Well, we always have this stock question for directors about whether or not they’ve ever been rejected from film school, but I feel like you might have the most famous history in modern times of going to film school and then quitting.
I was there for a little bit. But I guess what probably most people know is that they hear “Film School,” and they go, “This dude walked out of college?” But, no. I literally went to a tech program. It’s kind of comparable to the New York Film Academy, but those mother fuckers go two years. I just found that out recently. I went to the Vancouver Film School which at the time was kind of one of a kind. An 8-month tech program. You hit it, and you quit it. You learn, and you get out. You know, there’s no degree. You get a certificate that says you completed, and what they promised was hands-on experience with equipment. And that’s what I wanted. I wanted to go, and use a 16mm camera, learn how to record sound, maybe learn something about lights. But I was always kinda hoping when I went out to film school, I just wanted to learn shit, so I could come back and teach my friends how to operate the things so that we could move forward and make a movie.
You know, I did that for four months, and what bugged me was in the first four months, we didn’t do anything practical. I mean, we did little video docs, but mostly it was teachers showing us films. At the moment it was a lot of Silence of the Lambs, and the instructor trying to tell you what Demme was saying with Silence of the Lambs in a particular scene. And I was like, “You know, dude, I think I have just as good a shot at deciphering what Demme was trying to say as you. The only person I might take it from is Demme. Can you produce Jonathan Demme?” You know, I didn’t say it out loud because I’m not that kind of dick, but at the time I was just disenchanted. I was like, “Well, is this all we’re gonna do? Sit around and watch movies? I can do that in Jersey for free. At the fucking video store. That’s what I’ve been doing.” I wanted to get my hands on some equipment.
But mercifully, I met Scott Mosier and Dave Klein, and those would be the dudes that come out – they finished and in a few months, they’d come out – and help me make Clerks. But up until that point when I dropped out at the four month mark – because I reached this point where I was like, we’re not doing anything practical, and they’d said we’d all get to make our own films, but what it was, was you have 25 students in the class. They’re gonna do 25 pitches for a short film – a ten minute short film. They’re gonna pick four scripts, and those are gonna be the four scripts that turn into the end-of-semester short films. So suddenly, it’s like we’re not all making a film. Only some people are getting their films made, but they meant, “You’re all gonna work on the films,” and shit like that. So I went, “Eh, I don’t like those odds, but whatever. I feel pretty confident in my writing. Maybe I’ll be one of the four.”
But then they announced that you wouldn’t even get to direct it if they picked your pitch. So it could wind up being directed by somebody else. Kinda like the second season of fucking “Project Greenlight.” So I’m like, “What the fuck? Now, I’m not guaranteed to have my script chosen, and I’m not guaranteed to direct it if is chosen. What am I doing here? This is a waste of my time.” And I found out that if I jumped out of the program within the next two days, then I would get over half my tuition back, or at least half my tuition back, but if I stayed around for one more day, then they kept it all.
So that was the last…
That was the impetus. I’m like, you know what? I could bolt, save myself about $4,500 , get that back and put that right into a production at home because I’m obviously not gonna learn to make a movie here, but I’ll learn on my own dime. You know? And fuck spending money here. And I’d built up a good relationship with Scott, and I was like, “Look, I’m leaving, but when you’re done if you’re ready to make a movie, you call me. I’ll come out and help you. And when I’m ready, I’ll call you, and you come help me. And that was the deal we made. It worked out. Him and Dave finished and shit. Scott actually had his short chosen. It was called Willem Black – which is the name of his character in Clerks – and he didn’t get to direct it though. Somebody else was chosen to direct. But I don’t know. I certainly don’t regret dropping out. Everything’s fucking worked out to say the least.
But did you regret it 13 years ago when you were sitting in the back of an empty theater almost near tears?
16 years ago, dude. Not 13…
[Laughs] Sorry, sorry….
Yeah, give me those 3, dude…
Naw, I didn’t regret it. I certainly didn’t regret it. Because there was nothing I was gonna learn at Vancouver Film School that was gonna make me a better visual stylist or change the way that I was gonna go about making movies. Like, I was always gonna write about the content that I liked and shit. So, it’s not like that would have changed much. If anything, I was just like, “Fuck! If only I hadn’t gone to Vancouver Film School for four months, I would have that other $4,500, and I wouldn’t be as in fucking debt as I am now.”
I do have one last question if I can bring it right on back to the book. Particularly because of the structure of the SModcast, you really are just throwing out a bunch of stories that happened in your life. I’m wondering if at this point you ever have that meta experience while you’re doing something, and something’s very interesting, do you find yourself thinking, “I need to remember the details to this because it’ll make a great story?”
No…it doesn’t work like that. It’s kind of like, how it usually happens is that someone, like Jen’s not there. So next time I see Jen, I go through the story for Jen. And then I see somebody else, Malcolm’s there, and he’s like, “What the fuck happened?” so I’m like, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I tell him the story. And then somebody else. The person who was booking our room in whatever city we are, the publicist, I tell them, and then the story starts taking more and more shape so that by the time I sit down at SMod I’ve already told it already three times and found out what the chaffe is and cut that out and kinda shaped it into what it is.
But you know, it’s just like…I’m not good at much obviously, but I’m good at talking. So that much I can do. It’s just one of those things you just process. You say, “I could tell this story. It’ll be funny.”