Kevin Smith on ‘Red State’

The writer, director and profanity-stylist shares some messed up stories about why he's distributing Red State himself.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

I camped out at 6AM during Sundance to make sure I got to see Red State. At Comic-Con I finally got to ask Kevin Smith two questions I had burning since he announced his self-distribution model in front of the entire entertainment industry. Smith gave an impromptu Q&A in the Movies on Demand lounge, since MOD is showing Red State this month before it hits theaters. Of course, two questions with Kevin turned into a whole interview.


Crave Online: Did Harvey Weinstein at any point ever say, “Kevin, let us help you with Red State” and you had to say, “No, not this time, I’ve got my own thing I’m working on?”

Kevin Smith: Interestingly no, and I have an awesome Harvey Weinstein story that I want to tell but I don’t think I’m going to blow it here. I might save it for a podcast because that’s all I do now. No, he didn’t. To be fair, he didn’t go after it at all but he passed years ago. That’s why we wound up going out there trying to raise money for a couple years by ourselves anyway because originally he had just read it… I don’t know if he read it. He might have gotten through the first 5-10 pages and the message I got was: Harvey thinks it’s more of a Bob movie. Bob being his brother Bob Weinstein.

So I called up Harvey’s office, was like, “Is this true? You read Red State?” He’s like, “Kevin, it’s a horror movie. That’s what Bob does. It’s like Scream territory.” I was like okay. I think Harvey was the first person that said “horror movie.” So I go over to Bob Weinstein, he does Dimension, I gave it to him. He read it, he’s like, “This is Harvey type sh*t. Go see Harvey.” So I went back to Harvey and he was just like, “Go see Bob.” And I went to Bob and he said, “Go see Harvey.” It reminded me of that scene in Coal Miner’s Daughter where Tommy Lee Jones’ trying to propose. I’m probably the only person in this room who remembers Coal Miner’s Daughter affectionately.

Finally the message was clear. There’s a dude named Michael Cole who worked there for a while. We were in the midst of putting Zack and Miri together. Seth had just signed on to do it. I said, “Michael, are they ever going to do Red State?” He goes, “No, it’s a pass from both of them.” I was like, “Get out of here” because they’d never passed on anything. I said, “Why?” He’s going, “They don’t know how to sell it. They don’t know how to market it.” I said, “It’s a $5 million horror movie.” He’s going, “They just don’t think the audience for it exists.” This was late 2007/2008 when we were getting ready to do Zack and Miri. We were in the midst of Zack and Miri so it was very easy to put to the side.

To be fair, they never said, “Write Red State and submit it.” My overall deal was always set up where I’d pitch something to them, they’re like, “Okay, go write it.” I write it, turn it in, they get two weeks or something to green light it or I got it back. So Red State I talked to them about generally but I never did an official pitch where they’re like, “Go ahead, write it.” So I turn in Zack and Miri which I had officially pitched and they greenlit the pitch, green light the writing. So when I turned in Red State which I only kind of wrote that moment in time as an exercise because we were waiting to hear from Seth Rogen. I got so prom girl syndrome, staring at the phone every morning. I’d wake up and be like, “Okay, this is the day he calls back.” Three days, four days went by, it felt so f***in’ strange. I said I’ve got to really distract myself. So I started writing Red State. I had the idea for it, I knew eventually I was going to write it so I was like, “You know, I’ll start writing Red State.” Wrote that over the course of three or four days. That took my mind off of Zack and Miri and since we were still waiting on Seth to commit, I was like, “Well, sh*t, I’ll submit this script and get that process going at the same time.” So when it came into them they were like, “What? Red State? You wrote this? All right, let’s give it a read” and then they tried reading it, or at least he said he did and then they didn’t get very far with it.

