Kevin Smith has admitted publicly, including last night during his post-Red State Q&A, that he is not a great filmmaker. I, and many of his fans, would disagree with this sentiment, but that is not really what this is all about. Kevin Smith has truly stopped “following the puck” and instead is trying to be where the puck is going. Red State the movie and Red State the distribution model are examples of this.
Red State the movie is a movie that has been done before by other filmmakers, but is also a movie that feels fresh and entertaining, even after multiple viewings. It is well-acted, well-paced, and concludes in the way you would think a $4 million movie would, except that it doesn’t feel like a $4 million movie. The cast alone seems like it would cost well north of that figure, yet somehow Smith convinced them all to do it for the pride of the work and paid them scale for the most part. Smith is correct in mentioning John Goodman, Melissa Leo, and Michael Parks (especially) as candidates for Oscar nominations.
Goodman’s performance was probably his best since “The Big Lebowski,” and hearing Smith talk about his “Barton Fink” performance makes me want to go back and watch that film. Smith lucked out a bit when Leo won an Oscar for “The Fighter” while Red State was in production, but it didn’t prevent her from another strong performance in this film. Finally, Michael Park’s performance as Fred Phelps-esque Abin Cooper steals the show, and Parks himself provides much of the movie’s music sung as hymnals. I was almost convinced that where Abin Cooper ended, Michael Parks began. His haunting sermon will remain with me as one of the most powerful soliloquies in any film that I have ever seen. If I were to give it one of my ratings, it would definitely be 9 out of 10.
However, “Red State” is more about the movie. In my opinion, it is about a new/old way of distributing movies. Smith himself has said that it is not a new way of doing things; in the days of “Gone With the Wind,” the movie folks would show the film in one town, pack up and move along. Smith tried to do it with “Red State” and succeeded. While I personally did not attend a showing while the film was on its “Red State of the Union Tour,” I did watch within minutes of it going on VOD on September 1st, and saw it again last night at the AFI Silver Theater.
By taking his film to the masses, Smith avoided a studio spending too much money on marketing on a film that he can pimp for free to the people that actually want to see the film and recover the $4 million his investors gave him to make the movie. Now that he has done that, he is free to continue doing what he did on Sunday, with a screening of the movie followed by a remote Q&A or Hollywood Babble-On with other stars from the movie. And every time he does it from now on, it will be profit for him. While I don’t know if someone without Smith’s name could do this with any movie, it truly has redefined the way that some people will distribute movies. I can’t picture Michael Bay doing a Q&A after “Transformers“answering why Bumblebee was a Camaro and not a VW Bug. But other “indie” filmmakers might be able to do so.
If there is one thing that I have personally learned from Smith’s Red State experiment, it’s that you can’t allow others to tell you no when you want to do things your way. Smith has proved this again and again with this film, from finding the money himself to make a movie he had been working 5 years to make, to selling it to himself at “auction” at Sundance, and taking it on the road as a means of distribution. If you listen to anything Smith has said over the past few years, on his Twitter feed, on S.I.R. or anywhere else he has shown up, he talks of Walter Gretzky, father of Wayne Gretzky, instructing his son from an early age to be where the puck is going, not where the puck already is. I truly believe that Smith has done this, moving into new forms of media before everyone else has.
As a fan of his movies (Dogma is still number 1 on my list), I will be sad when the day comes that he no longer makes any movies after “Hit Somebody.” But I also feel personally encouraged to find that thing that will allow me to be creative in someway and will go where the puck is going in my own life. For that, I thank you Mr. Smith. Someday in the near-ish future, I will make my way to the Lovitz and catch a few shows, but until then, keep on doing the things that you are doing.
Until next time…