Kevin Smith Brings Red State to T.O. and Wastes an Hour of Our Time
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Kevin Smith Brings Red State to T.O. and Wastes an Hour of Our Time

Illustration by Matthew Daley/Torontoist.

Considering how he’s now probably better known for his sold out speaking tours and “Evenings With…” and blog posts about getting kicked off airplanes than his films, it’s not really news, telling you that Kevin Smith likes to talk. Kevin Smith loves to talk. Kevin Smith won’t shut up.
Kevin Smith will field a question about the independent distribution strategy of his latest film, Red State (which premiered in Toronto at the Underground last night, a stop on Smith’s ongoing Red State Tour, renamed the Red Province Tour for its north-of-the-border trek), and take an hour to answer it, charting off on digressions about seeing Richard Linklater’s Slacker for the first time, advice he got from Harvey Weinstein, and his healthy obsession with Wayne and Walter Gretzky. He’ll also boast, straight up, about how savvy he is as a businessman (if not as a filmmaker or “visual storyteller”), and, backhandedly, about how good he is at eating pussy.

If you’re a Kevin Smith fan, this sort of easy anecdotal manner is (presumably) why you’d shell out $60 to hear Smith talk about himself. But if you’re just a guy whose job it is to go to a press conference and try to ask some questions of Kevin Smith that (presumably) you think people want answers to, it can be extremely frustrating. In fact, whether or not you’re charged with trying to shake an answer out of his intermittently coherent ramblings, if you’re not a member of what Kevin Smith himself describes as the Cult of Kevin Smith, this is what Kevin Smith is: frustrating.
If you’re one of the non-believers who haven’t cared about a Kevin Smith movie since his last good one (either 1997’s genuinely affecting Chasing Amy or 2001’s surreally juvenile Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, depending who you ask), the whole thing with the Red State Tour and Kevin Smith’s self-distribution scheme is basically this: Smith premiered Red State at Sundance earlier this year and told everyone he’d auction off the distribution rights after the screening. After a lukewarm reception, he sold the movie to himself for $20, effectively pissing in the face of movie execs who spent two hours shifting through the film. And unlike people who get reimbursed to write about Kevin Smith, movie execs are by and large extremely rich; even if their sense of how much their time is worth is probably a bit inflated, it’s still pretty valuable. Anyways, the event was commonly understood as the “implosion” of Smith’s career.

In the intervening months between Sundance and his stopover in Toronto, Smith’s screened Red State—a horror/thriller starring John Goodman as an ATF agent facing off against a Fred Phelps–styled religious cult leader—a few dozen times and has had plenty of time to rationalize his decision. So it’s not an “implosion,” it’s a “punk rock” move to undermine the distribution and marketing patterns that, Smith feels, have stymied him as a filmmaker. This basically means that studios blow tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars marketing flicks like Cop Out and Zach and Miri Make a Porno. Then, as part of the standard process of distribution, exhibition, and reception, these films are screened to critics, who by and large hate them and try to dissuade the public from seeing them. This is something Smith, kind of understandably, takes very personally. Because he is very active (on Twitter, blogs, podcast, et cetera) he lashed out about this, which served the twin functions of alienating Smith from the public (and especially critics) and further endearing him to the Cult of Kevin Smith. “I don’t need to be told my work’s not good,” Smith says. “I want to hear that it is good. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”
Like a lot of the shit that Smith says, this sentiment kind of misses the point. Not to get hung up on defending critics—who, admittedly, are sometimes very mean, but are also sometimes effusively nice and helpful in kickstarting word-of-mouth about great films (Smith, obviously, made no mention of all the press folks who gushed over Chasing Amy)—the whole “if you don’t like it, don’t watch it” line is bogus. How are critics supposed to know they don’t like it without seeing it? Kevin Smith’s recent output may be bad. But it’s not Entourage bad: the kind of thing you willingly subject yourself to just to get worked up about it.
Anyways. With Red State, Smith has transformed into a full-bore cinematic carnival barker. And though he’s taking his cues from the likes of Mel Gibson, William Castle, and Tommy Wiseau, he thinks the whole self-distribution thing makes him a trailblazer, like he invented the idea while he was high (Kevin Smith smokes a ton of weed! Just like you!) or something. (He also thinks that Francis Ford Coppola, who is touring his latest around theatres, copped his idea, which seems self-idolizing to the point of delusion.)

