Kevin Smith And The Ethics Of Film Promotion

The key thing to remember with Kevin Smith's current bout of critic-baiting is that, really, everything currently happening is designed to sell his new film. Depending on which spin about the film you want to believe, Red State is either '$1.5million in profit' or has made a paltry $850k during Smith's self-promoted US cinema tour. Either way, Smith needs more ticket sales, more DVD sales and more publicity and he isn't holding back on getting any of it.

Confused by the numbers? Lets take a closer look. Red State's US box office is a matter of fact reported by Box Office Mojo and accepted by Smith himself. The film has taken $851k so far during Smith's promotional tour, where he attends screenings himself and sells tickets at an inflated price of between $40-$100.

Smith used that figure in an e-mail conversation with Movieline and in an associated blog post on the film's website where he claims that, when you add in international sales and home video distribution rights and deduct a California tax break, the film is currently $1.5million in profit. Movieline seemed - in an article that begins 'surprise haters! Kevin Smith's gamble has paid off' - to agree with his maths.

One article that doesn't fully accept Smith's numbers is this piece on Twitch, which questions the difference between production budget and distribution budget (the latter being something Smith doesn't take account of) and points out that the cost of Smith's New York choice of venue alone is around $60k, a figure that would need to be taken off the $851k of ticket sales, along with the cost of every other venue, before a profit figure could be properly found.

So, that explains how it's possible to play around with the maths to present Red State as a modest financial success or a bit of a flop or a film where the director is playing convenient financial games to get his message across. Either way, it doesn't matter.

If you accept that the profit of the film is, at most, $1.5million then that's not a massive profit for Smith and his production company to be taking away. His last film, Cop Out (which is admittedly a more mainstream production) made $15million profit off its US theatrical release alone, a figure which rises to a very healthy $25.5million when you include non-US box office sales. Smith wants his film to make more. His backers want his film to make more. Lionsgate (the new holders of the at-home distribution rights) want his film to make more.

So how does Smith go about promoting his film? In this post on The Red Statements, Smith claims that the promotion will be carried out via continuing to mention it on twitter and on his Smodcast. What he doesn't say is that merely mentioning the film isn't enough.

If Smith sent out a tweet every so often that said 'go and see Red State!' he'd get a few responses and probably get a few more people to purchase the film. But that isn't enough to fill the financial gap. What Smith needs is discussion, argument, coverage: column inches.

Not so Silent Bob

And so, Smith has engaged film critics in open linguistic warfare. He's done this before of course (notably in the above The Red Statements post where he calls one individual blogger several names including (but not limited to) 'fucker', 'idiot', 'Chicken Little', 'dick' and 'hack') and this time he used his twitter feed to do so again. Having cancelled the UK press screening of Red State, Smith labelled the supposed attendees as 'the loudest shit talkers', 'bitchiest and rudest', 'whiners' and other such lovely monikers. It generated tweets in response. It generated argument and discussion. It generated articles like this one.

Smith manufactured a highly personal argument in order to increase his film's publicity.

Ethically this raises a few questions. Smith is mass bullying a group of people in to defending themselves, their integrity and the jobs they do, against his very personal critique and is doing so with the end goal of generating more ticket sales for his film. No-one can stop him. If that's what Kevin Smith wants to do then he can continue to generate publicity by publicly questioning the character of every film critic on the planet. It might, as Smith claims, be eminently cheaper than a generic marketing campaign, but at what cost to his perceived character, his reputation in the industry and his ability to make films in an open and fair market? Smith is taking a calculated risk and he's doing it in a manner that looks like it will only lose him friends although, maybe, when the end figures are totted up, it might make him a whole heap of money. All worth it then, I guess.


  1. "Having cancelled the UK press screening of Red State" - This line sums up why you missed the whole Kevin Smith point. And highlights his view nicely on film critics/industry.

    He (Kevin) never arranged that `press screener` and wanted it stopped as a matter of principle. Any idiot with half a brain could get that.
    As for "Smith is taking a calculated risk and he's doing it in a manner that looks like it will only lose him friends" Oh man, you really don`t get his M.O do you.

    He has publicly said after Cop Out he was tired of spending millions on marketing and working with dollar chasing studios and reps. Red State is a departure from all that. And he has also said on numerous occasions that his next film (Hockey film)is last film, therefore he will be doing it his own way, again. So exactly what `friends` is he losing?

    As a film fan, I am excited at his fresh approach. This is an age of new media, the `net` does not rely on self appointed firms or critics to sell a movie. I hope he does well and it helps kick start a few years of films that are not over produced, hyped and just plain re-makes/sequels (take a look at the next 12 months in hollywood)

    Your piece really does stink of a spoilt child who has been told he cannot play with another kids toys. Move on. It`s only Kevin fucking Smith.

  2. Anon - some points in there which are well worthy of discussion although I wish you could have made them without the minor insults.

    I'm not sure how you can claim Smith cancelled the screening as a 'matter of principle'. His first reason for cancelling was that the film needed an introduction which wasn't ready yet. He then went on to invite members of the public to fill the spaces left by the biggest press 'whiners'. Obviously the film was ready, just not for the press. I'll accept it was a matter of marketing strategy but I don't see how it can be a matter of principle seeing as no-one in the UK has said anything bad about it yet.

    I agree with your point that Smith is trying to avoid the major marketing spend of COP OUT but that just backs up my point - he want to spend less in order to earn more. I don't begrudge him that at all and I think it's an interesting strategy which the industry will have to closely observe, but...

    He's carrying out the strategy in tandem with waging war on film critics. The 'friends' he might lose are people within that industry, as well as people close to him who make films which follow strategies which do rely on press having access to the films in question. He mentions (on The Red Statements) at least one film critic who used to be a personal friend of his and now isn't. I also suspect the people at the PR agency dealing with the screening aren't currently his biggest fans.

    I'm not excited (although I understand why you are) by his approach because I'm excited by quality films and quality film-making not innovative marketing techniques but I am interested to see if it works and achieves the end goal of getting more people in to screens to see RED STATE.

    I'm not sure what your final paragraph is getting at. I have no problem with films not being press screened. I wasn't going to attend the RED STATE screening. I wasn't even invited to the RED STATE screening. The article makes no points about not being able to attend screenings or see films. It merely points out that if that is the strategy for the film (not showing it to the press), then Smith could still go about it in a much less offensive and deliberately provocative manner if he was so inclined.