Kevin Smith started his career by directing his own film called Clerks which he produced for just under 30,000 dollars but made over 3,000,000 which kickstarted the future of his career. Clerks was a project he had written himself and the pre production and filming of the film was incredibly independent. Smith then got a deal with Miramax Films who distributed the film and grossed the 3 million pounds.
Personally I have known Kevin Smith as a podcaster and I’ve particuarly enjoyed his Fatman on Batman series. It was during the internet frenzy following Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman last August. Ben Affleck starred in three Kevin Smith films, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma. There begun a mutual friendship between the two so when Affleck was cast as Batman, Smith, long term comic book fan, was ecstatic. It was Kevin Smith’s films that actually then started Ben Affleck’s career which is going from strength to strength right now culminating in his oscar win of best picture for Argo.
Also around the 1990’s after making a couple more movies he came under the attention of Warner Bro’s who arranged a meeting with him to discuss hiring Smith for screenwriting. They explained they had 3 different projects available, one of which being a Superman reboot. Smith read the current script they had for this film and told them it was flat out awful. He was then hired to re write the script but was under many constraints by the producers of the film who were pushing, for whatever reason, for a giant spider to appear in the third act of the film. Also the main aim of the film was to spur on sales of merchandise. There were some creative differences between Smith, one of the largest of which was that the producers didn’t want Superman to FLY or be in the SUIT, which are two basic principles that for a one dimensional character like Superman are his only features. Eventually Tim Burton was brought onto the project followed by many more re drafts until the project just collapsed in on itself and was obviously never made and a few years later Superman Returns was made which I think we can all agree to forget about. This was probably a disappointing project for Smith as he was always a comic book fan and was initially very excited to get the opportunity to work with the character.
But fast forward to 2011 and Kevin Smith has a wealth of Smodcast podcasts under his belt. He then wrote and directed Red State with a budget of 4,000,000 dollars. After production of the film had finished Smith announced he would hold an auction at the Sundance film festival where he would choose his distributor for the film. The following is the speech he made.
Clearly Smith declares a lack of faith in the big distributors and wants to see if he can self distribute his film in a more personal way which is an interesting idea. I’m not saying this lack of faith is directly because of the failed Superman film, but I imagine it was an incident that started to push him away from major distributors and studios. Instead of releasing the film in theatres simultaneously across the globe Smith intended to go on a tour with the film where he would be at every screening for a q&a session. As risky as this approach is in terms of making his 4,000,000 dollars back I think this approach is very intriguing and a fresh new way of releasing a film. Personally from money terms it may be best to do a tour as an early release then a few months later do a full release across the globe, that’s what I would have done. However as Smith did not seem to want to partner with a distributor this would have been costly as they would need to pay 50 million dollars plus in marketing and more just to get it into theatres. Then the money made in cinema’s is decreased by like a quarter or more, this money then goes back to the theatres. So without a distributor a suppose a tour is a reasonable replacement.
However towards the end of 2011 Lionsgate released the film on video on demand services. So in a sense the movie has still had a mass release just not in theatres which I think is a shame. I think independent releases are destined to be streamed on the internet wherever it be on Youtube or Netflix, that is the the future for independent releases as it’s the perfect platform. There is next to no cost to upload it to the internet whereas there would be if you were going to tour theatres. The marketing costs would still be there but that would then be the main cost you’re looking at. However say something like Gangnam style, that went viral across the world and has over a billion views and I imagine there is very little if any marketing costs for that. If marketing became more creative then independent films could find a huge audience just through the internet. Which actually Kevin Smith hoped for from his podcast fans.
As we see established channels from BBC moving online and Netflix beginning to premier their own TV series and films I believe that’s the way forward for more independent films. The concept of self releasing films and going on a tour with it is a quirky thing to do but ultimately is not an effective way of releasing a movie.