Sundance Report: Kevin Smith Announces Retirement and Self-Distribution Plans at Red State Premiere

After four plus hours of waiting in the bitter-cold, surrounded by protesters affiliated with the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church (along with a pretty impressive counter-protest by students of Park City High School and Kevin Smith supporters), we were finally lead into the Eccles Theater for the Sundance Premiere of Smith’s new film, Red State (spoiler-free mini review below). The audience seemed to react well to the film, but in classic Kevin Smith fashion, it was the Q&A following the film that will likely go down as the historic Sundance story.

Following the screening, Smith walked out on stage with Wayne Gretzky’s hockey stick across his shoulders and explained how Walter Gretzky’s motto of being “not where the puck is but where it will be,” has directed the last two years of his life. Smith had announced previously that, after the screening, he would be auctioning off Red State, a film about the horrors perpetrated by a small town preacher and his obsessed followers. Instead, he launched into his own sermon. Although much of it has been discussed on his various SModcast Network podcasts, Smith officially announced his impending retirement post-Hit Somebody, he let the old guard have it (right to their faces), further washing his hands of the studios and the press, describing, in detail, his thoughts on all of the ways they go wrong selling a movie. But the biggest news was that he announced that he would not be selling Red State. Instead, he has plans to self-distribute the film via concert events and a road show tour. He’ll also be shunning all traditional advertising methods, presumably promoting his screenings solely through Twitter and the SModcast network. Even more shocking was his announcement that he is going to start distributing other indie films (once he stops making movies himself) with the infrastructure created to distribute Red State, all under the banner of “SModcast Pictures.”

You are going to read a lot of critical reactions to Smith’s Q&A and they will be justified to some degree. Was he being that self-righteous, slightly self-important Kevin Smith of recent years? Yes. Did he ramble on for way too long and not give his cast and crew the spotlight that they deserved? Yes. Did he concoct a really awkward prank by pretending to auction off his film, forcing any serious Smith fan to feel the “I don’t appreciate your ruse” line in Clerks? Yes, yes, yes. But, he was also brutally honest, quite inspiring, and even a little visionary. Being a struggling indie filmmaker myself, in the worst sales climate since I’ve been aware, it was really nice to hear someone in his privileged position articulate what many of us feel, sticking it to the man in a way we could never afford to.

As for the movie itself, it is good. As promised, the cinematography is like nothing you’ve seen in a Kevin Smith movie before. The tone is perfect, the performances are stellar, and the music is creepily awesome. The writing was a bit ham-fisted at times and the edit could have been much tighter, but this is a huge evolution for Smith as a filmmaker. The problem is, outside Askew-niverse context and taken just on its own merit, it kinda feels like a much tamer Eli Roth or Rob Zombie film. The performances are way better than those guys deliver and it is overall much more nuanced (for how extreme the storyline gets), but I felt it fell short on horror and (surprisingly) tension. That came from some key editing mistakes and not from cast, direction, or script. In fact, all of my problems with the film could have been fixed in editing. What is clear is that Smith has something to say and he knows exactly how he wants to say it. With Red State, Kevin Smith has created his strongest piece of art since Chasing Amy. But I just plain enjoyed the hell out of this movie, especially the performances by Michael Parks, John Goodman, Stephen Root, and Kerry Bishe.

Smith knows his fans are faithful. He’s betting his career on it. Exactly how faithful they are, we will soon find out. What do you think of Smith’s plans to self-distribute and advertise?

Red State won’t hit theatres in October, but the first leg of his road show tour starts in March. For more info visit http://viewaskew.com/redstate/.

For more Sundance updates, follow Josh on Twitter at @IcarusArts.

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  • berserker01

    I will go see Red State when his tour comes to my town. Even if it’s $70 a ticket, I want to support him for all the entertainment Smodcast network has given me. Also, I’m a big horror movie fan.

  • Kasper

    I’m so sick and tired of Smith and his shitty attitude. I was actually excited for “Red State”, but with each stupid comment by the man I get less and less excited for anything from him. Good riddance.

  • http://www.catharticentertainment.com/ rus in chicago

    hey, give it a try. as a film maker and lover I like the idea of “indy film’s” biggest celebrity using his fame to help build a new distribution system. The indy film tour has been done before but I don’t think with a player like Smith. My pessimism thinks the tour will do little to break through to film fans outside his circle and the films he highlights will mostly get bootlegged…but its worth a shot and if the tour is like a traveling film fest – I’ll go.

