Plus how Chris Rock predicted the takeout dynamo and Smith dishes on Twilight Of The Mallrats and Clerks III
Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse is as expansive as any scifi, horror, or other niche film franchise, but in a comical and geeky way. Starting with the 1994 classic Clerks, the canon has featured recurring characters and motifs that have been expanded across eight films with central New Jersey serving as the primary setting. They’ve included: Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, and Clerks II, among others.
In the latter three films, the fictional fast-food restaurant Mooby’s plays a significant part, and is the establishment where the sequel to Smith’s debut mostly takes place. As part of a nationwide popup campaign, Smith and his crew brought Mooby’s to life with a pickup experience for fans.
With Smith cutting the ribbon last Thursday, with Mooby’s setting up shop at the House Of Blues in Boston (where they’ll be until this Friday, April 16), I spoke with Smith about how this idea came to be, how Mooby’s was born out of necessity, projects he’s been working on while at home, and a couple of highly-anticipated films coming later this year.
What inspired you to start the “Mooby’s Pop-Up Pick Up Experience”? Do you view this as an interactive event for fans of your films or is there another reason for it?
It absolutely became an interactive event for our fans but it started with somebody else dropping out. Derek Berry, who runs our Mooby’s operation—and it’s been around long enough to be one—had reached out because Paramount Pictures was going to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Clueless with a popup restaurant at Derek’s space. He has a space in Los Angeles that’s been used for popup restaurant scenes for films and TV shows. He’s done a popup called “Saved By The Max” which was a replica of The Max in Saved By The Bell. He’s done Los Pollos Hermanos from Breaking Bad and he’s done Good Burger from the Nickelodeon movie so that’s his business.
Then COVID-19 broke loose by the time the anniversary was going to happen in February, March, and April of last year. Suddenly business started getting wonky for restauranteurs, as we all know, and Paramount figured that maybe it wasn’t a good time to do a popup restaurant, so they pulled out. Derek was going to be left with a bunch of food and a staff that he wasn’t going to be able to pay because it was a month-long promotion. He then remembered that we had fake restaurants in our motion pictures, especially a fake fast-food restaurant called Mooby’s that initially debuted in Dogma in 1999. It carried on in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II, the latter being set in a Mooby’s.
It’s always been a part of our films, but I never thought that it was enough of a pop culture thing that it would make sense to set up a Mooby’s in real life. When he asked me about it I was like, Oh my God! That would be amazing! So we kind of filled the need. He got to keep his staff, and the idea was to do it as a delivery, which we started on Postmates first. We then got hit really, really hard because of people seeing what we were up to on social media along with us popping up on the delivery platform.
For the pick up experience we put up facades from the movie and it’s a big space so we were able to put up a Quick Stop facade, an RST Video one, a giant Bluntman & Chronic wall, a huge movie mural and stuff. When you went to pick up your food, we had the drive-thru menu we had in Clerks II and this scene where it felt like you were walking into a restaurant at Disney World or something. Normally you do that, you sit down and hang out but because of the pandemic people would come pick up their food, take some selfies and go on their way. We meant to do it for a month and then we extended it to two months because it was doing so well. We assumed that would be it, but meanwhile in Red Bank, New Jersey, where we have Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash and where we’ve shot a lot of the movies, there’s a pizzeria called Gianni’s that saw on social media what we’ve been doing and they asked if we would ever do the popup there.
Derek was like, Would you ever want to go back to Jersey and do it? and I said, Why not? It would be a hoot! So Gianni’s let us use their place and we took it over for a couple weeks to have a Mooby’s in Red Bank. Then we got a request from Chicago and one out of Minneapolis, the latter’s request was from First Avenue for their restaurant called The Depot that had been closed down for months. They figured that if they had the popup in December they could hire back the staff and get people paid so they could do their Christmas shopping and stuff. From there I’m like, Are you kidding me? You want us to do a Mooby’s where fuckin’ Prince and The Time battled it out in Purple Rain? Let’s go! So it became a movable feast. Suddenly we had this kind of mini-franchise where as long as you had a willing host restaurant, we’d reskin the place for a week to two weeks with a far more limited menu to do 2,500 to 4,000 meals in a week and those are strong numbers.
