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Filmmaker: Sony Hack Will Make Satirists Think Twice About Content


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Talk about the Sony cyberattack has stretched from the FBI to the State Department to North Korea, and not least, to watering holes in Hollywood. After Sony canceled the release last week of the movie "The Interview," a comedy about two bumbling journalists who assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, the news started a wider conversation about whether Sony's move opened the door to censorship. We spoke with filmmaker Kevin Smith. You might also remember him as Silent Bob. He is no stranger to controversial comedies. And he said that criticism of Sony sounds a whole lot like Monday morning quarterbacking.

KEVIN SMITH: It's so easy at this stage in the game for some people to be, like, well, maybe they never should have made this movie. But that's not what we're about here in the United States of America. Here we're allowed to make and tell stories - any stories we want. You know, the freedom of expressions - one of the founding principles that this country is built on. So of course you can say now, like, oh, it would've been better if they didn't make the movie. A lot of people online are saying that. But it didn't seem like it would be a big deal, especially following "Team America: World Police" years ago.

MARTIN: Really, though? I mean, those were puppets, though, Kevin. And this was - this is a movie about a living leader, and in the film he is murdered.

SMITH: I feel you. But, look, up until the moment everyone started getting serious about it, you know, everyone was just, like, that sounds all right. I'd see that. You know, it's Seth. I'll go see that.

MARTIN: (Laughter) We do know from the hacks themselves that there were a lot of e-mails exchanged that showed that not only were the writers of this film aware of these political realities, they were actually writing for them. They knew or had at least a really good suspicion that this could be seen as provocative in North Korea.

SMITH: Yeah. But I think in terms of doing an R-rated comedy, you know, you're already in the terrain of being provocative anyway. So I think everyone involved, every step of the way, didn't think that they were crossing any lines that hadn't been crossed before.

MARTIN: But can you have it both ways? I mean, can you say, oh, it's just satire, so it shouldn't matter. It shouldn't be provocative and cause an international incident. But at the same time, the filmmakers clearly expected it to matter, wanted it to matter.

SMITH: Yeah. I think that's the idea of asking the question or posing that sort of question within the confines of a comedy. You know, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. So yeah, you do try to have it kind of both ways where you do kind of get as close to the line as possible.

But for me, all right, years ago I made a movie called "Dogma." In 1999 I took a lot of heat for that from the Catholic League. And they went after Disney which owned Miramax which was distributing that movie. So that was more political pressure on a company - the Catholic League saying, you know, this doesn't represent our values at all. And if Disney puts this out, we'll boycott their products.

The only reason I bring that up is when we made "Dogma," I wasn't sitting there going, like, let's make people mad. But at the same time, you know, you are trying to push - you are trying to go up to a line, hopefully a line of good taste which is, you know, always arguable in comedy and try to make your statement, you know, hidden within the humor. And this country is predicated on not taking away that ability.

MARTIN: Have you ever toned anything down because someone said...

SMITH: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. In a world where everyone's crying censorship, you know, the NPAA, the movie board in this country, has asked me to tone many things down or asked me to cut things out altogether. Now they say that's not censorship because they're, like, oh, you don't have to do this. This is only if you want the rating. And you need the rating to go in a theater. So it's kind of a rigged system.

MARTIN: So do you have any projects that are on the shelf that might be a little controversial that now you're going to push maybe a little further back on the shelf?

SMITH: No. But to be honest, one - I can't speak for others, but I've never known when I was working on something controversial. Like, you don't figure that out. Somebody else defines that for you. You know, they just kind of...

MARTIN: So this is strange to ask you because you're not Seth Rogen, obviously, but as a filmmaker, really? If you're making a movie about a current sitting head of state being murdered, in the moment you don't think, oh, this could maybe raise some hackles?

SMITH: I can only speak from my example, but what I'm saying is in the stuff I've done, I know that in the moment I've never been, like, I'm going to push the line and piss people off. That's me, personally. But I think this is an insanely unique situation. Going forward it will change things - how people work in this business, not just how they correspond for their business based on knowing you could be hacked and your e-mails could show up. But everyone's going to think about twice about the content. We've already seen it happen with - they canceled the Steve Carell movie which I guess had some setting or some connection to North Korea.

MARTIN: Kevin Smith is a filmmaker and a writer. He joined us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, California. Thanks, Kevin.

SMITH: No worries, man. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.