  • Juan

    If Red State’s coming to my town, I’m there no question. It doesnt matter how much it costs. I enjoy Kevin Smith work (movies, podcasts, comics , etc) he is a funy guy adn he has something to say

    Red State is gonna kick ass

  • alechs

    I was excited about Red State but after all the buzz and lukewarm reviews that don’t offer much asides what has already been said, I am steadily losing interest.

    As a media event I give it props for generating so much buzz + resonance out of everything asides the film itself.

  • http://slushiemanjunkdrawer.blogspot.com/ Slushie Man

    For once I agree 100% for Kasper. I love all of his movies up to and including Clerks 2, but he’s done nothing good since then, and I’m just so god damn sick of his all around shitty attitude and holier-then-thou perception of himself. Send that fat fuck back into obscurity where he belongs.

  • rjdelight

    I really don’t think Smith has solved his problems by self distributing. I think it’s interesting to see and hats off to him for trying it, but the film will probably open to about 10 million, just like every other Smith flick. His audience is his audience. It might even open to less, because I doubt he’ll be able to provide a marketing campaign that could compete with a studio marketing campaign. He seems to think the web is now the answer to everything and because he has a couple of million twitter followers he doesn’t need anyone else.

    And regarding his retirement after Hit Somebody, why announce something like that? What happens if say in five or ten years he comes up with an amazing idea for a film or a script lands in his lap that is just too good to pass up. He’ll look like an idiot. You never know what’s around the corner.

  • http://slushiemanjunkdrawer.blogspot.com/ Slushie Man

    “He seems to think the web is now the answer to everything”

    It’s not just him who thinks that these days, but it’s a very idiotic way to think. Look at all the ‘geek’ movies that pander to the comic-con crowd and do huge online campaigns that go really well…only for the movie to bomb. Despite what the online geek fandom seems to think (Kevin Smith included), the online geek fandom really does make up such a tiny percentage of the overall movie-going audience and if you pander to JUST them, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

  • alechs

    “What happens if say in five or ten years he comes up with an amazing idea for a film or a script lands in his lap that is just too good to pass up.”

    He’ll make a self-depreciating joke about how dumb but necessary his choice was, start a new podcast + book/comedy tour and make the new film.

  • andrew

    Thank God!

  • PJ Hendry

    If Smith has a 10 million dollar opening ,like rjdelight claims it will, that will be a huge success for him. Red State grossing 2 and a half times its budget in a single weekend would be an outstanding result. Add to that all of the money the movie will make from the $60- $70 tickets for the Red State USA tour and this movie will be way in the black.

  • PJ Hendry

    If Smith has a 10 million dollar opening ,like rjdelight claims it will, that will be a huge success for him. Red State grossing 2 and a half times its budget in a single weekend would be an outstanding result. Add to that all of the money the movie will make from the $60- $70 tickets for the Red State USA tour and this movie will be way in the black. Smith has an audience that has earned him at least a $30 million gross since 1999. Dropping the advertising budget, that has failed to earn him any additional money in the last ten years, is definetly worth a shot.

  • Juan

    There’s no doubt he will get the 4 million back

  • Joe S

    Actually, the $60-$70 tickets will have all profits going to fund the release of Red State. Rather than get more investors on board to foot the estimated $2.5 million needed to make 1000 prints of the movie for wide release, he’s doing the tour and selling merch to raise the money. $10mill may not seem like a heyday at the box office, but as PJHendry pointed out above, if he makes that in theaters, then he pays off the $4mill it cost to make the movie and pockets $6mill.

    I’d love to have a movie flop that badly.

