Earlier this afternoon I had a chance to speak with Courtney Solomon from After Dark Films. A filmmaker himself (he directed An American Haunting and the 2000 flick Dungeons & Dragons), Courtney is now a partner over at After Dark Films. A company that has a multi-picture deal with Lionsgate; these are the same folks who were also responsible for marketing the upcoming horror flick Captivity. And we all know what happened there. Back in March, a bunch of controversial billboards for Captivity began popping up all over New York and Los Angeles; billboards, mind you, that were not approved by the MPAA. Hence, the MPAA suspended the film's ratings process and slapped After Dark Films with an unprecedented sanction, forcing the company to clear all venues and locations of its ad buys with the MPAA.
Since then, the film's release date has been pushed back twice (it's now set to be released on July 13), and folks like Eli Roth have called them out basically saying that After Dark Films helped ruin the ratings process for other films, like Hostel: Part II, that were trying to go through the process at the exact same time. Following my interview with Roth (in which the director had some pretty harsh things to say about both Captivity and After Dark), I caught up with Solomon who wanted to set the record straight.
Cinematical: Let me read what Eli Roth said to me regarding Captivity and its controversial ad campaign: "Well ... I mean, everyone hates those guys. And word of mouth is that Captivity sucked. Why would I be jealous of that; I don't give a sh*t. I was pissed actually, because it makes it very difficult for the rest of us. They did not go before the MPAA with those posters. It really puts everyone on edge when that happens. And suddenly, who's the next one up? Oh, thanks, it's me. I'm not doing this for attention, I'm doing this to make good movies. And that decapitated head poster was a European poster; that was in 80% of the countries in Europe. It was not a poster that was intended for American audiences." What's your response to that?
Courtney Solomon: First of all, I've heard this over and over again -- [Eli] has spent most of his publicity tour talking about the Captivity posters and dissing us. I was listening to K-Rock one day, and he spent twenty minutes on there just going on about me -- and I've never even met Eli. As far as what he's saying, there are a couple of things that are completely inaccurate. First of all, nobody has seen Captivity because we re-did a third of the movie and we're just finishing it now. We actually just finished the mix on it two days ago. So he hears word around town that the movie is sh*t, but how can he say that when no one has even seen the movie? We just spent a lot of money and a lot of time to make the movie better, because we cared that the movie was good. In fact, it's got a lot more substance than his movie does -- that's number one. That's just a blatant, stupid, wrong statement. That's someone just spouting out from the mouth without even thinking about what they're saying.
Cinematical: Go on ...
CS: Number two, it's not a competition -- we're both with the same studio, Lionsgate. It's not a competition between Captivity and Hostel. What we did with the MPAA we clearly recorded everywhere that that was a mistake. Call it what you will, but that's what we quoted it as. We did submit the thing to the MPAA -- as far as the controversial billboard is concerned -- it wasn't approved by the MPAA, we made a mistake, we put it up, we took the heat and we got the penalty for it. What bearing does that have on Hostel II? They still put the European poster out there, it still ended up all over the U.S., so everybody saw it -- compare one to the other, whatever, you can form your own opinion of it. [Roth] keeps going on and on about our billboard, our billboard, our billboard -- at the end of the day, he should have been worried about the substance of his film. Everyone knows Hostel I, they know Eli, and the rest should speak for itself. And the film should speak for itself. Now, opening weekend happened, and it has spoken.
Cinematical: Is Captivity better than Hostel: Part II?
CS: What I think is part of the problem out there is that all these sequels keep coming out. You have 28 Days Later which we all loved; it was new, it was fresh and it was a great take on the zombie genre. Then the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, doesn't perform as well. Hostel I did very good and people were all for it, now Hostel II doesn't do as hot as Hostel I, or not even close. Again, it's because of the sequel. Captivity was directed by Roland Joffe, who was an Oscar-nominated director twice. And so what we did is we buy into his vision where he made a movie about something, not just a horror movie. Or, as they call them sometimes, these torture movies or how they called Captivity "torture porn" because of the billboards. That's the joke people make about Captivity -- everybody makes these comments because of the billboards, and sure enough they did come from images in the movie, but no one has even seen the film. Think about that for a second.
Cinematical: Well people were offended by the words and the images ...
CS: They were offended by the words and the images that went along with those words, and it sort of created a storyboard for them. But at the end of the day, Captivity -- as Roland intended it to be in the first place -- is about female empowerment. It's a more realistic take on these types of things happening. Saw is Saw and Hostel is Hostel, but Captivity is a realistic take on something that unfortunately happens in this country an awful lot. That's what Roland set out to do; he wanted to make a statement about something that happens and is quite terrifying in this country. So when we started out to do the marketing campaign, that's what we wanted to get across. Not just for the core audience, but also to broaden the audience. It comes from an acclaimed filmmaker and it's not just some cheesy little film. They spent money on this film; it's not a $2 million film as people have quoted it to be. It's got high production values, the story plays out and it's got a great twist at the end. At the end of the day, it scares you because it feels real.
Cinematical: How come the release date keeps getting pushed back?
CS: Well, the first time it got pushed back was due to the suspension from the MPAA. So we were sitting there with our re-shoots and everything we had done, and they wouldn't even look at the film until the 30-day suspension was over. By that time, there was no physical way to get the film finished by its original May 18th release date. We can't close the film, obviously, until they rate us. They come back with comments, we make changes, and then you physically finish the mix and the picture and everything else. So we went to June 22nd. Then we were trying to make that date, and because the rating thing came in so late and because we still had to make changes, it started to look like we weren't even going to make that date. But at the same time we got contacted by The Weinstein Co. who were done with 1408 and wanted to put 1408 out earlier. So we looked at the dates, and July 13th gave us enough time to put it together properly, the Weinstein's were ready with 1408, so we switched dates. It was something we decided together.
