea is behind the cyberattack on Sony.

One theater owner, who runs a small chain in America's Bible Belt and asked not to be identified, told THR that he wasn't originally planning on booking The Interview, but that now he will play it, beginning Jan. 2. He said it wasn't so much a matter of patriotism as it was a commercial decision.

"The awareness of this film is sky-high," the exhibitor said, pointing to the fact that his theaters have received a number of calls about whether they would be playing the comedy. He is, however, planning on beefing up security, including allowing no backpacks and no large overcoats. He also will have several security officers on hand rather than using just one, as is his usual practice.

He also revealed that he and other exhibitors weren't necessarily concerned about an attack. "It's not so much that we believed anyone from North Korea would be running into theaters with an AK-47, but more that there enough people around the country who are mentally unstable who might use this as an excuse to do something," he said.

The intense back and forth between the studio and exhibitors over The Interview in recent days has led to a deep rift between Sony and many of the country's theater owners, however.

After Obama made his comment last week, Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton took to the airwaves to say that Sony had no choice but to pull the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy after the country's largest exhibitors said they wouldn't play it. Cinema owners felt Lynton was putting the blame on them when, in fact, they had told Sony to simply delay the release of the film rather than to appear to pull it altogether.

And while smaller independent theaters may have no trouble playing The Interview, if Sony moves forward with plans for a simultaneous release on VOD, larger exhibitors still won't touch the film, since they have a blanket policy against booking movies that become available day-and-date on VOD. But if Sony does not secure a VOD deal, the big chains may yet reconsider, according to sources, although rebooking the film at the 11th hour could prove difficult since they've already reallotted their available screens to other movies.

Read more Sony Hack: Will Shareholders Sue?

The fact that smaller chains have stepped forward to show the movie in about 200 theaters could take some of the pressure off the bigger circuits to do the same, since The Interview will now be available to moviegoers, even if in far fewer settings than the 3,000 or more locations in which it was originally expected to play. The White House commented Tuesday, "The president applauds Sony's decision to authorize screenings of the film," and it added, "the decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome the outcome." 

But at the same time, calls continue for the major chains to join the movement to show the film. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a senior Member of the House Intelligence Committee who represents many of the Hollywood studios in Congress, said in a statement, "I'm very glad to see that Sony has secured the agreement of certain theaters to exhibit The Interview and urge that other chains quickly follow suit. I hope the film will achieve wide viewership around the world through video on demand and other online release, and in many languages including Korean. Giving this parody the broadest viewership possible will be the best response to the threats and cyber attacks from the regime of Kim Jong Un."

Said one industry executive of how Sony is has handled the movie's release, "They've further bungled things. It was a staggering misjudgment."