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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.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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