Kevin Smith Auctions Distribution Rights for Red State to Himself
01.25.11 by Ryan
The title of this piece, and others like it around the internet, is not exactly true. Writer-director Kevin Smith didn't exactly auction off the distribution rights to himself after his upcoming horror movie Red State after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Producer Jon Gordon auctioned the rights to Smith instead, for the low price of $20. Additionally, it should be pointed out, one bid isn't exactly an auction.
The confusion stems from Smith's announcement last November where he discussed his auction. At the time, Smith said:
Here’s something that’s not so much news as my stated intentions for Red State: if it gets into Sundance, my plan is to pick the Red State distributor right there — IN THE ROOM — auction style. Might even bring up a professional auctioneer to make it fun and unintelligible. And if you’re a multi-millionaire who can’t make it to the first screening of Red State, fear not: maybe we’ll set up an eBay page for the post-screening bid-calling as well.
Th real event didn't turn out to be as fun as Smith had previously teased. After the screening, THR reported that Smith began a long tirade against the industry's current model for movie distribution.
What we need to prove is that anyone can release a movie. Indie film isn't dead, it just grew up. It is just indie film 2.0 now. In indie film 2.0, we don’t let them sell our movie, we sell our movie ourselves. We are going to make our money back by going out on the road and going city by city.
Smith's plan to tour Red State to several cities around the U.S. for single screenings in an effort to earn back the movie's budget and raise money for the movie's Oct. 19 theatrical release date didn't sit too well with the buyers that came to watch the movie and hoped to purchase the distribution rights for their companies.
"[Smith] stole two hours and insulted every one of us," a "prominent buyer" told Deadline. "We were told this was an acquisition title, we all brought our teams. We could have spent that time evaluating some other movie. Kevin didn’t acknowledge that we are the ones risking capital acquiring films and putting up P&A [prints and advertising], not him, and he didn’t understand how our business works, at all. He was a little like the twisted preacher Michael Parks played in his film. It became life imitating art."
Smith's decision was a polarizing one for media outlets as well, several of which promised to never write about Smith again. Smith, who has previously stated that he won't do press for his movies outside of his Twitter account and podcasts, tweeted hours before the Red State screening that "THIS MOVIE HAS NOT ALREADY BEEN SOLD. After the screening, THEN we'll pick the distributor." With that statement in mind, today Smith defended his decision via Twitter.
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.
While Smith is correct about his wording, and I think his distribution model sounds like an intriguing innovation, it's hard to understand how announcing an "auction" didn't infer that he was planning to sell the movie rights. Especially when Smith referenced that "multi-millionaires" could get access to "an eBay page for the post-screening bid-calling." It seems a little like advertising a garage sale and then telling anyone that shows up that nothing's for sale, but I digress.
Smith continued, championing his "new distribution model" for Red State, which he will continue for his supposedly final movie, Hit Somebody.
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 gone 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? Sh*t, 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."
So perhaps now Smith's critics can see what Smith is up to, which isn't much more than a giant publicity stunt. Smith's "auction purchase" of his own movie wasn't just a announcement that he was he going to eschew standard movie distribution, it was an announcement that after Red State and his hockey movie Hit Somebody he plans on becoming a full-time producer and indie movie distributor. Basically, some of the very people he upset at Sundance.
To be fair, Smith did apologize in his post-screening speech, which can be seen in its entirety here. "Well, we're obviously not selling the movie, So I'm sorry," Smith told the crowd. "But, at the same time, I will say this, in my own defense: a lot of you guys work for studios and s**t, studios make movies, movies that have trailers. You guys have made a lot of trailers, you've lied to me many times, you know what I'm saying? I've seen many trailers where I was like, 'This is awesome!' Then I put my money down and I went, 'You f***ing lying whores!'"
So don't say Smith never apologized.