  • Dako

    I’m not particularly surprised at this attempt at “lashing out” against the regular distributers, big companies, etc. Smith has always seemed to be the kind of guy who’d do something like this, so I’m just surprised that he hasn’t snapped before now.
    That said, I’ve been waiting for this movie to come out for some time now, and this bit of news doesn’t really sit all that well with me. Not because of the principles behind it, I’m completely with him there, but because I live outside of North America and, I imagine, might have some trouble obtaining a copy myself. Especially if I want one with subtitles, which would be good to have as I’ll be force feeding it to everyone I know. It’ll probably be easier than I fear, I know that, but I’m still getting that little “oh no” in my head.
    As for the comments about Smith be self-righteous, a fat bastard, blah blah blah, it seems to me that people need to calm the hell down. Had more writers and directors shown the nuts to man up to the companies that make all the millions that ought to land with those who actually work on making the movies, perhaps we’d be seeing a completely different world of film than we are today. Granted, I’d likely be less capable of purchasing as many DVDs as I do now, had everyone adopted this way of distributing way back, but I’m fairly confident that I’m selfless enough that I would be willing to accept living with that. Or maybe I’m just another self-righteous fatass, too, trying to look better than I am.

    Last words? A begging for Smith not to stop doing what he does so amazingly. Not only will his leaving disappoint a major fanbase, it will leave a gap in the world of films that I don’t see anyone else filling in the near or semi-distant future.

  • tjg92

    I’m looking forward to his distribution thingy. Hopefully he can help get some good new filmmakers started.

  • schwien11

    where did Kevin Smith say he was auctioning the film?
    on the podcast he said it was studios bidding for the film, and he would consider any one regardless of size or money if he liked their plans for the movie.

  • Fatbologna

    I think it’s funny that so many people here shit on the fact that he’s displeased with Hollywood when they’re the same folks who say Hollywood produces mostly shit.

    I’ll admit that I haven’t liked Smith’s film content of the last decade but the Smodcast network is really fun and to me it’s the best stuff he’s ever produced. I like the idea that filmmakers are slowly getting the power to do things on their own without the help of a studio. The internet as a way of communicating with audiences along with well-made lower budget films are the future and Hollywood needs to admit that to themselves and get on with it.

    Imagine if studios started pumping out 50 $4-10 million dollar pictures a year with 1 or 2 “tentpole” films at 100 million each. They’d most likely make their money back AND please a lot more interests. Rather than trying to make one film that appeals to everyone for 250-300 million, why not make 20-30 films for that amount that appeal to a wide variety of people? That’s how they did it in the 70s.

    I’ll be interested to see where Smith goes with this setup and see if at least a few studios try to follow suit. The internet’s more powerful than people think. It’s just a matter of how you use it. This gives filmmakers a chance to communicate with their audience without all the EPK rehearsed bullshit. I’d much rather listen to a filmmaker talk honestly about his work on a podcast than see him recite rehearsed dialogue on Entertainment Tonight. Regardless of whether or not Smith is successful I think that this could be something that incites a sea change over the next decade depending on how many people follow suit. I’m sure Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino and Edgar Wright would be up for supporting such a thing.

  • rjdelight

    @ PJHendry and Joe S

    I have no doubts that the film will be profitable (Almost all of his films are). I think that’s a given considering the small budget. My point was, which I guess wasn’t really that clear, is the film will probably achieve the same result if it was being distributed by a studio. I mean he could have even made back the budget last night and sold the film for five to ten million, which isn’t that outrageous for this type of film at Sundance.

    @ schwien11

    Apparently the auction did take place, with Smith buying the film from Scott Mosier for a cool 20 bucks.

  • PJ Hendry

    @rjdelight
    The studio would make far less from the movie because of the huge marketing costs associated with releasing a movie through a major studio. The studio would probably make a profit of some sort off of Red State, but Smith can make far more money for hiself and not have to watch his movies get butchered by the marketing. By releasing the movie himself the money that a studio would normally pay for advertising becomes pure profit on his part. At this point I think it is a given that Smith has a relatively small but loyal audience. Why spend millions of dollars advertising a movie that has a niche audience when you know the exact same audience is going to go see it no matter how much money is spent on advertising?

    P.S. Scott Mosier had nothing to do with Red State, in fact, according to his Twitter, he was busy making pasta as the movie premiered. Mosier and Smith have not worked together in a while now, as Mosier has been working on an animated series for Disney for a while now. The producer who “sold” it to Smith was John Gordon.

  • rjdelight

    Valid point. My mistake on the Mosier thing, I knew he didn’t work with him on Cop Out but thought he was back for Red State.

  • Rynn

    I like most of Kevin Smiths stuff, and he is a blowhard, but hey, if it means more films released that are actually basically good, and not a focus-grouped, marketdroid pile of inoffensive, bland mush, then go for it, I hope Smith is a bit of a trailblazer for such a situation.