So in the moment it never felt like, “Oh, what a dagger through my heart that they passed” because we were off to go make Zack and Miri. But it was weird, even then I found it strange, like, “We don’t know how to market this.” And I was like really? I know how to market this. I know exactly who to sell it to. That was kind of the beginning way back then, me going, “How do you not know?” We looked at the previous box office of everything I’d done and I was like you can count on at least this many people to show up. My feeling was marketing would never affect that figure. The same people kept coming over and over again. There’s a reason the box office gross is like $30 million, $30 million, $30 million. It’s not f***in’ The Da Vinci Code. That many people are going. It didn’t matter what kind of marketing they’d throw at it. The same View Askewniverse fans were going and that was it.

My philosophy was if that many people were going for the movies that I made in the Askewniverse that people were accustomed to, by the time I got to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and then we did Clerks II, it kind of felt like it was a very large universe, but at the same time felt like if we gave them something completely new and different, I was known for comedy, if I turned around and whipped something like a horror movie at them, they’d still show up because they’d gone to see everything else. But they might even show up a little more because they’re like, “That’d be f***ed up, the Clerks guy making a horror movie? Let’s look.” To me it was a no brainer. How can you not sell this, especially for that kind of budget?

That’s when I started learning about true low budget/mid-range movies, higher budget movies and stuff like that and how that company wasn’t interested in the kind of sh*t that got me there in the first place. When I made Clerks, if I’d I made Red State instead, Harvey and Bob wouldn’t have picked it up. I’d get the same thing, “We don’t know how to market it.”


Crave Online: Has Harvey given you any feedback since you announced your plan to go outside the studio system?

Kevin Smith: Bob’s been wonderful. We saw Bob at Sundance. He went to the screening in the morning because we had that night screening and sh*t. He’s like, “I didn’t go to your night screening. I went to watch the Jets game. F*** you.” That’s cool because Bob puts it on Front St. But he went to see the movie in the morning and he was just like, “Oh my God, I loved it.” He immediately went into Bob mode and gave me cut notes. “This speech is too long and the ending you just need to end, you drag it out too long.” So I was like all right, this is a smart f***in’ dude, dude makes more movies than I’ve ever made. Bob has produced, made so many movies per year, dude’s got a good head for editing so I definitely took those notes.

Still haven’t heard from Harvey Weinstein. He was there though at the screening at Sundance, the big screening with the auction, what not. We had a moment during the screening which was… all right, f*** it, I’ll tell you.

So what happened was, it was f***in’ strange, I’m sitting in the back of the theater, it’s a true story, my hand to God, my child’s life. I’m sitting in the back of the theater, this is our debut at Sundance. This movie Red State, me and Jon Gordon, Jon used to be Harvey Weinstein’s assistant for years and years and years. Then he became an exec at Miramax for years and years and years. I’ve made the majority of my movies at Miramax. Without the Weinstein brothers, I probably wouldn’t be in this business at all.

We called our company The Harvey Boys in honor of Harvey Weinstein. We thought, “Oh my God, this is going to be like Christmas when this fat motherf***er sits down to watch this movie. He’s going to be like, ‘What a gift. They love me. And he’s up on stage talking about how influential I am. The movie’s everything that we used to do.’” We thought he’d really be moved by it and he’d come out and be like, “Good job, boys. You’ve grown up and done well.” That’s what you always feel in your head and heart. 40 years old, I’m still open to that moment.

So Jon and me invited Harvey and Bob to the screening. Bob stayed to watch the Jets game. Harvey made a lot of stink. Harvey first called up Cooper, the head of Sundance programming and said, “What can we do about moving this Red State screening?” He’s like, “What are you talking about?” “You know, the Jets game. I’ve got a party going on.” Cooper’s like, “Harvey, we’re not moving Red State because you can’t make it because you’re having a party. Choose one or the other.” He’s like, “Hrumphhhhhh,” click. Then finally he called up Jon and was like, “Why am I going to this? Is this important? I got a huge party up here.” Jon’s like, “Dude, don’t go. If it’s a hassle for a major film distributor to go to a film festival, please, by all means, don’t go to a f***in’ film screening tonight. Stay and watch a f***in’ football game.” So he’s like, “No, I’ll show up.”

