“We all know how to tell a story. Even the most wallflower-ish of us has that back pocket story, to whip out like our biggest cock at the moment we need to in mixed company, when the eye of Sauron falls on you and suddenly there’s a quiet in the room and people look at you and you have to come forward with something or you look like a dick with nothing to say…”
Kevin Smith’s had a busy-ass year. Between Comic Book Men getting renewed for a second season on AMC, the first season of Spoilers for Hulu, his SModcast, and his upcoming “An Evening With Kevin Smith” at the Wilbur, it’s astonishing that he could find the time to talk to DigBoston. But talk he did!
It’s been about a year since you’ve been in Boston. How well do you know the city?
Pretty well, I dig Boston. It’s where an old Oscar-winner I helped out on came from. Good Will Hunting?
I read that script sitting on a toilet in a condo I lived in in ’95 or ’96. I went into the bathroom with it, started reading, and didn’t get up for two hours. I came out of the bathroom in tears.
My producer, Scott Mosier, was on the floor playing Super Nintendo, this Empire Strikes Back game – that’s how far back this is – and he takes one look at me and says, “That bad?” I was like “No, dude, this script is amazing.”
He thought I’d just passed something particularly painful in there, and that’s why I was crying.
It’s strange to think about that when Good Will Hunting came out, there weren’t that many movies opening for them to compete against. Now you have like six, seven, eight movies opening up every week, large and small.
‘Indie’ cinema seems to be a pretty crowded family to live in these days.
I went to iTunes the other day, downloading something to take with me on the plane. I clicked on the ‘Indie Film’ category, and there were so many movies! Movies with big actors, people that I couldn’t score for one of my pictures. There’s no time or space or money for them to make an impact in the marketplace, or even be heard of or remembered.
It is different now. The way technology has evolved, filmmaking’s become democratized. Wouldn’t it be much different to try to make Clerks today?
There was an interview in an Austin newspaper once with David Gordon Green. The interviewer said that “People really like Clerks, it’s opened the doors for filmmakers” or something.
And David said that “I lowered the bar” for Indie filmmaking when I made Clerks.
You’ll get people on both sides of the aisle. People will say ‘It’s a great thing that you could break in and were able to make Clerks,’ and you’ll hear other people and legit filmmakers will very quickly point out that I was the beginning of the end, people like me.
Which is weird, given the production history of Clerks. How could someone look at what you had to go through and think ‘that was easy?’
I’ve gotten a lot of people over the years who have come up to me and said ‘Clerks made me want to be a filmmaker.’ But for everything to happen to Clerks the way it did was mind-bending and so unlikely, given what we were doing back then.
It kind of took me off my path, though. I might’ve learned my craft better out of the spotlight. Unfortunately, you’re suddenly put on center stage and they watch you learn your craft, making movies in the public eye while learning how to make movies.
I used to hate calling myself an artist. I’d always say I’m a filmmaker, not an artist.
But the older you get, you stand back and say ‘Oh, it all counts.’ I’ve gotten to live a really cool life for the last two decades, making art. And I’m no great shakes, and I’m not very special, which tells me that other people could be doing this, too.
To that end, do you have any advice for folks trying to get into the entertainment business?
We all know how to tell a story. Even the most wallflower-ish of us has that back pocket story, to whip out like our biggest cock at the moment we need to in mixed company, when the eye of Sauron falls on you and suddenly there’s a quiet in the room and people look at you and you have to come forward with something or you look like a dick with nothing to say.
And you just say, ‘My friend fucked a dog once’ and suddenly people in the room go ‘What?!’ and you have their attention like that. That’s all a podcast is.
I’m honestly kind of stuck on the idea of whipping out your dick in mixed company.
[Laughs] That’s a Jason Mewes thing. It’s an icebreaker in New Jersey, maybe the kids don’t do it so much these days. It’s probably that To Catch A Predator show, where they sit older guys down in a room, offer you cookies and say ‘Hey, we’ve been tracking you!’
How is getting to work with your friends so often, on things like Comic Book Men and Spoilers?
Sometimes I wonder why I don’t work with more famous people, and I recently realized that it’s because I’d much rather work with my friends.
It’s better going in knowing that these motherfuckers can make me laugh, and that endorphins will be pumping all day long. And there’s a wonderful shorthand with people you’ve worked with multiple times.
We just wrapped shooting on season 2 of Comic Book Men. We shot these podcast wraparound sequences for three days, and every day someone was invariably like,
‘I can’t believe this is a fucking job. We cracked the codes.’
AMC has been putting out some great shows in the last few years – Mad Men, Breaking Bad, et cetera. Has it been a good home for Comic Book Men?
I got lucky early in my career. Miramax in the mid-nineties was like the 1984 Edmonton Oilers of film, and AMC is kind of like the current version of the Edmonton Oilers in TV. They can do no fucking wrong, they’re on a streak. And when you’re on a streak, people respect a streak.
Suddenly you’re perceived as being cooler than you are just by virtue of where you happen to be, and it just organically happened.
Much of your recent work has been decidedly apolitical, with the exception of Red State. When you do decide to tackle politicized subject matter, what motivates you?
They say there are three things you’re not supposed to bring up in polite conversation: sex, religion and politics. And I’ve always like to throw in a soupçon of each. In the case of Dogma or Chasing Amy, maybe a little extra soupçon, but usually just a little bit.
I know people usually like movies because they’re escapist, they take you places that isn’t the real world, but I prefer to make things where I recognized myself and my friends.
I love watching Die Hard, but I can’t really identify with John McClane.
For instance, I’ve got a brother who’s gay. He came out shortly before I got into filmmaking, but he didn’t tell me, my mom did. So we’re driving up to the Vancouver Film School, and I’m waiting for him to tell me, and waiting, and waiting. Just as the Vancouver skyline comes into view I just blurt out, “So I understand you have an alternative lifestyle.” He chuckles, is like “Yeah.” I ask him why he never told me, and what it’s like -- kind of like that scene in Chasing Amy where Jason Lee is asking Julie Adams what it’s like to be a lesbian.
At one point, I ask “What is it like when you go to the movies?” He asks, “What do you mean?” I say, ”These movies are all about dudes and ladies falling in love and shit. What do you do?” He says, “Well I can certainly cognize love, and I love a love story … but yeah, there’s a distance. When you look up on the screen and see someone that doesn’t look like you, and what you know.”
I’m always gonna throw in a little gay content, one for my brother ‘cause I love him, and two because there’s gotta be a lot of people like him.
When you start doing that, doors open up a little bit. You’ve got people sitting there, whip a little enlightenment at them.
George Carlin said that when people are laughing, they’re at their most unguarded. All of the fronts and posturing falls away, when you’re really fucking laughing, because you’re out of control of your body, and not thinking about who you are or what you look like. At that moment, people are the most fertile for a new idea.
Do you find doing An Evening With Kevin Smith to be as rewarding as making a movie? You’ve never really done stand-up, but this is pretty damn close.
It’s easier. For film, you have to get a bunch of people together, a bunch of money, shoot it, edit it, and show it. Being on stage is the short version of that. I’m giving it to you without all the bells and whistles of a production.
And I get the same thing I’m looking for at the end of a production: laughs, applause, and ‘Hey Kev, you’ve done well. It’s okay that you’re fat.’
AN EVENING WITH KEVIN SMITH
THE WILBUR THEATRE
246 TREMONT ST.