Like many in the online community, I’ve found that Kevin Smith draws a certain parallel to Sarah Palin. In the world of film fandom, Smith is a divisive figure, who draws on a small but vocal minority that seem to support him regardless of his flaws. Smith entered the world stage as a phenomenon and seemed ready to crack into the mainstream as a player, but when called on to improve his range, he’s proved stuck in a rut, and is now happy to court the base he’s successfully stoked into a mini-empire. But in doing so, he’s slowly but surely alienated himself from a lot of people who might have been sympathetic. Smith has also turned against the (lamestream) media, suggesting that – though he knows that Cop Out was a problematic picture – the majority of his critics are haters, therefore don’t deserve to critique him, which – like Palin – seems to only inflame and reinforce their worldviews, and has led to coverage of their actions in spite of their attitudes toward the people covering them. In both cases, they have their points, and some of the attacks on Smith for his weight and his publicizing of his problems with Southwest led to some specious critiques that may have been blaming the victim. At the same time, the pattern of behavior is such that it makes it harder to be sympathetic. Smith either courts or is ambivalent about controversy, but he’s definitely had controversial things happen right before a number of his most recent films. Whether it is fair or not, after a while, being the victim of similar incidents comes across as avoidable.
His latest film Red State debuted at Sundance last night, and then Smith was supposedly going to auction the film off to the highest bidder for distribution. But this turned out to be a ruse, as Smith is now set to self-distribute the film, first going on a fifteen city (and possibly more) roadshow, with higher ticket prices and likely a night-long event. Then, on the 17th Anniversary of Clerks, it will be released on October 19th, on a screen count yet to be determined. Like Sarah Palin’s comments on the Gifford shooting, his latest statement and film seems a huge dividing line, as we’ve seen a number of critics (like Drew McWeeny over at Hitfix) feel that Smith has gone too far, and is no longer worth covering any more. Part of this has to do with Smith obviously lying about the sale of the picture. With a website already up, that Smith said he was going to auction the film was bullshit, and whether this action was showmanship or trying to generate publicity, it definitely left a sour taste in the mouths of many who were there (we’ll say 37).
If Smith charges $65 or so for fifteen 1,000+ seat sold-out shows, that’s at least a million dollars in revenue against location and touring costs, and would not account for the merchandise that would also be available – and thousand seaters might be on the low side of things (one location – the Wilbur in Boston – hosts 1,200; Radio City has 5,931). Red State supposedly cost $4 Million, but there’s also a likelihood that additional dates will be added (dates are available here), as cities like Dallas, Texas; Portland, Oregon or Los Angeles (or any of California) are not among the initial 15, and as there is a “request a screening” option, we may see many more dates added before the October release, which means the film may be in the black pre-release.
Smith is forgoing what he called the normal $20 Million of advertising costs with this more DIY approach, and as Smith has made nothing but profitable movies between domestic box office and DVD/Blu-ray sales, Smith is likely going to make more money from his fanbase off of this one than ever before without the cash filters and such of a distribution house, though the question this raises is: “did any of the talent get profit participation?” Smith’s films have routinely made $30 Million domestically, and a high number of his films are already on Blu-ray, so it’s likely Red State will at least do $10 Million when released, and sell reasonably well on DVD/Blu. His base is his base.
And at this point, especially after the reactions to his latest endeavor (read James Rocchi’s take here, which I recommend because I know few people as neutral in the scheme of things… Rocchi’s Canadian), Smith – like Palin – has so encased himself in whatever it is that he/they are that the “with us or against us” attitude is defining. In that way, Smith transcends being a filmmaker like Palin is – quite fairly – no longer a politician. Having worked in distribution, the problem I fear for Kevin Smith is that when you’re a theatrical releasing agency that only has limited product, bookers don’t give a shit about you. If he’s going with more than a hundred screen release, as an independent company, working with – I’m guessing – mostly smaller houses, to be on top of the money you have to micro-manage. From experience and hearing stories of the field, one-picture companies get treated like crap because there’s no point in being good to them, and the honor system is shit. Interest is interest, and if you go to a theater chain, and have – say thirty prints with them – they’ll hem and haw to give you the money, because they know they can piss on you. Why be nice when you’ve got nothing else for them? This self-release is all well and good theoretically, but where he’ll have more control is likely the home video market. But there he’s got to hope his fanbase is interested.
Also announced by Smith was that his next picture, Hit Somebody, will be his last. As cinema has no Washington Wizards, it’s hard to know what to make of this. Like his tomfoolery pre-Red State, Smith is not necessarily trustworthy on this, but that’s what he said.