Image Credit: Danny Moloshok/AP Images
Seventeen years ago at Sundance, a chubby New Jersey convenience store worker broke into Hollywood.
Sunday night, he broke out of it.
Kevin Smith, who became a hero to aspiring filmmakers everywhere by selling his comic book collection and maxing out credit cards to create 1994’s Clerks, premiered that film at Sundance and sold it to Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax, which turned it into a cult-hit that spoke to a generation.
“Cult” was the operative word Sunday as Smith premiered his latest movie, the bizzaro horror thriller Red State, about a gay-hating minister (Michael Parks) who goes on a blood-drenched rampage against an equally murderous squad of federal agents, with some sex-crazed teens stuck in the middle. In addition to Red State being a film about a cult, Smith also announced plans to leverage his own cult-fanbase to break out of the studio distribution system and put the film out there for audiences on his own.
Though Smith had promised via Twitter he would auction the film to a distributor live from the stage after the premiere, it turned out to be a joke. When the auction started, he immediately “bought” the $4 million movie himself for $20, and announced he would use Twitter (where he has 1.7 million followers), his popular comedy podcast, a 15-city roadshow tour, and word-of-mouth from fans to release the picture himself.
“What we want to do is, like, ‘Yes, anybody can make a movie,'” Smith said — at the tail end of a nearly half-hour long speech. “We know that now. We know that because I’ve made ten, you know what I’m saying? That means anybody can make a f—ing movie. What we aim to prove is that anybody can release a movie now as well. It’s not enough to make it and sell it now, I’m sorry.”
He compared laboring to make a truly independent film and selling it to a studio distributor to having a child and giving it to someone else to raise.
Smith said the one thing he can’t do in-house is get the movie onto screens. So he put out the invitation for theater owners to cut a special deal with him, which he pledged would be better terms than what they get from studios. “We want to partner up, man,” he said, taking a shot at his last movie, the critically slammed Warner Bros. comedy Cop Out: “We won’t screw you over. We won’t be like, ‘You gotta f—ing take this piece of s—. If you want The Dark Knight, you better take this piece of s— Cop Out.”
His plan is to have the movie in theaters nationwide Oct. 19, the anniversary of the Clerks release. He didn’t make the project sound especially inviting to potential exhibitors, however, saying he would not do any advertising or interviews to promote the film, instead relying on his fanbase to spread the word. The ecclesiastical irony was not lost on many in the audience. “Kevin Smith intends to market Red State, a film about a church-cult, directly to his fans.The irony of ‘preaching to the choir’ is piquant,” tweeted James Rocchi of MSN Movies.
Smith apologized to studio scouts in the audience who may have thought he was sincere about selling the film. Then he joked: “I’m not that sorry. It’s a film festival — come see a movie…. I will say this in my own defense, a lot of you work for studios and s—. Studios make movies. Movies have trailers. So you guys make a lot of trailers; you’ve lied to me many times.”
His next project is the hockey film Hit Somebody, which he announced would be his last film as a director. After that, he said he wanted to focus on his fledgling distribution company, helping other indie filmmakers get their films to an audience without going through Hollywood.
Or would his becoming a successful distributor actually make him just another part of Hollywood?
To put it in one of Smith’s beloved geek-friendly Star Wars metaphors, is he defying the Darth Vader of studios — or simply joining them to help rule the indie movie galaxy?
Footnote: About six members of an anti-gay extremist church used as the model for the religious group in Red State showed up outside the theater to protest, but few festival-goers paid attention to them besides a few dozen counter-protesters carrying goofy signs. Smith marched over himself with one that read: “God Hates Fat.”
More on Red State from EW: