Kevin Smith, the irreverent mind behind Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma attracted loads of press at Sundance for the fake auction of his latest film, Red State. And true to his word, Smith launched a grassroots campaign last weekend to promote his newest outing, beginning a 14-city tour, screening the thriller for his most hardcore fans.
Smith recently told Variety, “You don’t have to trick an audience to come see my stuff. This movie is a very acquired taste, and if it pops, it’s going to have to happen organically.”
Red State, which stars John Goodman, Michael Parks and Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, follows three teenage boys who discover an enticing sex ad on the internet. After responding, they encounter a homicidal group of fanatical fundamentalists. Think Sex Drive meets Westboro on PCP. Gore-laden, tongue-in-cheek humor ensues.
The Smith-led screening tour began with a screening at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and will come to a close at L.A.’s Wiltern on April 9th.
Tickets range between $50-$100 and while the cost may be a bit high for some, the majority of those whom Smith is targeting, die-hard followers of his Twitter and podcast, are more than willing to shell out the dough especially with Smith committed to attending every show.
Joining him are his wife Jen and a small crew that includes an assistant, a tech, and driver. And as Kevin has many celebrity friends and as with any of his engagements, I would not be surprised to see the occasional special guest along the way.
But given the minimal cost of the tour (most theaters are rented, while others offer a better-than-usual percentage split of ticket sales) and Smith undertaking that himself, he has in turn saved his investors millions in pre-promotion.
Still, one of the biggest payoffs for Smith is the goodwill he has generated among his investors and, more importantly, his fans who will ultimately decide the fate of the film.
But as the roadshow dips primarily into Smith’s fanbase, such as the nearly 2 million followers of his Twitter account, it becomes an open question as to whether other indie filmmakers have the substantial following to pull off a similar strategy on their own.
Some have even denounced the experiment as a cheap publicity stunt that ultimately proves nothing other than unconventional thinking is a luxury of the rich, that such a marketing strategy could only see any real success in the hands of someone with an established name.
One anonymous blogger wrote: “It is one of the hardest things in this world to find success in the film industry…for someone who has already found that to dive back into the indie foray is akin to a fully-armed Samurai leaping headlong into a Justin Bieber mosh-pit. There is no moral to the story, only the justification of a director…who needs to attract as much attention as possible to turn a profit.”
All spectacle aside, it remains to be seen just how much the tour will boost audience numbers when Smith’s own Smodcast Pictures releases Red State in theaters on October 19th.