Kevin Smith on ‘Red State’

Why Kevin Smith bought his own movie at the Sundance Film Festival.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Kevin Smith on 'Red State'

Kevin Smith teased a public auction for the rights to his latest film, Red State, at the Sundance Film Festival. It turns out, his producer Jon Gordon opened the bidding, Smith offered $20, and Gordon sold it to him. In is trademark Q&A style, Smith laid out his bold new plan for indie film, and we broke it down:


It’s time to pull another Clerks


Kevin Smith: Ladies and gentlemen, I came here 17 years ago, all I wanted to do was sell my movie. I can’t think of anything f*cking worse 17 years later than selling our movies to people that just don’t f*ckin’ get it. Their most creative f*ckin’ endeavor is like, “Well, let’s just spend money on it. I’m sure that’ll work.” This has been so much fun for me, makin’ the flick and keepin’ the flick alive. We’re starting over so to speak. This time it’s not enough to just make the movie. We have to learn how to release the movie because true independence isn’t making a film and selling it to some jackass. True independence is schlepping that sh*t to the people yourself and that’s what I intend to do.


Start from the beginning: The budget for Red State


Kevin Smith: Now, as you can see, this is a labor of love as I said before. We’re talking about September 21st is when we started shooting and we’re talking about a budget of less than $4 million, a little hair under. We’ll open up, you’ll be able to see the exact figure later on but a little hair under four million bucks. We did it quick, shot about 25 days. Four months later we’re here. While we were making that movie, I was assisted by a zillion Gretzkys on my crew. Everyone there cinched the belts to pull it up. We’re up at Sundance Film Festival so this is not an uncommon story. When you’re passionate about something, everyone feels it and kind of jumps in if they dig the project enough. I don’t think I would’ve gotten the same kind of cooperation on Cop Out but I certainly got it on this movie in a big, bad way.


The Hollywood math


Kevin Smith: Let’s say maybe we get 4, maybe we get 6 if we’re f*ckin’ lucky. Things don’t seem to be going for the happy Texas dollars anymore up here so let’s say it’s about 4 million, let’s say we get 6. We’re real lucky, Harvey goes apesh*t, “Here’s six, let me go back to the Jets game!” Let’s say we get 6. A movie like this, essentially when they go out there in the world with it, they put $20 million in marketing on it. There’s what they call in this business The Lionsgate 20 Million. It’s not a slam. Lionsgate is a standard 20 million bucks. They just kind of spend about 20 million on all their movies and they’ve worked it out so their average works out very nicely for them. I sat there going okay, budget’s 4 million, then say we get 6, suddenly we’ve got to make back 6 million before I’ll feel okay. I was raised Catholic, I carry a lot of guilt about borrowing people’s money. At that point, essentially we’ve got to make not the $4 million we made the movie for, now 6 to pay back if we got $6 million from somebody, then they put the $20 million on top of that. That’s $26 million the movie’s now got to make before it’s in profit. But we all know that’s not the case because all of that money doesn’t go back to the studio or distributor or anything like that. Essentially you then have to make $50 million, double that $26 million, a little under the double number, in order to just get it to the profit line. For me, the idea of spending five times, giving somebody else five times the amount of the budget for the movie that we all collectively made, tried our asses off real hard just seems obscene.


What Kevin learned from Harvey Weinstein


Kevin Smith: Harvey was so f*ckin’ clever back then, the company had just been bought and sh*t like that. Harvey would always tell us something that inspired me. He created a kind of brotherhood mentality at Miramax and one of the things that he said which always f*ckin’ got to me was just like he would look at other studios opening movies, not just studios but the New Lines and Fine Lines back in the day. Whenever they would open well with something that really wasn’t that good, Harvey would literally just go, “F*ck, they just keep buyin’ it.” I was like, “What does that mean?” He’s like, “They buy the opening of the movie. It takes no talent to spend $20 million to make people aware of the f*ckin’ movie. Now you’ve got to make that money back.” I was just like yeah, yeah. Harvey would always say, “A studio 30 million is like my 15 million. My 15 is like their 30. I know how to spend money” because Harvey was very, very good and taught us very well how to release a film. We just paid attention for many, many years and watched what he did. The man was a genius. He was amazing. He was an artist. I just sat there and sucked it all in, me and Jon because Jon trained under Harvey. Jon was Harvey’s assistant for years and years. So we called our company The Harvey Boys for Harvey because he taught us everything we know.


Why the game needs to change


Kevin Smith: And one of the things that Harvey taught us is never give up a sure thing. Never give up a good thing, man. Hold onto it yourself. When you’re spending four times, five times the amount to market a movie or open a movie than you are to make it, that’s not an inspiring game at all. No kid can get into it now. I look at the f*ckin’ film world now and I’m like there’s no way I would’ve tried it. I wouldn’t have tried Clerks today because it’s impenetrable. Even if you’re lucky enough to make a movie, how the f*ck are you going to open a movie. It takes so much f*ckin’ money and so much time, effort and everything is fetishized about that one fuckin’s three days. They’ll spend 30, 40, 50 million just for trhee f*ckin’ days. I spent 25 days workin’ on this. I’m not gonna f*ckin’ sit there and bank everything on three days. There’s no point.


The plan


Kevin Smith: We’re going to keep it alive ‘til October 19th. We’re going to release this picture ourselves through my Smodcast Pictures banner. On October 19th, that’s when we hope to be in theaters in terms of New York or LA or wide, we’re not sure, we’re going to have to figure that out. But October 19th is a special day for me. It is the 17th anniversary of the theatrical release of Clerks. So we figured let’s hit that date because it’s kind of similar. We’re starting over so to speak. This time it’s not enough to just make the movie. We have to learn how to release the movie because true independence isn’t making a film and selling it to some jackass. True independence is schlepping that sh*t to the people yourself and that’s what I intend to do.



Where to see Red State before then


Kevin Smith: Smodcast Pictures is going to take Red State out on the road just kind of the way that they used to do in the movies, like Gone with the Wind would go play somewhere for a week, a month, pack up and go someplace else, play there as well, pack up leave, do that kind of thing. Road show. We’re going to do the same thing with Red State. It’s called the Red State USA Tour and it kicks off on March 5 in Radio City Music Hall. We’re going to show Red State in a f*ckin’ blue state. It is a big deal for us. That’s a big f*ckin’ house and we aim to fill it. 6,000 seats so we’re going to need your help. That’s the only reason I didn’t have as many screenings here as everyone wanted and sh*t. I’ve gotta make money off this bitch, you know what I’m saying. I ain’t playing the game the way you all play the game anymore where it’s just like sell it and somebody pours money on it. No, every f*ckin’ penny counts in this. Every penny of this operation has to be monetized and put right back into the f*ckin kitty. So we’re going to make our money back by going out on the road and going city by city. March 5 it starts in Radio City Music Hall. The next day is March 6, the Wilbur Theater in Boston. March 8 the Harris Theater in Chicago. March 9 the State Theater in Minneapolis. March 10 the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. March 11, Clowes Hall, Indianapolis. March 12, Midland Theater, Kansas City. That’s the home of the Phelpses so I’m gonna be at their f*ckin’ house. March 14 we go to Clark State back there in Springfield, OH. March 22, Paramount Theater in Denver. March 26, McAlister Theater in New Orleans. March 28 the Paramount Theater in Austin. March 29 the Cobb Energy Center in Atlanta and April 4 the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall in Seattle. Those are our first set of dates.


