Kevin Smith Interview Transcription: The Director's Cut
By Andrea Warner
He describes himself as a “fat little douchebag from New Jersey,” but to his legions of fanboys (they almost always are male), writer-director Kevin Smith is the voice of a generational apex of intellectuals, miscreants, stoners, comic-book geeks, and romantics. Vancouverites have a chance to get up-close and personal with Smith when he descends upon the city for one of his epic Q&A evenings — his first here since his notorious four-hours-plus Q&A at the Vogue in 2006, for which he still feels “ashamed,” but more on that later.
Smith’s professional history is littered with happy accidents, and he’s the first to admit how lucky he’s been. The 38-year-old Vancouver Film School dropout inadvertently founded the indie-slacker film genre with his 1994 cult classic, Clerks (which he wrote and directed), heralding the cinematic dawn of the potty-mouthed existentialist. It’s a style that has continued to populate his movies, almost all of which take place in the ‘View Askewniverse,’ a bubble of Smith’s own making (named after his View Askew production company) resides in his native New Jersey. It’s a testament to his DIY ethic and savvy self-promotion: The View Askewniverse has spawned a website, an active fan forum, and a hugely popular podcast.
Now, Smith is readying to step outside his comfort zone. He left his longtime partnership with the Weinstein Company last year, and is set to direct a big-budget movie (one he didn’t write himself) starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan — although its title, A Couple of Dicks, proves he’s not about to completely abandon his old ways.
WE caught up with Smith over the phone from — where else? — New Jersey.
WE: You seem to have an awesome time doing your podcast.
WE: You seem to have an awesome time doing your podcast.
Kevin Smith: I love doing it. It's funny, it's kind of interesting. I like doing it with Mose (Scott Mosier, his Coquitlam-born producing partner) and the various people who cycle in and out. It's taken the place of writing for me--well, writing blogs at least.
WE: Typing everything out just gives you carpal tunnel.
KS: There's that. And it's just, I don't know, there's something novel and yet not novel, because there's something time-honoured about sitting around some microphones...
WE: The internet gives you way more opportunity.
KS: You can basically find people who enjoy it. Can you imagine if we were doing it and we were the only two who knew about it, or a couple of friends at school. The internet allows you to put it out there for a bunch of people to find. And, when they do they hopefully pass on to someone else. Man, the pass-on rate on that podcast is pretty sweet in terms of the recommendations. You're always hearing about it from somebody who's friend told them about it. And, I think Scott Mosier's pretty funny. It gives me a chance to showcase some people I think are very funny.
WE: I think people get the chance to feel like they're getting to know you really intimately.
KS: Oh, God, yeah, there's that for sure. (Laughs)
WE: I remember particularly listening to the one your daughter co-hosted with you for Father's day.
KS: That was fun, but some people didn't like that. They were like, 'I'm glad you like your daughter, but that was fuckin' boring for me.' And you're like, it's a free podcast, dude. I did it with my kid. Are you really going to tell me that I wasted my time? That's the thing that kills you, you know, people who have tips and notes for you about how to improve the podcast and what you're doing wrong. And you're like, it's fuckin' free, dude.
WE: And, I mean, you can just turn it off.
KS: I caught some shit fairly recently with the podcasts because I've started doing them while smokin' weed. Boy, some cats got outta sorts about that. And there were all sorts of discussion about "Who's funnier? Stoned Kev or non-stoned Kev?" and you know, oh my God, it's the same fuckin' ramblings. It always sounded like I was stoned before, now I just am. So, that's been kind of interesting, watching people draw lines about that.
WE: People who like your stuff--are they really going to have their panties in a knot about weed?
