Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kevin Smith Does The Right Thing; Internet Loses It's Mind

Last night was the very first screening of Kevin Smith's Red State. If you read my original post about Smith's plans, you know that Smith had said he was going to auction off the rights to the films distribution. In that piece, I suggested Kevin Smith might very well be blazing a new path for the future of film distribution and as a result, financing. Last night, he auctioned the film off to himself, buying distribution rights from his producer for $20.

At the screening and then through a very long Twitter feed (collected here at /Film) he explained that he is going to "take it on the road," meaning he will be taking the film, from venue to venue, personally. One suggested venue is Radio City Music Hall. Going to see a film by a major film maker, with that film maker present, whether it's taking questions or signing autographs or just in this case, being Kevin Smith, the possibilities for ticket costs would be extremely attractive.

Essentially, Smith could possibly make back the 4 million it cost to make the movie, just by "taking it on the road," and then as buzz for the film is sufficiently strong and demand has been increased even further, he could possibly sell it for national distribution to one of the major distributors. This is not something we've seen attempted in the age of modern film by a film maker who already has a real following, which Smith does.

The internet film press is in the process of having a psychotic break over all of this. The truth is that Kevin Smith has pulled a new media William Castle style marketing trick and the internet film press were both the engine for it, and the butt of the joke. If they were planning to give his well documented criticisms of their industry some credence, they couldn't have planned a better reaction. For a year or maybe a bit more Brad Mishka over at Bloody Disgusting has been lobbing rhetorical and insulting fire bombs at Smith. Though, this time, he seems to have gone schizophrenic having posted one relatively positive story about it, and then the following day after the rest of the internet film press threw a fit, he posted another scathing attack against Smith.

Devin Faraci has started his own site Bad Ass Digest, after leaving CHUD.com, Faraci wrote an equally scathing piece claiming that Smith is spitting in the face of independent cinema. Drew Mcweeney, veteran of Ain't It Cool News and who has found a real home at Hitflix, wrote a less than favorable piece on Smith's practical joke on his industry.

The list is much, much longer. It's a bit strange to see so much of the internet film press turning into a large gossip circle.

From the outside looking in, this is all sour grapes. These are people who have been making a living by covering the film industry. The film industry is not unlike politics in that the media which cover it and those covered have a symbiotic relationship. The industry needs the press to get the word out about their movies. The press needs the movie industry to cooperate to some degree for them to exist. They need each other, and especially where the internet media is concerned, this rocky relationship has often erupted in one way or another. It's not unusual for a film site to get hold of some piece of information that the film maker or the studio does not want public yet, and publish it, specifically because it is good for them. If they can get to the story first, they get the most site visits, and they are therefore getting paid more, etc... etc... etc. And, when somebody with a camera somewhere gets some video of a film shooting in progress or a clip from a film that has yet to be released and posts it on YouTube, these same internet journalists always whine when it gets removed, because it hurts that same visitorship. And, let's be very clear, the internet film community is absolutely, unflinchingly brutal when it comes to films, film makers, studios and practices they don't agree with or just plainly dislike. This is not generally a group of people who are very good at civilly and respectfully expressing their distaste. I can say I'm often in that same category when it comes to films I don't like, and studio practices I find outmoded or ineffective. I tend to be blatantly honest when I see a film I not only seriously dislike, but have no respect for (I submit my Clash of the Titans review as evidence). I don't tend to personally insult film makers though. I am, after all, just a guy writing on a website about things that I like. For the most part, it's not really worth being uncivil toward anyone about. They are, after all, just movies, no matter how passionate I may get. I may not feel that way about all things, I do feel that way about film. We should be sharing our enjoyment of this wonderful, enjoyable art form. Otherwise, none of us are any better than Armond White.

The other thing it's probably necessary to point out is that many of these websites (especially Bloody Disgusting and other horror sites) have more consistently complained about the studio model of film making and distribution. I can not count the number of times I've read pieces by different writers who are complaining about the fact that something they love is being watered down, dumbed down, and dulled because some studio executive thinks that they might get a few thousand asses in seats if they can appeal to the "widest possible audience." If I had a penny for every time I read the sentence, "What about the horror fans, we aren't enough?"I would be fascinatingly rich. These "journalists"will complain about how they know there's an audience for this or that, without it being watered down and mass appealed. Now, they're taking shots at Kevin Smith, specifically because he is turning to his fan base, catering to and relying on them.

If it would be good enough for you when you want it, why isn't it good enough for Smith and his fans?

Ultimately, if this works out for Smith it could provide a completely new way for an established film maker to distribute his films. Consider someone like David Fincher, who has consistently made challenging films over which he has had to fight with various studios to get the film he wanted to make released. Fincher may not always deliver a blockbuster, but his films always make money, and he has made some incredibly beloved and popular films. How many of these films does he have to deliver before they finally stop arguing with him? My love for Fincher and his films is no secret, but I'm going out on a limb and saying now that I believe Fincher has within him the ability to make one of the greatest American films of all time. The question is, will that movie, the movie he makes be the one that gets released? Will we ever get a chance to see it? If this little experiment works for Smith, the model might just be perfect for someone like David Fincher (though admittedly, Fincher is notoriously press shy).

I can understand feeling hurt by having been hoodwinked. But at the same time, here in the world of internet film journalism, which started as the folks on the outside looking in and applauding every possible practical joke played on the industry. If nothing else, Kevin Smith's practical joke has proven the internet film press are no longer on the outside looking in. They are now part of the established order. And it seems, they have forgotten that the degree to which they fight to protect that position is the exact degree to which those who aren't on the inside will fight to unseat them from their place in the ecosystem that exists between the press and film industries.

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