How the road show model works


Kevin Smith: Now, if we take on the road for those 13 dates, sell out all those rooms, essentially right there we’re about netting 1.5, 1.7 million dollars. So essentially we’re almost halfway back to paying our budget off. Look at this f*ckin’ marketing. We’re going to play the game straight. We’re not gonna spend a f*ckin’ dime on marketing. Look at all the sh*t I’ve been able to do with this movie. I feel like the Joker. I’m going, “Look what I did with f*ckin’ cans of gasoline and some bullets.” All it takes is just a little ingenuity, a little creativity and since we create these movies and love ‘em so much, it only makes sense that we take them out into the world. I’m happy to bring the flick from place to place. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to tour the movie from now until October 19th. If you can’t wait to see it in a normal movie theater on October 19th, then you can come see it on any one of these tour dates throughout March and the beginning of April, then we go quiet for another month and if we’re lucky and the tour goes well, we’ll open up the tour again. Jon and I intend to pay the entire $4 million budget back before the movie opens on October 19. When it opens on October 19th, we’re not going to spend to open it. We’re not going to buy any commercials. We’re not going to do print media, outdoor, billboards, nothing like that. Essentially, of the P&A equation, which is prints and advertising, we’re going to do the P part. We’re going to make out prints. We have to in order to show the movie. The advertising part we’re not going to do at all.


A sweet deal for exhibitors:


Kevin Smith: If you want to partner up and want to show our flick in your theater in your houses, this is what I can tell you. Last few years I’m pullin’ in about 8-10 million in box office. Now naturally they spent to get to that point but we’ll see. I think at this point, based on the amount of tours I’ve been able to sell out, the amount of merchandise we’ve been able to sell, SModcast how big it’s become, I’ve got an audience, ladies and gentlemen. They come to see the sh*t I do. Not everyone likes it. A lot of people come to see the stuff I do. They’re very hardcore and they’ve been waiting for this movie for a long, long f*ckin’ time. We want to partner with you, we want to be in bed with you. I’m a filmmaker, I just need a place to show my movie. That’s a movie theater so we’re looking for a smart exhibitor partner who wants to come in with us, give us some screens, get a nice f*ckin’ split of the loot and what not and do this as a separate outside model.


How this will help new indie filmmakers:


Kevin Smith: Here’s the thing, when I was a kid and I was trying to get into the film business and I just saw how difficult it was, how expensive it is and sh*t like that, I would just sit there and be like forget it, I’m not going to f*ckin’ try. What we want to do is like yes, anybody can make a movie. We know that now. We know that because I’ve made 10. That means anybody can make a f*ckin’ movie. What we aim to prove is that anybody can release a movie as well. It’s not enough to just make it and sell it anymore, I’m sorry. Look, if this is your first Sundance and that’s all you want to do, by all means f*ckin’ do it. I don’t think you’re stupid for wanting to do it. I did it myself once. Indie film isn’t dead, people. It just grew up. It’s just indie film 2.0 now and in indie film 2.0, we don’t let them sell our movie. We sell our movie ourselves.


You’ll pay more for Red State but it’ll be worth it


Kevin Smith: In these theaters we’re showing it, naturally it ain’t gonna play for the price of a f*ckin’ movie in a multiplex. You’re going to play probably six, seven, eight, 10 times as much as you would normally pay to see a movie but we’re going to give you some cool sh*t. We’ve go the movie in a stately, grander house. I’m going to come up and do Q&A afterwards. I’m going to bring the great Mr. Michael Parks with me. It’s going to be a good f*ckin’ time.


The last Kevin Smith movie


Kevin Smith: Now with the Red State experience, now that we’re captains of our own future, can distribute the film ourselves and what not, it’s time to kick open the next logical step and that would be I’m going to stop making movies, folks. This this is the second to last. Hit Somebody’s going to be the last one I do. After that I’m f*ckin’ done.


But Kevin will shepherd the future of indie films


Kevin Smith: Here’s the important thing. If we can get this right. If we can crack this f*ckin’ nut. If we can get distribution down so we can step aside from the f*ckin’ studio model, from the expense model and make it affordable to everybody, if we can do this right and we finish where we think we’ll finish, this kicks open the door for me and Jon.

What I want to do after I make that movie though is start making more movies. So once we get the Red State track, if this works for us, Smodcast Pictures belongs to all of us and you’re going to make your movies, put ‘em out to our studio and it ain’t gonna cost you a f*ckin dime. So root for us if you will, hate us if you want. I can’t think of a more interesting business news story that you’re ever going to hear about this f*ckin’ year. We’re definitely going to go out there and try to find a new distribution model. Please help us out in doing it.