“My movie about paradise is in limbo”

If the opening of ‘Clerks III’ this week makes you nostalgic for writer/director Kevin Smith’s previous films, you’ll find yourself at a dead end when you seek out one of his greatest achievements – 1999’s religious satire ‘Dogma’. .

“Dogma,” which stars Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Alan Rickman, and Chris Rock, is currently not available to stream anywhere or purchase digitally, and the out-of-print Blu-ray frequently sells for around $100 on the secondary market. While religious groups were warped by the film, it was warmly received by critics (Roger Ebert gave it three and a half out of four stars) and grossed $44 million at the box office (it only cost $10 million). The success of “Dogma” makes its obscurity even more disconcerting.

When I asked Smith why, he said it was a “great question.” “To tell the story sadly, I’m going to have to say the name no one wants to hear anymore. But of course, Harvey Weinstein is in the story,” Smith said.

According to Smith, then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner told Weinstein “not to do ‘Dogma’.”

“He was like, ‘That’s too hot a button. That’s a religious image. Catholics get weird, you can’t do this movie. And Harvey said, ‘Okay,’ and then he went anyway. made the movie,” Smith said. (In Eisner’s defense, he had just resisted the fallout from Martin Scorsese’s Tibetan epic “Kundun,” which angered China to the point that it threatened to end all business relationship with the Walt Disney Company forever, so even though it wasn’t the best decision, he was still nursing his wounds from a similar religious debacle.)

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The screenplay for “Dogma” was “getting the attention of the Catholic League” even before the film entered production, based on an early version of the script. “They were saying shit, like, ‘This movie claims the apostles had sex and I guess not with their wives.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that would have been a great idea. Where were you when I was writing this fucking thing?’ “, joked Smith.

After production on “Dogma” ended, Eisner again began pressuring Weinstein to “sell it.” It was not entirely unprecedented. As Smith noted, a similar arrangement was made when Weinstein produced Harmony Korine’s film “Kids.” Weinstein sold the film to himself, then released the film through a company called Shining Excalibur.

Smith argues Weinstein created “Dogma” knowing he could “do a Shining Excalibur with it at the end of the day.” “And since Disney paid him, whether he had to pay them back or not, it would be up to him to make the movie and deal with the consequences later,” Smith explained.

It was Lionsgate’s first major theatrical release (“Pre-Katniss Everdeen and the Twinkle Vampires,” Smith added) and their biggest release at the time; Smith recalls a two-page spread on Variety where the studio was touting its success. Columbia/TriStar secured home video rights, but for a limited time. They made an impressive special edition DVD which later became an equally impressive Blu-ray. And Smith thinks it aired at some point because he has a digital copy. “But then the rights expired,” Smith said.

We now move on to a few years later. The Weinstein Society is, after a shaky start, bouncing back with “The Artist” and a string of other hits. “They were rebuilding and doing the almost Miramax version of the Weinstein company without us. And I think we were completely an afterthought,” Smith said. “I mean, honestly, not even a thought. I don’t think he realized he still owned that movie. I don’t think he realized he was out of public distribution or anything like that. (Smith points out that the last film Smith made with Weinstein was “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” in 2008.)

Here’s where things get dicey. “It’s going to be gross and everyone has to squeeze in again,” Smith warns.

Weinstein/Lionsgate

At this point, it’s 2017. “I’ve been out of Miramax for almost 10 years at that point and haven’t worked with the Weinsteins since then,” Smith said. It was then that he received an “out of the blue” call from Harvey Weinstein, “while it was still a good thing”.

During that call, Weinstein spoke about “Dogma” and asked if Smith was still interested in doing anything with the project. “Like that’s not all I’ve been thinking about since we finished it, like people ask me all the time,” Smith said. (The filmmaker would tell people it would take another deal like the one Weinstein struck with Lionsgate and Sony for the first film to start a sequel.) Still, that phone call was encouraging — a follow-up could finally become a reality.

“All the people who were there are still here, so we can do a pretty good sequel or an even better series,” Smith said. “And I was really excited because I was like, ‘Oh my God, for the first time. The guy remembered me. Like, after a decade he remembered that I was part of the Miramax family. And he remembered he had ‘Dogma’ and had a cool cast and I don’t know, I felt like wow, this is, this is cool.

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Part of what made Smith feel good was the fact that Weinstein’s call was so unexpected. “I had nothing to do,” Smith said. “And then he said, ‘Okay, I’ll contact you. And then he hung up. »

A week after their conversation, the New York Times story of Weinstein’s horrific behavior broke. Smith remembers being shocked and sick; he had no idea of ​​the rape allegations. “Rapes don’t act openly in public. It’s something you keep hidden,” Smith said. “We knew the guy was cheating on his wife, that was always the big rumour. But we didn’t know about that shit. Smith said he felt ‘guilty by association’.

But it wasn’t until he spoke to John Gordon, former Miramax executive and Smith’s producer, that things crystallized. “I was like, ‘Have you seen this New York Times? Because I can’t believe it. And I said to him, ‘I don’t know how to say this but he called me a week ago. , out of the blue, to talk about ‘Dogma’ and do a ‘Dogma’ series and I’m really excited now I’m reading this and I’m feeling rude and gross,” Smith said. Gordon told Smith, “He called everyone because he knew the story was coming. And he wanted to know who was talking [to the New York Times].” “I was like, ‘That makes perfect sense.’ I’m candid, I don’t see every angle,” Smith said. “He wasn’t calling because he wanted to do anything with ‘Dogma’. He wanted to see if I was one of the people who had spoken to The New York Times. I didn’t, because I didn’t know any of that.

Years later, Smith learned that a new “Dogma” DVD was coming out. That’s when Smith discovered Weinstein was trying to sell the rights to “Dogma” to someone. “I found out he was trying to sell the rights to the movie,” Smith said. Weinstein was asking for $5 million, which Smith admitted was “overstated.” Smith discovered that Weinstein was also trying to sell the rights by suggesting that Smith would be involved in the new version. (This was all done through attorneys, as Smith hasn’t spoken to her since that phone call.)

“Please tell this company I have nothing to do with it, if it’s still attached to it. I will work on a ‘Dogma’ anything, as long as he has no more ties with him, ”Smith told his lawyers. Smith and his lawyers even tried to buy out the rights themselves “which hurt us a lot because we didn’t want to give him any money.” “But at the same time, it’s like my movie and he has it,” Smith explained. “He is holding him hostage. My film about angels belongs to the devil himself. And if there’s only one way out, maybe we can redeem it.

Smith and his attorneys made an offer to Weinstein and were ‘mocked’. They came back with a higher offer which was “also scoffed at”. Smith feels like Weinstein is holding out for the $5 million. “Listen, I love ‘Dogma’ as much as the others but a) I don’t have $5 million and b) it’s not what the market supports anymore. We live in the age of streaming. The latest time I heard it was from another company, saying they wouldn’t resell my film to me,” Smith said. “I thought to myself what else can I do? You can make a public stink, but I don’t think this guy reads the news anymore.

Two months ago, Smith heard that a “new company” had him, but he asked his lawyer to find out what this new company was, since Smith had “a sneaky suspicion that he just change the name of the company and maybe sell it to another shell company.” “My paradise movie is in limbo,” Smith said.

Although it’s a disappointment, Smith points out that it’s nothing compared to what Weinstein did to his victims. “What sucks is he’s also sitting his big ass on my film. And the right thing to do would have been to sell him back to me even if you didn’t want to sell at the price I first said “Smith said. “Tell us what that price is and sell me my self-expression.”

“Clerks III” is now playing in theaters in a limited release and will soon be on PVOD.

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