Sundance has witnessed many side shows and carnival barkers in its day, but never a live auction, as Kevin Smith is conducting with his first horror film, “Red State.”
Immediately following its screening at the Eccles Center on Sunday, the writer/director and his producer, Jonathan Gordon (self-dubbed “The Harvey Boys” for their years of Weinstein training), will sell rights to their $4 million feature live, in front of the film’s first public audience, with no press or industry screenings.
The Westboro Baptist Church, whose leader Fred Phelps inspired the screenplay, will be on hand to protest. Not to be outdone, the Harvey Boys will peacefully counterprotest the church.
“Kevin’s made a film like he’s never made before, one that’s not going to be able to be pigeonholed into any particular category or genre, and he’s trying a new model for how to baptize it and send it out into the world,” says “Chasing Amy” producer and film consultant Bob Hawk. “It’s uncharted territory.”
The film follows a trio of high school boys whose online invitation to a gangbang leads them to a murderous pack of religious crazies. Michael Angarano, John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks highlight the ensemble cast. Smith compares it to “Race With the Devil” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” insisting (despite its title) that it’s not political and, though it contains some “gallows humor,” not a comedy.
“It’s an ‘angel worship’ movie, where the killers aren’t devil worshippers but God worshippers to some degree,” he explained in one of several “Red State” podcasts on his SModcast network. “It’s about America’s dark fucking heart.”
Gordon says they’ve laid a pre-auction “road map” for distribs with the teaser trailer, on-set photography and posters, which are now being auctioned for charity.
“We’re very opinionated about how this movie should be sold, and we’re leading by example at putting that stuff out there,” explains Miramax and Universal vet Gordon, who says a deal will close in the Eccles auditorium. The producers have one secret weapon: D² Films prexy David Dinerstein, a longtime friend of Gordon who’s now helping sort through sight-unseen interest leading up to the fest debut. “All shapes and sizes (of distributors) are pursuing (the film),” Gordon says.
They’ll have to wait to base their decisions on its merits, marketability and audience reaction, of course, but these pre-pitches will allow the filmmakers to enter the Eccles with a fuller sense of their options than, say, a plan Weinstein might shout out in the auditorium. Hiring longtime specialty exec Dinerstein (whose film marketing consultancy also arranges self-distribution deals), bringing aboard Cinetic Media (which arranged service deals for sale titles like last year’s Banksy doc “Exit Through the Gift Shop”) with co-seller WME, and slapping the word “March” at the end of the teaser trailer has led many to suspect Smith has a self-distribution backup plan should an attractive offer fail to materialize. But is self-distribution or a service deal even an option they’re considering? “No,” says Gordon. “We want to have someone who loves the movie, understands it, knows how to handle it and get the most out of it.”
During a “Red State” podcast, Smith speculated that if the film played as well as a ” ‘Godfather’ or ‘Godfather II,’ ” he hoped for a $6 to $8 million sale (including control of the film’s marketing). “I’d hope for more,” Gordon says with a laugh, “but Kevin and I don’t always agree on everything.”
Smith says he’ll also consider a bid that’s not the highest bid if the distrib is passionate enough.
Both filmmakers seem confident, but as with any auction, there’s always the possibility no decent offer will materialize. Even one person involved with the two main private investor groups that raised the $4 million budget — one based in New York, one in Canada — expressed concern about a backup plan should the auction offers be insufficient.
Gordon, who doesn’t want a Weinstein-style late night condo bargaining session (“That’s boring,” he joked. “Everyone does that, and I don’t wanna stay up late.”), was a bit more enigmatic about what would happen in this scenario.
“Harvey passed on ‘Clerks’ twice before he bought it,” he said. “Sometimes folks need to see movies with an audience.”
Whatever happens, Hawk (who gave Smith script notes and saw a locked version of the film in November) says audiences can expect the unexpected. “When I read the first draft, I thought I knew where it was going and it kept surprising me. I couldn’t believe where this thing went,” he says. “I hope it blows people’s minds. I think it will.”