There is perhaps no more polarizing figure treading the worlds of both film and the Internet than Kevin Smith.
In fact, if you want to see where someone who knows Smith’s work stands on the Clerks director, just ask them their feelings on his most recent release his horror-action-thriller Red State, which debuted with a bang at Sundance – where Smith announced he would distribute the film himself rather than sell it to “some other jackass” – in January and made a trip around the country (with Smith on hand to do Q&A following each screening) back in March.
Odds are there won’t be much middle ground in the responses you’ll get. People either love Kevin Smith or they hate him, so it’s no surprise that the reaction’s to Smith’s plan to self-distribute Red State tend to lean either on the far left or the far right.
However, as interesting as I’ve found Red State’s ride thus far, there hasn’t been a ton of media tracking on the subject (due in large part to what’s become something of a hate-hate relationship between Smith and the press), and a huge portion of the information that has been disseminated has been released by Smith himself.
So, for anyone who’s been wondering what’s with Red State and who doesn’t want to sift through months’ worth of Smith’s podcasts (I’m a subscriber, and I still manage to miss stuff …) here’s a brief timeline on the history of Red State and the contributing factors behind Smith’s decision to do it without studio money.
2007 – Smith presents a draft to The Weinstein Company
About a week after Smith submitted the screenplay for Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith handed in a draft of Red State for the consideration of Harvey and Bob Weinstein.
According to Smith, the brothers sent him back and forth to one another, with Harvey suggesting a horror flick would be more Bob’s specialty and Bob insinuating that Harvey would better know how to deal with an “art film.”
The matter was dropped, as Smith realized his most faithful backers – the Weinsteins had purchased Clerks at Sundance in 1994 and had financed all of his projects (with the exception of Mallrats) ever since – couldn’t wrap their heads around how to sell the flick.
Besides, Zack and Miri had been green lit with casting underway and Seth Rogen already attached to star. They would discuss Red State after Zack and Miri cleared $100 million at the box office, right?
(Smith would, on one of his podcasts, later reference the moment of the Weinsteins’ admission that they weren’t sure how to market Red State as the moment he realized that “Krypton was about to explode.”)
October 2008 – Zack and Miri bombs
To say that the film “bombed” might be an exaggeration. The film eventually DID make its money back, but considering the guy on the poster was the guy from Knocked Up, to say the film’s final worldwide gross of $42 was disappointing would be an understatement.
Smith (perhaps rightly, perhaps not) blamed a lackluster marketing strategy from The Weinstein Company, effectively – for the time being at least – severing business ties with the men who had been his biggest financial backers.
*One can infer this from a series of YouTube interviews conducted by Lee Stranahan in which Smith referred to his career pre-Cop Out as “the Weinstein years.”
Southwest and Cop Out
After a combination of media circus surrounding Smith’s being booted from a Southwest Airlines flight for allegedly being too big to safely occupy a seat on the plane and the critical thrashing of the buddy cop flick Cop Out, Smith effectively divorced himself from the skies and the press for much of 2010.
Of note however, is an oft-repeated statement on his podcasts regarding one of his objectives in directing Cop Out, his first directorial effort not to be written by Smith himself: “I wanted to learn a little bit about marketing.”
SModcast begins to grow
Smith and longtime producer Scott Mosier had been recording a weekly podcast, SModcast, since 2006, but in 2010, Smith began to record additional podcasts with several of his friends (and his wife, Jen Schwalbach, with whom he recorded Plus One and now records Plus One Per Diem), leading to the creation of the SModcast Podcast Network.
The steady growth of the audience over the rest of the year coupled with the audiences he was able to draw for his live Q&A sessions (Smith had sold out Carnegie Hall in June of 2009) convinced Smith that his audience was sufficient to turn a profit at the box office, provided the reins weren’t held by a studio insistent on adding additional marketing to draw non-Smith fans to the movie.
