A Conversation With Toby Keith: Day 3
Back in August, when Toby Keith told reporters he believed Barack Obama was "the best Democratic candidate we've had since Bill Clinton," he wasn't endorsing a presidential candidate. He was employing a cost-effective method of promoting his movie 'Beer for My Horses.'
"I own half of this movie, OK?" Keith tells The Boot. "To put this movie up in theaters in every major city, it costs millions and millions of dollars. Now, do I want to spend $30 million promoting an $8 million movie? No. It's stupid. So how do I promote it without spending all that money? I do a press junket and a tour. I do Leno and all that stuff, but instead of going to FOX and Rush Limbaugh and all those right-wing things, I went lefty. And the reason I went lefty -- I did CNN, Glenn Beck, Stephen Colbert -- I went places where the left hung out and promoted it. In the process, I sang the song 'Beer for My Horses.' Well, they talk about me a lot, but they never really know what I do. They just know they don't like me. So then I sing 'Beer for my Horses' and talk about it enough that The Huffington Post and all these places will take it and blog and run with it."
Sure enough, Huffington Post blogger Max Blumenthal took the bait, writing about Keith's performance on 'The Colbert Report' and calling 'Beer for My Horses' a "racially tinged, explicitly pro-lynching anthem." And Keith's marketing plan was off to the races.
"Well, that blows up everywhere, and it promotes my movie," Keith says. "Then my side comes in and start fighting him and those blogs blow up. And I sit here and get all these people working for me for free.
"About that time it gets so hot that my Ford deal comes along and goes, 'You know, you make a lot of money off Ford, and we're getting a little heat on this, we want to know what's going on.' Then I pop something out there about Obama, that I think he's a great candidate, they run with that now, and it takes all the heat off of the lynching thing and puts it on me supporting Obama.
"I do have to deal with a little static from the soldiers, going, 'Dude, you ain't voting for Obama, are you?' But past that, I've got them all blogging about my movie, and we're out here, going to sell a million DVDs, because everybody knows it's going to be in stores November 11."
Since its release in August, 'Beer for My Horses' has brought in a little more than $660,000 in theaters. More than 200 other films, including 'Fred Claus' and the Zen-kitchen documentary 'How to Cook Your Life' grossed more. Keith doesn't see that as a problem.
"We only had it on a hundred screens," he explains. "We were No. 1 or 2 on over 60 percent of them. If we'd done that nation-wide, if we had it on 10,000 screens, it would have cost that much more to get it there. And you only get, like, 35 percent of the box office back. See what I'm saying? So if it grossed $650,000 and we're going to get a third of that back, how many screens do have to have it on to get a $5 or $10 million movie back? How many fail at that? You've got to go way on up past me to find a movie that made money."
Keith says his ultimate goal was to release the film on DVD. "To do that," he says, "you've got to market it, get it in theaters, get people talking about it. And, if you get it in a theater release, you get to ask the big price for it. So, now, when it comes out at Christmas, we expect if it does a million DVDs and it makes 10 or 11 bucks a pop, there's your $11 million. If it sells as many as 'Broken Bridges' did, there's $14, 15 million. 'Broken Bridges' didn't have any screen at all, to speak of, and it only aired on CMT. This movie's licensed to go everywhere, so you'll end up getting this on HBO, you'll end up getting it on Cinemax, you'll get it on ABC, NBC, CBS, somewhere -- it won't be aired just on CMT. So it's pretty amazing to think that a movie that was aired only on CMT did a million and a half DVDs in a little less than two years. OK? Now, I've got to think 'Beer for My Horses' is going to out-perform that. If it does, you can just expect me to start doing this all the time."
Keith says he learned one big lesson from the theatrical release of his second film. "It doesn't matter if you're number one in 35 markets and number two in another 40 percent of the markets," he says. "So what? What does that mean? You can't beat No. 1. Unless you're 'Batman' or some big blockbuster thing that really works, it's really difficult to figure how any of them, to me, make any money at movie theaters. We come out No. 1 or No. 2 in 60 or 70 percent of the markets with screens we were on. Yet it's looked upon like the 232nd best movie. If we'd been number one in all of them, we still wouldn't have been in the top 200.
"Now, do I want to spend $12, 15 million putting it in 60 cities, covering it up? It just don't make economical sense to me to do that, when 'Broken Bridges' sold a million, million and a half DVDs. I figure if this one does that good, we make an $8 million movie and it makes $15 million in DVDs, we're home free."
As for who he's voting for, Keith's not saying, though he does say: "I've been a Democrat all my life until this year, and I come from a long line of Democrats." But that doesn't mean he's voting for John McCain. "I think McCain's very qualified, too," he says. "I'm not a huge McCain fan, because he's too political, but at the same time, they're both qualified and I think they're our two best shots at having a good president."
Though he's not above using the political process to promote his movie, Keith refuses to jump directly into the fray.
"This is the first year I've said, 'No more,'" he says. "I'm not a political guy. They've painted me as a political guy, and want me to be a political guy, 'cause I have a huge voice. So they want to take everything I do and blow it up. If it's a song, they want to dissect it and take it out of context. They want to get everything and blow it all up.
"Democrats are great people. Republicans are great people. It's the extreme right and the extreme lefts that make it really difficult for us all to figure out where we're supposed to be and on what issue. Because as soon as you say, 'I support the troops,' you are automatically a Republican, conservative right-winger. And as soon as you say, 'I disagree with the Iraq war,' now you're an extreme-left idiot.
"We've got soldiers in Iraq that are there because it's their duty, but they disagree with things like that. So, the people with the ultimate sacrifice in that stake are still wondering whether we're supposed to be in there or not.
Every issue has to be looked at from an educated, learned position. You shouldn't listen to stupid celebrities to see who to vote for. Even if I support somebody, that's just my right to support somebody as an American. That doesn't mean you should listen to me."