Kevin Smith managed to get a lot of attention for the world premiere of his latest film at the Sundance Film Festival.
The build up to the premiere was cleverly stoked by Smith himself who has an army of fans online who follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
The festival guide described the plot of Red State:
“Three horny high school boys come across an online personal ad from an older woman looking for a gang bang, and boys being boys, they hit the road to satisfy their libidinal urges. What begins as a fantasy, however, takes a dark turn as they come face-to-face with a terrifying fundamentalist “holy” force with a fatal agenda”
Shot last summer, Smith announced that it would screen out of competition at Sundance and over the last couple of months he has released teaser posters and built up buzz for the film via his Twitter account (@thatkevinsmith).
There was speculation that Smith would stage an auction for the distribution rights after the first screening at Sundance, which some viewed as a cheap publicity ploy.
The build up was marked by protests against the film as one of the villians is loosely based on a stern, religious figure along the lines of Fred Phelps.
Then Smith and other festival-goers protested against the protests, although was this hype staged?
Smith denied rumours that the film had already been pre-sold to a distributor by tweeting the following:
Via @CAmcKy “the media says ur full of s— and have sold RedState already and ur just being a showman” Who you gonna believe: me or them? The “full of s—” part is opinion, so it doesn’t matter. But the “already sold” part? 100% untrue. For those of you not just tuning in to the story, you guys can vouch that I’ve done everything I said I was gonna do thus far, correct? So why lie now? Folks can tell themselves whatever they want if it makes ’em feel better about watching the Jets. Honestly: I understand team passion. If you’re on the fence about seeing RedState or watching the game, I understand completely. No worries, no offense. But I promise you: though we’ve heard a few sight-unseen preemptive bids, THIS MOVIE HAS NOT ALREADY BEEN SOLD. After the screening, THEN we’ll pick the distributor.
Buzz was further fuelled by a mostly sceptical batch of film writers who seemed both repelled and excited by the P.T. Barnum-style event the screening had become.
Dave Chen of /Film posted this AudioBoo as he headed into the screening:
The situation was a win-win for Smith: whatever people thought of the film, he had got awareness, publicity and created one of the hot tickets at Sundance.
After the screening was over the director revealed to a packed Eccles Theatre that the expected ‘auction’ was little more than a gag, as he brought up the film’s producer, Jonathan Gordon, to the stage to open the bidding and after Smith offered $20, it was proclaimed ‘sold’.
The stunt was there to highlight his actual plans to bypass the traditional model of distribution, with its traditional costs of marketing and prints.
Smith will essentially distribute the film himself, taking it on a nationwide tour that begins on March 5th, before self releasing it in cinemas on October 19th
He clearly feels that he can at least break even with his loyal nationwide fan base:
“It’s indie film 2.0 and in indie film 2.0 we sell our films ourselves”
Reactions so far from critics have been mixed, with some praising Smith for doing something different whilst others were not so hot on the film.
Here are some reactions:
“I would say this is the best film he’s made since Chasing Amy. In this film, Smith has become something more than a comedy director — he shows real skill presenting action sequences which are both thrilling and well shot” – Peter Sciretta of /Film
“Messy, overwritten, visually stylish, but kind of a bore. More like Kevin Smith than it looks because nobody ever stops talking” – Katey Rich of Cinema Blend
“Red State: Bloody, violent, random, preachy. I dug it, but didn’t love it”. – Erik Davis of Cinematical
“Nasty fundamentalist caricatures vs nasty law enforcement ones. Literally and figuratively preachy”. Alison Willmore of IFC
“‘Red State’ was good, and also not what I expected at all”. – Matt Dentler of IndieWire
“It’s nice to contemplate how Kevin Smith wants to make films that aren’t comedies. Too bad he tried to make all of them at once”. – James Rocchi
My guess is that Smith is going to find it tough making a financial success out of this but many people in the indie film world, regardless of their opinion on the film, will be curious to see how it works out.
Although this isn’t the first time self-distribution has been tried, its rare to see a filmmaker with profile of Smith try something like this.
Time will tell if it works out or not.