For a man that should need no introduction, I won’t give one. But for an historic moment that demands one, I’m more than happy to oblige. Sixteen years ago, on October 3rd, 1993 (at or around 11 AM), Kevin Smith was standing in the back of an almost-empty theater on the verge of tears as his first film played for the first time in a public venue. Clerks would go on to become a cult hit and launch the career of a man who is all but worshiped by his fan base. But sixteen years ago, Kevin Smith had no idea what was to come.
Skyrocketing to the top of the list of personal and professional honors, I was fortunate enough to talk with the New York Times Bestselling Author (and sometimes director) on the anniversary of that not-so-auspicious-at-the-time event to get his private feelings on his work, the Disney buyout of Marvel, his second book “Shooting the Shit With Kevin Smith” – which compiles some of the funniest moments from his and Scott Mosier’s SModcast, his relationship with his father, owning every Bruce Willis album, the genius of his shitty marketing plan, and a host of other subjects that spanned a 50-minute-long conversation.
And since it’s so long, and since Mr. Smith’s voice is so sought after, I figured that I would throw down the entire interview in written form (for those who read faster than they hear) and, as a bonus, the audio file (for those who are illiterate). As usual, I’m in bold while Smith’s word are the ones in gigantic paragraphs.
And now, dear reader, an afternoon with Kevin Smith…
So how are you doing? What’s going on?
Doing well, doing well. Today was a kind of lazy day. We were supposed to speak earlier, and then I realized it was a significant anniversary in my life. So I decided to do something about it since this is one of the only times I’ll be able to be in the same place at the same time. That kind of thing. So I did that with the wife, and then we did a little light shopping, and then, as is our lot in New York, it poured all over us. It’s been doing that all summer, too. Then we just came back, started press, and here I am talking to you.
You realized on the day that it’s a special anniversary?
Yeah, yeah, I mean someone had pointed out – John Pierson, a friend of mine who repped [Clerks], our indie film rep at the time – dropped me an email about something else and at the tail end of it said, “Hey man, you know it’s coming up on the anniversary of the IFFM screening,” and I was like, “Oh my God, he’s right,” so I looked, and it was late last night, and it was October 3rd. That’s sixteen years. Sixteen years ago today at 11 o’clock was the first screening of Clerks ever. The screening that we’d been working toward the entire time.
I wasn’t one of those people that thought, “I wanna go to Sundance.” I didn’t think our movie would ever get into Sundance. To me, Sundance was like Steven Soderbergh and Sex, Lies and Videotape. Yeah, they were indie, but they had recognizable faces like, fucking, the dude from Pretty in Pink or the chick from Greystoke whose voice wasn’t really her voice. Or they were in color. Ours was not. Nobody was in it, black and white, it looked shitty. So I wasn’t working toward Sundance, I was working toward the [Independent Feature Film Market]. You know? I had ripped an article out of the Village Voice the previous year where Linklater had returned to the IFFM with Slacker. He’d been the year before, and it had been a work in progress. Then he returned, and it was a special screening and panel about it – a year later, or whatever it was, two years after the fact. He returned the conquering hero. The movie’d been picked up, and blah blah blah. So that was what I was going for. I was like, “Look, man, we make this flick, we put it all together, and then we go to the IFFM.” And you pack that screening with as many people as you can – potential distributors, maybe press if you’re lucky. And then, your dreams come true.
So we signed up, and sent in I think it was like 500 bucks or some shit. You paid 500 bucks, and they gave you a screening slot. And I thought they selected us, you know, “They picked us!” but they just picked everybody.
It’s like the Who’s Who in Business Journal.
Very much so. There’s no great honor to being accepted. At that time – it’s way different now. But anyway, so all week long Scott [Mosier] and I had kinda gone, the first two days of the IFFM, and it was fucking crowded. They hold it at the Angelika Film Center on Houston down in lower Manhattan. So it’s packed, man. Hundreds of people. And everyone walking around with fliers and funny outfits. It’s kinda like a Cannes marketplace thing. People putting up posters – the people had glossy, nice posters. Me and Mosier were just like, “Man, we’re not prepared.” Selling? We never thought about the marketing. We never thought about that shit.
You never even thought about printing off fliers and putting them on telephone posts or anything.
No! Fuck no. So what we did was we went home and starting making up handbills or whatever on a xerox, and really, like, bad one-off ads. You know?
With Clip Art?
Like: “Clerks! A Billion Chinese Can’t be Wrong.” Shit like that. “Clerks: It’s the Second Coming!” A whole bunch of shit like that. Trying to catch people’s attention. So we made those and grabbed rolls of tape and went back to the city the next day, and started hanging up these fliers essentially. They were 8×10 pieces of white paper with the info copied on them. So we start hanging those up, and we had some of the posters that got printed up had our clown logo on them – that vulgar clown – and at the bottom of it, it said “Sunday, October 3rd, 1993, 11:00 AM” And I think it it was theater 3 or something like that. So that was it. I was hyping shit mysteriously, when you know, you should really be telling people what it is. No one’s gonna go, but…
But that was kind of a early, proto-viral marketing then.
It was! To some degree, man. To some degree. Inasmuch as it didn’t come out and say what it really was. ‘Cause how could we?
“Have you seen the movie with the disgusting clown on it?”
Yeah, like that. And people are like, “I saw that movie, and there is no disgusting clown in it!”
“I felt ripped off!”
Yeah. We had a week to get ready and let people know it was coming and shit, and we would go into the city and stay an hour, sometimes longer. Sometimes we’d watch a flick at the Angelika because our badges allowed us to do so. Like, we saw Lodge Kerrigan’s Clean, Shaven, and it was fucking packed, dude. Like all the SUNY Purchase kids were in attendance. He had a lot of friends and people interested. He’d been at other festivals and shit so there was a buzz around it. There was a flick called And God Spoke – at that time it was called The Making of And God Spoke – and it was a mockumentary about the making of a movie. That was fucking packed! And really, really funny and shit.
So we’re like, “Oh my God, I can’t wait ’til our screening.” This many people show up and shit like that? So October 3rd at the Angelika at 11:00 AM – well, around 10:30 I show up – and the crowd’s not out there that had been out there every other day. October 3rd, Sunday, was the last day of the IFFM, and I just thought they were saving the best for last. You know, letting us build up hype over the week. I thought, “They must believe in our movie, ’cause they gave us a week to build the hype,” and shit like that. The cast is there, it’s me, Scott Mosier, Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Lisa Spoonhauer, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Brian O’Halloran’s girlfriend Diane, Jason Mewes wasn’t with us, Dave Klein…
But this is the indie family. All of you getting together.
Pretty much. Oh, everyone who worked on Clerks. Ed Hapstak, Scott’s sister Kristin Mosier who I was kind of involved with at the time. That’s it. That’s everyone. Ten people. Oh, and my friend Vinny! That’s eleven. I think Vinny was there. Whatever – it was ten or eleven people. Someone took a picture, and it’s all of us standing on the steps of the Angelika, sixteen years ago this morning. Then, we went in and downstairs, and walked into the theater where Clerks was gonna debut, and there were ten people in the theater.
Because we had all walked into that theater.
Nobody was in the fucking theater, and the movie started in two minutes. And then a tall, balder gentlemen pushes past us and sat up front, but we didn’t see anything on his badge that said “Mirimax” or “New Line” or even “Fine Line” so we didn’t think anything of it. Everybody’s kicking back watching it. They all worked on it so it’s kind of like a cast and crew screening at this point. I am sitting in the back of the theater almost on the verge of tears because the film is so filthy. Everyone keeps cursing. “Why do they fucking curse so much?” I’m sitting there saying to myself. What was I thinking? Oh, man. I’m poor. I was poor before, now I’m even more poor. I’m double poor, man. I’m never gonna be able to pay this shit off. It’s all done. Nobody’s here. Nobody’s buying this fucking movie.
About twenty minutes in, you know, I was like cognitively re-framing the whole thing – it’s kind of what a year of film school would have cost. You know, I’ll pay these bills off, you learn your lesson, and then maybe one day a few years down the road you’ll think about making another movie again. Just go about it more carefully next time, I guess, or something like that. But I was done, dude, in my head. I was just like, “This is a failure. I’m finished.”
