Posted on Monday, January 24th, 2011 by Russ Fischer
There’s been a lot of talk in the past twelve hours about Kevin Smith, Red State, ‘four-walling,’ and the way that Mr. Smith’s distribution plans fit into the indie landscape. At the center of all the talk is the speech Mr Smith gave on stage after the debut Sundance screening of Red State. That’s where his ‘auction-style’ sales plan was revealed to be less a sale than a hand-off. Now, thanks to the magic of video, you can see the whole speech for yourself. Plus, read the director’s extended Twitter dialogue talking about the speech and the ‘sale.’
Watch and/or listen to this speech, paying particular attention to the financial talk that kicks in around five minutes in. That’s where he talks about how he could make Red State for four million, sell it for six, then end up having to make almost $50m to recoup marketing costs and more. I’m not going to weigh in on the auction aspect, because it’s no business of mine what the director and his producer do with their movie. You can read Mike Fleming’s analysis of that angle here, and Devin at Badass Digest has a good take on how going with a distributor like Magnet, which wouldn’t lay out anywhere close to $20m for ads, might have been a really indie way to get Red State out to audiences.
Someone called the aspect ‘punk rock filmmaking’ and Kevin Smith loved it, later using ‘punk rock’ to describe his own sense of elation. But taking Red State on the road isn’t punk rock — it’s not like the early days of Dischord Records, selling handmade records and doing shows for the lowest possible door price. It’s more like filmmaking in the late-model Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails style, where Mr. Smith can leverage his well-established fanbase to make money on the roadshow. Without spending years in the trenches building that fanbase, could Red State go on the road with $50+ tickets and make money? Not a chance.
Regardless, here’s the video. Check it out, and weigh in below about how you think this plan is going to work. I have no doubt that his roadshow plan will be successful, but how will Red State fare when it goes out on many more screens in October, with no advertising?
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In the Tweet that launched a thousand angry bloggers, I VERY specifically said ” … I plan to pick my distributor in the room — auction style…” Then, EVERYONE ELSE said I was selling the movie. But I never said that. Very specific wording. Then, I watched as lots of bloggers turned it into “He says he plans to sell the film in the room.” So, if you’re mad that I didn’t live up to a story that I actually really didn’t tell … well, that’s kinda my whole point about the press. Ta-da … I’m just reaching back to an old model from Hollywood’s glory days: we’re taking our show on the road. GONE WITH THE WIND (which this movie certainly ain’t) didn’t open on 2600 screens; it opened on one. And played there for awhile. Then packed up & moved to another screen in another city to play there for awhile. We’re compressing that process, of course, doing only one screening per night on the tour, but it’s their idea, not mine. And the highlight of my light last night was talking to Bob Weinstein at the party after the screening. As @TheJonGordon & I explained our plan, Bob said “You’re 4-walling. That’s what me & Harvey did in the beginning.” To which I said “That’s why we call it The Harvey Boys.” Then, in true Bob fashion, he instantly did the math on our Radio City Music Hall premiere to tell us we could have the highest per screen average ever. He saw the flick this morning & we spoke again. He loved it; said really nice things about me as a director. Then, in true Bob fashion, he added “If it were mine, I’d tell you take 10 minutes out.” It was awesome. It was like being recognized as an adult by your Dad.
But taking our show on the road isn’t a new idea. I’ve taken all of my movies on the road for promotional tours. Only difference is, this time around, we’re charging for tickets. And if that price is too high for you, don’t worry: you’ll be able to see the flick for a lot less on October 19th. But with this tour, our aim is to get financially whole. I want to use actual, recognizable math on our little $4mil flick. Once we clear $4mil (off the tours, the merch, the ViewAskew Garage Sale), we’re able to give our investors their money back. So long as we don’t spend on marketing, every penny after that becomes profit. No more of this “The movie cost $4mil to make but needs to earn $50mil at the box office to break even.” That ALWAYS bugged me: I’d got out of my way to make flicks for as little as possible, then watch folks spend more to market it. But that’s how the business works: EVERYBODY does that. It is the standard. And I’ve done it, too; for 9 films now. So after doing it the same way for 9 times, you start to think about how you’d do it differently: is it possible to sell a flick WITHOUT spending any of that money? With a budget so low, why not try? Shit, just to change it up a bit. For years, bloggers told me I was tired for doing so many Askewniverse flicks. You hear that enough, it sinks in. No artist wants to be called tired, y’know?
