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Kevin Smith’s latest passion project Red State has already paid for itself, six months before it actually sees full theatrical release. Thanks to an ambitious multi-city road trip in which Smith traveled to screenings of the movie and spoke with audiences afterward, Red State has already made back the $4 million budget production company SMODcast Pictures invested in the film.
At Sundance earlier this year, Smith announced he would self-distribute Red State, launching the theatrical release on October 19, 2011, the 17th anniversary of the release of his first breakout hit, Clerks. But prior to that, Smith decided to take the movie on the road, going on a 15-city tour and granting question and answer sessions after screenings of the film.
That plan has apparently already paid off, as Smith told an audience at the National Association of Broadcasters show Wednesday that while SMODcast has yet to make a formal announcement, he was happy to say Red State was officially “in the black.” But that’s not the only milestone the film was able to achieve. As first noted in Indiewire, Red State was technically the 10th-highest weekend theater average, taking in more than $161,000 at the movie’s launch at Radio City Music Hall in March.
Smith’s plan to self-distribute Red State came after apparently being turned down by long-term backers Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The Weinsteins had for years helped to produce and distribute Smith’s distinctive brand of off-beat comedies from Clerks to Zack and Miri Make a Porno. But the two apparently didn’t have the stomach for Red State, a satirical horror film loosely based on the Westboro Baptist Church. According to Smith at NAB, the Weinsteins said they didn’t see an audience for the film.
The self-distribution plan also came in response to what Smith saw as inefficiency in the way films were marketed. Based on previous films, he estimated it would cost a major studio some $20 million to market the film, or five times what it cost to make.
That the movie is profitable — before hitting theaters, DVD or VOD — is surely impressive, but it speaks more to the rabid Kevin Smith fan base than to the ability of independent filmmakers to profit without studio distribution. Fans at the Radio City Music Hall screening, for instance, paid a minimum of $60 each for their seats.
That said, Smith isn’t the only filmmaker experimenting with new types of distribution. Edward Burns, for instance, distributed his latest feature film, Nice Guy Johnny, direct to iTunes, (s AAPL) VOD and DVD last year, skipping theatrical release altogether. Indie filmmaker Sebastian Gutierrez distributed his Girl Walks Into a Bar directly to YouTube (s goog). And Pixar CTO and independent film producer Oren Jacob used a mix of social media and food banks to boost the profile of his documentary Ready, Set, Bag!