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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But they’re imbued with the spirit of the old seats.
Well, there I was in the room itself. I didn’t even need the seats. You know, that screen in that room – maybe not that screen…they probably replaced it since then – but that room! My whole life changed, and I walked into that room thinking one thing and walked out of it thinking another, but regardless my life was changed forever sixteen years ago in that room. I just felt like I should go, I should go, I should be there and see what happens, and it was pretty fucking emotional. I gotta tell you, because I just sat there, going down the escalator going, “Do you know how many things have to go right in order for Bob Hawk to be there that day, and if he’s not, that’s it?”
Because I wasn’t like, “Well, we could do this with it!” I was a man of limited vision. I’d read an article in the Village Voice that seemed to make sense to me, and was following it as a path. And if it didn’t work, I was like, “Okay. That’s it.” I had no B Plan, no contingency plan. It wasn’t like we could send it to film festivals. I didn’t think it was film festival-worthy. So I don’t know. I certainly respected the power of the day, and the location, and the moment. It was weird because I walked in, and there was no, “It’s him! It’s the fucking Clerks guy!” I was as anonymous as anybody else. Staff there wouldn’t fucking remember me. They’re not even the same staff. They’re kids now, dude. I was older than everybody working there by, it felt like, at least ten years. Everything kinda looked the same. Now there’s more computer shit in there than they had before, and they have a snack counter downstairs which they never used to have. But I don’t know. It was weird. It was nice. It was really nice to go back and just stroll around in that place where sixteen years ago I was at least a thousand times more innocent than I was, and a hundred pounds lighter at least.
That’s probably the best and most meaningful reason to push back an interview that I’ve ever heard.
That was it. You know, I felt bad, and I figured I’d tell them all when I got on. I didn’t want to tell anyone beforehand in case I chickened out and didn’t go through it, or sometimes you let people know and all the sudden you’re sharing your moment with a bunch of strangers. So I was like, I’m gonna do this and see how it goes. And then I didn’t want to talk about it, and I told Cathy, “Don’t tell him where I’m going,” because what if I go there, and it’s a real bust? You know? The dude’s like, “Well how was it?” And I go, “I don’t want to talk about it because my wife and I got in a huge fucking fight, and she’s such a bitch, and she doesn’t understand!” All that shit.
You don’t want to talk about it beforehand because you don’t want to ruin the pure moment by being overly aware of it.
Yeah, if I’m going in there with expectations? The moment’s gone. The expectation is the moment. So you kinda go down pure and wonder, “Well, gee, I wonder what it’s going to be like,” and I really thought that I could make it through. And I smoke – as I’ve said before – I smoke a lot of weed now, and it tends to make me more emotional anyway. Which I’m all for. I like that. I’m secure with myself. I’m not like, “Oh, men can’t cry!” I did cry. I love laughing. I love crying. It’s the other side of the coin, and one fuels the other, so when it happens and happens for a good reason – I hate crying when something bad happens – I love those happy tears. I love getting high, watching Gretzky videos and I just bawl because look at it! They put it all together! They were kids! They were kids and the won the Goddamned cup! That kind of thing.
So, I’m going down the escalator and that’s where it hits me like a fucking wall where I’m like, “Oh my god. One thing. Just one thing falls out of order, and I’m not going down this escalator to walk down memory lane. I’m going down this escalator to see some other mother fucker’s movie at the Angelika again.” Because it never would have left me. It would have still been in my blood. It wouldn’t have been something I could have put down even if it cost me a shit ton of dough and nobody ever watched the movie. So, yeah. It was pretty cool.
That’s beautiful. Great. So you want to start the interview? Talk about the book a little?
The first question I have is why you’d put SModcast in word form. Is it a situation like when Monty Python released all the words to their shows or was their a clamoring from the deaf community for it?