The movie ended, and I felt that way for a long time. About 18 hours, and then I got a phone call from somebody going like, “Hey, I heard your film was the undiscovered gem of the marketplace, and I have to watch it.” So I ask, “Who is this?” Dude’s like, “I’m Larry Kardish. I program New Directors/New Films at the Museum of Modern Art.” I said, “Who told you that?” He said, “I’m not at liberty to say.”
But you know it’s tall bald guy.
It had to be tall bald guy. But I didn’t know. I didn’t talk to tall bald guy; Mosier did. Another guy, Peter Broderick called me up. He wanted to do an article about the movie for Filmmaker Magazine but he had to see the flick. He hadn’t had a chance to see it, but he heard amazing things about it. I said, “Who told you that?” And he’s like, “I really can’t tell you.”
Amy Taubin was the first phone call I got, though. Village Voice. Ironically that article I ripped out about Richard Linklater – written by Amy Taubin. So when Amy Taubin calls and says, “I’m looking for Kevin Smith, my name is Amy Taubin,” I assume it’s, like, fucking one of my dickhead friends putting somebody on the phone to say “Amy Taubin” so I gave her a hard time for the first three minutes. About like, “Yeah right, Amy Taubin. I’m sure this is her. Who the fuck is this really? Fuck you.” That kind of shit. And finally convinces me and tells me she wants to see it, and she’s gonna be writing about the IFFM for the Village Voice so if I want it included I gotta send a tape because she didn’t get a chance to see it. My head’s exploding. I’m like, “Who told you about the flick?” She says, “Bob Hawk. A dude named Bob Hawk who carries a lot of weight in this community. He saw it and loved it and is talking it up big time.”
So Bob Hawk tells a story about leafing through the catalogue – the IFFM catalogue – and reading the write-up for Clerks which I had written up and the shitty black and white picture that looked less like a movie still and more like some fucking beach candid. In the catalog, it caught his eye. He’s like, “The picture is so terrible, it caught my eye, and I read the description of the movie. And, huh, a convenience store. That sounds interesting, so I made time to go see it that morning. The first few minute were rough going, but then I fell in love with it and sat there and watched the whole thing.”
That happened sixteen years ago. Today. Dude, sixteen years ago from right now. It’s 3:46 PM, and sixteen years ago from this exact moment in time, I was sitting in an apartment in Montclair, New Jersey going, “I am fucked. I am so fucked. I spent almost $28,000 making that movie, and nobody was there today. Nobody’s ever going to see it. I’m fucking dead.” Because I didn’t think about going any place else. The IFFM was the goal. We were supposed to go there, be sold, and we’d live happily ever after. So it’s just astounding, man, that to me – shit, what time is it now? It’s about to be 4 o’clock – another 12 hours before hand, add another 4, 8, 12, 16, I’d say in about 18 hours, my life is about to change sixteen years ago.
I mean technically my life changed the moment the movie started at 11:00 AM, but the phone call comes in 16 hours and starts coming and begins that whole day. The day that I thought was the worst and first day of the rest of my life turned out to be the turning point. Mindbending. Mindbending, dude. And for that fact alone, and that I’m never really in New York anymore – I live on the other side of the country. The fact that I was in New York for the anniversary of that day. And, you know, 16th anniversary is not something that’s commonly celebrated, but I’m never in New York. Certainly never on this date. So if I’m here, and the timing is what it is – I’m not a big believer in ley lines and all that shit – but I just sat there going, “If I was Adam Strange, the Zeta Beam is going to hit the Angelika Film Center today at 11 o’clock. I should be there.”
I had to be there! I had to go! At first I was going alone, and then the wife was like, “I gotta see this,” so we jumped in the cab and went down and bought tickets for the Coco Chanel movie so I could go downstairs. I descended the steps and went down and peeped out the theater, man. And it was weird. You know, I walked down the aisle. Nobody was there. It was totally empty, so I walked down the aisle of a theater I’d been to many times to see other people’s movies before my own, and then sat there watching my own, and was horrified by it, and saw my life flash before my eyes and shit like that. And I’m touching the seats and whatnot in a real kind of The Natural way. You know?
Until I realize these seats have long since been replaced. They all have cup holders in them, and they’re wider. So touching these seats means nothing to me at this point.
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