Sundance: Watching Kevin Smith Implode

Kevin Smith lost some cred with indie distributors last night when  he hosed the teams that came to the premiere of Red State looking for an acquisitions title. Instead, they were subjected to a bogus auction that opened and closed with his $20 bid and announcement he would self distribute. Before he got to this sham climax, Smith spent 15 minutes shitting all over those buyers in the crowd, the ones watching films all day and pulling all-nighters to broker deals. His rant made Smith seem like a tortured, angry guy.

Smith introduced the film with a vulgar opening monologue, low-lighted by a spectacularly tasteless joke made at the expense of the young female producer standing next to him. After the movie, Smith reappeared. Wearing a hockey jersey, he introduced Wayne Gretzky’s stick, for some reason. Despite this hockey-themed beginning, Smith was oblivious to the fact we all simply wanted him to drop the puck and get on with the auction. Instead, Smith launched into his 15-minute long diatribe that betrayed a misunderstanding of the indie theatrical distribution game. He gave a simplistic and incorrect evaluation of the business model. Smith said if he sold his $4 million Red State, a distributor would need to pay $20 million in P&A, and would then need to gross more than twice that $24 million just to recoup (Smith seemed to forget that P&A triggers ancillary revenues that often provide the profit margin). He made it all sound shady.

Following the “auction,’ buyers and their teams filed out of this Twilight Zone episode while Smith discussed his distribution plans and how he’d shun the press and rely on his Twitter and podcast following. He even showed off sneakers he successfully hawks on his sites to prove his economic viability. It was a little like LeBron James’s “I’m taking my talents to South Beach spectacle,” if instead of James, the player involved was the 10th man on the bench. Smith, who showed us a sale-able movie last night, could simply have said he wanted to try a new business model and everybody would have been on his side. That subversive strategy worked in last year’s Sundance pic, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Nobody begrudged its success. Buyers could have skipped the screening and 100 seats would have been there for moviegoers who wanted to see Smith’s new film, his first in the horror genre.

Buyers I spoke to were annoyed Smith wasted their time, and  offended that he belittled what they consider to be an honorable business, gambling millions of dollars and working tirelessly to launch new filmmakers and hopefully turn a profit. As Harvey Weinstein once did when he took a chance on Smith’s Clerks.

“He stole two hours and insulted every one of us,” said one prominent buyer. “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, 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.”

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