Kevin Smith is sick and tired of the game. The game of making movies, that is. Yesterday, at a press conference held at Toronto Underground Cinema, mere hours before the sold-out Toronto premiere of Smith’s latest film Red State, Smith waxed poetic on everything from career burn-out and film marketing to Michael Bay and Walter Gretzky.
Red State, a horror movie about a cult, starring actors like John Goodman, Kevin Pollack and 2011 Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, is a departure from the broad buddy comedies that have made Smith famous (and often the target of critical ire). The film is meant to be an artistic battery recharge of sorts after years of dealing with studios that are more interested in marketing his films to an audience that wasn’t his and then blaming him when the movies opened to disappointing box office figures.
“They were never satisfied with my audience. I always got, oh Kevin your audience is coming. We’re trying to reach beyond your audience. I was like, let’s appreciate the audience that’s coming rather than dreaming about or even worse, trying to convince (people) to come to something that they have no interest in.”
Kevin remembers a particularly bizarre moment during the ramp up to the release of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back when his mother called to tell him she’d seen a commercial for the film on Lifetime, a network that’s devoted exclusively to women’s programming. “I said, ain’t nobody watching Lifetime who’s ever going to go and see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. That commercial cost $10,000 — a commercial that nobody watched and didn’t put one butt in a seat. After years and years, you think there’s a better way, there’s a smarter way.”
That’s why Smith opted to blaze his own trail by announcing earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival that he’d decided to release Red State himself rather than selling it to a distributor who wouldn’t know what to do with it, ensuring that the modest $4 million film would never go into profit.
“I was sitting there on day four (of the Red State shoot) thinking it’s unbelievable that this movie that clearly needs 10-15 million dollars, we did for 4 million. And then I started thinking about what its future was going to be and it was just depressing. Just once more back into the machine where you spend so much time making your art and then you hand it over to somebody else and they just commodify it.”
“(Hollywood) is a fast food assembly line. If we sell Red State to a distributor that has a 20 million marketing budget, tacked on to a 4 million dollar movie, that’s 24 million I have to make back in the theatre. But actually the 24 million needs to be 48 (million) because they split the movie with the exhibitors. So that 4 million dollar movie would now have to earn 48 million just in order to break even based on their math, and I’ve never made a movie that’s made 48 million dollars.”
On top of that, Smith maintains that a film like Red State needs special handling. “It’s about as different as anything I’ve ever done. And it’s about as different from anything that’s out there right now. It’s a real throwback to a time that doesn’t exist any more: mid-nineties, art-house independent cinema. If a studio tried to sell it like The Proposal, we’re fucked.”
That’s why he’s opting to take the film directly to his fans, offering a value-added post-film Q&A experience that will inspire them to make the trip to the movie theatre, even despite the inflated $50 admission price.
“I like the audience, that’s why I do it. I realized that if I want to be effective as an artist, if I wanted to continue to work, I had to learn to live in the nooks and crannies of their free time – that’s why I started the free podcasts – and then they’ll remember you when it’s choice time. It was easy to pull together the Red State tour; people who like Kevin Smith understand the idea.
I’m charging exactly what I charge to stand there and talk for two hours, only this time I’m bringing a movie too. They know you’re going to give them an individualized experience. They know you’re going to give them more than Michael Bay’s going to give them when two buses turn into robots and start fucking.”
Red State, which Smith has slogged all across the States and will continue on to a screening in Vancouver, has now officially gone into profit thanks to 15 sold-out screenings, merchandise and foreign sales as well as the sale of on-demand streaming rights to Lionsgate. Smith will use the profits towards his dream project, a two-part film about hockey in Canada called Hit Somebody, that he expects will be the last of his career.
“I want to do something that’s off the beaten path and off the norm, because that’s where the good work comes from. My last two movies are going to be the best of my career because I don’t give a shit any more. I have no career to think about. I’m closing it down.”
Smith claims that this last leg of his career was particularly inspired by the CBC documentary Hockey: A Peoples History and by some advice Walter Gretzky gave to his son Wayne many years ago. “Walter told his son, don’t chase the puck. The smart player knows where the puck’s gonna be. So for the last few years that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
“To use another Gretzky quote: you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. So for the last three years, I’ve just been taking lots of shots, and it’s really worked out.”
Red State will be released on DVD in October and Smith hopes to begin production on his next project in 2012.