Monday, 24 January 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #664: Making Failure Work For You

Welcome to the show folks...

A lot of people are saying that filmmaker Kevin Smith is in full implosion mode over his film
Red State. He makes a big deal about having an auction for the film at Sundance, got those yahoos from the Westboro Baptist pseudo-Church to protest the film, then after some cranking, whining, and insulting those who bothered to attend, he sold the film to himself for $20 and pledged to self-distribute it as a traveling roadshow.

Well, he might be crazy, but he also might be crazy like a fox.

You see he might be doing this whole thing, including making the movie, just so it can be a failure.

Of course for it to work it can't be just another one of his run of the mill failures like
Zack & Miri Make A Porno, or Cop Out, it has to stand out, it has to be special, it has to be what I call a "Heroic Failure."

You see a heroic failure is a movie designed to fail at the box office, but win plaudits, and hopefully big money deals from within the Hollywood community.

To create a heroic failure you must create something that would repel the general audience, but appeal to the prejudices inside Hollywood. How do you do that? Well, antipathy towards Christians and Christianity is the last prejudice Hollywood is allowed to have. Need proof, check out the movies and TV shows from the past 20 years and count the times where it turns out that the openly religious characters are either maniacally homicidal, or perverted at worst, or sleazily hypocritical at best.

Now there are some who would justify this prejudice that these film/TV makers are merely speaking "truth to power" about the coming fundamentalist theocracy. Well, Hollywood is basically cowardly, and highly unlikely to do anything that might threaten them financially, and absolutely
nothing that might harm them physically. Remember how the entire community collectively shat their pants over South Park satirizing Islam and supported its censorship?

If there was a theocracy coming, or enraged Presbyterians wearing Semtex underpants and leaping into studio commissaries Hollywood wouldn't dare raise a finger to offend their delicate sensibilities. The suits that run the industry may do stupid things, but they are not suicidal.

To sum it up, it's safe to insult or offend Christians, because the worst thing they will probably do to you, is either not see your movie/TV show or buy your product, or complain prevent you from getting their tax dollars.

So, you go and make a film that's the cinematic version of the art world's "Piss Christ" a work who's only point is to generate controversy and attract attention by casting Christian fundamentalists as a cult of homicidal maniacs. Then you top it off by calling it
Red State, the commonly used description for parts of the country that vote for the Republican Party. Now you have Republicans, even non-religious Republicans, also repelled by the film, and guess what, there happens to be a lot of them in the United States these days.

What will these people do?

They will simply not go to the movie.

As my Grandpa would say they won't even ignore it.

Not everyone will ignore it. Some will make noise, and some are already being a little more active. Namely the douche collective otherwise known as the Westboro Baptist Church, which has already made appearances at Sundance to protest the film.

Well, that's perfect for Smith.

Westboro is basically a bunch of hyperactive howler monkeys who love to make noise and hurl the equivalent of pseudo-theological feces at passersby to get attention, but will run away and scream for the protection of the police and their lawyers if things threaten to get ugly. (Remember when they threatened to protest the funeral of the little girl murdered in Tuscon? When buzz got around that some were going to aggressively crash their party, they canceled and ran straight to the safer fields of Sundance)

Smith will take his movie on the road, making sure that Westboro get all the dates. That way their protests will guarantee him media attention, sell a few tickets to counter-protesters, and otherwise blame the film's inevitable financial failure on him being "suppressed" by the sinister religious right.

Hollywood will see this and automatically feel sympathy for Smith and his film, standing up to these disgusting little trolls. Sure Westboro is small, politically powerless, basically cowardly, and loathed by people on both the Left and Right of the political spectrum, but they're good at getting attention. That makes them a super-human foe in the eyes of Hollywood, and a perfect foil for Smith.

Which brings us to his behavior at his precious Sundance, which has been described as veering between erratic and obnoxious and all points in between.

Sure, it could all be crazy, or it all be a brilliant played shell game.

Remember one simple fact, Hollywood is high school with money. Not just any high school, but the stereotypical upper crust high school you see in an 80s teen movie and the social strata breaks down like this:

Actors are the cheerleaders.

Directors are the jocks.

Writers are the nerds who have to do the homework for the everybody else.

Producers and studio executives are the keeners who run for student council and eagerly seek the approval of the cheerleaders and the jocks, because attention from them makes them look and feel more important than they actually are.

This hunger for approval from the "artists" who get paid the most in attention and money leads to them not only forgiving obnoxious behavior, but actively promoting it. Rant about how their business model is all screwed up and holding back their art, and they may tut-tut for a minute., but they won't punish you. They are not allowed to stay mad for any real length of time, because they want to be seen as people who understand the artistic temperament, with an emphasis on temper.

The only time they might stay mad at an artist is if said artist costs them personally in the form of a bonus, pay raise, or even
, in rare cases, their job. But those times are rare in the age of other people's money.