[Laughs] If only. It came as the previous book did. It came from Adam Newell over at Titan. Adam was the guy who got in touch with me and said, “We’re Titan in the UK” – and I knew their name ’cause they buy our comic books sometimes and publish them over there. So they were like, “We’re thinking about doing a book of your blog,” and I was like, “What do you mean?” and he says, “You know, your online blog. We’re thinking about publishing it. We think it would make an interesting read,” and I said, “It’s an online blog. It’s free. Nobody’s gonna buy it. You put it between book covers, and nobody’s gonna buy it. I mean, I have hardcore fans that will buy t-shirts with my fat ass on them, but asking them to buy a book for a free blog that they could read and have read for free online is just ridiculous. It’ll never work.”
And, of course, it became a New York Times Bestseller. So after that happened, Adam got in touch with me immediately, and said “Dude, you’re a New York Times Bestseller. We don’t know how it happened. Let’s not investigate too fucking deeply, but you know it means we need to put out a second book almost immediately if for no other reason to just put on the cover ‘From New York Times Bestselling Author,’ and that’s hysterical.”
Is that jarring to you at all?
It was weird. We didn’t expect it. I mean, honestly dude, I felt like they’d sell a hundred copies to the hardest of the hardcore, and I was into doing it. I mean, there’s no money in publishing so it wasn’t like, “Hey man! Let’s get rich!” You know? It was more about holding something. It was more about having a book up on the shelf that had my name on the spine. You know, and Titan did a great job of putting that book together. It was a beautiful-looking book. A great cover and shit. Made my mother proud. Made my wife wet. Because she don’t get into the movies that much, but like, she’s into books and shit. So she’s like, “Mm..You’re an author” and all that shit. So that made her very excited. Even for that alone it was a great reason to do it.
But when it worked, and Adam was like, “We gotta do it again,” I was like, “Dude, I don’t have anymore blog left or anything like that.” He just said, “Well, let’s look around. Maybe we do an interview, because that would be the first book you do in which it wasn’t generated from old material.” I had done a book through Mirimax Books back in the day called “Silent Bob Speaks” and that was Harvey’s idea because he wanted to take a bunch of newspaper articles and magazine articles I’d written over the years and compile them into a book. Because Michael Moore had published a book, and it did insanely well – but, you know, it was a political polemic and whatnot – but Harvey was just like, “Hey! You’re fat like Michael Moore and funny. Why don’t you write a book like Michael Moore?” I said, “I don’t have a book in me,” and he said, “Nah, I read an article where you’re talking about taking shits with greasy pills and shit like that. That’s a funny thing! Let’s put those all in a book.” So it was his idea, and his idea to call it “Silent Bob Speaks,” and then Boom, there was this book, this kind of back door back that I didn’t intend to write, but it was book that I’d written nonetheless.
So Titan was talking about doing it again. This time it seemed more egregious by virtue of the fact that it was the online blog. It worked. All the sudden we’re in this world where he’s like, “Let’s do an original book. We’ll do an interview book, we sit down, talk about your entire career. Do a coffee table book.” And it just struck me as fucking retarded. You want a coffee table book about Kubrick, Spielberg expounding on his work and themes. You don’t want a coffee table book of me talking about fucking Mallrats. What I was thinking when I made Mallrats. What Mallrats really meant. You know. Just, those movies are fun, but…
But to be fair, you were also part of a serious indie film movement.
Which is great, but then I could be in that book, but talking about my career – eh – talking about me in terms of other filmmakers or that movement, I understand. Talking about me and my body of work, it’s just weird because they’re not films. They’ve never been judged on the same curve as regular films because people never saw them as films. Even the people, both sides of the coin, people that love those movies don’t see them as films. They see them for what they are. It’s me ripping my chest open, ripping out fatty chunks of my heart, putting them between two platters and projecting it.
You don’t think you could expand on some of the stuff you wrote in “Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes”?
Eh, that was John [Pierson’s] book. I was involved in that book and John’s whole idea was to sit down and do chapter intros. He’s like, “You’re the voice of the young filmmaker, so let’s do that.”
