Three years ago writer/director Kevin Smith pushed himself as a filmmaker with Red State. The quasi-horror movie was polarizing for both Smith’s fans and critics. Good or bad, it’s definitely far more ambitious than Smith’s previous movie, Cop Out. He was trying something new. Red State was a 180 turn in the director’s career. With his new picture, Tusk, Smith is continuing down the road he set out on back in 2011.
A trailer for the film was released shortly after its Comic-Con debut. From the looks of it, Tusk features the old and the new Kevin Smith. That’s a good thing, because when Red State turned into a shootout, the old Smith was missed. Smith’s finest work generally involves characters talking around a table. Tusk doesn’t seem to stray too far from Smith’s dialogue-heavy past, since the film does feature two characters stuck together in a house, so we should expect a good amount of dialogue from Smith.
If you don’t want to know whether Justin Long’s character does actually get turned into a walrus, avoid this discussion with Smith. And, even though I call it a discussion, it’s not really that at all. When you interview Kevin Smith, he’s never at a loss for words. It’s best to just let him say what he has to say.
Thanks. Honestly, I’m the kind of dude when I do shit… I’m not complaining, because there’s a good chunk of people out there who say, “Go, go, go!” That’s about 60% of the Internet, while the other 40% is: “Go fuck yourself!” For as much praise as I get — and I do get over-praised — I got a thick skin, I’m full of flab and stuff, and I’ve taken a lot of slings and arrows. I’m always prepared for the 40%, but when the trailer went up last night, the numbers had shifted…for the trailer. Not a lot of people changed their mind about me, but at least they went, “This looks interesting. I’ll give it a shot.” That’s cool, man. I live at 60/40, but when you see it go to 80/20 or 90/10, holy shit!
Unfortunately, as critics will tell you, I spend a lot of time trying to please myself, both physically and in my work. I’m always kind of thinking of me first, which is the philosophy: make the movie you want to see. Nobody else is going to see a movie you don’t want to see. I think I have proven that with Cop Out and fucking Jersey Girl. If you make the movie you desperately want to see, it’ll translate, but you’ll lose some cats. Not everyone wants to see a movie about a guy who turns into a fucking walrus! [Laughs] I can’t expect full penetration, but the people who are on the fence, for people who bitch about sequels and remakes, maybe they’ll give this a chance. I won’t blame them if they don’t go down the rabbit hole, but I hope they take the trip.
I can’t even tell you if the movie is good or bad, but I can tell you it fucking stays with you like herpes. That’s probably not the best way to sell the movie, but…I’ve been doing this for 20 years and rarely have I done anything I hadn’t seen before. That was the case with Clerks and maybe bits of Chasing Amy and Dogma. Clerks was the last wholesale picture I made where you think, “Fuck! I haven’t seen something like that before.” It’s taken me 20 years, but I think I got the other one.
There’s definitely other movies in there. There’s elements of Misery and The Island of Dr. Moreau. It pays homage and steals from The Human Centipede. In the podcast that birthed the movie, I even said, “This is like the cuddly version of The Human Centipede.” Going back to my childhood, it’s very American Werewolf in London. Movies like that didn’t make me worry at night. There were “rest” bits. They’d horrify you, but then give you a laugh.
I’m not talented enough to sustain tension like John Carpenter, but I can give you a little tension and a chuckle. I can go up and down for 90 minutes. If I can do that and keep you interested enough, you may stick around for the end. I hesitate to call it horror, because I don’t know what it is, to be honest. I know it’s the kind of movie I’d love to see before I made Clerks.
Before I was a filmmaker I’d pull from my real life. That was the only thing I could do. I worked at a conveniance store, so I made a movie about guys who work in a convenience store. I had male sexual insecurity, so I made Chasing Amy. I grew up catholic, so I made Dogma. When there was no pain in my life…good art comes from pain. When I had no pain, I couldn’t make art that was good to anybody. I just got to a place in my life where I thought, “Shit. I might as well stop.” Then I tried something I never thought I would try: direct somebody else’s script. Before I leave I thought I’d try to do a Steven Soderbergh. Not that I’m that good, but he makes movies for a studio and then for himself. I had a wonderful experience making Cop Out, aside from that one dude. I was fine working with the studio.
