‘The Interview’ may be the future of cinema



It was the night before Christmas in the United States, and I had several presents left to wrap. Thanks to my niece and nephew – both of them youngsters under the age of 10 – I also had a few complicated gifts with power issues to handle, like obscurely-sized batteries to locate and USB cables to hook up.

In other words, exactly when I should have been focused on the duties of a childless uncle – and make no mistake, children expect better gifts from an uncle with no children of his own to think about – I am instead sitting on the floor, mesmerised by the streaming download version of The Interview, the Sony Pictures comedy that has caused worldwide controversy.

A brief recap, for anyone who hasn’t followed this story for the past few weeks. And just to be clear, that’s impossible for anyone in Hollywood to fathom. We’ve been thinking and talking about nothing else since the story broke. Sony Pictures Entertainment produced and was planning to release a raucous and rude comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco (both of whom have appeared in idiotic – but hilarious and successful – comedies together) about two American journalists who are somehow roped into visiting North Korea with the express purpose of assassinating its leader, Kim Jung-Un.

The picture – which I can now confirm, since I’ve been watching it for the past 45 minutes – depicts exactly that. There is an actor playing the actual, living leader of North Korea, and if the news accounts are correct his head explodes in many directions close to the end.

For its temerity in producing this film, Sony Pictures was subjected to a cyber-attack, and last week announced that it wasn’t going to release the movie at all. But last week, as anyone who has ever met a studio executive can tell you, is a long time ago.

After a blizzard of public statements, each one contradicted by the next, the brain trust that runs Sony Pictures Entertainment finally landed on a decision: the movie, which had once seemed too controversial to release into theatres (there were threats of terrorist actions in retaliation to its theme) would now be released into a limited number of cinemas and, on Christmas Eve, be available for streaming downloads over the internet.

So right when I should have been tending to my family obligations, I’m watching this ridiculous movie and I can only drum up one response.

This? This is what the whole thing has been about? This intermittently and often misaimed picture caused one of the world’s largest multinational corporations with a universally recognised brand to convulse itself in fearful contractions for the past four weeks?

Not to mention getting the US president involved, but let’s be honest: he’s going to be gone in two years, cast into irrelevancy and retirement like all the other former presidents. But Sony, it has at least another 10 or 20 years of profitable business to look forward to – or, now that I think of it, maybe a lot fewer years, now that we know exactly the kind of people who are running its movie division.

But as I sat there, surrounded by wrapping paper and scissors and Sellotape and unwrapped gifts, what I was really watching is the future of Hollywood. No, I don’t mean that Hollywood will from this point onwards allow a foreign dictator to control its slate of pictures. What The Interview has done, from a business perspective, is prove that a streaming video release, direct to the internet, is a viable way to distribute a picture.

A lot of people are going to watch this silly and inconsequential comedy – and for the record, there are some genuine (though quite off-colour) laughs in this movie – and Sony and the rest of Hollywood are about to discover just how possible it is to promote and release a major motion picture without going through the cinemas first.

And that’s ironic, because it was the cinema owners who first refused, a long, long, long two weeks ago, to show the movie in the first place. All they’ve accomplished, it will turn out, is to prove that you really don’t need to show a movie in their theatres at all.

A few of us in Hollywood – and every living soul under 35 – were baffled by how long it took Sony to come to the obvious and only solution, to realise that almost every television set in the country (and most of the developed world) is nothing more than a glorified internet-connected monitor. “Put the movie on the web” we were all shouting in unison.

It took Sony longer than it should have done to figure it out – it always takes studio executives extra time to grasp the obvious – but now that they have, it’ll be hard for them to look at the next pictures in the pipeline, controversial or no, without contemplating this kind of release.

What started as a humiliating black eye for a powerful and far-reaching movie studio may, in the end, turn out to be a watershed moment for Hollywood. And maybe even a profitable one, too.

It’s almost as if this entire episode was planned, as if this was just a piece of diabolically brilliant movie promotion.

Trouble is, I’ve met most of the people in charge over at Sony. Take my word for it: if they were that smart, they’d have made a funnier movie.

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl

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7.05pm: Meydan Sprint – Group 2 (TB) $163,000 (Turf) 1,000m

7.40pm: Curlin Stakes – Listed Handicap (TB) $88,000 (D) 2,200m

8.15pm: UAE Oaks – Group 3 (TB) $125,000 (D) 1,900m

8.50pm: Zabeel Mile – Group 2 (TB) $163,000 (T) 1,600m

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

THE RESULTS

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Winner: Alnawar, Connor Beasley (jockey), Helal Al Alawi (trainer)

5.30pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 1,400m

Winner: Raniah, Noel Garbutt, Ernst Oertel

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Winner: Saarookh, Richard Mullen, Ana Mendez

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Winner: RB Torch, Tadhg O’Shea, Eric Lemartinel

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Winner: MH Wari, Antonio Fresu, Elise Jeane

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Winner: Mailshot, Royston Ffrench, Salem bin Ghadayer

 

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

TERMINAL HIGH ALTITUDE AREA DEFENCE (THAAD)

What is THAAD?

It is considered to be the US's most superior missile defence system.

Production:

It was created in 2008.

Speed:

THAAD missiles can travel at over Mach 8, so fast that it is hypersonic.

Abilities:

THAAD is designed to take out  ballistic missiles as they are on their downward trajectory towards their target, otherwise known as the "terminal phase".

Purpose:

To protect high-value strategic sites, such as airfields or population centres.

Range:

THAAD can target projectiles inside and outside the Earth's atmosphere, at an altitude of 150 kilometres above the Earth's surface.

Creators:

Lockheed Martin was originally granted the contract to develop the system in 1992. Defence company Raytheon sub-contracts to develop other major parts of the system, such as ground-based radar.

UAE and THAAD:

In 2011, the UAE became the first country outside of the US to buy two THAAD missile defence systems. It then stationed them in 2016, becoming the first Gulf country to do so.

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Abu Dhabi World Pro 2019 remaining schedule:

Wednesday April 24: Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, 11am-6pm

Thursday April 25:  Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, 11am-5pm

Friday April 26: Finals, 3-6pm

Saturday April 27: Awards ceremony, 4pm and 8pm

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