Sony Pictures: ‘We Had No Choice,’ But Still Considering Digital Release

The Interview Seth Rogen James Franco

Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton hit back after President Obama faulted the Hollywood studio for canceling the Christmas release of “The Interview,” as the studio indicated that it is still looking for alternative ways to release the movie.

“We have not caved. We have not given in. We have persevered,” Lynton told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview that will air on “AC360” on Sunday, according to a producer at the network. The segment taped Friday.

“We would still like the public to see this movie,” he added. “Absolutely.”

The studio released an official statement on Obama’s remarks shortly after Lynton spoke to CNN, leaving the door open for some kind of way to release the picture.

“Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it,” the studio chief said. “Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.

“After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform.  It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”

The studio was responding to the president’s remarks on its decision to pull the movie amid threats of violence from hackers who were linked to North Korea.

“Yes, I think they made a mistake,” Obama said at a press conference, in response to a question about whether he agreed with Sony’s decision. “We can not have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship in the United States,” he said.

Sony cancelled the film’s Christmas debut on Wednesday after a majority of theater owners declined to exhibit the picture. The hackers who hit Sony evoked the memory of 9/11 while threatening to strike movie theaters that showed the film.

“The president, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Lynton said on CNN. “We do not own movie theaters. We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters.”

Lynton also addressed suggestions that Sony distribute the movie on either digital or multichannel VOD platforms, but indicated that no partner has stepped up. “There has not been one major VOD distributor or e-commerce site and said they are willing to distribute this movie for us,” he said.

In a separate interview with NPR, Lynton made a stronger indication that Sony was working to find a digital home for “The Interview.”

“I shouldn’t say if — when. We would very much like that to happen,” he said.

Lynton also told NPR, “Yes, those are other avenues and we are actively exploring them …. to date, we don’t have any takers — neither on the video demand side nor on the e-commerce side. People have been generally fearful about the possibility of their systems being corrupted, and so there have been a lot of conversations about the robustness of various systems to be able to make sure they’re not hacked, if and when we put the movie out digitally.”

Sony owns the online streaming service Crackle, and its unclear whether that is an option that has been considered for releasing the movie. The service is advertising supported, as opposed to subscription services like Netflix.

“The Interview” centers on a hapless talk show host (James Franco) and his producer (Seth Rogen) as they attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. As Variety reported exclusively, the film’s cancellation could end up costing Sony $75 million, only part of which will be covered by insurance.

Despite the financial hit, Lynton refused to second-guess the decision to greenlight the film.

“Yeah, I would make the movie again,” he said.

Lynton has long ties to Obama, having supported him in his Senate and presidential campaigns. Obama even appeared at Sony in 2011 for a reelection campaign fundraiser on a studio soundstage.

“I would be fibbing to say I wasn’t disappointed,” Lynton said. “You know, the president and I haven’t spoken. I don’t know exactly whether he understands the sequence of events that led up to the movies not being shown in movie theaters…Therefore I would disagree with the notion that it was a mistake.” In the interview, he said that they reached out to the White House and spoke to an unnamed senior adviser about the situation.

Lynton said he also was “surprised, frankly” that other studio CEOs did not rally around SPE. He attributed it to “their own commercial concerns” and worries that they would become a target. He said that it made the “entire enterprise to be a very, very lonely affair.”

The studio’s statement also tried to counter notions that it caved in to threats.

“Sony Pictures Entertainment is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment.  For more than three weeks, despite brutal intrusions into our company and our employees’ personal lives, we maintained our focus on one goal:  getting the film The Interview released. Free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion.

“The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation’s theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision.”

Here is Michael Lynton’s interview with CNN: