Red State (2011 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Kevin Smith|
|Produced by||Jonathan Gordon|
|Written by||Kevin Smith|
|Edited by||Kevin Smith|
The Harvey Boys
|Distributed by||SModcast Pictures
(United States, Theatrical)
(United States, Home Video)
|Box office||$1.8 million|
After months of saying that the distribution rights to the film would be auctioned off immediately after the premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Smith controversially announced that he was instead going to self-distribute the picture under the SModcast Pictures banner with a traveling show in select cities.
On June 28, 2011, Smith announced a one-week run in Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema (making the film eligible for Academy Award consideration). The film was released via video on demand on September 1, 2011 through Lionsgate, in select theaters for a special one-night-only engagement on September 23, 2011 (via SModcast Pictures), and on home video October 18, 2011.
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Travis (Michael Angarano) notices a fire station siren being removed from its pole and members of the Five Points Trinity Church, led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), protesting the funeral of a murdered local gay teenager. Jared (Kyle Gallner), a friend of Travis, reveals he received an invitation from a woman named Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo) he met on a sex site for group sex with Travis and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun). They borrow Travis's parents' car and travel to meet her. Along the way, they accidentally sideswipe the vehicle of Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root), while he was having sex with a man. Afraid, the boys drive off.
Sheriff Wynan returns to the station and tells his deputy Pete (Matt L. Jones) to go and look for the vehicle. Meanwhile, the boys arrive at the woman's trailer. She encourages them to drink, and after being drugged by the beer, they pass out while undressing. Jared wakes up while being moved in a covered cage. He realizes he is in the sanctuary at Five Points after he identifies Cooper. Cooper begins a long, hate-filled sermon before identifying another captive, a homosexual they lured in through an internet chat room. They bind him to a cross using plastic cling wrap, murder him with a revolver and drop him into a small crawl space where Travis and Billy Ray are bound together.
Cooper then begins binding Jared to the cross, but stops when he notices Pete driving up to the church. Travis and Billy Ray use a protruding bone from the corpse to cut themselves free, which is heard by Caleb (Ralph Garman). He lifts up the trap door just in time to see Billy Ray escape and runs after him. Billy Ray is not able to help Travis out of his tight cling wrap cuffs and leaves him for dead. Caleb chases Billy Ray into a room stocked with weapons, where the two shoot each other. Pete hears the gunshots and calls Wynan for back-up, but is shot and killed by Mordechai (James Parks). Cooper then blackmails Wynan, telling him to stay away or he will reveal Wynan's homosexuality to his wife using explicit photos the church has taken of him. In desperation, Wynan calls ATF Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who begins setting up outside the church.
While the family mourns Caleb, Travis (who had broken free) arms himself and plans to shoot the congregation, but witnesses Jared still being held captive on the cross. Travis makes a run for it, but is mistaken for a congregation member by Wynan and shot. Keenan tries to reason with the family, but ATF Special Agent Brooks (Kevin Pollak) is shot in the head by Cooper and a shoot-out erupts. In the midst of the shooting, Wynan is killed, and Agent Keenan receives a call from ATF higher-ups ordering him to stage a full raid on the complex to ensure that no witnesses remain. Keenan is clearly disturbed by this, but passes on the order to another tactical agent, named Harry (Kevin Alejandro), who also struggles with this decision and argues with Keenan. Keenan dismisses Harry's protests for personal reasons, rationalizing his decision based on personal gain and the reputation of the ATF. Harry storms off in disgust.
During the shoot-out, Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé) escapes and is captured by an ATF agent (Marc Blucas). Just as the ATF agent is about to shoot her, he is killed by Sarah. Cheyenne returns to the house and unbinds Jared, begging him to help her hide the congregation's children. Jared refuses and her pleas turn into a fight. Sarah notices them and attacks Jared. Cheyenne tries to break up the fight and accidentally shoots Sarah in the process, killing her. Cheyenne sends the children up into the attic, and Jared changes his mind and decides to help Cheyenne hide the children. They run outside to plead with Keenan to spare the children but are killed by Harry.
The shoot-out is interrupted by a mysterious trumpet blast. The remaining Coopers lower their weapons and run outside rejoicing, claiming that "the Rapture" has come upon them. Abin calmly approaches a stunned ATF team and confidently taunts them that God's wrath is upon the Earth. He raises his arms and stands in the face of a confused and worried Keenan in a moment of triumph, daring him to defy God.
Several days later, during a briefing before high-ranking government officials, Keenan reports that he then head-butted Cooper and took the rest of the congregation into custody. He explains that the trumpet noises were not the Rapture but came from a group of college students who lived down the road and were irritated with Cooper. As a prank they rigged up an old fire house siren to an iPod with loud trumpet noises, unaware of the shootout taking place over the hill. Keenan is promoted despite disobeying a direct order from his superiors at the time to kill everyone at the compound.
Keenan is surprised that he is not punished for his actions but his superiors explain that their initial decision to kill the members of the congregation was mostly personal and that they are satisfied with the alternative punishment of taking away the prisoners' constitutional rights to due process by classifying their crimes as terrorism and locking them up without ever letting them go to trial. Keenan laments this outcome in a story he shares about a couple of hungry brawling dogs he once knew that taught him about the darker side of human nature and the way simple beliefs can turn humans into bloodthirsty animals.
Cooper is finally seen pacing around his cell singing and sermonizing to himself until another prisoner (Kevin Smith) tells him to "shut the fuck up".
- Michael Parks as Pastor Abin Cooper
- John Goodman as ATF Special Agent Keenan
- Melissa Leo as Sarah Cooper, Pastor Cooper's daughter, Caleb's wife and Cheyenne's mother
- Kyle Gallner as Jarod
- Kerry Bishé as Cheyenne, Sarah and Caleb's daughter and Abin Cooper's granddaughter
- Michael Angarano as Travis
- Nicholas Braun as Billy Ray
- Ralph Garman as Caleb, Sarah's husband, Abin Cooper's son-in-law and Cheyenne's father
- Stephen Root as Sheriff Wynan
- James Parks as Mordechai, Pastor Cooper's son and Fiona May's father
- Haley Ramm as Maggie
- Kevin Pollak as ATF Special Agent Brooks
- Matt L. Jones as Deputy Pete
- Kevin Alejandro as Tactical Agent Harry
- Betty Aberlin as Abigail
- Jennifer Schwalbach Smith as Esther, Mordechai's wife and Fiona May's mother
- Kaylee DeFer as Dana, a classmate of Jarod and his friends
- Alexa Nikolas as Jesse
- Kevin Smith as prisoner who tells Pastor Abin Cooper to shut up
Kevin Smith announced at the Wizard World Chicago 2006 convention that his next project would move in a different direction, and it would be a straight horror film. In April 2007, Smith revealed the title of the movie to be Red State and said that it was inspired by infamous pastor Fred Phelps, or as Smith claimed, "very much about that subject matter, that point of view and that position taken to the absolute extreme. It is certainly not Phelps himself but it's very much inspired by a Phelps (like) figure." The first draft was finished in August 2007 with Smith wanting to film it before Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Setting it apart from the majority of his other films, Smith made it clear that Red State was a horror film, stating that there would be no toilet humor in the film.
While speaking at a Q&A event in London on October 13, 2009, Smith stated that funding had been secured for Red State but that he wanted to proceed with Hit Somebody and delay filming Red State for a year. Another reason cited for the delay was that Smith held a superstition about dying after making his tenth movie, and that he did not want to leave an "unpleasant, nasty" film as his last. In February 2010, he talked about his project with CINSSU, saying that he was working through the project's financial challenges; he considered obtaining funding through investments from his fans but this idea was later dropped.
Film producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who had been involved in the distribution of all Kevin Smith films with the exception of Mallrats and Cop Out, passed on supporting Red State with necessary funding. The budget was provided from two main private investor groups that raised the $4 million, one based in New York, one in Canada.
On July 24, 2010, it was also reported that actor Michael Parks had signed on to the film in a starring role, and on September 5, 2010, Smith confirmed that Matt L. Jones was also cast. On the September 20 edition of his and Ralph Garman's podcast Hollywood Babble-on, Smith announced that John Goodman had joined the cast. Smith edited the film throughout production and showed a first cut at the film's wrap party.
In July 2010, Smith stated on his Twitter account that "God-willing, Sundance in Jan for RED STATE." On November 8, Smith announced on Twitter that the movie was viewed by Sundance, to determine if it was eligible for entry in the 2011 festival. On December 1, Smith announced on his Plus One podcast that Red State would be screened at the 27th Sundance Film Festival in the non-competition section.
Marketing and distribution
|“||"...soon after the film played to a good but not great reaction in its world premiere, Smith ditched the idea of a public sale and announced to the audience (after auctioning the film to himself for $20) that he would release the film on his own in October."||”|
|— Reporter John Horn, observer at the live-auction|
Throughout the months of November and December, teaser posters were released featuring characters from the movie in auctions via his Twitter account with the winning bidder hosting the poster exclusively on their website, while the money raised by the auction went to charity. Smith released a teaser trailer for the film on December 23, 2010.
Although Smith had announced plans to auction off the rights to Red State to distributors attending his Sundance screening of the film, he revealed that was merely a ploy and Smith planned to self-distribute as a traveling roadshow beginning March 5 at Radio City Music Hall, and would tour the film across North America before releasing Red State directly to DVD and VOD.
|“||...to hear Smith dismiss the idea of "selling [the movie] to some jackass," neither the rant nor the phony auction was amusing. It seemed Smith had poured a liberal dose of gasoline on a pile of indie-film relationships and lit a match, and some observers took it as a sign that Smith might finally be imploding.||”|
|— Kim Masters, on the auction controversy|
Controversy soon erupted after Smith's speech at the film's debut screening at Sundance. Although Smith had decided to self-distribute the film, according to the film's producer Jonathan Gordon the option of self-distributing the movie was not considered at first:
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."
The sudden announcement of self-distribution after initially announcing an auction provoked a backlash from the media and accusations of dishonesty, with some analysts commenting that they watched Smith "implode" and that he had "lost cred" and one prominent buyer saying, "He stole two hours and insulted every one of us...He was a little like the twisted preacher Michael Parks played in his film. It became life imitating art." Smith joked about the people who had expected to buy the film at his Sundance speech:
Now, we're obviously not selling the movie, so I'm sorry to . . . the distributors in the room. . . . Number one: I'm not that sorry. It's a fucking film festival. Come see a movie. . . . no hard feelings. Hopefully you don't mind. . . . Thank you for coming. . . . I will say this in my own defense . . . a lot of youse work for studios . . . you guys make a lot of trailers - you've lied to me many times. . . . I've seen many trailers where I'm like "this is awesome", and I put my money down, and I'm like "You fucking lying whores". So ladies and gentleman, as you can see we're up here alienating all our future work, just burning the bridge as we cross it, and ah, that means there's probably not going to be much studio help for me and Jon in the future.
According to some writers, the internet community seemed to galvanize in response to the controversy, "...it seems Kevin Smith finally has the Internet critical community united on the same side: against him." Smith countered allegations of dishonesty by saying, "And I told the truth, in my tweet. I said, 'If I get to Sundance, I intend to pick my distributor in the room, auction-style.' Auction-style—did I not do that?...I stood up there and said that I'm gonna take my movie—I'm gonna take it out and try not to spend money doing it."
Kim Masters, editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter, interviewed associates close to Smith about his alleged career "implosion" at the Sundance debut of his film and the events leading up to it:
Smith was one of the first in the business to have a website and sell merchandise – pieces of film from his movies and action figures – to fans. But one source who has worked with him thinks Smith might be one of the first filmmakers to exploit and then be undone by social media, and that access to social media has eliminated any filter that might have protected Smith from emotional outbursts that, in this person's view, have undermined his career.
Smith responded to Masters, saying that it was "a Jerry Maguire moment. I've got a little fish in a plastic bag and one idealistic secretary on my side, and the Bob Sugars seem to be leaning in doorways, smirking."
Indie Film 2.0
Smith described his motivations, strategy, and thought process behind the marketing method at his Sundance appearance and on various podcast shows, Q&As, and tweets. He described the strategy as carefully planned with his business partners, including Jonathan Gordon, who had recently had an interesting experience as a short-lived executive at Universal. Smith did not take a salary for the film, noting that the plan was to pay investors back first.
In his Sundance Q&A, Smith compared the Indie scene from the 1990s to the present film landscape. He described the traditional film marketing system, in which studios buy films and then spend large amounts of money marketing it (often comparable to the film cost). He noted that it took seven years for his film Clerks to become profitable due to this system (see Hollywood accounting). He also compared selling a film to giving a child away for someone else to raise it. Other telling quotes from his Sundance appearance referenced a sort of rebirth of the notion of independence in show business.
"We're starting over . . . true independence isn't making a film and selling it to some jackass. True independence is schlepping that shit to the people yourself. And that's what I intend to do. . ."
"Yes, anybody can make a movie, we know that now . . . What we aim to prove is that anybody can release a movie as well, and it's not enough to just make it and sell it anymore, I'm sorry. . . . Indie film isn't dead people, it just grew up. It's just indie film 2.0 now, and in indie film 2.0 we don't let them sell our movie, we sell our movie ourselves."
"Root for us if you will, hate us if you must. . . . But I can't think of a more interesting business news story that you're ever gonna hear about this fucking year, man. We're definitely gonna go out there and try to find a new distribution model."