Shooting Red State
At the San Diego Comic-Con in July 2010, Smith announced that funding for Red State had been secured, that Michael Parks had been cast in the lead role of Pastor Abin Cooper, and confirmed reports that had been circulating for years that the film would use Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church as a “jumping-off point” for the story.
In September, shooting for the film began. According to statements on SModcast and Plus One, Smith and producer Jon Gordon (both a former Weinstein assistant and Miramax exec) discussed the possibility of self-distribution at the start of the fourth day of shooting. By the end of the day, they had decided, amongst themselves, that Red State would forgo a traditional studio-financed theatrical release.
In the days leading up to the announcement of the films that would be shown at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Smith told /Film that, should Red State be chosen for inclusion in the festival, he would choose his distributor “auction-style” immediately following the screening.
When Red State did publically debut at Sundance, Smith emphatically denounced the Hollywood marketing system, calling it wasteful, especially for his projects which traditionally don’t pop beyond the $30-40 million range at the box office.
Instead, he bid $20 for the film and sold the distribution rights to himself and SModcast Pictures and announced the he would begin a cross-country tour, taking the film from city-to-city and appearing after each screening to conduct a Q&A with the audience.
He was immediately assailed with criticism from the press (including one online journalist who claimed that Smith was “imploding”).
The Red State USA Tour
Smith began the tour at Radio City Music Hall in New York, a showing that took in $161,000. The tour, which ended March 18 in Los Angeles, took in $851,000 in ticket sales with an additional $150,000 in merchandise sales, earning the $4 million production a little over $1 million.
Beyond the Tour
In his Red State blog, theredstatements.com, Smith announced in a posting dated April 18, that with ticket sales, VOD and home video deals, and foreign distribution deals (most foreign markets require a filmmaker to allow for outside distribution) that the film was on the verge of earning back its money.
On June 28 on Plus One Per Diem, the flagship podcast of his live streaming internet radio station, SModcast Internet Radio (SIR), Smith announced that the movie was officially “in the black” and that a deal with Lionsgate had been secured for the film to be released on Video On Demand over the Labor Day holiday weekend, a little over a month before its nationwide theatrical debut in October.
In the same podcast, the announcement was made that Smith would accompany the theatrical release via satellite to do a live Q&A session whereby audiences would submit their questions via Twitter and would broadcast a live recording of his podcast Hollywood Babble-On with LA-area radio personality Ralph Garman.
No announcements have been made as yet as to which, if any, nationwide theater chains will participate in the live satellite release, but Smith appealed to theater owners to consider the possibility of “fill[ing] your empty seats when there isn’t a Transformer to save you.”
Since that announcement, Red State’s theatrical release has been referred to as a “one-night-only event” on TheSIRmon.com, the official site for SIR-related news.
Smith estimated the cost of viewing Red State via VOD at “about $10” and the cost of the nationwide screenings at $20.
On July 15, Smith confirmed that he will take the film on a tour of “four or five” stops in Canada in what he’s referring to as the Red Province Tour beginning the week of August 19.
That should about cover it. If it doesn’t, well, this is the Internet; I’m sure someone will tell me what I missed and promptly announce that I’m worse than Hitler.
I tried to make this as objective a piece as I could, but here’s something that’s note remotely objective: I’m a Kevin Smith fan. That’s right. For the next couple of paragraphs objectivity goes out the window.
I saw Red State when it stopped in Indianapolis, and I can’t wait for the eventual Blu-ray release. I was blown away by it. Not because it was a great movie or because I’m a fan of the guy’s work, but because I didn’t need a commercial or a critic’s review to tell me I would be blown away.
Kevin Smith talks a LOT. He talks a lot of shit, he burns a lot of bridges, and he promotes the hell out of himself. But when the lights went down, he let his film speak for itself.
Love it or hate it, Smith’s “imploding” experiment has worked so far. If you love it, it’s been a fun ride. And if you hate it? Well, at least it’s almost over.
Until Hit Somebody.