"I know how hard it is to be a Kevin Smith fan." From the stage of the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles on Saturday night, Kevin Smith was addressing what seemed to be a room full of nothing but Kevin Smith fans after the local premiere of his new film, "Red State."
The event capped off the first stage of a release strategy launched at the Sundance Film Festival in January. In some ways, it was a night in which it was never easier or better to be a Kevin Smith fan, as there was an upbeat, people's-gathering vibe to the whole evening. (This was the opposite, say, of the angry public beheading at the live show in Detroit by Charlie Sheen.)
Rather than sell the film to a conventional U.S. distributor, Smith is putting out the film on his own, hoping to cut out any middlemen and the need for an expensive marketing budget. And he's counting on the loyalty and patronage of his fans to make that plan work. As he said from the stage Saturday night, what with the 15-city premium-priced tour wrapping up with this L.A. stop and the sale of the DVD, VOD and foreign rights, "Red State" already will have made back its $4-million production budget before it reaches theaters in the fall.
Though Smith downplayed "Red State" as being in any way "a statement movie," he also acknowledged that it was "about two big subjects, Christianity and being an American." Smith -- who is known for dialogue-driven comedies such as "Clerks," "Chasing Amy" and the religion-themed "Dogma" -- has been describing "Red State" as a horror film, perhaps savvily trading one audience-friendly genre for another. The film's story involves a small, aggressively anti-gay religious congregation that through a series of events enters into a bloody armed standoff with a cadre of ATF agents at a remote compound.
The film certainly played well to the room, as there were derisive catcalls during an on-screen sermon denouncing homosexuality, screams of shock at some unforeseen twists and wild cheering as the villains got theirs. Smith said that, of the previous stops on the "Red State" tour, Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., had been "bloodthirsty" in their cheering -- but he said the Los Angeles crowd had topped both those cities.
All told, Smith spent nearly 2 1/2 hours onstage Saturday night, first with a pre-screening introduction and then a marathon post-movie Q&A session that was longer than the film itself. After about an hour onstage following the movie, Smith brought out 10 members of the film's cast, including Michael Angarano, Kerry Bishé, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks. The questions from the audience, asked by people who had been lined up since before the cast was introduced, continued to be essentially only for Smith. He was, as it turned out, the one the Smith faithful had shown up for, just as the director had been saying in interviews building up to the screening.
The final question of the evening came from someone who introduced himself as an aspiring filmmaker and asked, "How do I get my stuff seen, how do I get a fair distribution deal somewhere?"
"I don't know," Smith shot back. "I don't have one for this."
-- Mark Olsen
Poster images: The Harvey Boys / coopersdell.com