The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Sundance 2011: Kevin Smith says goodbye to his indie movie career

Kevin smith As I wrote last week, it seemed hard to believe that Kevin Smith could actually auction off his new film, "Red State," in front of an audience of moviegoers in Sundance on Sunday night. And we were right: It was a quasi-hoax. (You can read the details in this post from my colleague John Horn:  "Kevin Smith takes 'Red State' into his own hands") But after a vulgar introduction filled with obscene jokes and a tirade directed at the shady insider game of indie theatrical distribution, Smith auctioned off the movie for $20 to ... himself, saying he would self-distribute the film.

I've been bombarded with e-mails from indie distributors, not to mention appalled observers, who thought the whole spectacle was a bitter joke, mostly on the potential buyers, since at Sundance time is money, meaning that the acquisition execs wasted a lot of money watching a film that really wasn't up for sale when they could've been off somewhere else, watching something with actual sales potential. It sounds like the movie itself played well, but Smith played very badly. It's one thing to come off as a boorish boob, waving a Wayne Gretzky hockey stick on stage. But it's another thing to crassly exploit indie-film buyers and the media to shill your movie.

It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Hollywood is a tough, brutally competitive town under the best of circumstances. But when you act like a bigger blockhead than Ricky Gervais, you've got troubles. Smith is going to be needing a lot of favors to succeed at distributing his own film, but right now, no one's in the mood to cut him any slack. Ask Harvey Weinstein -- it's tough to make a living when virtually everyone in the business is rooting for you to fail.  

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Kevin Smith adresses the audience after the premiere of his new film, "Red State," Jan. 23, 2011, at the Sundance Film Festival. Credit: Danny Moloshok / Associated Press

 
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Good thing nobody's talking about it at all, giving him free publicity.

Director Kevin Smith's stunt auction at last week's Sundance Film Festival may seem like the kind of crude behavior that a person might expect to come from the director of movies like 'Clerks,' or 'Mallrats,' but actually was a direct calling to all independent movie makers to begin taking themselves more seriously in Hollywood. The idea of a small independent movie production company purchasing the distribution rights to one of Smith's films seems outrageous, and maybe ludacris to the average spectator, but in fact its a reaffirming gesture to lesser knowns coming from the person who organized the hoaxed event. Now it could be reasoned that independent groups like the ones who intended to bid on Smith's new movie, 'Red State,' who acted like they were going to buy the rights to Smith's film at Sundance can now experience the freedom that most bigger movie industry groups have had in the past to make the movies that they would deem profitable and valuable in Hollywood. In a sense, Kevin Smith is seeing that the chains that have always burdened and kept independent production groups from ever getting off of the ground have been all of a sudden been lifted. This shift in how movies should be being produced and distributed by lesser knowns is a starting point for the future of how Hollywood should be, at least in the eyes of many; it could be the start of a break from the 'award showdom' that has dominated Hollywood for the last ten years. In the case of Mr. Smith, his attempt at prophesying the new face of Hollywood by encouraging some of the more well-known independent production groups at Sundance to bid on purchasing 'Red State' should be commended and taken into consideration when he finally does decide on who he should agree on distributing his film. Odds are that even though Mr. Smith does face some adversity in Hollywood, which many people in the film industry probably also have, he shouldn't have any problems when it comes to making a deal to direct his next movie, because in the wake of all of the new expected progress independent types could be making in the future, it could be reasoned that Mr. Smith's reputation as a good filmmaker will still be tested true. Kevin Smith's demonstration of what should be to come concerning the new involvement of independent filmmakers is a big stand in the name of a, what very well could be, legendary cause, and something he is famous for.

Brendan Ryan

The Brendan Ryan Company
Houston, Texas

Thank God for The K Man and doing exactly what he's doing. Film is dead in the digital world...and it's not coming back. And whatever format he shot this on is not the point. The point is that audiences are fragmenting and basically telling Hollywood and all the manacles it's always used...to pretty much take off. We don't like it your way as the only way anymore. Keep it going Kev. I'm with ya as a writer and movie maker myself. But first and foremost as a fan and audience member. Not wanting the studio system and its distribution lackeys to tell me exactly what I'm going to see.

Hey, Brendan? Ludacris is a rapper. Ludicrous is how you would describe the situation at hand. You're not a screenwriter, are you?

I've been a fan of your column/blog for years now, and I'm a little disappointed with how quick you are to dismiss Kevin Smith's ballsy decision as nothing more than bad behavior. I'm not a big Smith fan, but I'm impressed with the way he explains his thinking on his website (http://theredstatements.com/) In my opinion, you're missing the real story here: what he's doing actually has a decent chance of working and might just help reinvent independent film as a system where making good, original movies is more important than kissing up to industry insiders.


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