The Sundance premiere of Red State, Kevin Smith’s new horror film that's based loosely on the religious extremists of the Westboro Baptist Church, became its own sort of cult freak show last night, marked by protests both genuine and staged and some fiery proselytizing from Smith, and ending with a symbolic sacrifice of martyrdom that doubled handily as a publicity stunt. Unfortunately, our two Sundance correspondents missed the fracas, leaving us to fill in the blanks with secondhand reports—though luckily, there are many.
Apparently it all started when a tiny handful of Westboro picketers (Vulture puts the number at “around six”) showed up, only to be immediately engulfed by a much larger crowd of counter-protestors bearing signs like “Dick Tastes Yummy,” “Hell Is Fabulous,” and “God Hates That There Were Only 2 Seasons Of Pushing Daisies.” They were soon joined by Smith himself, who brought out his own placards reading “God Hates Critics” (He does!), “God Hates Press Screenings” (Who wouldn’t?), and the far more self-deprecating “God Hates Fat (So Does Southwest Airlines).” So far, so stunt-y.
But the real brouhaha came after the screening, when Smith had promised to hold an auction selling off distribution rights to Red State—thereby, according to Deadline, angering people who wanted to scuttle off to catch the Jets-Steelers game. Before getting down that, Smith held a real-time Twitter/Smodcast rant on the stage, going off on his distaste for the movie business and all the trouble it takes for a small movie to overcome the exorbitant cost of its own marketing and become profitable. Vulture quotes him as saying, “I'm a fat, masturbating stoner. That's why I got into the movie business. I thought that was where fat, masturbating stoners went. And if somebody had told me at the beginning of my career, you're going to have to learn so much about business, finance, amortization, all that shit, monetization, I would have been like, 'Fuck it. I'm just going to stay home and masturbate. That's too much work, man.'” (Generation X lives!)
Smith then turned his masturbatory fantasies into a living analogy, bringing up producer John Gordon to begin the auction, then ending it just as abruptly by purchasing his own film for $20 with the intent to market and distribute it himself. “Ladies and gentlemen, I came here 17 years ago [with Clerks],” he said. “All I wanted to do was sell my movie. And I can't think of anything fucking worse, 17 years later, than selling my movie to people who just don't fucking get it.” (“Rabble rabble!” went the crowd, or so we hope.)
Smith then announced plans to launch a 15-day Red State Movie Tour with a March 5 date at Radio City Music Hall, personally bringing the film to “grander, statelier venues” in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Springfield, Denver, New Orleans, Austin, Atlanta, and Seattle. Each screening will cost “six, seven, maybe 10 times what you’d normally pay,” he says, but will also feature a live Q&A with Smith and star Michael Parks, plus “surprise treats.” You can check out the dates here, along with a statement from Smith and Gordon; tickets go on sale Jan. 28.
Red State will then be sent out for wide distribution on Oct. 19 (the 17th anniversary of Clerks’ theatrical release), with Smith working with exhibitors directly and giving them fairer deals than they would get from a studio. Smith calls this the beginning of “Indie 2.0,” an era in which anyone can release a movie, avoiding advertising and using only the marketing tools afforded by Twitter and the free press; the New York Times further quotes him as saying, “True independence is schlepping to the people yourself.”
Then, the other big news: Smith announced that he plans on retiring from directing after completing his hockey comedy Hit Somebody, moving instead toward helping other filmmakers follow his example by locating crowd-financing and arranging distribution deals through his newly launched Smodcast Pictures. (Note: Vulture quotes him as saying his last film will actually be a third installment of Clerks—something Smith himself had more or less dismissed during a Twitter-based commentary on Miramax’s sequel plans in December, so we’re less inclined to believe that.) Smith has yet to comment on last night’s circus, but you can probably expect to hear more soon enough about his decision, how much he hates the traditional movie business, and his plans for subverting it.