PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Film director Kevin Smith has unveiled a plan to self-release his new "Red State" at the Sundance Film Festival, after facing down protesters that brought him publicity money can't buy.
Invoking the name of movie kingpin Harvey Weinstein and the hockey stick of Wayne Gretzky, Smith said that after 17 years of making movies, he could not think of anything worse than creating a film and turning it over to a studio to market.
The way Smith figured the movie business, after the studio spent tens of millions of dollars on promotion to lure fans to Red State, he and his investors would never see a profit.
So he is going back to a time when moviemakers took films to theaters themselves, one theater at a time. They kept more of the proceeds for themselves and reinvested in more films.
"Indie film isn't dead. It just grew up," he told the Sundance audience following the premiere of Red State. "This is Indie 2.0."
Smith launched his career at Sundance with black-and-white feature "Clerks," made for just $27,575. It was acquired by Weinstein who at the time ran Miramax Films and was considered a master marketer of low-budget movies.
Since then, the business of making low-budget movies outside Hollywood's mainstream studios has changed.
Now, costly stars often are cast in "indie" movies, and production and marketing expenses rise into the millions, which prohibits filmmakers from being able to exercise their voice. As a result, some players think indie filmmakers are a dying breed.
Smith said he and his producing partner learned from Weinstein that when you felt like you had a "sure thing" to never give it up. He thinks "Red State," the violent tale of a hate-filled religious sect and the federal agents ordered to take it down, is a sure bet with his loyal fans.
He came to Sundance with Gretzky's stick, he said, because the hockey great's father coached him never to go where others had already been but to go where they will be in the future. Smith believes his plan is the future.
So he is taking Red State on a road show, starting March 5 at New York's Radio City Music Hall and hitting major U.S. cities throughout March before ending on April 4 in Seattle.
He hopes to open Red State widely across the United States on October 19, the same date Clerks debuted. By that time the publicity garnered from his tour and from his use of social networking websites like Twitter could help sell tickets in other theaters with no cost for advertising.
"We're going to play the game straight," he said. "All it takes is a little ingenuity."
Smith's first marketing ploy was seen by many as publicity genius. The religious sect in Red State is based on religious organizations such as the small Westboro Baptist Church that has made headlines for anti-gay protests outside the funerals of dead U.S. soldiers and officials, among other ways.
Westboro's members had vowed to turn out to protest the debut of Red State, and when about 10 of them made good on their promise Sunday night, Smith and a crowd of about 200 supporters protested against the protesters.
The church members held signs with anti-gay messages. Smith held one that said "God Hates Critics." The two groups faced each other in a moment made for TV cameras. Headlines poured out, and Smith's promotional tour had begun.
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte, editing by Mike Collett-White