Kevin Smith's Red State premiered to mixed reviews and a small group of protesters at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 22. But, even more than the film's provocative premise — which has been described as “a horror/comedy/satire about a Westboro Baptist Church-esque fundamentalist community that murders those it finds abominations in God's eyes (aka gay people)” — it was the veteran filmmaker's post-screening Q&A antics that drew the most attention.
Smith, who wrote and directed the film with a budget of $4 million, had been saying for weeks that he intended to “auction” off Red State to the highest-bidding distributor. Instead he surprised everyone at the premiere by selling the film to himself for $20 and announcing that he would distribute Red State through his new company, Smodcast Pictures (presumably inspired by his popular Smodcast podcast), which he will run with his producing partner, Jon Gordon.
According to those in attendance, Smith went on to slam Hollywood's bloated marketing budgets, over-dependence on opening-weekend box-office receipts and tricky accounting methods — he says it took him seven years to make a profit off Clerks despite the fact that it cost but $27,500 to make — before saying that Red State would be presented by way of an 13-city tour starting March 5 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The closest Ohio stop will be March 14 at Clark State Performing Arts Center, which is about a 90-minute drive north of Cincinnati in Springfield. Word is that Smith and some of the cast — which includes John Goodman, Melissa Leo (freshly Oscar nominated for her performance in The Fighter), Michael Parks (Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and 2) and Michael Angarano (Snow Angels) — will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. Tickets are $67 and will go on sale tomorrow (Jan. 28) via Clark's ticket office at 937-328-3874 or via its Web site. (Yes, that last sentence included the number 67).
Smith and Gordon, who are calling themselves The Harvey Boys (a reference to Smith's onetime champion Harvey Weinstein?), released a mission statement of sorts a day after the Sundance premiere.
“We believe the state of film marketing has become ridiculously expensive and exclusionary to the average filmmaker longing simply to tell their story,” the statement says. “When the costs of marketing and releasing a movie are four times that film's budget, it's apparent the traditional distribution mechanism is woefully out of touch with not only the current global economy but also the age of social media.”
The duo says it will promote Red State entirely by a “word of mouth/viral campaign.” The statement ends with this idealistic call to arms: “Don't hate the studio; BECOME the studio. Anybody can make a movie; what we aim to prove is that anyone can release a movie as well.”
What Smith and Gordon fail say (or don't realize) is that they already have a built-in audience, one in part garnered through the various studios Smith has collaborated with over the years.
Don't get me wrong. I think the big studios are every bit as inept and bottom-line-driven as Smith says, but not “anybody” can charge audiences $67 — in fact, unknown filmmakers are lucky to get their friends and family to show up for free — and not “anybody” can get a cast populated by Oscar nominees and internationally known TV stars.
No matter. Red State will ultimately be judged on its merits. And if Smith's track record is any indication — Chasing Amy remains his only fully realized film — proceed with expectations tempered.