Tonight's premiere of Kevin Smith's religion-gone-wild horror flick Red State was by far the most entertaining thing we've seen at Sundance so far. And that was before we'd even entered the building.
In the parking lot of Park City's Eccles Theater stood around 70 picketers. Though, with signs like "Free hugs" and "I love bacon," it was hard to tell exactly what they were protesting. A trip into the circle revealed about six actual protesters from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church each attired with four to five signs ("God Hates Your Idols," "God Hates Your Feelings," "God Hates America," "Fags Doom Nations") and standing high on snowbanks like half a dozen scarecrows of hate. Surrounding them were local high school and college kids who'd come to counter-protest the feeble Westboro protest. They alternately sang apt songs like "I Kissed a Girl" or chanted things like "Defense" and "We want tacos." "We think they are spewing nonsense. So we're spewing nonsense right back at them," we overheard one counter-protester tell the L.A. Times. And what fun nonsense it was. A sampling of signs:
I Hate Crowds
Hell Is Fabulous
Dick Tastes Yummy
I Am A Happy Jew (with illustration of a happy Jew)
Being Bisexual Doubles My Chances for a Date on Saturday
God and Gays Agree That Polyester Is a Sin
God Hates That I Couldn't Get Tickets to Red State
God Hates That There Were Only 2 Seasons of Pushing Daisies
I Went to Westboro Baptist Church and All I Got Was This Lousy Sign
And on the 8th Day, God Created BEER
God Hates Signs
At around 6:10 p.m., Smith himself joined the protest for photo ops, surrounded by more counter-protesters and a phalanx of photographers and videographers. He had even better signs:
God Hates Critics
God Hates Press Screenings
Dogma Is Dog Shit [Ed note: He said it!]
[And our personal favorite] God Hates Fat (So Does Southwest Airlines)
Protesters aside, though, the Red State premiere had already promised to be quite the event. The movie only had two public screenings as opposed to the usual five or six. Tickets were going for a premium online; Smith himself sold a pair on eBay for $1,000. (He donated the proceeds to the Sundance Institute.) And Smith had announced his plans to pick his distributor from the Sunday-night audience, auction-style.
Thirty minutes later, and well after the scheduled start time for the premiere, Smith took the stage. "Sorry we're running late," he told the crowd, "My family came and they were out in the parking lot holding up signs of the movie." (He later referred to the protesters as the "Von Trapp family singers.") Smith, producer John Gordon, and executive producer Elyse Simon (who, fun fact, was working the ticket booth at last year's Sundance) started working on this movie September 21, 2010, which means they made this movie in only four months. "I promise you, ladies and gentlemen, for the next 95 minutes, all levity is going to leave the room," Smith went on. "You're going to enter a world of hate and fucking hopelessness. I'm so not shitting. Everyone keeps going, like, 'It's a religious comedy, like Dogma.' Bullshit. This movie, Red State, is not a comedy like Clerks. This is hands down a horror movie, like Jersey Girl. So be forewarned." And, Smith promised, he'd be watching with us. "I'll be standing in the back. One of the sponsors of the festival told me if I wanted to sit I'd have to buy two fucking seats."
Well, he was right about the horror part. Welcome Michael Parks's Pastor Cooper (based on Fred Phelps) to the canon of great film villains. We're talking a Norman Bates level of creepiness. If we could fall asleep on our sad pullout couch bed in our Sundance housing, we'd definitely be having nightmares tonight.
After the screening, Smith, carrying Wayne Gretzky's last hockey stick (Smith's next movie is a hockey flick called "Hit Somebody"), used his Q&A time to go on a half-hour rant about the perils of working within the studio system. It'll be a Smodcast by morning.
As he explained, the movie took 25 days and cost $4 million to make. If he sold it for $6 million, it would still take $20 million to market. But since that $26 million doesn't go back to the movie team or the studio or the distributor, you have to make $50 million just to get to the profit line. "I never wanted to know jack shit about business," he explained. "I'm a fat, masturbating stoner. That's why I got into the movie business. I thought that was where fat, masturbating stoners went. And if somebody had told me at the beginning of my career, 'You're going to have to learn so much about business, finance, amortization, all that shit, monetization,' I would have been like, 'Fuck it. I'm just going to stay home and masturbate. That's too much work, man.' It took seven years for Clerks, a movie that cost $27,575, to go into profit."
Then, with great fanfare, Smith brought up John Gordon, his producer, to open up the auction. "I bid twenty dollars," Smith declared. "Sold!" cried Gordon, slamming his hand on the podium. Smith jumped in, "Ladies and gentlemen, I came here seventeen years ago [with Clerks]. All I wanted to do was sell my movie. And I can't think of anything fucking worse, seventeen years later, than selling my movie to people who just don't fucking get it." (He also called the people who make movie trailers "lying fucking whores," which was pretty awesome.)
He then laid out his plan to distribute the movie through Smodcast Pictures. On March 5 at Radio City Music Hall, he'll begin a fifteen-day Red State Movie Tour, with stops in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Springfield, Denver, New Orleans, Austin, Atlanta, and Seattle. "That's the only reason why I didn't have as many screenings as everyone wanted here. I gotta make money off this bitch," Smith explained. Those tickets will go for "six, seven, maybe ten times what you'd normally pay to see a flick," but will come with a "grander, statelier venue" and Q&As with Smith and Parks, along with surprise treats. Then on October 19, the seventeenth anniversary of the theatrical release of Clerks, he'll release it wide, by directly finding exhibitors and giving them way better deals than they get from the studios.
Once he's proven anyone can release a movie, he plans to make two more movies: Hit Somebody and the third edition of Clerks, and retire from directing to work on crowd-financing young filmmakers through Smodcast. And with that, he'd run out of time. The cast ran onstage for a 30-second intro. Harvey Weinstein, presumably, ran off to catch the end of the Jets game. And the crowd filed into the parking lot, devoid of protesters, save a few lonely signs sticking out of the snow.