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The Inside Story of How Sony’s ‘The Interview’ Finally Made It to Theaters

Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League spoke to The Daily Beast about the back-and-forth between art house cinemas and Sony to get The Interview on the big screen on Christmas Day.

Ed Araquel

“The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn’t give up! The Interview will be shown at theaters willing to play it on Xmas day!” proclaimed Seth Rogen on Tuesday.

The writer/director/star of the aforementioned Kim Jong Un assassination comedy had plenty of reasons to be ecstatic. In the past few days, his political satire had ignited a surreal series of events, from a hacking group dubbed Guardians of Peace breaching distributor Sony’s servers, leaking private company information online, and launching 9/11-invoking threats against theaters that exhibited the film, to the five major theater chains backing out of hosting The Interview, to Sony finally canceling the movie’s release indefinitely.

President Obama, the FBI, and George Clooney remain adamant that the North Korean government is behind the cyberattack, presumably as retribution for the film’s staging a grisly mock assassination of the Dear Leader, although Anonymous and several cybersecurity experts have expressed their doubts. The commander in chief even took several shots at Sony during his year-end press conference, saying the company “made a mistake” in canceling the release of The Interview.

But at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League broke the news on Twitter that Sony had “authorized” select cinemas to screen The Interview on December 25, its planned release date.

The Daily Beast spoke to a jubilant League on Tuesday about the behind-the-scenes battle to get The Interview to movie theaters.

According to League, Alamo Drafthouse was actively working with Sony on Monday on the possibility of screening The Interview.

“We were involved in the petition that Arthouse Convergence put together yesterday with the shared support of hundreds of art house theaters across America who showed support for The Interview,” League told The Daily Beast. “As a result of that, we started having conversations with Sony, but this morning was the first definitive, ‘Yes, we’re going to release it on Christmas Day.’”

League says Alamo Drafthouse was working through its theatrical booker, a company called Cinema Services, which books first-run titles for all its theaters. Cinema Services gave him the heads-up that Sony was going forward with the December 25 release.

Arthouse Convergence is a loose coalition of about 250 independently owned movie theaters constituting, League says, “well over 1,000 movie screens.” About 500 members meet every year at the Arthouse Convergence Conference right before the start of the Sundance Film Festival in January.

The discussions that Arthouse Convergence was having with Sony on Monday consisted mostly of the breakdown of theaters within the group. “Sony was curious about how many screens Arthouse Convergence constituted, how many were digital, how many would be able to support The Interview on December 25 or January 2,” says League. “They were more nuts-and-bolts questions, which led me to believe that they were working to find a theatrical solution for the film behind the scenes.”

League’s Alamo Drafthouse has championed getting The Interview to the people by any means necessary, even at one point offering to host the Kim Jong Il-skewering comedy Team America: World Police in its stead. Unfortunately, the film’s distributor, Paramount, wouldn’t allow it.

“We’d booked the film through the Classics Division of Paramount, and I don’t think anyone anticipated the media fervor that that would have,” says League. “The next day, we got a pretty no-nonsense message from the Classics Division of Paramount that the movie had been pulled out of release. That was it.”

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There have also, League says, been many “conflicting reports” in the media about the Big Five theater chains pulling out of showing The Interview—which Sony CEO Michael Lynton later offered as the reason why the studio was forced to cancel the film’s release.

“Even the Big Five exhibitors that pulled out of release, it came out later that they weren’t absolutely pulling out of it, but some were advocating for a staggered release of showing it in a few theaters, gauging it, and seeing how it goes,” says League. “I think it all happened so fast for Sony that they were trying to regroup.”

Alamo Drafthouse operates 19 locations around the country and is still working out exactly how many screens will play The Interview.

“Most of those 19 locations will be screening it in some way,” he says. “Our New York theater is small, so we can only do midnight shows there, but at some of our bigger theaters we’ll do a full run.”

In addition to screening the film, Alamo Drafthouse theaters will be offering top shelf frozen margaritas to accompany screenings (the favorite beverage of Kim Jong Un in the movie), as well as some other “themed pre-show entertainment.” Showings will include a special message from Seth Rogen that will play beforehand.

And as far as security at the screenings goes, League says his theaters have taken the necessary precautions.

“Even before the movie was pulled from release initially, we had reached out to local law enforcement and set up training for our managers and our staff in terms of doing a facility walk of the building, making sure our security systems were in order, and that our staff was on alert for any suspicious behavior,” he says. “It’s similar to the reaction after the Dark Knight Rises theater shooting in Aurora.”

But most of all, the Alamo Drafthouse CEO says he’s thrilled to be finally bringing this film to audiences.

“Regardless of how it went down, I’m really happy that Sony came to this decision,” he says.