Seven months after the release of Universal’s “The Hunt” was scuttled in the wake of two mass shootings and a tweet by President Trump, producers Jason Blum and Damon Lindelof are speaking out about the “cancel culture” that derailed a film that nobody had seen — and the decision to roll it out in theaters next month with a new marketing campaign that addresses the uproar.
“I don’t know when ‘cancel culture’ became a thing but my memory is that it wasn’t yet a thing in August when this happened,” Lindelof told reporters after an advance press screening of the film on Monday. “Only later was I like, we got canceled. I think sometimes, it’s appropriate to cancel things, that they should be canceled and sometimes things get canceled prematurely. And hopefully, it’s our belief that this movie was in the latter category.”
In August, Universal decided to shelve the release of the Craig Zobel-directed film, whose first trailer suggested the film depicted elite liberals hunting a band of right-leaning “deplorables” for sport.
Online critics — including President Trump, who attacked the film without naming it — said the film was unnecessary and violent, especially in the wake of mass shootings last summer in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. After Universal halted the marketing campaign for the film “out of sensitivity to the country’s recent shooting tragedies,” the film was pulled.
“I was surprised but in hindsight and as it was happening, I completely understood why it was happening,” Lindelof, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Cuse, said. “It was completely and totally beyond my understanding that the movie was controversial or provocative, or third rail. In my brain, it always felt so over the top and absurd so that it was entering into a dangerous space or a controversial space completely threw me for a loop. Once it started happening, I was like, ‘Oh, I understand this.’ Given the context of how it’s happening. But there was no part of me that was like rolling up my sleeves going, ‘I’m a f—ing provocateur!'”
Lindelof and Blum insisted that the film has been misunderstood, including by President Trump, who accused the film was intended to “inflame and cause chaos” and said elites in “Liberal Hollywood … create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true racists, and are very bad for our country!”
“The movie he was talking about was not the movie that I feel we made,” Lindelof said. “It was the movie that was being reported on. If he had said, ‘This is a piece of s—, I’m sorry I wasted my time,’ it would’ve felt better because at least he was talking about the movie.”
Blum added, “Yeah. I was trying to figure out how we could get the president to see the movie. That was my biggest thing that I was thinking the whole time… that I would love the president to see the movie.”
Lindelof and Blum said they never intended to venture into the world of politics. Instead, they hoped to create an absurdist, over-the-top film that would maybe entice people to have conversations with each other as opposed to standing on extreme sides of every issue and starting wars.
“I don’t think that the response to the movie is going to be provocative. I don’t think people are going to be picketing this movie or saying that this movie is dangerous or harmful,” Lindelof said. “That was the narrative the first time around, before anyone had seen it. But I’ve been surprised before — it’s possible that people will see this movie and say it’s irresponsible or it’s a call to violence.”
He and Blum also find it ironic that a film that tended to satirize the extreme nature of social-media firestorms got caught up in just that sort of divisiveness. “Everybody in this movie who is extreme and advances extreme positions and stereotypes about the other side, they get their comeuppance, and the one character in the movie who doesn’t identify that way is the one left standing,” he said. “So the morality of the film always felt very clean to us, which is: Don’t operate from the extremes and maybe have conversations with one another versus jumping to conclusions.”
The producers also addressed why Universal decided to set a March 13 release date for the film, which stars Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz and Emma Roberts. “I think we needed time,” Blum explained. “I don’t think there’s ever been a movie where there was so much judgment about a movie no one had seen. I was definitely surprised by that. And it took a long time to process, but we always felt collectively with the studio that the movie would come out, but we had to figure out when the right time was.”