    Or we’ll end up with endless piles of shit like Avatar and Clash of the Titans. Bleah.

  • SurlyMona

    I used to be a Kevin Smith, but now I feel that my “fanboy” attitudes towards him as a director is slowly deteriorating.

  • Werner

    Let’s face it: Kevin Smith is irrelevant. His worshippers will keep defending him of course. But who really cares? Smith has build a cult around him. Its members will support him for many years to come. Outside of that what will be Smith’s contribution to film? What does he have to say? Other than he has a small penis, his obeseness will kill him, that he still can’t believe his wife lets him do her, that he loves hockey, that his pals are even more fucked up than him, that movie critics suck, that profanity sells even otherwise bad dialoge, that weed makes one prophetic … and that anybody not using the full power of the interwebs is stupid. Oh – and that everybody, other than himself of course, in the world of film is a sell-out. And let’s not forget the importance of the fleshlight…..

    Kevin Smith’s work has had its moments. I wished he would just keep quiet for a while, do some decent movies and comics. Letting his work speak and not his brainwashed followers do it for him.

  • Anthony

    I’ve always been hit or miss with Kevin Smith, and seem to be the only one who loved Mallrats and didn’t like Chasing Amy.

    Kevin Smith is also responsible for Jersey Girl, so there’s that.

  • swarez

    The thing is that he isn’t doing it all by himself, the Weinsteins are helping out so his claim that it’s all grass root and all that jazz is an over statement. Plus this idea of going on the road to distribute it is as old as cinema itself.

  • Henrik

    I agree with swarez.

    Also, I think this is cool shit and I wanna get behind it, because it’s something different and bla bla, but the extreme hyperbole from Kevin Smith, whilst entertaining in and of itself, kinda exposes all the pettyness of everything that he does. He’s funny, but when he’s not trying to be funny he’s pretty intolerable.

  • rjdelight

    How are the Weinstein’s helping him?

  • http://www.catharticentertainment.com/ rus in chicago

    were do you get that swarez? I too saw The Harvey Boys logo but I took it as a “slap in the face” type thing.

    Also, “Plus this idea of going on the road to distribute it is as old as cinema itself.” is false as cinemas were once owned by the studios and it took an antitrust ruling to break this.

  • Henrik

    The Harvey Boys is meant as a tribute, not an insult.

  • swarez

    @Rus.
    No, remember cinema isn’t an american thing and the studios originated there, anywhere else in the world, filmmakers had been traveling with their products since the beginning of the medium.

  • Paul

    I’ll believe Kevin Smith is truly distributing this film on his when it’s distributed by his Smodcast guys alone. They want to release the films on 1000 screens? That’s a lot of money & red tape, a lot more than just the cost of the film prints (which arguably half of those could be digital projections so why spend the extra $2500 on a print?) and I just can’t imagine Smith & Smodcast have the know how to do it. Especially in late October, one of the most packed months of the year and only two days before Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion which is a BIG Film with Tons of stars.
    Pretty much I will not be surprised if sometime this summer Smith makes a self-depricating joke to win his fans favor (he can joke about how much Cop Out sucked all he wants- irony- but he directed the damn willingly. Same thing with Jersey Girl, that didn’t hit big and he now jokes about it being a bad film too) & announce that Harvey Weinstein is coming in to give them a little help with wide scale distribution.
    This is AFTER his diehard fans have paid the $70-100 on their Red State tickets.

  • Axis

    I enjoy Kevin Smith. I also respect his very honest, outspoken opinion of the studios and the issues he has had. That being said, I would hope he has more savvy means of distribution then a concert tour. All in all I probably will never see this film in it’s current state with this mode of distribution and at the end of the day that makes it a failure to me, one of his fans. I am not advocating buckling to studio pressure or going back on his stance of independent distribution but I do hope their are alternative methods to get this film out to the masses. Time will tell I guess.

  • Paul

    Worth remembering he’ll pick up a chunk of change from foreign sales. He’s had 3 features gross over $10m each.

    I cant see him losing on this in any way, awful lot of hype over what I suspect is little to no real risk.

  • Werner

    and let’s not forget: this all wouldn’t be happening if Zak and Miri would have done better at the box office……

  • http://twitter.com/icarusarts Josh

    UPDATE: Silent Bob Speaks Out In “The Red Statements”

    http://theredstatements.com/

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