Cinematical: Is July 13th sticking? Is there any way it could change again?
CS: July 13th is sticking. It's stuck; that's not gonna change. The movie was done two days ago, so now we're ready to go.
Cinematical: Let me ask you a question: You said you submitted the posters to the MPAA and that you were aware they got declined. How in the world, then, did they wind up on streets in New York and Los Angeles?
CS: Actually, being aware that they were declined -- it's a different department, so it didn't come to my attention until after the fact that it was declined. What happened was, the MPAA sent us an approval notice on the image you see all over the country, which is a close-up of the eye with a tear behind the cage. That was approved; as a bus shelter, that was approved. As a one-sheet, that was approved. On the same approval notice, the billboard itself, only two panels of it were disapproved and they wanted small changes on it. What happened was all the files were sent to the printer at the same time -- just how they were sent to the MPAA -- and so when we got the approval on the bus shelter and the posters, we just told them to print everything.
The first we heard of it, we were at ShoWest in Vegas and the billboards were up. Once it goes through the printing process, then it goes to the outdoor companies and they put it up -- they don't know what's approved and what's not approved; that's our responsibility. So they take what they've got and they post it. Everyone said we purposely put it up to get controversy and all that; but who would've known that you would end up with such a public outcry over it? Based on the images? I'm not even sure you could project something like that. I'm not even sure you want to hope for it. We immediately went out there and apologized; I did it publicly, and we took them down. Then we got the penalty from the MPAA which made matters worse, because no one has ever gotten that type of penalty in the history of movies. But then Eli [Roth] gets out there and says he's the one that suffered, and that everyone hates those guys [meaning After Dark Films]. Well not everybody hates those guys. We have a multi-picture deal with Lionsgate; his studio as well. We put out more films through Lionsgate than he does; about six or seven to one. Quite frankly, he just went too far off the focus of where he should've been talking about. He should've been talking about his movie. That's what the audience wants to hear about. Ya know, I'm not the one that had a picture of myself with a big prosthetic dick put out to all the press. [laughs] You know what they say ...
Cinematical: I read something that said Captivity had to be re-edited 24 times before it received an R rating. Is that true?
CS: [laughs] It's not quite 24, although maybe they said 24 because Elisha Cuthbert is on 24 so it sounded like a good number. First of all, to my surprise, they did let us push the limit pretty far as far as the R rating is concerned. That being said, it's going to make for a great unrated DVD. We kept everything open, did a separate version, and they're all going to show up on the unrated DVD.
Cinematical: What do you say to people who, right off the bat, label Captivity as just another "torture porn?"
CS: First of all, there's no porn in the movie whatsoever. There's no nudity in the movie whatsoever. There's one shot blurred in the background where Elisha Cuthbert is changing clothes. She's nude, and that's that. Other than that, there's no porn in this movie. This is about a sick serial killer who actually does this; this is one of the victims and her story. Ya know, what happens to her. It's not just a gratuitous torture film, like some of the films people are comparing it to. It's made by Roland Joffe; it's got serious pedigree as far as how it was constructed. We actually went into it trying to portray what a character like this really goes through, and the mind of a serial killer who actually does these sorts of things. Like our trailer says, there are over 850,000 reported cases of people missing every year in this country. Look, I'm not trying to say it's a message movie, because it's not -- but what Roland was trying to achieve is to get us into the mind of both victim and captor.
Cinematical: Will Captivity have a sequel?
CS: Well that all depends on the audience, right? To me, honestly, as a studio you look at sequels if a movie does well the first time around. This film isn't really constructed to have a sequel; there's a natural sequel that comes from the ending, but it's not a film that I think Roland or myself or the producers would naturally look at as a film to have a sequel, even if it does do great at the box office. It just doesn't seem like the right thing. Something like Saw is obvious, and something like Hostel is fairly obvious too, but Captivity is really just a one-off story, and to keep the integrity of what Roland wanted -- and he was very serious about that -- I'm not sure we'd be able to do that.
Cinematical: Any final thoughts?
CS: Look, I don't have any personal beef with Eli Roth because I don't even know the guy. I don't know why he kept going on and on about us, because at the end of the day we made a mistake, got punished for it, corrected it and we've done we can do. I'm not gonna change; I'm known as being one of the racier marketers in Hollywood and I will continue to be that way. The audience we have for these movies, ya know they wanna see as much as they can to entice them to go see the film and be able to show them the stuff that they're going to see the film for. And we have to try to push the limits that way, not run and cower. Because that brings us to a different issue -- and it's not exactly legally correct -- but your first ammendment rights. People can choose what they want to go see, and we have the freedom -- within limits and guidelines -- to show stuff appropriately. Now I always said that, at the end of the day, the billboards went a step too far; I've never denied that. That being said, I'm not going to back down, do things simply, and make it like we live in some sort of utopia because we don't. What happens in Captivity does happen. Should children be looking at it? No, of course not, that's why it's rated R. But on the other side, should we be brushing it under the carpet, saying people don't get abducted and there aren't these sick serial killers out there? No. But what I really want to know -- is Eli lending people that prosthetic?