This forgiveness gets amplified exponentially when the artist in question is in the situation explained above: Namely promoting one of Hollywood's few permissible prejudices and facing alleged
"suppression" of their from allegedly right wing religious forces, when the most damage actually came from non-religious, non-political, market forces.

Suddenly all behavior, whether it's biting
the hand that feeds them, or producing a string of flops is forgiven, because this "artist" is now being seen not as a simple failure, but as a heroic who is mad, bad, and dangerous to know, as well as making a huge sacrifice for their art.

But it's more than likely that they're just using failure to play the system like a puppet on a string.

So here's my prediction. Smith will play
the film in a few cities. It will attract protests from his new frenemy Phelps & Co. which will attract some attention and a few counter-protest ticket sales, but not enough to justify any wide release. Then he'll go back to Hollywood, get a pat on the back for his courage, and a fresh new movie deal, his past behavior and poor performing films forgiven.

Truly, a Hollywood ending


  1. I assume you haven't heard of Smith's claims that he's going to quit filmmaking and become a film distributor. Or have, but don't believe them.

  2. I don't believe them. Distribution is an entirely different kettle of fish that can eat the inexperienced alive. I always say that any idiot can make a film, but it takes a specialist team with know-how and experience to get a film into theaters and making money.

    I expect a big "comeback" attempt in a year or two.

  3. I started disliking Smith after Jersey Girl.

    Not because it's a horrible movie - it's perfectly average, as far as I'm concerned, with a couple of bits I actually like. However, his continuous defense of the movie, as if it were a major artistic achievement of some sort, grated on me - as did the incredibly banal message of the movie. We then got the exact same message in 'Clerks 2', and possibly in 'Zak and Miri Make a Cutesy Offense At the Public' (I haven't seen it, but I know the ending's supposed to be the same level of lame deus-ex-machina as in Clerks 2, so having the same 'no place like home' message wouldn't surprise me).

    It's an odd paradox. Smith's rich now, so he doesn't really know how to write about slackers anymore.(A note on definitions - a person with low ambition and little money is a slacker; a person with low ambition and a LOT of money is just a goddamn hipster). But, it looks like the only thing he was ever good at was writing about slackers.

    Nowadays, Smith's big following seems to be from giving talks, or various podcasts and whatnot online. He did one particular video a while back, where he talked about how he was backing away from all of the negativity on the web. Several people have parroted this viewpoint. You know what I noticed about the parrots? They're all people with big loyal fanboy followings on the net. They've all done much better stuff in the past than they have recently. Most importantly, they've all got major egos, and can't take criticism. This makes me wonder about Mister Smith.

    Ad hominem? Maybe a little. But I definitely stopped respecting this man a while ago.

  4. Clerks 2 was not bad, the whole Ass to mouth scene was pretty funny so was Jay and Silent Bobs antics.Rest of his films well have been lacking. Smith is starting to come off like George Lucas who was more lucky that GOOD when it came to his success. Read into the real history behind Star Wars. He nearly screwed the pooch on that one. His cut was so bad that they were going to cut their losses and sell ti off a stock footage, until his wife re edited it into something much more watchable. Why do you think ESB and ROTJ were not directed by him?

    Here is a novel idea for Hollywood, instead of the whole self important "I'm and artist" act try making films that the PEOPLE WANT TO SEE. Instead of pushing out attention whoring whiny pretentious crap that is more likely going to piss people off than entertain them.

    Studios push self important crap like this and wonder why ticket sales are down and are pushing 3D to raise ticket prices to make up the difference.

    I am at the point where I would rather write for TV because there is where the best stories are.

    TV lacks the large screen, or the blow your ears out Dolby sound and the headache inducing 3d glasses, So you have to concentrate on things like story, plot and acting.

    You cant get away with blowing 500 mil on a SFX laden CGI 3d version of DELGO or Ferngully.

    I can barely remember when there was a film in the theaters that I just HAD TO GO SEE. It seem like there is more and more dross coming from some self absorbed nitwit trying to drive his personal views into my face.

    Variety did a review of Red State, its not good they tore this film are new rectal opening. My funds are tight right now, if they weren't I still would not want to go see this film.

    Personally there are more VIDEO GAMES coming out that I am looking forward too than any "block buster" coming out.

  5. Blast Hardcheese25/1/11 9:53 am

    D, if you aren't sick of this topic I would be curious to get your comments on something from the Deadline article on Smith:

    "Smith said if he sold his $4 million Red State, a distributor would need to pay $20 million in P&A, and would then need to gross more than twice that $24 million just to recoup (Smith seemed to forget that P&A triggers ancillary revenues that often provide the profit margin). He made it all sound shady."

    I know that the indie market is different than the 'mainstream' studios, but this still seems like a huge amount of cash to print and promote what is, at the end, an already-finished low-budget horror film. Does this seem reasonable to you?