Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mr. Red State: Or How I Learned to Stop Promoting and Love the Process

by Don Smith - Freelance Writer
Kevin Smith, writer/director of Red State

Kevin Smith has decided the old way isn't his anymore.

This doesn't only include his choice to write and direct his first horror movie, "Red State," with an ensemble cast led by veteran actor Michael Parks. The "Clerks" filmmaker, unjustly best known for his foul-mouthed characters and failed attempts to cross into the mainstream, has chucked the idea of doing press for his own film - at least, after the film should be picked up by a distributor.

Instead Smith, 40, is doing all of his promotion before the film premieres in a non-competition category at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 23 through a variety of Internet sources.

After his last outing, "Cop Out," an under-performing buddy-cop movie starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, Smith ranted against movie reviewers, saying that they should have to pay to see a preview like regular theater-goers. In short, he explained, "People are free to talk shit about any of my flicks, so long as they paid to see it."
Lo and behold, criticism of his stance from reviewers ensued so it seems Smith has taken an alternate approach. He has launched a self-run information campaign about his latest project through two Web sites, his Twitter account, podcasts, a slow-rolling stream of posters and a teaser trailer, all disseminated in some clever ways.

'Nothing about Red State has been done conventionally;
why should I start now?'
First teaser poster for Red State
 The tone and subject of Smith's latest work sits far from his comedic movies. As described on the Sundance Web site:

"Red State begins by following three horny high-school boys who come across an online ad from an older woman looking for a gang bang. Boys being boys, they hit the road to satisfy their libidinal urges. But what begins as a fantasy takes a dark turn as they come face-to-face with a terrifying 'holy' force with a fatal agenda."

It's also a film that Smith financed on his own - something he hasn't done since "Clerks" - after Harvey Weinstein passed on funding it. With the help of former Miramax exec Jon Gordon, the writer/director raised $4 million to complete his horror vision under the production company name of 'The Harvey Boys.' As Smith explains in a Oct. 31, 2010, blog post, it's "a shout-out to an Indie Icon who once said 'Fuck this traditional bullshit, I’ll do it my way…'”

After a 25-day shoot, Smith amazingly previewed a "fine-cut" of the movie for the cast and crew 48 hours after movie wrap. (He was editing after each daily wrap.) The following day, he released the first in a series of teaser posters. What he calls "The Holy Ghost," Smith described the poster as "Moody, weird, and pitch-perfect for the tone of the film." The teaser art was created by Gordon's assistant, Melissa Bloom, with "a Gretzky-like assist by [View Askew Webmaster] Ming [Chen]," which he saw as another way self-reliance had infused itself into the project.

'Skating up near the blue line... where the puck is gonna be.'
A 74-second teaser trailer, podcasts and more teaser posters have been Smith's ramp-up to Sundance. In a deft use of his popular Twitter feed (over 1.7 million followers strong), he has auctioned off first-appearances of each subsequent poster to benefit various charities, like The Kenny Gordon Foundation, Have Faith Haiti Mission, THARCE-Gulu, The Wayne Foundation and South East Queensland flood relief. The writer/director insists that journalist using the artwork mention the charities that benefited from the auction of each.

Smith's feed has also broken into a series of what some followers have called 'Twitter rants' but the filmmaker refers to as 'SMonologues,' a name based on his podcasts with producer Scott Mosier, The SModcast. These blog posts - written 140 characters at a time - have annoyed some followers but Smith has used them to explain his mindset in making this film. He offers sage, sometimes referential, always lengthy advice such as, "Like I said: the game’s rigged. So why play it on their terms? Kobayashi Maru that shit: at the very worst, you get bitched-out by cowards. At best? You BECOME James Tiberius Kirk."

'There's so many to choose from!'
Smith has also implemented into his pre-premiere juggernaut of "Red State" information a staple of the Internet and the iPhone user: podcasts. Recorded at his recently acquired podcast theater named SModcastle, he hosts two specific broadcasts - "Red State of the Union" and "SMoviemakers" - to help promote the movie. Both provide a behind the scenes look at the movie making process through interviews with cast and crew form the film. "Red State of the Union," which was first uploaded Nov. 9, has seen a variety of people - such as cinematographer Dave Klein, casting director Deb Aquila and actress Kerry Bishe' - talk about their crafts, both within and outside Smith's film.

"Red State of the Union" podcast logo
Smith has also stated several times in tweets and podcasts that many of the actors involved have put on "acting clinics," the foremost of these he has promoted is his lead, Michael Parks. "Besides, the only story in Red State that really needs telling is the Michael Parks story - and, as per usual, NOBODY is writing it," said Smith in one of his SMonologues, later posted as a Dec. 30 blog.

This approach could be a wise one, especially with Parks. The 70-year-old actor, who appeared in 'Twin Peaks,' 'From Dusk Til Dawn,' and the 'Kill Bill' movies, has been called by writer/director Quentin Tarantino "the world's greatest living actor." With a cadre of other talents including John Goodman, Melissa Leo, and Kevin Pollak, leaving the speaking to the actors may be the best way to approach post-premiere promotion.

'Make better movies, and make ‘em one right after the other.'
But the most telling point Smith makes about his new approach to promotion is in a SMonologue he posted. In an odd - yet revealing - mix of the Man With No Name, a hockey reference and Prince lyrics, he points out that many filmmakers - like Eastwood, Spielberg and Altman - don't do much press for their own movies.

"I’ve finally gotten my filmmaking to the pace I’ve always wanted to make ‘em: finish one, start the next. The Clint Eastwood way. Y’know how much press Clint Eastwood does? Not much. Y’know why? He figured out what I’m only just know (sic) learning, nearly 20 years into my career: he’d rather make new movies than do press for movies he’s done making.

"Clint Eastwood has the work ethic of a hockey player, man. I admire the shit out of that: he finishes one, starts the next. He doesn’t dine out on one flick for a year or two; he makes flicks with all the frequency with which a teen girl texts. Loves ‘em & leaves ‘em. I’m 40 yrs old; I’ve been a professional filmmaker for nearly two decades. And after years of being told to stop fetishizing my work – 'Enough with the Jay & Bob bullshit already…' – I’ve taken their advice: I’m not dwelling on the flicks I make. Now that I’ve got 20 years of experience on the job under my belt, I’m giving my movies the Little Red Corvette treatment: love ‘em & leave ‘em fast. #TrojansSomeOfEmUsed"

'Yeah, we’re going to screen at Sundance. We’re all really excited.'
So will this different approach of doing all the press upfront, even before a distributor picks up the film, help or hurt the film? It remains to be seen. A guess would be that it depends on who actually picks up the film. A larger distributor may see the pre-promotion as a bit of an albatross that could get in the way of any marketing plan they may have. A smaller distributor may see it as a godsend, as any press is good press, especially when their marketing budget would be much lower than a bigger company's. But again, it will depend on the movie's potential distributor and its view of Smith's approach.

Will it be a condition that Smith does no or minimal press if the film is picked up? Will it be possible that - in the right conditions - the filmmaker will change his mind about doing press?

In short: it doesn't matter.

It's obvious Kevin Smith has turned a corner in his filmmaking - in his approach, subject matter and philosophy. And after the release of a promising-looking movie like "Red State," the public may be asking themselves, "Why didn't he do it soon?" and "When can we get more?'

(For more information about Red State, see for teaser trailer and posters plus go to for a more viral marketing site about the movie.)