It became this thing that we didn’t even have to sell. Restaurants started reaching out to us and we were like, We’ll do it! We couldn’t get rich doing this sort of thing, at least I didn’t, because the profit margins for restaurants are incredibly small. Generally the restaurant is supplying the food, the labor, and we sign off on a percentage which becomes profitable for us if we sell a bunch of Jay & Silent Bob swag. It’s like getting to move a mini version of the Secret Stash to all these places so it helps out the restaurant and it’s been fun for us because Jason [Mewes] and I can’t go out and do the live shows. In lieu of that, this is a different way to interact with the fan base instead of going on stage and telling the same stories.
This way is like, Hey! Step inside Mooby’s and come inside a Kevin Smith movie to see how fun it can be!. It’s provided fun for folks who’ve been trapped at home and believe me, when we started I totally clenched my asshole because of fear that people would think that it’s tacky to have it during the pandemic. I hoped that I wasn’t going to be crucified for this and people telling me that I was being irresponsible. Instead people were like, Oh my God! Something fun! And while picking up food it was nice for them to take pictures and they enjoy it. Boston is the tenth Mooby’s popup that we’ve done since July and it all has to do with Derek and his background.
He started doing these multiple-themed popups, so he knows how to do it, he knows what fans want when they walk into the space looking for that particular theme. In the case of the previous popups he’s done, like with Los Pollos Hermanos, he put up a mural or the RV from Breaking Bad that you could walk into and take pictures inside of. He makes it fun, it’s like you’re going to a restaurant but it’s also all the stuff you watch. I love working with Derek, he’s a marketing genius. Since Mooby’s became this state-hopping franchisable thing, Derek has come to work with us full-time and he’s become our Mooby’s maestro.
He goes to a city after folks reach out and whatnot around three days ahead of the opening to train the staff on the menu that we put together. It’s all inspired by the stuff we featured in the movies like Cow Tippers, Hater Tots, and let’s not forget the Cock Smoker Fried Chicken Sandwich. The menu gets much smaller and oddly enough we’ve had people who have gone to every Mooby’s pop-up so far. It matters on consistency and the menu that gets put together in Los Angeles, so Derek does that and he sets up the mini store and he also gets inside the Mooby mascot suit. After the fourth one we did, I knew that we had to build a Mooby’s suit because it would be amazing like the Burger King or Ronald McDonald.
We reached out to the folks who do the costumes for The Masked Singer to do the Mooby’s mascot. Derek is a really skinny dude but he probably drops 50 pounds every time he wears it and then he goes out and greets everybody. It’s a fun way to interact with our audience and expand the brand. Going back to 1998 when we were on set shooting Dogma, Chris Rock told me that we should do a Mooby’s in real life and I told him that it would never happen. Fast forward nearly 25 years later and here we are, so it’s been a blast for us and for the people there, even though some folks have complained that I wasn’t there when they arrived—even though I cut the ribbon.
I did that on Thursday at the House Of Blues and because of social distancing and reservations, only 20-25 people there to take pictures, so I’ve done that at most of them. I didn’t get to go out to Minneapolis because of travel restrictions and I didn’t go to Des Moines … timing didn’t work out. Showing up for the grand opening in Boston, timing wise was perfect and the folks at the House of Blues have been such fantastic partners. When I was meeting the folks and the staff that run the place, they were talking about how they hadn’t seen each other in months and how this was great for them because they’ve been closed. It was like a family reunion and it’s a similar story that I’ve heard at at least five of the pop-ups so far.
They reached out from seeing us post about the popups on social media, so there’s an awareness of it. A lot of mom and pop operations, standalone operations, and concert halls need help, in the case of the House of Blues, if they can’t do concerts, then it often screws them on the restaurant side. [We’re] able to bring in a guaranteed audience and it’s not just like we’re there with some money, we’re happy to be there. That’s what I told the folks there on Thursday before we opened in Boston, we’re thankful for the folks who are putting in the work, and unlike a regular restaurant, there’s a constant flow of people picking up food.
