Why There’s Nothing New with Kevin Smith’s “Red State” Self-Distribution Plan

Why There’s Nothing New with Kevin Smith’s “Red State” Self-Distribution Plan (photo)

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Early reaction out of Kevin Smith’s “Red State” premiere at Sundance has suggested the film isn’t the horror movie that its director had touted it as, but that would hardly be the only thing that was misleading about the film’s premiere on Sunday night. Instead of auctioning off the film’s rights in public as he suggested he would do, Smith announced that he would self-distribute the film, which may not have pleased the assembled buyers in the crowd, but falls squarely in line with the approach he’s taken with “Red State” all along.

After finding interesting ways of eating away at the cost of the $4 million film like offering a “Red State Club” for $100 in Los Angeles to join his podcasts, Smith is taking the unusual, but not unprecedented step of releasing his latest film by going on a 15-city tour beginning in March in advance of a traditional theatrical release on October 19th, eschewing paid advertising for what he can accomplish on all of his own social media accounts. (It’s all in the manifesto he and producer/former Miramax exec Jon Gordon lay out on — what else? — the film’s Web site.) In the 25-minute spiel that followed the end credits of “Red State,” Smith described a distribution system for indie films that he saw as broken and went so far as to say that he’ll retire after his next film to concentrate on helping other filmmakers follow in his path.

What was surprising in all the reactions on the social media sites that Smith will employ to hype the “Red State” run is just how many people appear to believe self-distribution is a new idea, which does a disservice to those brave or well-funded enough in the past to try the same thing or the smaller distributors for which the release of every film is a new battle. There’s no doubt that Smith continues to inspire people as he did when he made “Clerks” on a shoestring budget in a New Jersey convenience store 17 years ago, but Smith is hardly a pioneer and sounds a bit disingenuous when he talks of “producing a film distribution apparatus that can stand apart from the cost-prohibitive studio model” after building his brand off the backs of a clever Miramax marketing department in their prime. (As Devin Faraci at Badass Digest writes, it’s not a stretch to think Harvey Weinstein will lend a helping hand even now.)

Of course, Smith wisely parlayed his notoriety as a filmmaker into something even more substantial as a personality and as my colleague Matt Singer rightly pointed out on Twitter, the asking price of “6, 7, maybe 10 times [a normal ticket price]” that Smith plans on charging for the roadshow version of “Red State,” in which he’ll probably put in a personal appearance not unlike those on the “Evening of Kevin Smith” DVDs, is about what it would cost ordinarily for one of his performances plus a $10 movie ticket.

While Smith has the unique advantage of having the fan base to command that price, it’s not all that far away from the $70 Arclight Cinemas and likeminded exhibitors charged for “Sex and the City 2”-themed nights around the country last summer, the $25 that our corporate sibling IFC Films was charging to see longform films like “Che” or “Carlos” in their entirety, or the total dollars taken in by self-distributed indies such as “Anvil! The Story of Anvil!”, which piggybacked its theatrical rollout on the back of the heavy metal act’s concert tour (and vice versa). Smith should be applauded for using his appeal to find a better way towards profitability than relying on the traditional spend on marketing, but while the scale of “Red State”‘s distribution may be larger, it can’t be called a revolution, or for that matter, something other filmmakers without Smith’s pull could easily attempt and have immediate success at.

Smith also made a point of saying he would reach out to potential exhibitors by offering more favorable terms than the traditional studio release would, and according to Anthony Breznican’s account at Entertainment Weekly, used the example of his own film “Cop Out” to say, “”We want to partner up, man. We won’t screw you over. We won’t be like, ‘You gotta fucking take this piece of shit. If you want ‘The Dark Knight,’ you better take this piece of shit ‘Cop Out.'”

But that’s a double-edged sword. Smith shouldn’t have any trouble booking theaters, but what he might prove troublesome is collecting from them. Whether the quality of “Red State” is more like “The Dark Knight” or “Cop Out,” Smith doesn’t have a continual pipeline of films to keep the exhibitors honest. Looking at one of the best-case scenarios of self-distribution, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” made $370 million in the U.S. and employed the savvy Bob Berney, then at Newmarket, to help bring the film to the public. Ultimately, Gibson’s Icon Distribution had to sue Regal Entertainment to the tune of $40 million after the film was released because they felt the theater chain was holding back on the profits. It’s not likely “Red State” will become a phenomenon like “Passion,” but it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if it fell victim to the same business practices since there’s no incentive, other than Smith’s next (and allegedly final) film “Hit Somebody,” to pay up.

Smith is absolutely right when he suggests anyone can release a film, but that was just as true a decade, if not decades ago as pointed out by Cole Abaius on Film School Rejects, though they rarely have the publicity that Smith can muster. In 2001, I can remember when an indie called “The Debut” played at the local AMC theater and director Gene Cajayon was onhand to greet anyone who bought a ticket for any of the film’s shows during its weeklong run. I imagine he did that at nearly every weeklong run the film had at theaters around the country until it made a tidy $1.8 million under the radar and got a DVD distribution deal with Sony the hard way.

It should be celebrated any time a filmmaker decides to carve out their own path and often it takes a filmmaker with the fame of Smith to lead the way, but in the case of “Red State,” it’s unfortunate that he appears to be claiming the idea as his own.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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