Sony Emails Show How the Studio Plans to Censor Kim Jong Un Assassination Comedy ‘The Interview’
Since late November, Hollywood has been in a state of utter shock and disarray in the wake of the Sony hack, several caches of leaked internal company documents that have been (and continue to be) widely disseminated online by a shadowy group that call themselves Guardians of Peace.
Some have speculated that the breach of Sony’s servers has been the work of North Korean hackers as reprisal for the company’s comedy film, The Interview, wherein the CIA tasks a TV host and his producer (James Franco and Seth Rogen) with assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. A spokesman for North Korea has thus far claimed ignorance, but qualified the statement by saying that the work “might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK in response to its appeal” against The Interview, which the totalitarian country has dubbed “a terrorist act.” The Guardians of Peace, meanwhile, posted a message online that read, “Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break the regional peace and cause the War.” The Interview, by the way, hits U.S. theaters December 25.
Now, The Daily Beast can reveal that versions of The Interview will be censored abroad—in particular, the gory ending where Kim Jong Un is brutally murdered and has his face melted off.
Previously uncovered emails between Rogen and Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, revealed a lengthy back-and-forth between the director/star and exec, with the latter requesting that the final Kim Jong Un kill scene be toned down.
“We will make it less gory,” wrote Rogen. “There are currently four burn marks on his face. We will take out three of them, leaving only one. We reduce the flaming hair by 50%... The head explosion can’t be more obscured than it is because we honestly feel that if it’s any more obscured you won’t be able to tell its exploding and the joke won’t work. Do you think this will help? Is it enough?” They agree—it is enough.
On December 14, Guardians of Peace leaked the eighth collection of Sony files online, featuring the emails of Steven O’Dell, president of Sony Pictures Releasing International. The leak also came with a message promising a “Christmas gift” of “larger quantities of data,” and included a an additional note to SPE that says, “The sooner SPE accepts our demands, the better, of course. The farther time goes by, the worse state SPE will be put into and we will have Sony go bankrupt in the end.”
One of the emails, dated October 27, 2014, is a mass email sent from Nigel Clark, president of international marketing for Sony Pictures Releasing Intl., and addressed to many of the international territories handling The Interview, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.
“Later this week – hopefully tomorrow (Tuesday) - we will be sending you a secure link to a revised end section of THE INTERVIEW. You will see the complete revised section, from the control-room scene in North Korea, through to the end of the movie. You will also see each of the four scenes that have been changed in separate ‘before and after’ versions. Delivery details of this material will follow shortly.
We would ask you to review these revisions, and respond to the following:
-Please revise or reconfirm your previously submitted BO estimate.
-Have these revisions addressed any concerns you might have had regarding the over-the-top violence in the third act of the film? If not, please be very specific as to what is still an issue.”
According to an email sent by Vincent Scotti, vice president of post production at Columbia Tristar Motion Picture Group, four scenes that have been toned down in the edited version are as follows:
1. Control Room Finger Bite -- some editorial changes, but mainly VFX blood removal on all the finger bites, around the mouth of the Korean dude, and the head blast when he gets shot.
2. Control Room Sook Shoot Out -- some editorial changes and some VFX muzzle flashes.
3. Tank Battle Jeep Guard Crush -- some editorial changes and the removal of all blood when the guards are crushed by the tank.
4. Tank Battle Kim's death -- a clean version of Kim's Face shot (no head burning or head exploding).
Subsequent emails from Nicola Maccanico, director of Warner Bros. Italy (which is handling the film there), express the feeling that the “new version is no doubt less disturbing but at the same time the film doesn’t lose its strength,” and that they would “prefer the new version.”
An email reply from Martin Bachmann, managing director for Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. in Germany, said that they would prefer what O’Dell coined the “softer version” as well.
But an email response to O’Dell from Stephen Basil-Jones, executive vice president of Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. for Australia, New Zealand, and Northern Asia, says that they would prefer the “unedited” version and that they want to “sock it to ‘em.”
“We confirm that going with the Domestic (unedited) version will not impact on our MA 15+ rating....and thus.....we want to ‘sock it to ‘em’ and stay with the Domestic version,” wrote Basil-Jones. “Indeed, watching these again, confirmed how much we liked the film and that the scenes in question will have even more of an impact but not in a negative way. (The exploding head effect in the helicopter is funnier in the Domestic clip with the fireworks sound effect and Katy Perry song. You don’t hear the sound effect in the International cut).”
Other territories that preferred the "softer version" included Mexico, Sweden, Russia, Belgium, Brazil, and France, with Eric Brune, head of Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. in France, writing by email, "Risk is low even with the violent version, but I think it ios better not to take the risk. And, also, the violent version is, I think a little bit too much for a comedy. But I'm not the producer or the director of the movie, so if we have to release this version, we can deal with it." Meanwhile, the Netherlands and Spain opted for the "unedited" version.
This reveal is only the latest of several surrounding The Interview. According to leaked emails between Sony execs that have already been covered by the media, on June 20, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment Amy Pascal forwarded a Guardian story that day detailing North Korea’s angry response to The Interview to Jeff Blake, vice-chairman of Sony Pictures, with the message, “we need sonys name off this asap everywhere,” further requesting that the name “Sony” be stricken from as many promotional materials for the film as possible, and attempting to sell the movie as a Columbia Pictures release (a division of SPE). Sony President Michael Lynton weighed in, telling Pascal that if would be “better if seth does not do any tweeting for awhile until we sort this out.”
Furthermore, Sony drafted a list of detailed talking points for their executives while doing press for the film, which read: “This is a Columbia Pictures release and our parent company has little to no involvement in the creative direction taken.”