Dude shows up, I guess. I didn’t know this until I’m in the back of the screening and it’s about seven minutes into it. I’m in the back of the theater just sitting on a chair right by the door. In the Eccles, there’s no door, it’s just curtains. Movie’s pretty quiet at this point. Everybody’s kind of settling into it. All of a sudden I just hear, “Hurarararararara” from like f***in’ Charlie Brown’s teacher in the next room. I’m like, “I f***in’ know that voice, man.” I’m like f*** it, it can’t be, watch the movie. Wawawa. Finally I get up and look over. I push the curtain over and I look and there’s Harvey outside the movie in the lobby talking to his assistant at full volume, peak volume. Not like, “There’s a movie going on so do me a favor, I need this, I need this.” He was just like, “You call this motherf***er and you tell them…” putting on a theatrical production 7-8 minutes into my movie.

Now I see that, I’m a temperamental little filmmaker and a diva, but I don’t do nothing. I’m like without this dude, I wouldn’t be here and this is typical Harvey. He’s never been polite at a screening, even his own, so why would I expect now it would happen? I write it off as Harvey, go sit back down. Rararararara, it keeps f***in’ going. Finally, somebody standing next to the curtain pulls it open, goes, “Shhhh.” And he looks over with his assistant, you don’t see me because I’m sitting but I look over, and he looks all with that face and stuff but it was the usher going shhh because they were f***in’ loud. Thought that would be the end of it. Two minutes later, blahblahblahblahblah, it gets loud again.

I don’t know what it was, man, because it was a real defining moment for me because again, this is the person without whom I wouldn’t have had a career. These cats picked up Clerks, hand picked up Clerks and I made all my early movies with them. Everything I got in this life I got because of the Weinstein brothers, but as in every f***in’ tale of fathers and sons, there comes a moment where you step up and break and today I’m a man, that kind of bullsh*t. I never did it in my own house because I was such a p***y but I figured I could do it with this person I wasn’t really related to especially in this instance where we made the movie without him and here he was being loud and obnoxious during our debut screening at Sundance in earshot of me and everybody in that back half of the auditorium. I’m like what do I do, what do I do and I finally say f*** it and I do it.

I get up, I swear to you, may God strike me dead if this didn’t happen, I pull the curtain over, I go, “Hey!” He looks over and I go, “Shut the f*** up!” And he goes like this [surprised]. And I said, “Yeah, shut the f*** up. I would never do this to you. I would never come to one of your screenings and act like an *sshole. Shut the f*** up!”

He looked like he was going to f****in’ come over and punch me and I closed the curtain and sat back down. I was terrified. This was a huge f***in’ moment where I was like, “Here it comes, repercussions, the other shoe’s going to drop.” And nothing. No curtain. I looked and he just left. He took off.

So that was f***in’ scary and then you’ll understand about 70 minutes later I got up on stage and did what I did because at that point I was f***in’ fearless. I had just literally faced down God and been like, “Shut the f*** up” and in good faith. I wasn’t being rude or a diva. He shouldn’t have been talking. If anybody in that building would have known how important it was to shut the f*** up, it was him but he was just doing what he did. F*** the movie and f*** everyone else in the movie.

That broke my heart because I’m like, “Motherf***er, you were the king of this sh*t once, man. You were the guy that f***in’ got me here in the first place. You’re gonna stand out here and f***in’ loud talk and what not and be obnoxious? F*** it.” That’s when I was just like I guess I’m alone.

I turned to Jon Gordon, I was just like, “The Harvey Boys, dude. We literally were stupid enough to call our production company The Harvey Boys. Harvey don’t give a f***. He obviously doesn’t care. We’re alone.” It was an important lesson, really important lesson.


Crave Online: Thank you.

Kevin Smith: You’re welcome, sir.