KS: Well, that's the thing. Some cats yes, some no. That's from the same thread on the website, someone quickly pointed out, y'all are on the website of the guy who created Jay and Silent Bob, you remember that, right? But, that's always been the kind of interesting thing about the stuff we do. Some people kind of see it as Jay and Silent Bob and that's where it begins and ends, and that's fine, but those are the folks who see the shit we do as kind of intellectual and just masquerade as low-brow humour, and those are the kind of cats who get mad when people dismiss the fans as stoners, because they're like, 'I'm not a stoner' and then they object to my being stoned on the podcast, because they're like, 'fuck, now they're right, I do like a stoner.' It's a tricky wire sometimes, but ultimately I always fall down on the side of 'hey man, as long as I'm not charging for it, what do you care?' (Laughs) The SModcast is my favourite thing to do right now--actually, my favourite thing to do in the world, hands down, having sex with my wife. Second favourite thing is Smodcast. Third favourite thing is what I'm coming to Vancouver to do, the Q&A.
WE: We're really excited about it.
KS: Did you like that segue? Pretty sweet, huh? Been doing this a long time.
WE: Very nice. Why do you like doing the Q&As?
KS: This year I just had a slew of Canadian Q&As. Before Zack and Miri came out, it was Calgary and Edmonton, and then way after that, in February, it was Toronto for two nights at the Roy Thompson Hall. And then I did three nights at the Bloor where they were showing all the View Askew films. And, I haven't done a Vancouver Q&A since I was out there shooting Catch and Release in 2006. That was my lowest moment in a Q&A.
WE: Really? What happened?
KS: They were a great audience but low for me in that I was so ashamed. I had had some wicked Mongolian BBQ on Broadway and Cambie, fantastic stuff, but man, does it make you fucking gassy. It's the only time in my life that I've had to fart and had a fucking microphone in my hand, and so I totally rocked the mic and blew a fart, and it was so base and immature, but kinda fun at the same time, but boy there was some backlash. There were some cats who came to the website who were like, 'I didn't pay $50 to hear some fat dude fart in a microphone.' And, yeah, but that wasn't the only thing I did for fuckin' four hours. It was a little more substantial than that, but you can't please everyone, and I don't care, doin' Q&As are more masturbatory than anything else for me. It's not very hard when people are like, hey man, tell us about your stupid fucking life and you're like, "All right." It's very flattering and I always enjoy it, more so than the audience, and that's saying something because the audiences really seem to fuckin' enjoy it. A common compliment I've received is, 'Man, I haven't liked the last five movies you've done, but the Q&A is fantastic.' And you're like, "thank you, I think."
WE: Well, whoever the jackasses were with the "Oh, the fart ruined it all"...
KS: (Laughs) Oh, the fart ruined it all. I haven't thought about it in so long, I'm gettin' depressed all over again.
WE: I know that the Saturday night following your show, the Rio is doing a back-to-back midnight screening of Clerks and Clerks II.
KS: If I'm still in town I'll be there. Unfortunately I'm in the throes of pre-production on this movie I'm shooting in New York, but if I can stay one more night then I'm totally going to those.
ALL ABOUT THE DICKSWE: You're doing pre-production on A Couple Of Cops, right?
WE: I like the original title A Couple of Dicks better.
KS: That's what the title is! It's weird, the title is A Couple Of Dicks, and I'm just so used to saying A Couple Of Cops. Dicks is way better. When they announced it in Variety for some reason--we had been tossing around a couple of different titles, but all of us involved like this title and we were going forward with it, and when it got reported they used Cops. But it's Dicks, trust me, it's Dicks. I talked to the head of the studio the next day and was like, "Are we Cops or Dicks?" And he was like, 'Well you're a dick, but the movie is Dicks.'
WE: Did you seek out a studio, or did they come after you?
KS: In a weird way they sought me out. I met with so many studio cats after Zack and Miri, the message became very clear that up until then they didn't think I could make a movie and now they think I can, so come work here.
WE: Was it the nicer lighting or...
