Friday, February 4, 2011

Jay's take: In defense of Kevin Smith

We've talked recently on the show about Kevin Smith and his decision to bypass the Hollywood system and distribute his new film "Red State" completely on his own. Many on the internet are outraged and embarrassed by Kevin Smith's actions at Sundance where he hosted a fake auction to distributors and then gave the winning bid to himself only moments after the auction began. Accompanying this are many writers who scoff at the idea of Smith distributing his own film by himself and have used many words to describe their anger on any forum the modern digital age has provided for them. And even more have complained about Smith's twitter posting which usually are several paragraphs posted one after another in blog like faction.

And I have no idea what the big fuss is all about.

That's what has inspired me to write a counter-argument to Kevin Smith's detractors. To illustrate why I believe this whole "Red State" fiasco is not as much of a big deal as some try to play it out to be. So follow me now in numerical-argumentative-order (or something) and let me state my case for Mr. Kevin Smith.

1. The Sundance Situation. Or: How Smith is an entertainer who will help bring change.
I will write off the bat that I did not attend Sundance nor did I view the video of the mock auction that he held (EDIT: here is the video I only know of the auction from what I've read and heard from people who were there. So while I cannot defend or detract Mr. Smith for the auction I can say this: Kevin Smith is an entertainer. Besides being a filmmaker, he spends many of his days doing Q&A sessions across America on several elaborate stages where he tells interesting and hilarious stories about his life experiences in the film business and at home. It's in his blood to put on a show even at the expense of important executives. Does that make this right? Who am I to say. BUT, this was a smart way to tell distributors "hey, you are not the only way films are being released anymore."

This will help in slowly paving the way for other filmmakers to self-distribute their own films. I know, "he's Kevin Smith so he can do that. I'm Joe Blow and that does nothing for me." Many independent filmmakers were saying the same thing about digital filmmaking back in 1999 when George Lucas shot the Star Wars Episode 1 with digital cameras rather than the traditional 35mm celluloid. That was the starting point for digital filmmaking making its way into the mainstream and introducing itself to the film industry as a serious contender. 11 years later supporters of digital filmmaking are still fighting with the celluloid-lovers but this time have a lot more evidence of it's success than was present in 1998. I know "Red State" won't be the first self-distributed feature film. I know it would be unfair to compare "Red State" to "Star Wars" at this time as well. However, this does feel a lot like history repeating itself even in a miniscule way.

2. Self-Distribution. Or: Who cares, how does this affect you?
Where was I? Oh, right. Kevin Smith distributing "Red State" by himself and many having a problem with that. May I ask the detractors a question? What stake do you have in "Red State"? Did you invest money in the film yourself? If so then you have a right to have an issue with this process if you don't agree with it. If you have not then who cares? You can keep posting on forums saying "I don't like it. It's stupid. Does anyone here me? I said I don't like it." How does this really affect you? You will see the film in October in a wide release if you so choose to the same way you would if Miramax was making sure the prints made it to the theater okay.

Not only that, if bringing "Red State" through a regular distributor there would be several million dollars spent on advertising alone. And who will see "Red State"? People who like Kevin Smith. With a podcast network, a traveling Q&A session, online social media tools, and the newly appointed SModcast Pictures, Smith will actually spend far less money on advertising and still reach the same people who would want to see the movie anyway. The less money spent, the easier it will be to make the money back and make a profit.

3. I hate his Twitter posts. Or: It only takes one button.
Unfollow. Problem solved.

4. Kevin Smith and reviewers. Or: Is this even an issue?
So Kevin Smith has a problem with many film "critics" and websites. Smith reportedly has toyed with the idea of charging critics for screener copies of the film. I can see how many who make a hard living reviewing films would have a problem with this to an extent but with one less film to review will this really be an issue? If you're mad at him don't see the film. Don't pay for it. It wasn't made for you anyway probably. See, Smith has already had himself a decent career and created a decent following and at this point he's not hurting for money. At this stage in his career he's making movies for his fans. The people who pay to see and respect his movies.

