Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Red State: The First Real 21st Century Film

Red State: The First Real 21st Century Film

This is a bold and probably incorrect statement: Avatar wasn’t the future, it’s just the reimagining of the past. I think it’s a misconception to consider Avatar the future of film, and even more so to consider it the film that starts the 21st century. The 3D craze is just 1999.9 it’s not the 21st century. The 90s were about technological advancements, not the 2000s. We’re not passed that, but it’s not what characterizes this time period. Right now it’s all about taking the technology we’ve spent the last 20 years creating and buying, and finally learning how to use it. I personally believe that Kevin Smith stumbled upon the key to this mystery.
            Kevin Smith is a controversial cult filmmakers whose highlight titles include Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and now Red State (for full history see his IMDB page at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0003620/). I’m not going to write anymore about Smith’s history, I’m sure most of you know it (or don’t care).

Sundance describes his new film Red State as follows (from the 2011 program guide):

Ever since Clerks (cowinner of the Filmmakers Trophy at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival), Kevin Smith has been known for his sharp, subversive, comedic writing. He shifts from comedy to horror with Red State and aptly demonstrates that good writing transcends genre.
Red State begins by following three horny high-school boys who come across an online ad from an older woman looking for a gang bang. Boys being boys, they hit the road to satisfy their libidinal urges. But what begins as a fantasy takes a dark turn as they come face-to-face with a terrifying "holy" force with a fatal agenda.
Instead of relying on archetypes and predictable formulas, Smith meticulously fashions all-too-real characters, utilizing exceptional performances (notably by Michael Parks) and an intelligent script. His realistic style gives the film an intimate feeling, heightening the terror to biblical proportions. Red State is a shocking new kind of horror film that aggressively confronts higher powers and extreme doctrines with a vengeance.

The content of the film is not important, in fact it’s completely irrelevant to the reason this film is the real first 3D film (at least in the 21st century sense). The first notable reason this film takes a step forward is the distribution style. Smith is releasing the film himself, through his podcast network Smodcast. Usually, a film is sold to a studio that would spend more money marketing the film than the film cost in the first place (extremely likely in this particular situation). Smith’s idea is to release the film without a single marketing cost (I’m sure there will be a few minimal ones). As someone who worked in the industry, I can vouch for the uselessness of newspaper ads and billboards. It’s IMPORTANT to note that this is a discussion on indie film, for something like Transformers you need the mass branding.
            So then how the hell do you release the damn thing? How do people know? The first obvious forums for free promotion are reviews and interviews. Now the next important thing which Smith is very familiar with is appearing at screenings. He’s brilliantly taking the film on tour, which is quite simply using the festival style release. In BRIEF summary, festival style release focuses on good word of mouth for a long period of time. If Winter’s Bone didn’t play at Sundance and get all the audience members chatting, it would not be nominated for an Oscar. The benefit of doing this instead of playing at festivals is :
1) people are more concentrated on your movie (and not falling asleep because it’s the fifth they saw that day
2) You can take it where you want, when you want to. You are not at the whims of the festival.

However, as awesome as these things are they are NOT the real reason this film is the film for the 21st century (I’m underplaying the significance of the DIY (Do-it-yourself) release).

The reason this film is the first real three dimensional 21st century film is because of Kevin Smith’s Smodcast Network. Every single day he podcasts for at least an hour, speaking about many aspects of his life. He speaks so openly about not only every little aspect of his life, but also about all his films. What happens is it creates the Q+A director experience without needing to pay to go to a film festival! This Q+A format also comes back into play with Smith’s incessant use of his Twitter. Just from listening to his podcasts I feel like I know Kevin Smith on a personal level, which gives an incredible depth to the viewing experience. The most prominent proof of this is my recent viewing of old Smith film Clerks. The depth of understanding I got from what I’ve heard about the film but even more about who Kevin Smith is enhanced the experience tremendously. Even if Red State is an average film, it’s still much much more than that because it’s an experience. It’s an experience that started on November 8, 2010 with the first Red State of the Union Podcast. It won’t end AT LEAST until the release of the DVD. When I saw Avatar, it was at most a one-month thing. When it lost the Oscars to The Hurt Locker, it pretty much left everyone’s mind, certainly mine. So really again I emphasize, it doesn’t really matter if Red State sucks. Everything that’s happened in the last 3 months alone has added tremendous value to his other films and to the film industry. 

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