There’s no rush and it’s all spaced out, but there’s no break either because you’re sending out food every 10 to 15 minutes. Each person getting food is a fan of the films and they’re so happy to be there, they’re not giving anyone a hard time. It’s an extension of something we do, but it’s not like I’m gonna be there for all of it so I want to make sure that the experience is great for everyone who shows up, otherwise it hurts me somewhere down the line. Someone might be like Fuck Kevin Smith, I had one of those Cow Tippers and it sucked.
You don’t want to have that.
We made a whole scene about it in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back by flying around the country and beating those kinds of people up.
Yeah, that was an hilarious scene. While creating the original concept for Mooby’s in Dogma, did it come from a personal experience of working in fast food while growing up in Red Bank? Is it more of an homage to strip mall middle America? Or is it a symbolization of a dead end job for when you’re in your 20s and 30s?
I’ve never worked in fast food so it definitely wasn’t that, it really came out of necessity. In the movie itself, we had set up this company called Mooby Corp which was predicated on Disney and Barney in the sense of an innocuous kid’s show host. It was worldwide, they had a theme park and TV channels and stuff.
In the first draft of Dogma, I had to have been at a McDonald’s for that scene, but you wouldn’t get McDonald’s to have anything to do with a movie like Dogma. At that point, we tried to figure out which fast food joint we could get and then when we knew that we couldn’t get a fast food joint we just made one up.
In the world of making it up, I realized that Mooby Corp could extend itself into one more area with a fast-food joint based on the brand. It didn’t come out of any statement or stroke of brilliance, it came out of necessity more than anything else. I figured since Mooby’s was already all over the screenplay, why not add one more dimension to it with a restaurant that’s Mooby’s themed? Oddly enough, here we are living in a world where you can actually pull it off. Every time I put Mooby’s into a movie, it’s more about keeping it in the world and scene.
Each time I’ve had my characters grab some food it’s at a Mooby’s and at the very least it’s a cheap thrill for everyone who is being featured in it. Then in Clerks II, it was able to provide us with the entire platform of where to set the movie. When Dante and Randal lost the Quick Stop, they had to work somewhere so it was kind of like after threading the needle for so long Mooby’s got it’s own feature but once again it was out of necessity. It’s nice that it’s been kept around and alive as long as it has.
I don’t know if we’ll ever do a true brick and mortar, put down our roots thing where there’s a legit Mooby’s location, but as a popup you just get in and get out. For a one or two-week period, we literally have hit every Kevin Smith fan in the area, but once you’re out of those can it sustain itself as a regular restaurant? I don’t know, it’s got risks just like everything else. You’re at the mercy of the marketplace, so for a week to two weeks we’re doing gangbusters business for a restaurant and it goes very financially well for them.
One thing I’m super proud of is that folks are ordering via a reservation system and they’re ordering the food they’re gonna get long before they go to the popup, so since folks don’t feel like they’re being waited on they don’t necessarily feel the need to tip. With that being said, I can proudly say that the last four popups in the first week have made $10,000 in tips alone.
That does my heart good. These are real people, eating real food, and they’re understanding that there are real people behind the counter getting them that real food and they’re passing it on in a real way. They’re not just like, Hey! This is great!, they’re tipping before they even get into the experience so that always does my heart good.
It gives you a little faith in people, especially during these crazy times.
Even better than faith in people, it’s faith in my fans. Fuck people, I love the people who like what I do but they’re also representing me really well.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the film industry has changed a lot with documentaries taking more of a precedent due to the format’s easier ability to abide by the social-distancing guidelines. Live-action films have also had to trim down their sets and personnel while figuring out how to shoot various scenes without having any violations. As a filmmaker, how have you had to adapt over the past 13 months? Have you been doing any live shooting for any films you’ve been working on? Have you been doing a lot more studio work by yourself on a computer? What have you been doing to acclimate yourself to this new landscape?
One of the things I’ve been working on is a series for Mattel on Netflix which is Masters Of The Universe: Revelation. It’s animated so it hasn’t been affected by the quarantine at all, everyone involved just works from home. It’s not like a film production where we have to get everyone together for a wedding scene and we’re trying to figure out how the fuck to do it. With animation it’s all about how you’re going to go home to draw this wedding scene by yourself and then pass it on to the editors and so on. The process is never-ending and people are working on it all throughout until it’s ready to go.
