Judd Apatow, the successful comedy filmmaker and frequent collaborator with "The Interview" star Seth Rogen, on Wednesday decried Sony's action to pull the North Korean-themed satirical film from theaters in response to threats by unknown hackers.
Apatow, speaking to The Frame's host, John Horn, said:
"I think we're in a dangerous situation when we give in to these types of threats, because it trains people to threaten us. So unless there's very credible information that there's the potential for real violence, then we have to be very careful about not presenting movies, because tomorrow someone else can just put in a call. Where does it end? What if somebody says, "Don't use that product"? These issues are what the future's going to be about."
You can read excerpts from the full interview below and listen to the audio of it attached to this story.
Apatow spoke with The Frame after Sony Pictures, the film’s producer, released a statement saying it was canceling the film's Christmas Day release. The statement followed news that the five largest theater chains in North America — Regal, AMC, Cinemark, Cinemike and Cineplex — on Wednesday decided they would not show “The Interview," the James Franco-Seth Rogen comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Statement From Sony Pictures:
In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.
Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.
Sony's action was an unprecedented move for a feature film from a major studio, and it comes about a week before the movie was to open on more than 3,000 screens.
Sony had earlier given theater chains the choice of pulling the film in the wake of threats of violence that were made this week by a group that has claimed responsibility for hacking into Sony’s computer network.
The decision by the exhibitors sparked an immediate reaction in Hollywood. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel called it “an un-American act of cowardice,” and Apatow had a few choice tweets on the subject:
Clearly you feel very strongly about this issue.
I think we're in a dangerous situation when we give in to these types of threats, because it trains people to threaten us. So unless there's very credible information that there's the potential for real violence, then we have to be very careful about not presenting movies, because tomorrow someone else can just put in a call. Where does it end? What if somebody says, "Don't use that product"? These issues are what the future's going to be about.
So are you concerned that there is a chilling effect? That people will be so worried about not offending anybody that they won't have anything to say?
I think when we do not know who's making threats, and we decide to give into them, it could have a chilling effect, because anybody can make an anonymous threat. We don't know if this is a disgruntled employee from Sony, a hacker who's mad about another scandal having to do with their video game consoles, or a government. We have no idea. And so to immediately give in, certainly it will lead to other people threatening and demanding things. And the combination of the loss of privacy and people threatening and forcing action is very scary. It probably is the start of a whole new era in how business is done.
Are you mad that Sony basically said to the theater owners, "It's your call?" Or are you mad that the theater owners said, "We don't want it"? Where's your anger or your frustration directed?
I think everyone has to make their own decision about how they want to handle things. I decide whether or not I want to go see that movie. Do I believe there actually is danger, or that this is just somebody babbling? We all will decide for ourselves. And, obviously, theater chains have to decide for themselves how much they believe or don't believe in the threats. But when every theater chain — and I guess we're headed that way — is caving in, it's the reason why we don't negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers. Because as soon as [someone says], "I'm going to commit a violent act; don't show that movie," well then maybe there'll be a bad Nazi character in the movie, and some Nazi on a computer says, "I'm going to do something."
Who knows? It could be any evil group. And then do we just shut these things down? What if they don't like a product, what if they don't like a soft drink? If they say, "We don't like their business practices, so we're going to do this act if you don't stop selling it." There really is no end to where it can go when you give in to it without credible evidence. And If there is credible evidence, it's a completely different situation. But as of right now, all we know is that somebody just said something online.
You are obviously very close to Seth Rogen and James Franco. Have you talked with them, and what are they saying about what's happening?
They're in a very difficult situation. Their intentions were just to make something that was very funny and entertaining, and they did; the movie's hilarious. In comedy, we attack people who are bad to other people. They picked a target that's somebody who has a history of being abusive to his citizenry, so that makes perfect sense. But we don't know that that's even what this is about. We don't know who's doing it. It's a pretty big leap to say that the government of North Korea cares at all about this. Maybe they do, [but] do they care enough to actually commit a crime like this?
So if you're the director of this movie, and Sony came to you and said, "We can't release it theatrically, but we're going to do a big push to get it on [video on demand]." Would you support that? Is that a reasonable alternative at this point?
I can't speak to what all the alternatives are, but I think when a country that doesn't have free speech threatens to shut down free speech, or when a hacker threatens to shut down free speech, or a disgruntled employee threatens to shut down free speech, it sets a very dangerous precedent. Everything in our culture is not liked by somebody, and as soon as we say that we're going to shut it down just because someone posted something on the Internet, we're changing the world in a big way.
You made a famous movie, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," with Steve Carrell. Even as we're talking, New Regency has just scrapped its Steve Carrell movie, "Pyongyang," a thriller set in North Korea. Is this exactly the kind of chilling effect that you're talking about?
I'm not saying that movies about North Korea are meant to affect any change in North Korea, and that if we don't make them we're preventing something positive from happening there. Who knows what the effects of movies are? We live in a world where everybody disagrees about everything, not just in our country but internationally. But one thing that's vital in our country is that we're allowed to say anything we want to say. And as soon as we stop doing that, we've lost one of our basic rights as citizens of this country.