See! “The Voice of The Young Filmmaker: A Coffee Table Book”
I know! But that was then. I’m not a young filmmaker anymore. I’m 39! I’m old!
From New York Times Best Selling Author Kevin Smith!
I know…but it’s just too legit, dude.
When it gets too legit, I get uncomfortable. The moment people start treating it all seriously, I’m like – egh – come on, dick and fart jokes. Let’s keep perspective.
So the podcast book made more sense. I mean, at first he brought it up and was like, “What if we took the SModcast and then transcribed that?” And I was all, “I don’t know man. That could be even worse than the blog book because it’s gonna look like I really want their money. I know the podcast is fun to listen to, but a book companion that’s probably not nearly as funny as the podcast? You don’t hear voices or anything? It’s so bad!” And he said, “Just read the sample.” They had a sample made up, and I read it, and I chuckled. It made me laugh, so it actually did read kind of funny, and I was shocked at how well it translated. So I told them, “Let me send it to [Mosier],” because Mosier’s like the Mikey – The Life Cereal Mikey of the operation. Mother fucker hates everything. Including SModcast. He doesn’t like the sound of his own voice. So he read it, and he was just like, “You know, dude, I don’t like listening to the sound of my own voice so reading this is awesome. I think it’s funny, but maybe it’s just me because I know you, and I think you’re funny.” And I was like, “No, dude, I read it, and I thought you were funny. It’s not because I know you. It’s because what you said was funny. So its actually – maybe it does work.”
So we went from there, but I gotta tell you, I did nothing but record the podcast. That’s it. And then make approvals all the way down. Like, Adam was heading up the operation. It was his passion project, his baby, and he was the guy that believed in it even when I was like, “I don’t know, Adam. That seems like a rip off.” But Adam was like, “Do you want to pick the episodes?” and I was in the middle of this fucking Dicks picture, so I didn’t have time. I said, “Go to Ken,” because Ken Plume, the guy who does all the music under the SModcasts, Ken has listened to every single episode of SModcast probably three times a piece. Without music. with music, he hears them. He has to deeply listen to them because his mix comments on what we’re talking about. So this dude is well-schooled in all the SModcasts.
We get him to do the list, so he did the list, and Adam hit me back saying, “What do you think of the title ‘Shooting the Shit with Kevin Smith’?” I said, “It almost rhymes. Good enough.” So he did that, too. They do everything, dude. They said all I had to do was the intro. I said okay, and waited until the last fucking minute. They pulled their hair out until finally I turned it in, and then Boom. We had a book. But I didn’t really write the book. I feel like the people that transcribed the book wrote it, but really Adam is the true engineer. Adam had the brilliance to take New Media and turn it into Old Media. Twice! And it worked!
Expect Adam Newell to be writing me any day now with the Twitter Book proposal.
“Twenty-Four Hours with Kevin Smith.”
“Tweeting the Shit with Kevin Smith.”
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In the introduction, you actually make a major point about how you didn’t really write the book necessarily, but you also talk about how the birth of the SModcast came from wanting to record your father.
With the type of stories that you’re telling, you leave yourself wide open. Is it cathartic for you to share these stories with an audience?
Honestly, it’s not so much cathartic as it takes a deep, sickening degree of arrogance to believe that every story you’re going to tell is interesting. But for some reason, I don’t know why I have that. Maybe it’s because after years and years, people keep telling me, “Hey, you’re funny!” “Hey that’s interesting!” so I start to kinda believe it, but I just kinda sit down and think, “This is interesting. People are gonna find this interesting.” I mean, it’s not even like I’m taking a shot in the dark. Man, I hope this works! If we could just pull this plan together! I’ve done it enough where I’m like, yeah, I’m gonna go out there, and I know this kind of thing makes people laugh. This makes people laugh with this type of delivery. So I kind of know going in that I’ve got some people at least willing to laugh. All I’ve gotta do is make sure we give ’em The Funny.
Do you not do it for any internal reason?