Smith planned to spend no money on traditional advertising (billboards, TV, print media), instead using the aforementioned in-person theatre tour with accompanying Q&A show, word-of-mouth, Twitter, social media, podcasts, and other means not traditionally used by the studio system.
In April 2011, Smith revealed that Red State had already made its budget back with the film making $1 million on the first leg of the tour, $1.5 million from a handful of foreign sales and $3 million from a domestic distribution deal for VOD.
Tour and screenings
The Westboro Baptist Church protested the film's release at the Sundance Film Festival because some of the elements of the film were "modeled after the founder and members of the Westboro Baptist Church."
The tour went well and the experience was described in detail in many of the SModco podcasts. On one of the tour stops, two defectors from the Westboro Baptist Church appeared at the public Q&A to ask Smith questions from the audience. He invited them on stage and proceeded to interview them.
In 2015 filmmaker Dan Costales, worked with Sound designer of Bobb Barito and animation work from Dennis Fries, an animated short film based on Red State, which was released in March 2015 in the United States.
At the box office, Red State earned $1,104,682 in the United States. On its opening weekend, it grossed $204,230 in one theater, and it played at five theaters in its widest release. It grossed another $769,778 internationally for a total worldwide gross of $1,874,460.
The film received mixed reviews from critics and has a score of 59% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 84 reviews with an average rating of 6 out of 10. The site's critical consensus states "Red State is an audacious and brash affair that ultimately fails to provide competent scares or thrills." The film also has a score of 50 out of 100 On Metacritic based on reviews from nine critics indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Edward Douglas of Shock Till You Drop panned the movie saying that, "it feels like one of Smith's Twitter rants fleshed out into film with equal portions of bile sprayed at both church and state." Katey Rich of Cinema Blend reporting in her review, "Messy, overwritten, visually stylish, but kind of a bore. More like Kevin Smith than it looks because nobody ever stops talking. And it's not a horror movie by any usual definition. More like teen horror movie morphs into Waco disaster. Melissa Leo overacts, Michael Parks is impressive as Fred Phelps figure but the character's meaning and purpose in the narrative (or lack thereof) is fuzzy." Jordan Hoffman in his review for UGO also panned the film, saying, "Kevin Smith, a wonderful public speaker and genuinely fun guy, has yet to master the basics of movie making." According to Drew Mcweeny of "Motion Captured", "Kevin Smith's Red State fails onscreen and off at its world premiere...A shoddy film and a bait-and-switch event fail to satisfy on any level." Raffi Asdourian of The Film Stage wrote that, "While there are glimpses of Smith's wry humor scattered throughout, Red State can't help but feel like a B action movie that started off with ambitious ideas but collapses under it's [sic] own preachy weight... it's clear that the smart alec writer still has some things to learn about making a great film." Matt Goldberg of Collider.com wrote that, "Red State is a radical departure for Smith and yet he lacks the confidence to properly execute the action-horror-thriller he's devised."
James Rocchi writing for indieWire wrote that, "...Smith has gotten as far as he has with his comedies because it is a writer's genre more so than it is a director's. Horror is the genre of a director—pacing, feel, shots, editing—and Smith's skills are not up to the task..."
Amongst the positive reactions to the film, Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the movie, "A potent cinematic hand grenade tossed to bigots everywhere." Jeff Sneider of TheWrap.com said, "The truth is that I didn't really know what to expect from Red State, but regardless, I still had high expectations and am pleased to report that the film lived up to them. [...] it brings something new to the genre, and that something is faith." Germain Lussier of /Film also praised the film, saying, "This is a maturing, confident Smith who proves, after Cop Out, he still has a unique voice. With Red State, that voice isn't saying anything incredibly groundbreaking, and at times it gets a tad preachy, but the director has expanded out of his comfort zone and given audiences a genuine piece of art." Director Richard Kelly also offered his take on the film and Smith while appearing on Smith's SMovieMakers podcast. He said "I have never seen a filmmaker reinvent himself the way you just have. I won't say anything else because I don't want to spoil anything. It's really really exciting…" Smith blogged on his official film website that filmmaker Quentin Tarantino saw the film and gave him positive feedback about it; he also named it as his 8th favorite film of 2011. Former collaborator Ben Affleck also loved the film and ended up casting Goodman, Parks and Bishé in his film Argo.
In October 2011, Red State won the Best Motion Picture award at the 2011 Sitges Film Festival, while Michael Parks was named Best Actor. Parks' character, Abin Cooper, received a nomination for Villain Of The Year from the Virgin Media Movie Awards.
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