OK I'm a Kevin Smith fan-boy so my opinion is tainted. I am loving this book Tough Sh*t: Life Advice From A Fat Lazy Slob Who Did Good.
Objectively though I recommend that ANYONE read chapter 4 about the rise and fall of Miramax and the Brothers Weinstein. I give here a synopsis as a cautionary tale to any who have experienced the phenomenon Smith described at his time with the Weinsteins and Miramax and how a brilliant brand (both Smith's brand of film and Miramax as a studio) can be destroyed very easily.
The story goes like this…
Kevin Smith created independent, art-house comedies that had a formula. Miramax and the Weinsteins (who turned movies lik Resevoir Dogs to gold, when other studios ran from them) took Smith under their wing and gave him the freedom he needed to create awesome movies.
Smith's shtick the new version of the Buddy flick, like Martin and Lewis or Laurel and Hardy. They were movies about what freinds said and did to amuse and torture each other. Smith's films Clerks, Chasing Amy, Mall Rats (one of my favorites despite it getting panned) Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back all became cult hits, that created an audience of loyalists that could recite lines from his films on command at parties.
Miramax was breaking the film mold, making hits out of movies like Smith's that were produced on a shoe-string budget and were risky ventures that other studios were too pussified to even come near. They used super savvy, lean and mean, on target marketing to grow an audience that knew what they were getting when they saw the name Miramax before the film began.
Creativity, ingenuity, quality and something that they couldn't get from any other studio.
They never created block-busters. Not even Pulp-Fiction made huge numbers from jump but the company was a huge success because they did what others didn't. Because they could cut through red-tape, because they listened to young ideas, because they hated bureaucracy , and because the marketing departments and PR departments where working with them from the very moment a film was green-lighted, rather than asking how the film should be changed to suit the audience along the way.
Not only did they make their own audience they continued to stay in touch with them, the film makers themselves, making live appearnces at screenings and embracing the festival circuit. They made amazing art and it was a great time for all.
Then some bad things happened...
First - they rested on their laurels, they started worrying about what the other studios did, they got lost in the miasma of marketing their movies rather than making them, they stopped building on a winning formula, but worst of all, they stopped listening to their audience and to new ideas. They made a HUGE hit by letting Michael Eisner make "She's All That" a generic Rom-Com, but a huge mistake by letting the Miramax brand come near multiplex shlok like that shit-reel.
Smith made "Jersey Girl" with Bennifer, one of the all time greatest example of veering off brand, at 500 MPH, right into a telephone pole of disapointed, up-till-right-then uber fans.
The Weinsteins and Smith left Miramax. The Weinsetien brothers started the Weinstein Co. with the idea that they could recapture those old days of Miramax and that 1990's feel of edge. Smith was ready to bring back his brand of humor. He still had a rabidly loyal group of fans that loved his movies and hopefully they understood he was "made" to make movies like Jersey Girl. Of course I still love you Kevin but as I read the chapter I saw how things got even worse for the Smith brand.
A young film-maker named Judd Apatow came on the scene. Apatow is two years older tha I am, which makes him fall into that GenXer age group who grew up on Miramax films. Apatow figured out the Smith/Miramax formula. In fact he took that formula to some big studios and ended up making some very Smith-like movies, like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad. Both these movies grossed tens of millions dollars more in revenues than Smith and the Weinsteins ever did!
Here's when things REALLY went bad – Smith and the Weinsteins, seeing that this genre that they had owned in the 90's was still in demand – more than ever actually - thought this must be "it" – now it was time to shine and make their come back. To reinforce this, along came other movies like Supertroopers, Knocked Up, Harold and Kumar, Van Wilder that were making heaps of cash using the same conventions Smith did. Buddies, pot and the inside jokes generated by the combination. So of course, Smith and the Brothers Weinstein could just go back to their formula and be winners again!
They put out a movie called Zach and Miri Make a Porno.
Same formula mostly except they added a chick as the best freind. They even stole a young actor from Apatow, Seth Rogan, who was an up and coming superstar and Apatow's co-writer to add to their renewed credibility!
The box office revenues were horrible.
Here's what they failed to realize...
1. Their audience didn't wait for them. Smith had been off the radar so long that a whole slew of new young movie goers had shown up who were saying "Clerks? - You mean that shit black and white movie that's on IFC at 1AM?"
2. The studios had studied how the Weinstein's and Mirmax had used savvy, targeted marketing that was unafraid, yet completely told the story of their product and started using it in their movie ads and campaigns as well – but they used FAR bigger budgets and an army of kids that understood that there were all new ways to get this viral message out.
But I think Smith's own quote sumes it up best...
"If people find out the secret ingredient is children's cough syrup, anyone can make a Flaming Moe"
In KevinSmithian fashion I leave you all with a quote from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
“This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi, and will soon see the end of the rebellion.”
I stil love ya Kevin. Make another Jay and Silent Bob movie and I'll love you even more.