The internal reason was – I want to sit down with Scott and do it. And also, I’m sure there’s an internal reason that’s like, I grew up listening to Bill Cosby albums or watching Sam Kinison or worshiping George Carlin, and that just rubbed off somewhere. Like, “Oh! I like being in front of people talking.” You know, I would never consider myself a comedian nor would I try to pursue that. That seems like – there are people, actors who have sometimes started music careers even though they can’t necessarily sing. And I’m certainly not talking about Bruce Willis. I like Bruce Willis. I have every Bruce Willis album there was. But, at the same time they carpetbag into another career, and I never wanted to be that guy. You know, where it’s like, “You know him as Silent Bob! Now he’s a stand up comic!”
So I couldn’t, and plus, stand up comics don’t need the audience. They like the laughter, but they get up there and just generate. Don’t matter who’s out there. The only time they interact is when waiting for the laughs to die down or when someone’s heckling. So I can’t do that. I can’t go up with a “set.” It doesn’t feel right to me, but I can go up there absolutely unprepared and be like, “What do you guys want to talk about?” and they start asking questions. They lead the way.
To me it just makes sense. If someone is interested in you…as long as there’s interest in me, I’m happy to be like, “Here! Take it all!” You know? I’m like a fucking grandmother where you’re just like, “Can I have a piece of cake?” “No! Take the whole thing! I shall ice it for you!” I can’t give a piece of bundt. I have to give you a huge cake with a big glass of milk and some ice cream on the side. Because I’ve gotta overcompensate, dude. I grew up fat. That’s pretty much where it all comes from I’m sure if I traced it back in therapy. If I was that kinda guy. It’s not so much like I must get this off my chest, now. Now it’s just about that I like talking and people seem to like it when I talk. So let’s go.
What’s your take on Disney buying Marvel?
I talked about it on the MTV.com the other day. Which I just called “The MTV.” I feel so old.
Thank you. But what I said was – it’s a good thing. It’s all positive. Basically it’s a business decision and a very smart one. Disney had a hole in their empire. They weren’t reaching boys of a certain demographic. Males under 12 or something like that. Girls they have in droves because the fucking Disney Princesses. They have that well covered, but they couldn’t reach boys. You’d go into the Disney Store, and they’d be like, “Hey, we have a Captain Hook figure!” Boys aren’t interested in that shit. They didn’t have anything they could throw boys. They had princesses galore they could throw girls, but boys aren’t interested in fuckin’ Tarzan or Mickey Mouse or something like that. So for a while Disney tried to develop their own boy brands in-store throughout the corporation, but then they realized, “Wait a second. Wouldn’t it just be smarter to buy an operating boy’s brand that we know works and attracts the audience? And, shit, man. Marvel’s not owned. Time Warner bought DC years ago, and when they did, they bought a library of, like, 2,000 or 3,000 licenses. We do the same thing here. We drop a bunch of money on ’em, let them continue doing what they do because obviously they’re doing quite well, and we just collect the profits from the whole thing. Thus, our brand is made whole again, and then we have every quadrant as Walt said we needed when he opened the doors and then cryogenically froze his head or whatever.”
They basically made a very smart business decision, and they’re not gonna go in and fuck with Marvel, man. It just doesn’t make sense. No business buys something that’s working – and right now Marvel is fucking working, for the first time in decades Marvel is working – so Disney’s not gonna go in and say “Tame it down! Tame it down!” or change it or Mousify it. Disney owned Mirimax, and they never fucking changed anything. Disney bought Mirimax and within six months Mirimax put out Clerks or bought Clerks and then within a year put out Clerks which was, arguably, one of the the scrappiest, dirtiest American independent films made at that time. So, you know, they’re okay to let brands be brands. They just want the money from them. That’s what a business sale is all about. So now they got themselves, what, 4,700 licenses or something like that. Never mind the big guns like Spidey or The Hulk and all that shit. You know there’s someone at Disney going, “How the fuck are we gonna profit off Vision and The Scarlet Witch? Figure this out!”
