An Open Letter to Relativity Media

These people aren't allowed to leave their house. Hilarious!
Dear Relativity Media,

Let me start by saying that I have no grudge against your company. You guys have made some great movies! Blood Diamond? I enjoyed that. The Social Network was great. Granted, you also made Doom, but everybody makes mistakes. So I want you to know it’s not about the movies.

It’s not even about 21 and Over, although let’s face it, if I wanted to watch The Hangover again, I could just watch The Hangover, and if I wanted to watch a shitty version of it, I could watch The Hangover II, so I’m not sure what market you’re shooting for with this film. But hey, that’s why I don’t work in the film business.

No, my concern is not with your terrible-sounding movie, which I’m sure will gross a bazillion dollars. It’s with the place you’ve chosen to shoot it: Linyi, Shandong, China.

Now, I suspect you had reasons for choosing this location. Probably even a lot of reasons. And it certainly seems like you’ve made good friends with the local authorities, who are more than happy to have you visiting Linyi:

The Chinese Communist Party Secretary of Linyi’s Municipal Committee, Zhang Shajun, who ranks above the local mayor, issued a statement welcoming the production to his city and adding that he “particularly welcome(s) my good friend (Relativity CEO) Ryan Kavanaugh and his great company” to his “historic city,” adding: “We promise to provide the best service possible in order to help make the movie successful worldwide.”

And you guys are excited too, clearly:

Tucker Tooley, Relativity’s co-President said the Sky land partners love this “hysterical film and it’s gratifying they want to build a foundation immediately alongside our cast and crew. We are very much looking forward to shooting in China, especially in a place as amazing as Linyi.”

Linyi is an amazing place, and what’s more, it makes total sense to shoot an American buddy-comedy there, especially these days when the US is full of icky poor people whining about how they don’t have jobs because American companies have taken all the work overseas.

I wonder, though: do you guys know who you’ve hopped in bed with?

It’s a rhetorical question; even if you didn’t know before, after yesterday’s media firestorm you certainly do. So you know that those same local officials praising your decision to come to Linyi are probably the ones paying teams of thugs to surround Chen Guangcheng’s village and beat anyone who tries to get near it. You know that they’re the ones who’ve been holding an innocent ((Convicted of a crime, yes, but served his time and was released; by Chinese law he should be free)) man and his family hostage, without charges or any kind of legal proceedings.

Until recently, your Linyi government pals were the same ones preventing Chen’s six-year-old daughter from attending school. But hey, good news on that front! They’re letting her go to school now, as long as she never leaves the sight of a couple of their agents. After all, you never know what kind of trouble a six-year-old could get up to! In fact, that sounds like it could make a hilarious movie! Six and Over! There you go, guys, that one’s a freebie. Use it for the prequel.

So anyway, yes, Linyi is an “amazing” place, in that it’s currently at the center of a human rights firestorm, and its government is clearly complicit in something that’s completely indefensible even by the sometimes-Orwellian laws of China. Sounds like a great place to film a comedy. And I’m sure all the money you’re paying those Linyi officials is being used only for, you know, tourism or something. I’m sure none of it goes to paying the thug army they’ve got surrounding Chen’s village.

Now, to be fair, you probably didn’t get yourselves into this on purpose. My guess — and this is just pure speculation — is that you were offered a ridiculously cheap place to shoot with some extra perks and you said yes without looking into it. And yes, in doing that, you placed your foot squarely into the PR bear trap that you’re in right now.

Because now, you’re kinda fucked. If you stay in Linyi, it’s a PR nightmare. My little blog is one thing, but I have a feeling we’ll see this story in some Western papers come Monday.
My guess? That’s just the beginning.

But if you leave Linyi, you’re definitely going to piss off local and perhaps national government officials. My guess is you’d be giving up any chance to shoot in China again for a long time. These guys don’t like being criticized, and they don’t like being embarrassed by Western companies that grow a conscience.

So, what should you do? I’m no expert, but let me help you weigh the options here. You can either piss off the American media and whatever percentage of your audience chooses to pay attention, or you can piss off some government leaders who are giving you a great deal on shooting your hilarious movie so long as you keep quiet about how they’re using your money to hold a blind man hostage.

Personally, I’d say leave Linyi. Like, tomorrow. Or hey, even today! It certainly seems like the moral choice, and I don’t understand why you’d want to shoot an American buddy comedy in China anyway (well, except for because of this).

no-commentWe know you’re aware of the issue (see image). And while I understand the “no comment” response — you probably need some time to get your ducks in a row — please be aware that people are not just going to forget about this if you choose to do nothing. People haven’t forgotten about Chen and his family, and even though they’re beaten and robbed, people keep trying to visit him. Relativity Media needs to seriously consider which side of that equation it wants to be on.

Because maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but holding an innocent blind man and his family in their house, beating and robbing well-intentioned net users trying to visit him, and then lying about it to the world does not sound like a great premise for a hilarious buddy comedy. And every day you’re in Linyi shooting 21 and Over, you’re funding that, too, whether you want to be or not.

Do the right thing here.


