The Future of Entertainment: A Red State Story

by talkbackty on Sep 3, 2011

This post spawned directly from my review of Red State. A better question is why? Why did one specific movie review lead to this post which is far more broad in scope and scale? I've seen many movies and none of the others inspired me to write about the changing of an industry or consumer demand. So why Red State?

Because Red State should change the world.

I say should and not did only because it seems to be taking a little longer than I, personally, would like it to. This is because the movement is lead by a man who gave the middle finger to entertainment media, and any time you choose to do things in a non-traditional route it's going to take some time.

Here's what Red State did. When it premiered at Sundance Kevin Smith promised an auction for the rights to his movie, which is very traditional. Where Mr. Smith broke the mold is when he allowed only one bid on the movie rights...his own bid...for $20. Then he caused wave upon wave by saying that he didn't need the traditional marketing/distributing companies and was planning on distributing the movie by himself.

He also protested
This is a review for some but new information for others: Companies spend way to much money marketing movies. For a film like Red State, that had a $4 million budget, marketing costs would have probably been in the $10-15 million dollar range. I'm dead serious. A distributing company would have spent more than twice the cost of the movie just to advertise it.

The worst part is that niche-films rarely have the audience to make up for those kinds of cost at the box-office. Then they are deemed a failure when they don't make more than $20 million dollars in a weekend. This happens all the time. (Most recently to Our Idiot Brother starring Paul Rudd).

Mr. Smith realized this and did the only sane thing...he told everyone else they were insane.

Why should he subject his movie, his artwork, to another declared failure when he could do it a different way and be more financially successful?

The crazy thing: He already has his money back. Every single cent that Red State makes on VOD (video on demand), on DVD/Blu Ray or at select theaters is profit. Before Red State was even released to a general audience, it had recouped it's cost.

How did Mr. Smith do this? He kept costs low and took the film around to select theaters where his own fans paid a premium to see the film and his Q&A.

I know, baffling concept. A director went around and showed off his work to people he knew were fans. Instead of paying millions and millions of dollars to get a few extra asses in seats opening weekend, Mr. Smith just said, "No thanks, I don't need to do that."

It worked because Mr. Smith understands something that others don't. Different movies work for different audiences in different places. Putting every movie through the same cookie cutter doesn't work.
Harry Potter 7 premiere

Here's the top ten highest grossing movies of all time. A pretty good barometer of what is "popular" in the United States.

  1. Avatar
  2. Titanic
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
  4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
  7. Toy Story 3
  8. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  9. Alice in Wonderland
  10. The Dark Knight

All pretty predictable. No real surprises. Now here's a list of the top ten rentals from Netflix. Also a pretty good barometer of what is "popular" in the United States.

  1. Crash (2004)
  2. The Blind Side (2009)
  3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
  4. The Bucket List (2008)
  5. The Departed (2006)
  6. The Hurt Locker (2008)
  7. Iron Man (2008)
  8. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
  9. No Country for Old Men (2007)
  10. Gran Torino (2008)

WHAT!?! Not one of the highest grossing movies is on the Netflix list. Are people insane? Don't they realize the superior quality of Transformers: Dark of the Moon?!? It made over a billion dollars!

That's about all the proof I need to know that different movies work for different audiences in different places. Movie theaters are great for watching things explode or seeing the crazy visuals of Avatar, but that doesn't always translate when people are at home.

Red State was never going to be in the Top Ten Box Office numbers, but a distributing company would have marketed it the same way; by throwing copious amounts of money trying to attract more and more people. By choosing a desired "target audience" and overplaying the generalities they believe that audience wants.

Sex to young men. Romance to young women. Goofy antics of middle-aged people to middle-aged people who don't have goofy antics. Intellect to...never mind, no movie gets marketed as an intellectual experience.

I like unrealistic women

I like unrealistic men

I like unrealistic versions of myself
Red State should change the world of entertainment. People should look at what Mr. Smith has done and realize that different movies can be distributed in different fashions. Fans will pay to see movies they want to see, but even more so if it is available in a fashion they are comfortable with.

What's more comfortable than having a movie streamed directly to your computer, Xbox, or PS3 and watching it from your own couch? Not much in my book.

Different movies play to different audiences in different places. Mr. Smith tailored the distribution to best fit the people he thought would enjoy Red State. He listened to the people whom he respects, his own fans.

Another baffling concept. Listening AND responding to the people who are actually interested in your work.
The best Web 2.0-ers. Look at those ears.
That's Web 2.0. Skipping over the unneeded middle men and going directly to the source. Being responsible to the fan by communicating directly with the fans.

Mr. Smith took advantage of all the different mediums now available to us as consumers. Red State can be watched on iTunes, Xbox, PS3 or YouTube. It can be watched by anyone who wants to watch it in the comfort of their own home. And it should change how the world consumes, interacts and views entertainment.

At least I hope it does.