Monday, January 31, 2011

Kevin Smith to self-release Red State, quit directing

Kevin Smith is a strange figure in the film world. I've written about his movies previously, and I hope it's clear that I'm conflicted. Smith is uneven and (seems very) undisciplined, but he's got such a gift for comedy. He's also a great poster-boy for the "I can make it in Hollywood" dream.

Which brings us to his first big announcement at the Sundance festival last week: Kevin Smith intends to make 1-2 more movies, then retire from directing; he'll try to help others get their films made. You can read about it - or you can watch the speech below.

Even though Smith has only directed 10 movies over 17 years, I consider this a big announcement; it certainly could have massive repercussions. Given how often people talk about egos and the film industry, it's apparent that many would think Smith was "burning his bridges" while currently standing on one of them.

I think the guy was just using candor - which would fit nicely, since a lot of New Jersey people are fairly forthright. In fact, bs-ing people and speaking like a PR exec can be seen as very insulting, so it would be hard to ask Kevin to be more diplomatic. Might as well tell him to lie, then...

There was a lot of news out of Sundance that night - as noted by the AVClub link above, some review sites trashed the movie's screening. They claimed that many people left the theater early, and that many people were far more interested in Jets v. Steelers than a New Jersey rant-master.

Well, the response caused Smith to get onto twitter and post like there's no tomorrow. His reply is pretty... vast, and quite frank. I'll say up-front, his self-distribution idea has some potential. I'll get to that later, though...

Even more, Kevin might be better suited to working behind the scenes at this point. I wrote that he's done 10 movies in 17 years, but 3 of those movies feel more like 1 picture. Yes, I'm willing to say that "Clerks," "Clerks II," and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" might almost count as 1 movie. So, really, he's got 8 in 17.

You can read my opinion of "Clerks II," and I still stand by it. Sadly, "CII" was much better than "JaSBSB." It did have a some great gags... For now, I'll just write: much more could've been done with the assembled talent, and it was very self-gratifying. I don't want to use a "Return of the Jedi" reference, but aggregated reviews and box office receipts show that Smith "paid the price for [his] lack of vision." For a movie with that cast, $8M in profit is kinda low...

And it's hard to forget last year's fiasco, "Cop Out." It was supposed to be a new opportunity for Kevin, as he had two bankable stars (Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan) and was working from another person's script for the first time ever. This was a shot to prove himself purely as a working director.

The critics were not kind at all. 31 on Metacritic, 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. He talks about it, in a rambling but extensive way, near the 62-minute mark of a dvd-show he released.

In fact, it got so harsh that everybody's favorite Jersey director got really defensive about it. 8-ish movies in 17 years - 2 are great, 1 is good, and 1 is a guilty pleasure. Maybe he was stand-offish for a reason, huh?

I won't not trashing the man - he's a real comic genius, even if he leans too hard on being crass. And I'll always love his voice, as a writer - especially when he keeps his jokes above the waist. He can manage inventive, funny, and thoughtful like few other people...

But, funny enough, Smith's intense response included the threat to make reviewers pay for advanced screenings in the future.

Which finally brings us to the second bit of big news: Kevin Smith fake-auctioned the right to show Red State, and bought it himself (for $20?). He's taking it on a tour, from March 5th to April 4th, to 14 cities around the US. He set up this new website, where the tix went on sale 4 days after the announcement - which was, by now, 3 days ago - January 28th.

Not the poster boy anymore? Just look at those eyes!

Now each city listing is its own link to Ticketmaster (ugh); here are the prices and times for the screening in Radio City Hall. Smith's announcement of this self-distribution also offered some little twists. He's seeing if this early effort can make back the cost of "Red State," all $4M of it. This means that the cheapest tickets for March 5th, 8PM, in New York are $68.25; the most expensive are 142.70.

As you can imagine, there was bound to be negative press about this - industry professionals went to a screening to bid on rights to a movie. They sat through a long speech and heard a lot of critical things about their business. Then they didn't get the chance to do their job - they got a speech. Not a great way to win a crowd, y'know?

Obviously, this will appeal most strongly to Smith's large following. Those prices include the Ticketmaster fees ($13-$18, cripes!), but come with a Q&A session afterward, and you'll be watching a movie at Radio City Music Hall. I certainly like this idea, and agree strongly with one of Kevin's statements - films struggle when they also have to satisfy bloated marketing budgets, in addition to their production costs.

It's going to be very odd, regardless, to watch how this plays out in the next 5-10 weeks. Anything short of good box office will lead to hyped-up headlines... No matter what, "Red State" will go wide-screen and has a chance to earn more money in October.

I hope the movie cleans up at these advance showings. I know I won't be there unless I find a big reason to pay $70 for a screening, but I wish him success. Who knows? If the film is actually good enough, maybe it will generate a big following for Round 2. And if he does help more voices get heard - imagine a film industry where every movie is at least $5-20+ Million cheaper.

It's not certain; massive advertising (and its burden on a film's projected return) has become such a staple. Maybe the money will get funneled into another frivolous and phony cost. But I'd like to think that the financiers would look at a less expensive movie industry, and be more willing to take a few new risks. I'll leave it at that; here's hoping...

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