So with only 1 flick left that I want to make, I figure why NOT gamble a bit. Because, like I said: if this works out the way we’re hoping, we’ll have a model we can use with not only HIT SOMEBODY, but any SModcast Pictures we make after it — which would be YOUR flicks, not mine. I’ve told my stories in film already & I get to tell way more inventive stories every week on all the @SModcast Network shows. But I love being involved with flicks so I figure “Why not help OTHER cats get THEIR flicks out there.” If we can build SModcast Pictures into a brand — the way Harvey & Bob made the Miramax name stand for a specific kind of film — then it can become a kind of no-budget service label for flicks we feel fit our ethos or can’t find love elsewhere in the world. Indie flicks need special handling, and what we’re doing with RedState is simply special-handling it ourselves. And, yes — I’m aware there’s lots of bile for me & the flick in the blogosphere right now. But there was lots of bile for me in the blogosphere last week, too. And last year. And the year before that. That was never gonna change. But here’s what I’ve spent the night & morning reading instead: the Twitter feed — where there’s been so much enthusiasm & youthful exuberance & zeal for the idea of self distribution, I’ll be honest: I’ve rolled a couple tears. I’ll tell you what I’ll never forget about Sundance 2011: as I left the stage last night, a couple 20-something dudes followed along in the hallway, saying the dug the flick. Then one of them nearly knocked me dead when he said, with all the earnestness & passion of indie film incarnate “You can do this.” And normally I’d say I was just stoned, but since I was THC-free that day, I tell you this not from a stoner, “Hey, maaaann … ” free association, but as something that – in that brief moment — was about as real as raincoats: that kid was a thinner, better-looking, more-pussy-getting version of me, circa ’94. And 1994 didn’t say “You fucking idiot! Do what everyone else does and sell your flick & spend to open it!” 1994 kinda said “Skate, fucker … ” knowing full-well that if I pull this off, it’s gonna be easier for him to get HIS flicks out there. That moment meant the world to me; I’ll take it to my grave.
I was telling @JenSchwalbach this morning: it’s almost as if, 17 years ago, I came to this same place, and two roads diverged in a yellow wood. Cliche, I know – just lemme finish. So I chose a path that made ALL the difference. And 17 years later, this festival, universe, they all blessed (or possibly cursed) me with the chance of a lifetime: take the OTHER road instead to see what happens. And NOBODY can fault me for doing so, because a) I’m doing it incredibly financially responsibly, b) I’m not asking for help from anyone but the cats who wanna either see this flick or see this model work. c) I did it as entertainingly as possible. For years, I’ve read “He’s no filmmaker.” Turns out they were right: I’m more of an entertainer. And any entertainer worth their salt goes out on the road with their art. There was a Tweet last night that called SModcastPictures and the RedStateTour “punk rock filmmaking”. I LOVED that. I co-opted Jello Biafra’s “Don’t hate the media; become the media” for our RedStatement. But what I dug most about the sentiment? It made me feel like I was 23 again. Folks can write what they like, but as an artist, I’m cosmically invigorated & full of piss & vinegar. THAT’S where bold art comes from. They bitched at me for being complacent or for making something as sappy & mainstream. Everything about RedState is the opposite of that… and they’re still bitching. And if this was still 1994, and the only way I could find out what people thought of what we did/are doing was by reading reviews or articles, I’d feel bummed that there wasn’t more support from a media that bitches about lameness/sameness all the time. But it’s 2011 – and via @Twitter, I can INSTANTLY find out how the people who wanna come see the flick or support the cause actually feel.
And I can’t thank you all enough for what I’ve read on this feed all night & today. And I apologize to every Tweeter over the course of the last few months who ever Tweeted “Why don’t you just distribute it yourself?” It was SO hard to not respond with “THAT’S THE PLAN, BITCHES!” And you KNOW how hard it is for me to keep my trap shut about ANYTHING. But four days into shooting, @TheJonGordon & I had a serious talk about taking it out ourselves; the possibility of building & BUILDING, instead of building & selling. Our point was this: we were having SO much fun answering to no one, creating the life of the film every day, not following a traditional structure. And I’ll be honest: fun’s hard to come by in this business, because it IS a business. There’s lots of money at play. People tend to get brutally serious about shit that doesn’t matter. Original ideas get curbed in favor of the tried & true. As risky as folks are with millions of dollars, the risk usually doesn’t extend to the flicks, and why should it: there’s safety & financial security or prosperity in the familiar. @TheJonGordon & I were both kinda at wit’s end with the rigidity of the old way, but RedState brought back the fun. Everything about the way we’re going about things forces us to be MORE creative, and it feels awesome just to be doing the same thing differently for a change. It’s reinvigorated us — like when Rooster stabs the horse in the leg in TRUE GRIT: RedState is making us run like we’ve never run before. And as someone who wants to be an artist, it’s just the shot in the ass (or the jab in the leg) that I needed. I’m INDIE again — maybe for the first time, even. It’s frightening & thrilling. My heart’s been racing all weekend. I feel alive! Young! Punk Rock! I feel like Bill Murray at the end of SCROOGED. There’s a Taoist proverb that’s been rolling around my head since we pulled into Sundance, and it kind of sums up this weekend for me: “To be great is to go on. To go on is to go far. To go far is to return.” Well, I’ve now returned … and I’m ready to do it all over again.