So Disney buys Mirimax, and within 6 months, they release Clerks.
Well, within a year.
Now Disney buys Marvel, how does Kevin Smith weasel his way into doing a Marvel movie through Disney?
Uhh…I have no fucking interest. Especially because Marvel announced last year, which I’m sure is one of the reasons they announced – it was kind of an overture to Disney – that they weren’t gonna make any R-rated movies. They’re like, “We’re not taking any of our brands and making R-rated movies. We’re a family-oriented company. We’ll never have anything more than PG-13. That’s all we need. Punisher notwithstanding, we’re not making R-rated movies.” So, what’s Disney gonna say? “Hey! We want you to make R-rated movies!” No. Of course not. They’re like, “We’re a family company, too. PG-13 is really good for us. You know, and look what Dark Knight did with PG-13! You can knife people! You can cut their face open in a PG-13!” So, at this point, Disney has basically made one of the smartest business decisions, one of the smartest sales or purchases in big business in a while. Because that brand has been around for a long time, they bought a shit ton of licenses, and the company’s on the move. On the rise. They’ve come into their own.
As long as they don’t mess with it artistically.
And I don’t think they will. I mean, I don’t think so. It just wouldn’t make sense. They’ve never done it historically. Why would they suddenly start now with a brand that they clearly know what they’re doing over there?
So suffice it to say that you’re excited for a Marvel/Pixar collaboration?
Of course! That’s the upside, dude. Why would anyone bitch when there’s even the slightest – I mean, it may never happen, but guess what, it’s a lot closer to happening than it ever was before that Pixar makes any Marvel movie. And I don’t care which one it is. If Pixar chooses to make a Marvel New Universe film, I’m there! You know what I’m saying?
If they choose to just do Longshot, you know, I’m there. If they choose to do Cannonball: The Movie, I’m there. I’m gonna see anything Pixar does that’s Marvel-oriented. Any character. Doesn’t even have to be the big ones, doesn’t even have to be the big guys and shit like that. You don’t have to give me a fucking Captain America Pixar Movie. You could totally give me a fucking Werewolf By Night Pixar Movie, and I’d be like, “Thanks man!”
Nice. While waiting for that, you’ve got A Couple of Dicks coming up that’s being released in February.
February they’re saying, but that could always change. They’ve been saying February for the last six months.
Are we gonna see some promotional materials and marketing stuff soon?
I hope so. Lord knows that Warner Bros. seems to know a thing or two about releasing a picture. So hopefully, yeah, they’ll kick their advertising campaign into gear long before the movie hits theaters. I haven’t seen anything yet. I’ve kind of just been buried in the edit. They’ve still been fighting the good fight to keep the title. So, I don’t know. I guess soon. When we were in production I saw pencil sketches of posters, and it was pretty much what you’d think. Bruce Willis standing next to Tracy Morgan, kind of thing.
It’s a situation where they call you and tell you they’re releasing the trailer?
I imagine it would be. If I was them, that’s the way I’d handle it, because I personally have been involved in the other shit, and it’s not like it helped. It’s like, “Hey, man, my personal involvement meant we made it to $50 million.” My movie’s have always made the same amount of money.
I believe the fliers that you put up 16 years ago…
Yes! My bad. You’re absolutely right. I did…it turned out that it wasn’t the fliers, though. Bob Hawk said he went because of the catalog thing.
But you took that shitty picture, and you wrote that shitty introduction to it.
[Laughs] And I’ve been doing shitty, basic marketing ever since.
If it’s not broke…
It’s a Disney strategy.
But that’s been the leitmotif of my career. That’s what got me into trouble with the online community for the better part of a decade, because I always felt, well, people liked Clerks because it looks like shit. So why do I have to make movies that look good? As long as the content is good and what they’re saying is funny, I don’t really have to concentrate on the visuals. Fuck the visuals! That’s when people get pissed. It’s like, “Hey! You call yourself a filmmaker! This looks terrible! You’re no Wes Anderson, you fat piece of shit!” and I’m like, “Well, yeah I know, but I didn’t think you guys cared about the visuals when it came to me.”