KS: I guess they feel like all right, he's firing on all cylinders. And, for the first time I'd just gone free agent and what not. For years and years I'd been with Miramax or the Weinstein Company, and after Zack and Miri it was the first time where I was like you know what, I'm not going to have an over-all deal, I just want to change it up. And, for years and years I said I'm not going to direct somebody else's script, I'm just not that guy, not talented like that, and now I'm doing a 180 on that. That's kind of what that wandering affords you. You sit there going, 'Well, this is something I wouldn't normally do, but maybe I'll give it a shot.' And maybe that comes with age as well, in terms of like, you know, I'm 38, and I don't live very healthily, so some part of me is like, I'm probably going to die early, so I might as well do shit I enjoy now.
WE: And, it gives you a chance to try something outside your comfort zone.
KS: Totally! And, here's the thing: I know I can make a Kevin Smith movie. I've been doin' it for years. I don't know that I can do this, so let's try it. If it sucks, all right, I can go back and make a Kevin Smith movie.
WE: Will the script get the Kevin Smith treatment?
KS: Honestly, the script is so fucking good, it doesn't need it. I was attracted to the material by how familiar it was, the great dialogue between characters. The Cullen brothers wrote some wonderful back and forth and created a very real relationship between these two characters. It's a buddy-cop movie that I havne't seen in a long time. It's not like two guys meeting for the first time, we just hang out with them on one adventure. It reminds me of Freebie and the Bean from the 70s.
WE: And, Bruce Willis is actually pretty funny.
KS: Yeah! Bruce Willis was David Addison, and I grew up watching him on Moonlighting when I was a kid. I was a huge Moonlighting fan, and never dreamed in a million years that I'd work with him, and I did act with him in a film a few years back, and I never dreamed I'd direct him. I'm tellin' you, everyday I think, and it's such a weird life, 'wow, i didn't dream that either!' Every day great things happen.
WE: I had totally forgotten you were in Die Hard IV until I found that clip of you interviewing Bruce Willis on the set. Are you scared about directing him?
KS: He's a livin' legend, you know what I'm sayin'? He's one of the only true movie stars out there in the world. He's a guy like Nicholson, he had to give up being 'Bruce Willis' years ago so he could be Bruce Willis, you know? I think it's always interesting interacting with icons like that. Stan Lee is one of those guys. Johnny Rotten, I had him over to my house for a poetry reading once, he's one of those guys. Traci Lords even. People who are huge pop cultural icons who long ago had to accept the fact they couldn't be themselves anymore because they belonged to the world. And, it's kinda fun, because when you get to really meet a person, when you feel like you're getting to know them in a way the rest of the world hasn't, it's really satisfying.
RED STATE, BATMAN, AND WHAT WENT WRONG WITH ZACK AND MIRIWE: You've talked a little bit about Red State (Smith's much talked-about black comedy/horror script). Is it going to be your unfulfilled dream?
KS: No, man, we're gonna get to it after A Couple of Dicks. It's been tough to pull the financing together for it, you know, we're living in pretty harsh economic times, and this movie is not very commercial on the surface, so I can completely understand why it's tough to find cash for it. Hopefully while I'm off making the Warner Bros flick and the economy gets a little better we find an investor and then boom, we're off. The only thing holding that flick up is the cash. We're just starting to put the cast together. See if that helps at all.
WE: I guess a big name could help attract an influx of cash.
KS: Yeah, there's that, but I doubt we'll get a big name. I'm not looking for celebrity as much as I'm looking for a hardcore actor, 'cause it's kind of a juicy part.
WE: Who would be your dream for that role?
KS: Can't say yet, 'cause I'm going after him right now. (Laughs)
WE: All right, fair enough. I wanted to ask you a little bit about why you got back in to writing comics?