At one point TBS did a show over the past summer called Celebrity Show-Off with the idea being that everybody’s stuck in their home, we’re going to send film packages to them and they can shoot their own little shows to put them up for competition for charity. I got to do a sitcom from my house, no one ever gave me a sitcom to do so I decided to give myself one. We made this little sitcom called Son-In-Lockdown which we shot in my house with my family. It could have been more custom tailor made but it was a good time, so I did that over the past year. I wrote both the sequel to Mallrats called Twilight Of The Mallrats and Clerks III, which both are being ready to make. We also rebuilt Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash and we moved down the street from the original location.
With the quarantine and the pandemic, a lot of comic book stores were closing so we thought about closing, but after a vote it was like, Why would you?. We moved down the street for the cheaper rent so we rebuilt it during the pandemic, and other than that I’ve been mostly getting ready for these productions. I’ve been able to stay busy; when the pandemic struck we were just coming off six months on the road for the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow Tour and showing the flick around the world. We were about to go to Australia and then they shut everything down, so by the time the government told us all to get in our houses I was more than happy to stay home for a few months. Then a few months turned into over a year but I got the kind of job where I can work from home, it’s been a lot of Zoomin’ and a lot of hosting things.
I’ve been Fatman Beyond and honestly, I haven’t had to change how I work. It’s going to be interesting to see how the world adapts to production in terms of zones that one moves through. As we go towards making Clerks III, I’m getting a taste of these protocols. I was originally going to have folks come watch us make the movie, but my producers told me that wasn’t going to happen because in order to have COVID-19 insurance, the set and everyone involved have to be in a bubble or inside a pod. It can’t just be having people stop by to see the production; in this era that we’re in, it’s not possible. The movie in a weird way gets more expensive after the pandemic costs, but in other ways it gets oddly cheaper, which is why Clerks III moves to the forefront because it doesn’t require a big set.
It’s just a five-person cast and that’s good enough for shooting a movie with the current guidelines. It’s pretty darn safe, as safe as you’re going to get but we’re also talking about by the time we start rolling cameras everyone would have been vaccinated.
The timing seems to be working out that the outlook is promising to have a proper film made. Has anything changed with the way you run the SModcast Podcast Network since the pandemic hit?
That’s been easy. You lose a little bit of sound quality when you have somebody Zoomin’ in rather than being right there with you in the studio, but other than that, for me it hasn’t changed that much. I do my show from home and 2020 will go down as the year that everyone found out how better it is to work from home, unless you got a one-room apartment or a family of five then of course it feels great to get the fuck out. Generally, if you can work from home in your pajamas then it’s bliss, so my podcast routine hasn’t changed, but people on the other side of the table became people who could jump on a Zoom chat. They don’t sound as good as they would in person or something else, but it enabled me to increase the quality of guests.
I recently had Ice-T on a podcast, and I doubt that I was ever gonna get him to come to my house, but he was like, Oh, I get to Zoom it? Fuck yeah, I can do it. It made things like getting cool guests even easier—Zoom has been every podcaster’s friend during the pandemic.
From the videos I’ve seen and the podcasts I’ve listened to, it definitely seems to be that way. You got Twilight Of The Mallrats and Clerks III on the docket, you have this Mooby’s Pop-Up Pick Up Experience going on and you’ve been working on the new Masters Of The Universe series, so do you have anything else happening later this spring or in the summer you’d like to share or is this pretty much it?
By the summertime, folks should be able to see the Masters Of The Universe series. I’m insanely proud of it, it’s epic. This is as close as I’ll get to making a Marvel movie with the cinematic scope and story while showing folks what I would do if I got to make one of those big budget movies. It’s so good and the folks at Powerhouse Animation have done an amazing job and our voice cast is nuts. Mark Hamill, Chris Wood, Lena Headey, Henry Rollins and Sarah Michelle Gellar are involved and it’s fantastic how they make these characters come to life. That’ll debut in the summer I believe and around the same time we’ll be making a movie, fingers crossed.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.