Some questions & answers about Red State

For starters, if the business of Red State bores you, skip this piece and listen to me interview Mitch Albom instead, on our new SModcast.com show entitled SMinterview.

The other day, Kim Masters emailed me a few Sundance questions for a Hollywood Reporter piece. Apparently, I sent her the responses after the magazine had closed and there was no room for my answers on their website. Rather than pitch ‘em out, I figured I’d use all my answers here, as a Red Statements blog.

Questions are by Kim – who I’ll be talking to for an episode of SMeet the Press on Wednesday (which Kim will also run on her KCRW show).

KM: did you damage your relations with indie distributors with the thing at sundance?

KS: I don’t think so.  Jonathan Sehring at IFC wrote me a really nice email offering us his screens in NYC.  Bob Weinstein told Jon & I that we were doing exactly what he & Harvey had done when they started with The Secret Policeman’s Ball.  Nobody is threatened by what I’m doing, since I’m doing what I’ve always done between films: go out on the road and do Q&As.  This time, I’m just bringing a movie along.

In terms of the industry side, Jeff Robinov sent me a really nice pair of emails last week.  Good dude.

KM: are you imploding?

Look, I’m a writer too – so I know how fun it is to work hyperbolically.  But it’s just so weird Flemming wrote that imploding bit – as if I wasn’t a person anymore, but more of a character.  I don’t know him at all; only remember speaking to him once on the phone back in 03/04 when he was still at Variety for a piece about Green Hornet or Fletch Won.  Nice enough guy.  But his piece about me after Sundance?  I honestly felt worse for him than me because he hurt his credibility.  You wanna know what the indie distribs who I’m still very much friends with are saying to me?  One emailed “What’d you do to Nikke Finke’s bitch-boy?”  A studio friend wrote “Mike’s just mad because Matlock‘s off the air.”  That made me laugh, because he came off very “YOU KIDS STAY OFFA MY NEIGHBOR’S LAWN, YA’ HEAR ME?!?” He read as old and out of touch by attacking a social-media experiment that is somehow threatening to him.  It was like watching a grandparent try and fail to grasp the internet.  He works for a site that prides itself on how it supposedly goes after studios all the time for blowing billions on movies the site deems crap, yet goes after a guy who’s like “I’m gonna follow the same financially responsible roll-out plan we used on Clerks and show the movie whenever I go speak on the road before it comes out in theaters October 19th, and we’re not gonna spend on TV spots & traditional marketing.” So I do the opposite of what they attack the studios for… and I get attacked anyway.  It’s cool: I’m sure he’ll take another misguided, geriatric shot at me from the entertainment section of the retirement community newsletter one day.

He wasn’t the only one online to overreact, just the most emo about it.  Someone on the net said I was having a Tom Cruise jumping-on-the-couch-meltdown.  I thought that was funny, ’til I realized the dude was onto something: it’s not a Tom Cruise-moment, it’s a Jerry Maguire-moment.  I’ve got a little fish in a plastic bag and one idealistic secretary on my side, and the Bob Sugars seem to be leaning in doorways, smirking.

KM: has the internet removed every filter so that you are in fact damaging yourself even as you connect with your devote fans?

No more than you were hurting your career when you wrote HIT & RUN.  Some projects are worth taking a little shit over, right?

KM: or will you triumph on your tour and prove the critics wrong?

There is no win or loss, really.  I wouldn’t be trying this if we didn’t believe we could make it work on a pure numbers basis.

I present a bunch of my tour stats from the gigs I did in 2009 and early 2010 in this blog.

This is what I’ve been doing for the last ten years, between making films: going out on the road and doing Q&A shows.  Folks are already paying $65 bucks to see me stand there, sweat, and talk about that the time I wrote a script for Superman; now, for this tour, they’re getting more for the same price: a screening of Red State as well.

KM: on a more micro level, the story runs through some career points–good and less good.. a source says you were very rattled when z & m didn’t work

“Source”?  Anybody could’ve been a “source” on that one, as I talked about it publicly around then. Even on SModcast: you can actually hear how “rattled” I am in episodes 68 and 69 of SModcast.

But here’s part of the reason for the disconnect between me and the people who’re taken aback by what’s not really a big deal: all of this stuff leading up to self-distribution?  I’ve covered it in numerous podcasts and blogs; so the audience that likes my stuff kinda knew it was coming already.  Naturally, not everyone in the press corps follows my podcasts, so I guess this was all a surprise to them.  But if you listen to all of the Red State of the Union podcasts from the start, I said about 75% of the things that I said on the stage at Sundance that night.  And when you boil it all down, all I said was “I’m gonna take my flick out myself and not spend any money on marketing.”  Why are some cats going all Chicken Little over THAT?  Be outraged if I was like “SPEND TENS OF MILLIONS MORE ON MY LITTLE HORROR MOVIE THAT NOBODY WANTED TO MAKE IN THE FIRST PLACE, SO MUCH SO THAT IT TOOK US THREE YEARS TO FIND $4 MILLION TO MAKE IT!”

KM: thought you were losing your touch and withdrew for a time even from the web

Question any source who tells you that Kevin Smith has ever stepped away from the internet since 1995. Again: there’s a Twitter stream to read. You can literally track my movements and presence on the internet around that time with very little Googling.

KM: then took a studio movie figuring you’d get $upport from warner and not take the heat if the movie didn’t work.