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By the way, you’re the first person I’ve ever interviewed that used the phrase “dick and fart jokes” and then “leitmotif” later on.
I like to mix it up.
I know you do.
I like to mix it up. No man is one thing. It’s like M.J. said, dude. Black or white.
[Laughs] Are you enjoying a lot of creative freedom with Warners? Because some of the people I’ve interviewed, like Jody Hill especially was saying he had no idea that Warners would be that supportive of Observe and Report.
They are pretty filmmaker friendly. I don’t wanna jinx it and shit, but I’m still waiting for the friction. Look, maybe it’s coming, because maybe I’ll turn in my version of the flick, my cut, and I’m all proud of myself, and they’re like, “You have no idea what you’ve done here! This is terrible.” Then all the sudden life becomes hectic, but right now they’ve been so filmmaker friendly, dude. So friendly! It’s crazy. They had rule on this movie: don’t go above this budget. And when we needed more money, and I went to them, I was like, “Can we get more cash?” and they were like, “No. Absolutely not.” And I was like, “Well, I guess I may have to put some of my salary in,” and they were like, “Okay, thank you,” and they took it.
That’s what happened to Todd Phillips, too.
They gave him a number and told him that he could use whatever actors he wanted for The Hangover, that he could do whatever he wanted, but that he couldn’t go over that number.
Do you know what I like about it, dude? I’ve had training in that because that’s the way the Weinsteins work. That’s the way Mirimax used to work. It was like, “Here’s your number. Go apeshit. We’re hiring you because we like what you do, but just stay in this box because if you stay in this box, we’re gonna turn a profit no matter what you do. Even if it’s a piece of shit.” So, you know, that’s the way I’m used to working. Finding a number and staying in the box. That Warner Bros. would apply it, I think is interesting, but it shows you where the studios are right now. They’re like, “Clearly the old model doesn’t work anymore so we’re gonna change it.”
What do you mean by The Old Model?
In terms of just over-spending. Let’s just fucking spend $70 million every movie. At some point, someone was telling me that the budget of Must Love Dogs was $50+. Must Love Dogs, dude! That’s because most of these studio flicks, they give them like 12 weeks of pre-production, and for a movie like ours, A Couple of Dicks, a quasi-actioner at best – it’s like Lethal Weapon with 50% less action, we didn’t need 12 weeks pre! Every one of those weeks of pre costs money. So I was like, “We don’t need that shit, dude.” We had about 5 weeks of pre, max. And the studio was like, “You’ll never do it! You can’t do that! You need 12 weeks!” and all the sudden we started, and they were like, “Oh, it turns out you don’t need 12 weeks.”
So I think I may have accidentally ruined the curve for other filmmakers at Warner Bros., but you know, to me it’s like, why would you waste all this time and money? And we came in under budget on the flick. I was really happy about that.
What was the budget?
The budget was, like, essentially, I forget what the figure was before the tax rebate but after the tax rebate, I think it was about $35-$37 million depending on what the music budget ends up being. So essentially it was about as much as Jersey Girl. God willing we won’t have the same result…
Once again, you undermine your own marketing skills because “Die Hard with 60% less action” belongs on the poster.
It does, doesn’t it?
I think “Die Hard” belongs on the poster. Just call the mother fucker Die Hard 5. The one where he’s got a black friend. And people will show up.
Wait. He’s already got a black friend. In Samuel L. Jackson.
The other one! Where he’s got a new black friend!
That doesn’t read as well, but I see where you’re going with it.
But you know people will be like, “Shit. I’m going if for no other reason than because these mother fuckers are clearly honest. They’re putting it right on Front Street. I know exactly what I’m getting. This is the most blatant title since Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Let’s not go to this either!”