KS: I'd been away for a long time, and I guess there was a lot of Batman in the air, and my friend Walter Flanagan had been drawing some independent comic books with my other friend Wayne Johnson, and back in the day Walt and I had always talked about "Wouldn't it be great to do a comic book? You could write it and I could draw it and blah, blah, blah." And then my film career took off, so I was like, you know what? I'm in a position where I can call up DC and be like, "Can I do a miniseries for you that my friend can draw?" and they'll say yes or no right away. And it was so fuckin' satisfying you know. I was working really closely with a guy who got me back in to comics years ago, a dude who knows a lot about the medium, has the same reference points about things we like about the same comic books. It was a fantastic symbiotic relationship. And the great thing for me is that we both got so much better over the three issues. There were quite a few reviews that were like, 'some of these things don't sound like they could be said by a human being' or don't sound very natural, and I was like, 'hey man, he's right.' I went back, read some of my dialogue out loud, and I was like, all right, I was excited, let myself get carried away, I've never written Batman before. It was kinda cool, 'cause I got involved and stayed the fuck involved. And with Walt it's really satisfying because it was truly, literally a dream for him to draw Batman. And not one of those things, like I'm gonna work for that dream, but a dream like I always dream about the power of flight. You look at his art in issue one and then the art in issue three and it's a vast improvement, and then almost the same with the dialogue, too. And it informed this new thing we're working on together that we don't announce 'til July. This miniseries was prelude to what we're working on...sort of our Masterwork.
WE: I wanted to talk a little about Zack and Miri. I know you've said it should have been marketed differently. How should it have gone?
KS: It's so tough to say. Ultimately, I probably hurt the movie most by calling it Porno. That clearly hurt, there's no two ways about it in retrospect. I remember at Sundance there was a movie with similar subject matter called Hump Day, and I remember thinking, 'Fuck! I should have called mine Hump Day. What a genius idea.' And, the day it opened, I was like, man, I wish I called it Skin Flick. Fuck! That would have helped everything out. But, who's to say? The marketing campaign never got it figured out. We never knew what we were selling or who we were selling it to. It just kinda happened. I feel like I can't hang it on one person, it's a confluence of events. Everybody acknowledges the fact that we should have done better, but no one can really put their finger on why we didn't...Certainly not the cast. We had a likable cast who turned in great performances. And it turned out to be a really funny flick...but the marketing campaign...It seemed like an easy sell, didn't it?
WE: Well, it stirred up a shit-storm of controversy, so you think that aspect would draw more people to it.
KS: Or just the notion of Seth Rogen in an R-rated comedy. And it's about porn? Fuck, I'm going. So, yeah, it was a disappointing time. And man, I spent like, three months after that in just a fuckin' weed-induced coma just trying to get over it, 'cause I knew we had a hit this time. We were all firing on all cylinders, and the movie could have done double of what it did. People always wanna say the nice thing, like, 'Hey man, that movie shoulda done a lot better,' but that just hurts worse, you know, shut up. (Laughs). Ultimately it wound up being our highest grossing movie, which everyone said it would be. We just thought it would be by a substantial margin, not like, $500,000. More than anything else, once you get past it, you don't do it for the fuckin' box office number, you do it for the longevity. This movie will stand the test of time, and people will like it for years to come. That you gotta be happy with. And, I don't know any other way to be happy because it's a problem I always encounter: my movies top off at 30 (million). Naturally this all sounds like a bit of cognitive reframing, because I'm like, 'Yeah, the best I can hope for is longevity." Maybe Judd Apatow is like, "No, it's not. The best you can hope for is $100 million, which I've had and you haven't" but you know, for me the money comes and goes. It's been 15 years since Clerks came out and teenagers still come up to me, and I'm like you were not even born when this was made, and then suddenly the idea of longevity appeals to you more than anything else. And you hope that they just stand the test of time, like in 10 years people still like it. Because fuck now, you just move on to the next thing. And then it's like, why am I thinking about this shit? Is it 'cause I'm old, 'cause I'm gonna die? It's an existential conversation that usually concludes with me goin' 'Oh, I'm just kinda stoned.' (Laughs). I shouldn't be thinking this much about a bunch of dick and fart joke movies.