I did Cop Out at WB because…
a) My Dad would’ve loved it.
b) I was gonna get to work with Bruce Willis – an actor I always loved.
c)  I didn’t want to write anything at that moment and Jeff Robinov asked me if I wanted to take a crack at directing something I didn’t write.
d) Again: my Dad would’ve loved it.  But most importantly…
e) I wanted to learn about studio marketing.  I’d seen 12 years of Miramax/WeinsteinCo marketing but I wanted to see how “they” did it across the street – especially Sue Kroll.  I thought her marketing of Dark Knight was pitch-perfect, so I wanted to work with her and pick her brain.  Smart lady, Sue: only Kroll would say “Let’s put the scary nun masks on ‘The Town’ poster.”   Love her.  I always paid attention whenever she said anything.

But WB was not a money gig for me at all: I took an 80% pay cut to do it.  Lots of us took pay cuts, cast and crew.  I also gave up half my salary to get the movie green-lit (Marc Platt did, too).  It was a $36 million flick producer Mike Tadross and the rest of us were able to bring in for $32 million.  And thank God I took the gig - as it led directly to money for Red State.

KM: but things went way wrong between you and willis

Let’s keep perspective, Kim: things “went way wrong” between this woman and her kids; Me and Bruce just worked very differently. 

There were days it sucked and days I’ll never forget because I never imagined in a million years I’d be working with the man who played David Addison.  At the premier, before the movie, even though he was the toughest person I’ve ever worked with, I still thanked him for making a boyhood dream come true.  I meant that and still do.  But will we work together ever again?  Likely not.

KM: a talent rep complains that you smoked too much weed and didn’t deal with the actors

Nah – I dealt with every actor who wanted to be dealt with on that set.  Talk to Tracy, Kevin, Adam, Seann or Ana.  

But if I was smoking so much weed, how did I manage to not only bring the film in on schedule, but under budget? In fact…
- If I was supposedly so stoned, how could I shoot all day THEN edit the film myself all night?
- Also: I played Carnegie Hall second week of this alleged weed-soaked shoot – perhaps the biggest show of my life. 
- A week later, I played goalie in three games during the Walter Gretzky Street Hockey Tournament in Brantford, ONT, at the end of the first week of shooting. 
- I put together the deal for Hit Somebody with Mitch Albom during the Cop Out shoot. 
- I Tweeted constantly during the shoot, all of which are still currently readable, none of which indicate an out of control weed-freak on the set of REEFER MADNESS. 
- Listen to the any podcast recorded during the shoot and you can hear how lucid I am at that point (granted, they were after-hours recordings not done on set, but still).
- You can listen to me during interviews conducted regularly then with Opie and Anthony in NYC or Dean Blundell’s radio show in Toronto; sometimes from set.  Yes – what a big, fat, lazy, unenthused stoner I sound like.

Also: is there really anything such as “too much weed”?

KM: then came the plane thing and the kevin-is-crazy contingent postulates that this is where the alleged implosion began.

No, but the Southwest incident, naturally, is very significant – particularly now, as my flesh is getting roasted in some press circles.  When over 5000 publications tell you you’re fat in their headlines, it’s a kind of baptism by fire.  There’s not much anyone can write about you that stings anymore, as they’ve done the worst: exposed your greatest insecurity.  Maybe that happened so I could withstand the shit I’m taking now for an idea that isn’t even revolutionary: it’s simply indie rock.  

Ani Difranco has been doing this for years: she makes her stuff and takes it directly to her audience without spending money to build awareness for albums.  Trent Reznor has been doing this for awhile now, too – and he’s just been nominated for an Academy Award.  I’m merely taking a page out of their books and trying this with a low-budget film.  

Jon and I are simply being financially responsible with a movie NOBODY WANTED TO MAKE.  That’s the important thing to remember: we know we’re dealing with a film that’s not overtly commercial, since it took three years to find the money to even make it.  So instead of fooling myself and pretending it’s worth double or triple the budget it barely raised to make itself, but this time in marketing dollars to sell it, I’m just being honest: we’d be wasting money advertising this to anybody but the audience that normally goes to see my flicks.  And since I already reach them on a daily basis via Twitter and the shows at smodcast.com, then why not skip the added costs and try to get our investors a better return on their four million.  On this March tour, we could clear a million bucks and change – and that’d be 25% of the budget back. Just in 15 or so single screenings!  Why is that crazy?  How am I “imploding”? The sky is not falling: I just figured out a way to save the biggest cost I have as a filmmaker: marketing.

Does this work for the studio?  Of course not: they build massive brands and tent-poles and franchises: they need to spend money to make people aware of their stuff from the ground-up because their audience is the entire world stage.  I play on a much smaller stage, to a much smaller crowd.  

In the 90′s, sure – spending marketing money on my stuff and taking a chance made sense to some. But it’s almost twenty years later and the business is different and changing even more.  Disney has even sold off Miramax.  I’m nearly 20 years into what I do (film and everything else); I know that what I do is no for everyone.  Spending millions on TV ads to reach people who wouldn’t like my shit anyway is just wasteful ego-stroking at this point.  I’m happy I have any audience, let alone my audience – and they know when my stuff is coming, because we talk about it all the time.  The days of being thrilled seeing a commercial for my dopey little flicks on TV have been replaced by the queasiness of “That commercial just cost us tens of thousands of dollars to air and nobody watching this network is ever going to pay to see my flick.”

KM: the other side says you’re brilliant, you don’t need the system and those in the industry who are complaining are pissed because they’re know you’re right and you have such a strong fan base that you don’t need them.

I’m not brilliant, I’ve just been paying attention to people who’ve done it already in other fields and trying to apply it here.  Marketing friends suggested I do it as a home-run, no-brainer with a Clerks III, but I don’t even own Clerks anymore, nor do I have a Clerks III in me at the moment; I’m not sure I ever will. 

I’m actually kinda living Clerks III instead - inasmuch as, as the end of that flick, Dante and Randal buy the Quick Stop and re-open it themselves.  I’m just giving that a shot in real life.

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