“The actor from Live Free or Die Hard directed a movie.” I think that should be the selling point.
Speaking of which, this is sort of random, but I was checking out your movie credits yesterday, and I’m noticing a trend. I think you are thanked in the Special Thanks from filmmakers close to 50 times.
Get outta here. Really?
And these are probably movies that you’ve never even heard of.
I know Waiting… I heard Waiting… all the time. People are like, “The dude from Waiting… thanked you!” and I was like, “Well, that makes sense.”
Why does that make sense?
If you look at Waiting… it’s like, there was certainly a model that they had at one point.
You have Cold Hearts, Overnight Delivery, have you heard of these movies? You’re thanked in Donnie Darko, a movie called Reality of Life, a few shorts, a movie called For Catherine. A movie called Doogal where you do the voice of a moose.
I do the voice of a farting moose in Doogal.
Does this phenomenon surprise you at all?
Some of the thanks I’d never heard of. I mean, I knew the Cold Hearts one because I knew that dude in Jersey. And he actually made a good-looking movie. I remember that dude was like, “Hey man, you made it!” Some people at the beginning were like, “You are where I wanna be.” Like the little dog in the Warner Bros. cartoon, like “Spike! He’s my friend! He’s so big and strong!” He was definitely one of those guys, and years later I saw his movie, and was like, “Jesus.” Rob Masciantonio. He made a far better-looking movie than I ever have in my life, and I was like, “Wow! This dude! All this time the little dog was far more talented than the big dog!”
So you thanked him on the next movie you made.
What would I thank him for? “Thanks for being fucking better than me!” Then I’d have to thank everybody in this business in my credits.
But does the phenomenon surprise you? Do you understand it?
Look, I understand that Clerks is the movie that launched a thousand bad movies. That much is true. Because everyone sees it and kinda reacted the way I did when I saw Slacker, which was like, “This counts as a movie? Fuck, I can make a movie.” And everyone went off and did it, and you know, yeah, everyone can make a movie, but what they don’t tell you is that not all of those movies are going to be remotely watchable. Some are. Some aren’t. And it’s not like they’re not talented. It’s just that some shit seems like it makes a lot of sense on the page and then all the sudden, you put it into practice and it just lays there. I mean, on every flick there’s at least a half an hour of scenes that are cut out. At least in my shit. I don’t know about anybody else. But that’s because it just lays there, but we get lucky more often than not. Our average is pretty good. The shit that works is higher than the shit that doesn’t work in terms of what we’ve shot and what ends up in the movie. But that’s true for everybody. It’s just that some people, their percentages are off. You know. There’s no movie that is wholly bad. I would argue that every movie has at least one good idea somewhere, something that validates its existence. Even something like Bloodsucking Freaks, when the guy’s like, “Her mouth shall make an interesting urinal!” That line has stayed with me since I was 11-years old. So it’s like, thank God that movie was made so I can remember that line. So every once in a while at a party, I could whip it out.
Does that mean you thanked Richard Linkater at all? Or Joel Reed?
Yeah, at the end of Clerks I thanked Richard Linklater, Hal Hartley, Jim Jarmusch, and Spike Lee for leading the way. “For leading the way,” I wrote. And then Martin Scorsese apparently told Ileana Douglas, who he was dating at the time, when he watched it, “Oh, they led the way?”
I always thought that was kinda funny. She told me that. She was just like, “You wanna hear a Marty story?” I was like, “I would love to hear a Marty story.” She said, “Well, it involves you.”I was like, “Then I really wanna hear it!” She told me that story. I always thought it was funny.
But you didn’t thank Joel Reed for Bloodsucking Freaks?
I didn’t! Because I haven’t used the line yet. The moment I crib it for a movie…but I credit him in life. I’m always like, “Hey, man, that was from Joel Reed.”
“Copyright, Joel Reed….
“That was Joel Reed classic.”
“Copyright, Joel Reed.” Fantastic.
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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.”