The problem is that not every indie filmmaker has the time or wherewithal to tour their movie around, hoping to recoup their budget. And even if they did, not every filmmaker is That Kevin Smith, who has a cult who will pay those $60 to see his movie and hear him talk about smoking weed and hockey and eating pussy. (Also, not every filmmaker is living off royalties from Mallrats DVDs.) In short: Kevin Smith may be “done playing the game,” but there’s plenty of would-be Kevin Smiths who can’t afford to be.
So when Smith finally stopped going on and on about how he’s changing the game or done playing the game or whatever his present relationship to “the game” is and “fuck” this and “fuck” that—only by being interrupted by his visibly frazzled publicist and handler eager to get him back to his hotel in time for a hot shower—and we had the chance to ask him a question, this is precisely what we asked him about. It went like this (more or less, some of the digressions are abridged, for brevity’s and clarity’s sake):
Torontoist: Do you think, or do you care, that this is not a viable option for younger independent filmmakers?
Kevin Smith: Do I think it is?
Yeah. Slash, do you care?
Do I care? Absolutely. Your responsibility as an indie filmmaker once you enter that fraternity and/or sorority, is to pass it on. The only way this keeps going is to inspire somebody else. Richard Linklater inspired me, I made Clerks. Clerks inspired a bunch of other people, but that was years ago. What have you done for them lately? Every once in a while you have to do something dramatic. Red State is that.
So whereas Clerks was the film that launched a thousand films, I hope Red State is the film that shows other filmmakers that you don’t have to sell your shit. Those days are over. Nobody’s interested in indie filmmaking anymore. It’s up to us. It’s up to the filmmaker to take your art forward. The glory, Cinderella days of showing up at Sundance and being tapped with a magic wand are over. Everyone who’s looking for that is going to reach dead end after dead end. Me doing this is a way of saying, “Don’t waste your time. Take it into your hands.” You are part of a generation that doesn’t need the machine anymore. We’re all in touch with one another, thanks to social media.
But it’s like Springsteen playing a club date or something. It’s not the same as a start-up—
Well that’s definitely one way to look at it. You could look at it that way. But that won’t inspire anyone to try. It gives people an excuse not to try. You’re essentially going, “Well he’s Kevin Smith and only he can do it,” and that’s horseshit and I resent that. I am Kevin Smith. Do you know where I came from? I invented my shit from scratch. When people go, “Well only Kevin Smith can do this,” that’s horseshit and that’s reductive. And I’m not trying to come down on you, but it fucking bugs me. It’s reductive. Anyone can do this. I did this. And I’m an idiot. I’m a fucking idiot. But I plotted it out. For the last 20 years, that’s all I’ve been saying.
I looked at Trent Reznor and Radiohead. Those motherfuckers unplugged from the machine and shit and they were okay. Yeah, they started with a base: a base that was paid for by somebody else, just like me. But they unplugged and they were okay because they went direct to the fans. And I’m in touch with the fans. So yes I hit the ground running and could fill a 500 or 1,500 seat theatre. But there are smaller movie theatres in this world and they could all use your help, especially if they’re mom-and-pop ones […] it’s just like that fucking Ratatouille movie. Anyone can cook. You can do it, I can do it, my fucking mother can pull this off. But if you’re doing it for money or cock or pussy then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. But if you’re doing it because you’re like, “If I don’t fucking express this, I’ll die,” that’s the time to do it.
If you missed Red State when it screened to a sold-out crowd at the Toronto Underground Cinema last night, never fear: Smith has plans to release it on VOD, streaming via Netflix (maybe), and on DVD and Blu-ray in October. He also plans to keep touring the film, which is great news for all you acolytes of the Cult of Kevin Smith out there.