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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.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

“The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” Reviewed

“The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the Sundance Film Festival 2011.

You’ve heard the expression “to err is human, to forgive is divine?” By that measure, Joshua Milton Blahyi — a.k.a. General Butt Naked — is the most human protagonist you’ll see in any movie this year. This man has made errors on an almost unimaginable scale. Back when he was known as “General Butt Naked,” a vicious warlord in the Liberian Civil War so named for his penchant for charging into battle completely nude, he killed thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children. Some years later, Blahyi found religion and now he spends his day as a fiery preacher on a quest for divinity; a quest for forgiveness.

But does a monster deserve forgiveness? That is the question that drives Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion’s documentary “The Redemption of General Butt Naked.” I don’t feel uncomfortable saying that General Butt Naked was a monster. We hear stories about his crimes and they are absolutely sickening. As if killing thousands of innocent people wasn’t bad enough, Blahyi filled his private army with young boys he “recruited” (in other words, he stole them from their homes and families) because he believed teenagers made better soldiers. Why? Because teenagers were more easily brainwashed into loyalty and fearlessness than adults. Blahyi would show them Hollywood action movies and convince them that life was a movie too. Die in this one and you’ll come back in another one just like Jean-Claude Van Damme does. He said this. They believed him.

Now it’s years later. Most of those boys are long dead. The few that remain live in abject poverty. But Blahyi remains free to walk the streets of Liberia, preaching about the power of God. He preaches as he must have commanded his troops: with charisma, swagger, and a heavy dose of intimidation. He claims he wants to “balance the scales of the past,” so he tries to build homes and support groops for the boys who used to kill for him. And he goes to visit the relatives of his victims and plead for forgiveness, camera crew in tow.

We watch these scenes with queasy fascination. “I’m sorry I killed your brother,” he tells one woman, adding, “Whenever you need brotherly protection, call on me.” The woman doesn’t know what to say. Can you blame her? Imagine someone killed your relative, then came to you, years later, and apologetically offered to replace said relative in your life. What would you say? “Uh, thanks. I’m all set in the brotherly protection department. K, thanks, bye.” A strong case could be made that none of the people Blahyi visit really forgive him. There’s enough visible anxiety in their faces and audible uncertainty in their voices to suggest they’re just saying what he wants to hear because they’re still afraid of him and will do whatever he wants to keep him from murdering them too.

On some abstract level, Blahyi’s change of heart is admirable. But his quest for forgiveness seems as much about assuaging his own monumental sense of guilt as soothing the bereaved souls of the people he’s harmed. The only person who appears truly healed after these encounters is Blahyi himself; everyone else remains shellshocked by grief and tragedy. It’s fascinating to watch forgiveness, which is such a selfless act, twisted into a selfish need.

I think “The Redemption of Butt Naked” works better as a conversation piece than as a film. As a film, it’s a bit too repetitive and, even at just 84 minutes, a bit too long. Though Blahyi goes through a few upheavals over the course of the documentary — testifying before a war crimes tribunal, hiding from his enemies in Ghana — this is essentially a plotless series of encounters between Blahyi, his God, and the people he’s wronged. Blahyi himself is no different a person at the end of the film than he is at its beginning. His life is probably better suited to a 60 minute character study than 90 minute feature.

But even at that prolonged runtime, “The Redemption of Butt Naked” is still an amazing character study. Blahyi is such complex man: compelling, pathetic, and infuriating. And mark my words: this film will start conversations. I saw this movie in a screening room with just one other person and after it was over, we couldn’t help but debate the film and the issues it raises. Can a change of heart — even one as extreme as Blahyi’s — ever erase the amount of evil he brought into the world? And who is forgiveness ultimately for? The forgiver or the forgiven?

My colleague and I batting around those questions until we were forced to part ways on diverging subway lines. Even if the film was human, the discussion was divine.

“The Future,” Reviewed

“The Future,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the Sundance Film Festival 2011.

Those with tweeness sensitivities should be aware that “The Future,” Miranda July’s long-awaited follow-up to “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” is sporadically and lispingly narrated by a cat, and examines about how stress over the impending arrival of said cat, a rescue animal of uncertain health named Paw-Paw, shakes the foundations of the relationship of a 30ish Los Angeles couple.

Perhaps you think that people hovering around the age of 35 should be able to shoulder what are, all things considered, the not outlandish burdens of a pet. Perhaps the prospect of an existential breakdown triggered by one’s inability to launch a successful YouTube dance video project seems silly. But given a little patience, “The Future” blossoms into something lovely and melancholy, a magical realist miniature about the dread of time passing, the gradual narrowing of options that underlies the watery commitment-phobia of its central couple.

July is Sophie and Hamish Linklater is Jason, and the two live together in a shabby chic studio apartment they pay for with noncommittal jobs as a children’s dance instructor and an on-call IT guy. The pet adoption turns out to be noncommittal as well — Paw-Paw has renal failure and likely won’t live very long. He’s temporary. But given a 30-day window before they’re allowed to pick him up from the shelter, Sophie and Jason decide to wallow in their last unfettered days by quitting their jobs and setting what are, for them, ambitious goals. Sophie will do 30 dances, a new one each day, on YouTube, and Jason will go out into the universe in search of a sign, in search of meaning.

July’s sensibility is more pronounced here than in her first film — the characters speak in capricious non sequiturs that come out as more revealing and wistful than they seem to have intended. “I wish I was just one notch prettier,” Sophie tells Jason. “I’m right on the edge. I have to make my case with each new person.” While the pair make mention of friends, we don’t see them, which makes the gradual disruptions to their floating world more apparent, as the realism falls away and Jason is able to talk to the moon, Sophie to see colleagues’ pregnancies accelerate into grown children into adults during the course of one conversation.

A t-shirt crawls down Sophie’s street and into the house, and she pulls it on upside down, stretching the material over her head like a cocoon and finding, perhaps, the dance she’s been looking for. It’s a strange, bewitching scene, one that encapsulates all the ineffable angst that’s been building over the film, the frustration that you’re not the person you wanted to become, the terror that the life you’re leading isn’t preparation for something vague upcoming improved thing, but is simply what you have.

“The Future” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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