Kevin Smith: 'Alarmist Ninnies' Misinterpreted Sundance Outburst

Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith
 Danny Moloshok/AP Photo

But Cop Out only grossed a so-so $55.5 million worldwide, and the fact that it wasn't a Smith original didn't inoculate him when the movie was panned. Smith was unhappy enough that as recently as last month he continued to vent his frustration, complaining on the podcast WTF With Marc Maron. Working with Willis had been "soul crushing," Smith said, adding that the star failed to support the film. "A lot of people are gonna be like, 'Oh, you're just trying to blame the movie on him,' " Smith said. "I had no f---ing help from this dude whatsoever."

Days before Cop Out was set to open last February, the infamous Southwest Airlines incident happened. Smith was ejected from a flight from Oakland to Burbank, supposedly because the pilot had decided he was a "safety risk" because -- owing to his girth -- Smith couldn't put down his armrest. Naturally, Smith went straight to Twitter. "I know I'm fat, but was [the pilot] really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?" he tweeted. "I saw someone bigger than me on THAT flight! But I wasn't about to throw a fellow Fatty under the plane."

Smith kept at it, tweeting a photo of himself on the plane, adding: "Look how fat I am on your plane! Quick! Throw me off!" When he arrived in Burbank on a later flight, Smith tweeted, "Don't worry: wall of the plane was opened & I was airlifted out while Richard Simmons supervised."

Despite the humor in his tweets, Smith was deeply affected by the incident -- fearful, according to an associate, that he would be known from then on as the guy who was too fat to fly. He complained to the Los Angeles Times that the media had repaid his past openness by mocking him with fat jokes. "I have to say that the whole situation sickened me," he said. "All I saw was hatred and snarkiness and cynicism."

Smith scoffed at the idea that his tweets had turned the story into a viral phenomenon that attracted as much ridicule as sympathy. "That shows you how much the old media knows about today's universe," he said. "In the world of social media, where everyone has a cell-phone camera, this was gonna get out whether I wanted it to or not. So I'm not letting anyone tell the story but me."

At this point, he acknowledges that the incident was painful but calls it a baptism by fire. "Maybe that happened so I could withstand the shit I'm taking now for an idea that isn't even revolutionary," he wrote to THR. "It's simply indie rock."
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What's not clear is whether the Sundance episode will turn into another source of distress or a triumphant declaration of true independence.

The challenges are clear. Smith says he is trimming Red State in the wake of mixed reviews. But even if it falls short, Smith already has his next film planned, and as long as someone in or near the industry thinks there might be money to be made, then Hollywood is a very forgiving place.

So while many in the industry might be allergic to Smith at this point, it's impossible to say he couldn't work on a studio film again if he really wanted. (He might seem to lack interest now, but a year ago, fresh off the experience on Cop Out, he said he'd do another studio movie "in a heartbeat.")

Of course, Smith might not need to do another Hollywood movie: Red State was financed by private investors, and his indie cred survives among some fans. Sales agent Cassian Elwes, who is not involved with the project, says Smith's ploy at Sundance was "brilliant" and "hilarious." Although Smith "probably pissed off the studios who schlepped over to see the movie," Elwes says, he "created a lot of hype and publicity about the movie, which is a good thing. And he can actually talk to audiences. He's a household name; he's using his celebrity in a smart way."

Sloss agrees that Smith is an industry unto himself and a trailblazer in terms of unhooking the filmmaker from the industry machine. Smith can sell out a few thousand seats in theaters, at $65 a ticket, around the country and even around the world. "It's easy on the surface to say he's losing his mind," Sloss says. "He's an emotional guy, but that's not what's going on here. There's a paradigm taking shape, and he's one manifestation of it."

Smith continues to tend his Internet flock in the aftermath of Sundance, and having lined up distribution consultant David Dinerstein along with Sloss and representatives at WME, he's clearly keeping an eye on business. He's selling tickets online for his Red State tour, kicking off March 5 in New York with subsequent stops from Atlanta to Minneapolis and Seattle to Boston.

According to Smith, his plan is realistic. "We'd be wasting money, advertising this to anybody but the audience that normally goes to see my flicks," he wrote. "On this March tour, we could CLEAR a million bucks and change -- and that'd be 25% of the budget back. Just in 15 or so single screenings. Why is that crazy?"

After the tour, Smith says he'll release the film theatrically through his nascent label, Smodcast. And then Smith says he's going to teach others to do what he does.

"If we can build Smodcast Pictures into a brand the way Harvey & Bob made the Miramax name stand for a specific kind of film -- then it can become a kind of no-budget service label for flicks we feel fit our ethos or can't find love elsewhere in the world," Smith said in a tweet to his followers.

It's a noble aim, but while Smith might have had the backing to muster $4 million for a movie and the following to assemble an audience with the click of a mouse, others don't. At this point, it's not even clear Smith can unhook himself from the Hollywood machine -- much less that he'll be able to free other aspiring filmmakers from their shackles.

ALL THE SMITH THAT'S FIT TO PRINT:
"It's kinda boring," Smith admitted of his 2007 book My Boring-Ass Life, in which he collected blog posts from SilentBobSpeaks.com. "Wake up," reads a typical entry. "Take a shit while playing Tetris and update my online diary in my office 'til [wife] Jen gets up." His fans loved it, though, so he reissued it two years later with added pages about the making of Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

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