C. Custer

Update: Who to Send This To

If you’d like to send this letter to Relativity Media or people associated with the film, Artists Speak Out has collected a good list of people and ways to contact them.

I recommend you check out their whole post, which also includes sample messages to send, but excerpted below are a bunch of contact details from their post:

Send Tweets to the Lead Actors in 21 and Over

Miles Teller

Justin Chon

Skylar Astin


Call, Fax or Email Relativity Media

Phn: +1 310 859 1250
Fax: +1 310 859 1254

Greg Forston
SVP, Theatrical Distribution

Matt Garelick
SVP, Theatrical Distribution

Wendy Merry
Vice President, Field Marketing

Jernei Razen
Director of Development

John Sinayi
SPV, Theatrical Distribution

Rob Springer
Senior Vice-President, Sales & Operations

UPDATE: Relativity Media Responds:

Their official statement:

“From its founding, Relativity Media has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of human rights and we would never knowingly do anything to undermine this commitment. We stand by that commitment and we are proud of our growing business relationships in China, through our partnership with Sky Land, its strategic alliance with Huaxia Film Distribution Company. As a company, we believe deeply that expanding trade and business ties with our counterparts in China and elsewhere can result in positive outcomes.”

0 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Relativity Media”

  1. Nice. Custer, you really are in gunslinger’s mode.

    This flic will go straight to Blockbusters, no worries. Don’t get exercised.

    You are dealing with serious Hollywood bottom feeders here, and they always end up in the porn biz in Orange county.

    And furthermore, this offering won’t turn up on late night Cult movies in 2020.


  2. @ Tom: What’s on the bottom of that image is the full email I sent them. I kept it brief. I will also email this post to them, but I don’t expect to get any response from that.


  3. Dear Custer,

    First off, Doom was an awesome film – what, you’ve got something against Dwayne Johnson?

    Second off – dude, the rest of you email, tl;dr, but thank you for watching Blood Diamond, which shows what totally moral people we are, caring for Africa and stuff like that.

    Yours, sleeping on a big pile of cash with many beautiful wannabe actors “auditioning” for their big break in the film industry,

    Relativity Media


  4. Ideally Relativity would say straight up that they’re disgusted with what’s happening in Linyi, but since that’s not realistic for a company in their position they do need to at least cease giving the city any kind of funding or positive publicity.

    If Relativity is afraid to cite moral issues directly, they can say there are safety concerns – which would be totally legitimate. Or say nothing at all.

    So as long as they exit somewhat quietly without making a Google-style direct public accusation of the central government I doubt they have anything to worry about regarding future shooting in the country. I can’t imagine the government drawing any more attention to this than there already is unless they’re forced into the defensive.


  5. What’s happening to Chen Guangcheng in Linyi has the approval – probably the complete oversight – of higher up, at the national level. In this way anyone doing business with China is in some ways complicit.

    But I get that filming in proximity to his house is weird and distasteful. Kind of like if they’d filmed Gandhi at Guantanamo Bay, circa 2003.

    Anyway, half price security.


  6. What you are asking reminds me of Shen Yun Performing arts. Many people who were watching the show expecting a show about Chinese culture, but instead many walked out of the show after they showed about ‘human rights abuses’ in China. It is comedy movie and if they want to destroy their earnings in the box office, they can do the same thing you suggest.


  7. pug_ster: What I’m asking is that they stop shooting the movie in Linyi.

    As much as I know American audiences CRAVE comedies shot in Chinese counties they’ve never even heard of, I’m pretty sure that them shooting this film somewhere else isn’t going to hurt their box office.


  8. I wonder what comedic device requires the unique attributes of Linyi. Do they need background footage of people being randomly beaten up in the street? Maybe a wide-angle shot of a roaming pack of thugs? You’d think they could do that with a green-screen and just CG it.


  9. easy story for relativity media to spin, and incidentally, thanks for the great free publicity for our small company and its crappy products!


  10. custer;

    lovely post…wonder if most of these movie execs know about the social politics of china.. also wonder if they even s just another money avenue for them..another market…does mr. Ryan Kavanaugh care..



  11. Interesting development. Kevin Kavanaugh and Relativity Media may offer lip service to human rights issues, but like 99% of American businesses, they will act according to their bottom lines, not according to an inner conscience.


  12. Any foreign expat who lives in china and support this letter is hypocrite.

    Human right violation happens daily and everywhere in china, many severer than chen’s case.

    If really support this letter, then you should leave immediately as suggested in the letter.

    The only exception i can think of is you are an undercover agent with special assignment.


  13. You have a point. By earning a living there, investing there, or perhaps even visiting there, you are in some way enriching and maybe even legitimizing the Ccp. The difference here is that this is a rather unique local situation, where the company is investing in a local government that is abusing its authority, so the correlation is far more direct and proximate than just being in china. I dont think Custer writes this letter if relativity media is filming anywhere else but linyi.


  14. Want to cause visa and other discomforts to Li Qun, former party secretary of Linyi and one of Chen’s major persecutors, go to: for the letter writing contact details.

    Probably more effective than trying to shame a company like RM.

    Now, if bin laden had focussed his attention on hollywood rather than the twin towers, I would have handed over my lunch money.


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