Tired of several negative reviews of movies on the internet, Smith has challenged wannabe critics (myself included I suppose as I sit here in write this) to write about movies they love. To support positive talk about movies instead of trying to find things to nitpick about. I understand half the fun about reviewing movies is thinking critically about what makes a movie work and not work. We do this every week. I cannot blame Kevin Smith, however, for trying to promote positive thinking towards movies. We do live in an age where nearly every forum you come to has at least a few members who make outrageous claims and start arguments that usually end in name-calling and thoughtless insults. And that's really easy to do behind the internet personality "InceptionMan85." I'd say it's far more challenging and thought-provoking to take a positive stance for a movie you didn't enjoy.

Bottom line, if you have nothing to do with "Red State" then why does this really upset you that much? The dude's put out several movies the traditional way for 17 years. In what way will it disrupt your life for him to do it differently?

Another non-issue making the front pages.

Agree or disagree? Let your thoughts be known in the comments.


  1. I have watched the video of Smith's speech in its entirety and therefore have come to the opinion, the turmoil is "much ado 'bout nothin'". Which, come to think of it, is exactly what a paid for, pre-release ad campaign is supposed to do, isn't it? And he's getting valuable press and word of mouth coverage for free.

    He may be onto something about throwing money at the problem (of distribution) not being a good idea. But he's taking a tack that isn't available to a lot of filmmakers. It's reminiscent of when Radiohead released a recent album on their own, in a pay what you like model. Industry pundits said, when asked would the model work? "Yeah, it might work. The model has a few steps. Step 1, be Radiohead."

    Kevin has a habit of repeating himself or others in what he does. Sometimes he does it well, others, not so much. This time, I think his model might work well. Not insignificantly because he is the "Kevin Smith". People pay to see him do whatever. But the model is a solid idea.

    For those who didn't hear what he was planning specifically, here's what I heard him say they were trying:
    They were going to have a tour in a limited number of places that are non-theatrical venues where you will not only get to see the film, but, also an "Event" of some kind, likely at least a Q&A panel or him and cast/crew speaking. It's going to be pricy. The plan is to do enough of these to pay back the initial investment of $4 Million. Selling out venues like Carnegy Hall might just bring in that much, in theory.

    Then they'll take some of this money after the tour ends to pay for prints made for an actual, wide release. He's going to line up specific theater owners who want to participate. The number of prints made will depend on the interest of the venues, granting that the theaters will have to foot any advertising they think necessary to bring people into their theaters. Up to them to determine, from their share of the revenue, whether it's worth it. Apart from the non-ad buy, a typical arrangement for an indie film.

    He is already lining up foreign rights markets in a traditional way, so there's no difference in that scope. And with the non-American centric success in a couple of surprise movies (The Tourist, Gulliver's Travels, both international box office smashes, duds domestically) he might be onto something about doing US on the cheap.

    He's not re-inventing the wheel. He admits that. (References to how "Gone With the Wind" was distributed were in his speech at Sundance.) Will this work for other indie filmmakers who aren't "Kevin Smith"? Depends on the movie and the filmmaker. But getting these venues to consider alternatives should open doors to ideas that DO work for other indies.

    I for one, hope he makes it. If the film comes as an event near me, I'll likely go. If the film gets picked up in wide release by one of my neighborhood theaters, I might check it out. And this is despite the fact that I don't particularly like to watch most horror or political films (though I've written scripts using both themes.) I'll go because I am a Kevin Smith fan. And, if he sticks to what he said, he's only going to be making one more movie after this one.

    You have to admit, like him or not, he keeps things interesting.

    Christopher Schiller

  2. As long as he doesn't start charging film presenters (ie: programmers for film fest & independent movie theatres) for screeners, then I see no issue with any of this.