Somewhat unexpectedly, Kevin Smith has emerged as an inspirational figure to many filmmakers uncertain of how to move forward into the New World of distribution.
In particular, the controversy and press attention that Smith has engineered around the DIY distribution of his latest film, Red State, has moved Kevin Smith from one-of-a-kind-indie-filmmaker into a new position as a leading oracle of New World distribution.
As a filmmaker and film marketer, Kevin Smith is of course unique and self-made... but many fans would not be familiar with the disruptive-opinionated-human-action-figure-in-a-hockey-jersey that is today's Kevin Smith without the intense financial backing of Miramax - backing that started around 1994 with the huge marketing push for his no-budget (reported $25,575 negative cost) debut, Clerks.
His salesmanship can be copied - but only Kevin Smith is Kevin Smith.
Still there are lessons to be learned from the master. And it isn't only that you can (and should) make yourself into a "brand" to sell your films and that you must maintain email lists and actively build an ongoing relationship with your core fans.
Even though most young filmmakers will never reach the level of fame that Kevin Smith has attained, the press-worthy nuances of his Red State approach - in particular, creating newsworthy events where the loyalty of the core audience is pitted against an adversarial "establishment" - remains a great technique that can be copied.
Kevin Smith's approach with Red State isn't, strictly speaking, new. Many filmmakers have done Q&A sessions after screenings to build attention around live events. And the marketing of an entertainment product as "counter-culture" - where the kids are encouraged to buy it to show "the man" how much they despise the old forms of entertainment and traditional capitalism itself - has been around at least since the time of Elvis, the Beatles and Abby Hoffman. But Kevin's use of social media and the online forms of communication - like me writing about him in this blog - are groundbreaking. Just because he's selling a traditional narrative movie and partnering with Old World media companies to make the TV money, it shouldn't diminish the importance (or difficulty) of what Kevin Smith has accomplished.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kevin's moves, here's a link to a KCRW interview where he talks about his admiration for Wayne Gretzky, being a writer/director, pot, and the distribution of Red State.