Kevin Smith announced his retirement from directing at Sundance this past Sunday night after screening his latest movie, a horror film called RED STATE. He has one more film to shoot, but then he intends to “retire”. He has decided to self distribute RED STATE and do a roadshow tour of the film, selling himself and a Q&A as a part of the ticket price. There’s also a promise to help promote and distribute fresh filmmaking talent. This move was unexpected on one hand, but unsurprising on the other. It makes sense. His last several movies have bombed at the box office. As I described in a previous blog, COP OUT was a chance to get out from under the thumb of the Weinsteins, and that ploy failed. Kevin Smith lived (and died) by the Weinsteins. If they didn’t like the project he was going to make, there was nowhere else to go. He tried MALLRATS (Grammercy/Universal), and more recently COP OUT (Warner Bros) out from under the Weinsteins, and both bombed at the box office. Now he’s been consistently losing box office for the Weinsteins. Looking at his career purely from a mathematical standpoint, he’s a risk to invest in. The costs of his film go up and their return on investment goes down. In other words, he’s paying the price for being unconventional.
Self distribution for Kevin Smith makes sense. He has an enormous fan base… by the standard of indie film, but apparently has not been able to cross over into the Studio System’s definition. Almost always profitable, but the studios want more than to spend $9 million and make $30 million. They want to safely invest $50 million and make back $120 million or more. Except the Weinstein’s because that kind of gamble could sink them like New Line or MGM did. So what is a modestly successful, very notorious filmmaker to do? Put the movie out his own self.
What a lot of Kevin Smith fans don’t realize is that his bold statements and total transparency on sets, as well has incredibly scathing and detailed descriptions of Hollywood in his podcasts/college speaking/DVD’s are NOT appealing to their productions. When the big studios sink millions of dollars into a movie, they want control of every part of how that movie is leaked to the public. Kevin Smith tells everyone everything. Combine that with stories like he did of head of Warner Bros. and Tim Burton on Superman Lives, and you have the makings of a Hollywood Pariah and hero to the underdog.
We all related to Kevin Smith because he represents a generation and a movement in indie film, but his actual success within the industry is not very high. He never scraped out of the indie cult hero and into mainstream with a crossover hit. It’s hard for our perception to see that since he has successes that most of us dream about; works with actors that win Oscars, etc.
Now he’s in that purgatory between famous and infamous. He has the time to interact directly with fans via TWITTER and FACEBOOK, but can’t really relate to their lives, struggles, or concerns. It’s not as easy to make pop culture references when you are one. Maybe most of the early devotees related more to the author when the guy writing characters talking about Star Wars wasn’t going to Skywalker Ranch to mix his movies.
As a fanatic for his movies in the 1990’s, I can say without a doubt the last 10 years have yielded only a single movie I liked, CLERKS 2. I hated JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, JERSEY GIRL, ZACK & MIRI, and even the CLERKS ANIMATED SERIES.
Some of this “retirement” might be coming from Kevin Smith’s issues with reviewers. When COP OUT received bad reviews, Kevin Smith went on a tirade about how it’s unfair because reviewers see the movie for free. Whilst I agree in principal that you have a radically different view of a movie when paying (I disliked TRON LEGACY more because it wasn’t worth $31 for 2 people), that’s not the same as accepting that many people may not like the movies he makes.