Premiering his thriller Red State earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Kevin Smith shocked fans and the film industry by announcing he would self-release the movie and retire from filmmaking after his next feature. The indie director ( Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) spoke to the Globe and Mail in advance of a short Canadian tour of Red State screenings and Q&A sessions.
By taking your movie out on the road, do you think you've shaken up the system a bit?
Yes and no. The only things I shook up were for myself. When I stood up at Sundance back in January, essentially what I said was that I didn't have enough confidence in my movie to put it through the traditional marketing system – that if I spend that kind of money on this movie, it's not going to make it back. So, because I lack confidence in my flick, I'm going to take it out myself, thus guaranteeing a better chance of people showing up to see it. I know that, at this point, people care more about me than the movies I make.
And you're okay with that?
I have no discernible skills or talent as a filmmaker, particularly when it comes to the visual spectrum of the art form – and it is a visual art form. But as far as I know, I'm one of the only filmmakers that, when the movie's done, I race out on to the stage and say, 'Hold on, let me explain to you what happened. First I got in a fight with Bruce Willis. Then I got kicked off an airplane.' And the story keeps going.
Is there something particular to Red State that made you decide to go on the road with it?
I can't play the game like everybody else with this movie. It's too weird. It's a mid-nineties art-house film. It was always going to be a tough sell. It's a Quentin Tarantino movie crossed with a Coen brothers movie. That's what I was going for, though I probably didn't achieve that. I knew it was going to require special handling, and that mass marketing would lose it. It was going to get drowned. Worse, it would become a financial burden.
Speaking of financial burdens, what about fans having to pay $65 to see the film?
If you're a Kevin Smith fan, you paid $65 last year to see me without a movie. Now I'm coming back, but with a movie. It's a bonus.
A Vanity Fair piece described your decision to buy the distribution rights for $20 as a middle-finger to Hollywood. Was it?
I can't tell you how many bloggers wrote stuff like, 'Kevin Smith implodes' and 'Hollywood is mad at Kevin Smith.' The thing is, at the same moment people were writing 'Hollywood is mad at Kevin Smith,' Kevin Smith was literally sitting in the offices of quote-unquote Hollywood pitching a TV show that they asked me to come up with. My decision opened doors. It never closed doors.
If Hollywood wasn't mad at you like the bloggers said, what was the actual reaction?
Hollywood didn't care about what I was doing. I talked to Jeff Robinov before I did any of this. He's the guy who runs Warner Brothers. I was literally counselled by Hollywood before any of this happened. So it wasn't like I was taking on the system.
The plan worked: The U.S. tour of Red State screenings was a success and the film is in the black. And yet you're retiring as a director after your next film. Why?
I never really felt like a director. I felt like a storyteller, and storytelling isn't just reserved for film. I do it on stage and on my podcasts. I love film. It changes my life on a regular basis, whether it's through the movies I make or the movies I watch. But I've done it for 20 years. It's like that moment in Forest Gump, when he's done running.
What will be your legacy as a filmmaker?
I'm not one of those guys who was born to actually tell visual stories. I'm a carpetbagger who backed into film. It seemed like something that would be easy, and it turned out it kind of was, to some degree. It was the way we could start the conversation, where I could be like, 'Hello, I'm Kevin Smith. I'd like to talk to you until the day I die.' Film was the way in.
The tour of Red State: An Evening with Kevin Smith began Sunday in Montreal and continues to Toronto (Toronto Underground Cinema, Monday), Edmonton (Garneau Theatre, Tuesday), Calgary (The Uptown, Wednesday), Vancouver (The Vogue, Thursday).