I had already priced myself out of interesting things, and that’s what happened. I had a deal at Miramax that three years before you’re making movie no. 4, they’re telling you how much you’re going to make. You’re locked into these prices and your fee keeps going up. This was before the economic collapse, where people were pouring money into independent film. Suddenly you’re making more than the budget of most of your smaller movies. They expect results when they give you a lot of money. If you have 3 or 5 million bucks and you’ve covered everyone’s bets in pre-sales and whatnot, you can go nuts. That’s an easy movie to say yes to. If you’re in the 20 to 30 million dollar range, they want fucking results. I don’t have mainstream ideas, folks. Have you seen my scripts? Have you seen my movies? I’m talking about a distinct group of people. I understand not everyone likes my shit. At the end of the day, you realize your place.
With Tusk, this was a chance to…The best way to explain it is, before Clerks there was a moment where I wanted to see Clerks but it didn’t exist. I didn’t have a name or anything. I loved Animal House as a kid, but I didn’t identify with any of the fucking Deltas or the Omegas. Wait, not the Omegas…what’s their name?
I’m not sure. I’ll look it up, though.
Yeah, but hold on…this is bad. This the old age when you start losing it. Fuck. Neidermeyer! What’s it fucking called? [it’s: the Omega Theia Pi]
[Laughs] I don’t think you’ll lose much geek cred for this.
I will, though! My street cred is dripping through the fucking sour as we speak. Anyway, I didn’t identify with anyone, as much as I love that movie and the whole little guys versus the estbalishment. Like, I wouldn’t kill a horse, not even by accident. I don’t drink. I couldn’t drink a fucking bottle of Jack Daniels. I don’t like the taste of liquor. I thought, “Where can I see me and my friends?” The closest was the John Hughes movies, but those kids were far too cool for us. We weren’t really represented.
When I saw Slacker I thought, “This guy is making a movie without stars and all that. Nobody wants to make your movie, so you make the movie.” Years later I’m still here because of that one decision. I had a similar moment on the podcast. I thought, “Fuck. I want to see this movie. Maybe someone will hear this and go with it?” Another voice in my head told me: “You fucking, dick. You used to do this for a living. If you applied yourself, you could do it.” I thought, if I want to see that movie, I should do it. In that way, it reminds me of Clerks.
I’ve never seen some of the things we present in the flick, and that makes me happy as fuck. I’ve been doing this two decades. I couldn’t do anything original when I started. To touch some untouched ground…being first through the door is very cool. Sometimes the door is very small and stupid and you may get shot on the other side, but just going through the door is the thrill of it. The thrill is: let me see if I can show them something they haven’t seen before.
Even though it’s a new door for you, watching the trailer you can still tell it’s a movie you made.
Could you tell that?
I think it’s there in the humor.
That’s good, man. That makes me happy. You know, by the time Quentin Tarantino made his second movie, you knew it was a Quentin Tarantino movie. There was a very specific sound to it. I was very proud early in my career when people said, “Oh, his movies sound alike.” Over time that became: “All his movies sound like him…” [Laughs] People went from finding it cool to it blowing.
I remember on Zack & Miri I heard Seth Rogen talking about the earlier stuff I had done in my career. He said that early scripted comedy is funny, but people don’t really do it anymore and it’s about ad-libbing now. That was me seeing where everything was going. People don’t give a shit about scripts in comedy anymore. They just stand there and generate the comedy themselves. For me, I thought my time was coming to a close. I think if you look at the earlier flicks you can see a voice and, as some critics point out, maybe too much. I’m curious and interested to hear you say there’s Kevin Smith in there. I always wonder between that and Red State if you stripped my name off and put another name on them if people would have any idea I did it.
What thrills me now is seeing people say, “Oh, so this is the direction he’s going in now?” This is the second time I’ve done a shot at quasi-horror. Now people seem to think I’m serious about this. Somebody told me I was becoming a genre director, and that almost makes my eyes tear up. Those are the movies I grew up watching, not Clerks. I never got to make one of those movies. I think I’m finally making movies I would’ve enjoyed long before I was a filmmaker.
The trailer has a mix of that. A little familiar, but mostly new from you.
Thanks, man. It’s kind of like a comfy sweater. There’s elements of the familiar, but reframed through a new prism. After years and years of watching someone like Quentin, he doesn’t hide the sources. He collects so much, but it goes out through his prism. I thought maybe I’d try that. I can steal from the people I love. The movie looks so good because our DP said, “Let’s just shoot wide-screen. It might look kind of classy.” When we went wide-screen we thought we’d put everything on rails. Then I became obsessed with symmetry. I watched this Kubrick short where they took every symmetrical shot from his movies and laid it on one after the other. As a stoner, it’s heaven, because it’s symmetry after symmetry. Suddenly everything we did we went after symmetry. We can’t be Stanley Kubrick, but we can go after Kubrickian symmetry.
Tusk opens in theaters September 19th.