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NEW YORK — Surrounded by a few thousand fans, Kevin Smith kept his cool as he unveiled his new film Red State at Radio City Music Hall Saturday night. He was in fine, foul-mouthed form as he kicked off the first of 15 sneak preview dates of his “Red State USA Tour” before approximately 3,800 of his supporters willing to fork out anywhere from $40 to over $100 per seat.
“Let this be a lesson to you that anyone can rent Radio City Music Hall,” he told the crowd, “even a fat kid from New Jersey.”
Smith first screened the film at the Sundance Film Festival in January — at a debut that left a lot of distribution executives annoyed after he staged a faked “auction” for distribution rights. Having “sold” the film to himself, Smith is now distributing the picture via his Smodcast Pictures, and thus far seems to be pulling out all the stops and gimmicks to get the publicity he needs to make the $4 million picture profitable. At Radio City, that included merchandise such as posters, soundtrack dropcards (with Smith signature, $20; without, $10) and his book Kevin Smith Sells Out, which sold at a rapid pace.
Saturday turned out both buzz and a fair profit margin — the $161,590 ticket sale earnings were the “highest per-screen for any film this year,” according to producer Jonathan Gordon. If you subtract the $60,000 for the theater rental, that’s a tidy one-day profit.
But Smith gives good theater, and loves talking to the crowd. Post-screening he took to the stage with most of his major cast members — including John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Stephen Root — fielding questions from adoring fanboys and even a few girls, though the word “Sundance” never came up.
Instead, Goodman warded off applause for his earlier oeuvre, Leo bantered with Smith over her own foul-mouthed slip at the Oscars (“I have a really hard time thinking that’s the first time that happened,” she quipped) and Gordon got a chance to wish his 70-year-old father a happy birthday.
The rest of the night was Smith’s, as fans gushed over the film and expressed repeated dismay that he has said he will stop making movies after 2012’s Hit Somebody. “I feel good about that,” he said about his semi-retirement. “I feel like my critics are probably saying, ‘Oh, good, he’s leaving,'” he said.
But, he added, while he’s done with theatrical films, “I’m willing to try other directing projects.”
Ultimately, Smith may yet be on to something. Red State will do well on the backs of his loyal fans — the ones with deep pockets and an endless array of questions. That means Smith will have to do the one thing he loves best to promote this film: Keep talking, and talking. On Saturday night, Smithians stood 20-deep at the three microphones set up around the theater even after an hour of arcane and inane quizzing. If they decide to come out again for the official Red State release on October 19, Smith may just be the fat kid who laughs last.
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