Kevin Smith - Jersey Girl and Clerks X
Any time you sit down with Kevin Smith, no matter what the topic, you know he'll have something interesting to say. At the core, Kevin Smith's films are talkies. Whether it's two clerks engaged in a behind-the-counter debate on which Star Wars movie is better, or two stoner superheroes ranting about Internet Forums and Magnolia fans, it's the conversations that make a Kevin Smith film something really special.
I had the opportunity to talk to Kevin Smith about both the upcoming tenth anniversary DVD release for Clerks, the film which started off Kevin Smith's career, and the DVD release of Jersey Girl, a film which marks a distinct change in his career. Smith seemed very reflective about his career so far and had some interesting thoughts about what lies ahead.
So for Clerks 10th anniversary, 3 disc special edition, what exactly is the difference between the Theatrical Cut, the Unrated Cut and the Sundance Cut?
One looks terrible, and that's saying a lot, because the one that everyone saw looked terrible. There's a lot more stuff in the Sundance Cut, completely different soundtrack. What were doing on the DVD, which I think is kind of cool, is presenting exactly as it was seen. At one point we were thinking about doing a digitally remastered version of the movie, with the deleted scenes put back in, reconstructing the old one. Instead we were like, let's just take the Super VHS copy of the movie that we have, the one that Miramax saw, the one which all the fucking min-distribs saw, the one that started the ball rolling for us and our group and put that out there... So people can see like, 'Jesus, it's this!?! Somebody saw promise in this!' My favorite feature on the fucking DVD is The Snowball Effect - the documentary. It's just fucking phenomenal. You watch featurettes on DVDs and shit, and it always seems like it was footage shot for the EPK or something. Phil Benson, the guy who directed the doc and who works with us all the time, gathered up a fantastic array of people, anyone who had anything to do with that movie from conception to its purchase at Sundance, and interviewed them - brand new. It's really a great collection of interviews and what not - entertainingly told stories. Because it is kind of a cool underdog story. Unfortunately, if you've bought this DVD you know how the story turns out, but it's so well told that there are moments, when I was watching it I was like 'I hope these kids get a break', and I knew they got a break.
Revisting the experience of making Clerks, was there anything that you were reminded of that had an impact on you?
Yeah, there was, interestingly enough. When we were putting the doc together I realized that I really want to shoot a movie on High-Def Video. I like the look of it so much, it just looks like film, but when you blow it up, it's a little grainy and it reminded me of working in 16mm. It's kind of the 16mm of today. So, right away when I saw the first interview footage, I was like 'Oh God, I want to make a movie in this!' It's cheap, light weight, and I know people at Panasonic pretty well. We could get a bunch of cameras to shoot, we could get five cameras rolling and shit. So right away, I was like 'I want to make a $250K movie.' Watching the footage from the doc come together, that's what it did for me, on a practical 'what I want to do next' level. On a personal level it was just weird going back ten years. I know it's a cliche, but it doesn't fucking feel like ten years, it feels like last year, maybe. It's weird sitting there with Scott and we'd be interviewed on camera together, and the shit I would remember that he totally fucking forgot. I was like 'how can you forget that!?!' The shit he would remember that I totally spaced on. Hearing other people's perspectives on the same story was very Rashamon-like. It was really cool, and kind of wonderful. For a while I was dreading the 10-year anniversary, that just makes me feel old and doesn't make me feel celebratory. When the whole process was done, all the interviews for the documentary and all the added value for the DVD, it felt really cool. I felt like we did really accomplish something with Clerks. You get so caught up in the volition of the moment, I never really had a chance to kick back and appreciate how fucking lucky we were. I KNOW I'm fucking blessed, and I don't take shit for granted, but I really got to sit back and acknowledge that. The odds of this happening were fucking astronomically low, and how everything worked out for us on that movie, is mind bending. So it was kind of cool to be able to do that, relax for a few months and relish that, so I dig it.
So what's the latest with Big Helium Dog? Will we ever see it on DVD?
We were actually speaking to Best Buy, who has a distribution label called Redline, about putting it out, but the deal kind of fell apart. So, hopefully Miramax and Buena Vista Home Video will eventually pick it up. They recently picked up a movie that I really didn't have much to do with, except I was in it for a very brief role - Jeff Anderson's movie Now You Know. I brought that into them and said, 'Check it out', and they dug it and picked it up. So, hopefully we'll do the same thing with Big Helium Dog.
With everything on your plate, are you still going to have time to help out these indie films?
No, for me these were always payback pictures, where I wanted to give the opportunities to my friends that I had with the first movie. It wasn't like 'I want to cultivate a bunch of up and coming filmmakers'. For me, it was just for people I know.
Kind of like Eminem and D-12?
Pretty much. My friends Bryan Johnson, Vinnie Pereira, Malcolm Ingram and Brian Lynch. The idea was never, 'Hey, I'm going to help strangers' - fuck that. Charity begins at home, my mother used to say.
How much shit do you give Ben Affleck for the 'Bennifer Effect' on Jersey Girl?
Believe me I'm still sorting that out in my head. There was a period for about two months after the movie came out, where I was, I'd hesitate to say the word 'depressed', but I was in a fucking funk. Because we should have done better, that movie easily should have done double what it did. Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful we didn't do Gigli business. The fact that we were able to do 25 million bucks after Gigli is pretty fucking great. However, that movie should easily have been able to make $50 Million, it should have done Uptown Girls business or Raising Helen business. The fact that we did $25 Million, definitely Gigli had an effect. In that period when I was in a funk, I wanted to find someone to blame, because I know I did my job... Even if you read the reviews it wasn't like everyone was saying 'Oh this movie blows, because fucking Bennifer is in it.' A lot of people were just like 'this movie blows and this dude has no business making this movie.' All those critics who smashed this film were really hardcore supporters of my first five movies, and then interestingly enough all the people who hated the first five movies I did loved this movie.
It's such a different audience. It's not the fart and dick joke crowd.
And all those cats didn't show up. Some of them did, but I'm sure they'll be the ones who totally show up on DVD. I know the movie will totally make its money back and make Miramax a profit once the DVD hits. But still, it underperformed and you want to point a finger and you can't. What was Ben going to do, not fall in love with someone? It's not like someone put a gun to our head and said, 'You better hire Jennifer Lopez'. We wanted Jennifer Lopez in the movie, because she was in the movie it lead us to casting Rachell Castro, and Rachell is fantastic in the movie. If we hadn't cast Jen in her role, we might have cast someone else and possible never looked at Rachell in the first place. We looked at Rachell because she had a very striking resemblance to Jen.
You can't blame Miramax, because they did a really bang up job of marketing it. We can't blame it on not getting any press, we got more press than you can shake a fucking stick at, good and bad. Any time Gigli got mentioned, we got mentioned. Three weeks in advance of the release of the movie, we were getting press hits all the time and in every major outlet. There's nobody you can really blame, it just happened, it was what it was. So you can do the cogitative reframing thing where you're just like, 'well, theatrical doesn't mean shit'... which is kind of true...'and it's all about the life of the film after the theatrical window', which is always very brief. If a movie is really popular, really successful it's in theaters what, two to three months max. A killer weekend. But on DVD it lives forever. I know from experience that Mallrats died in the box office, and it became one of our biggest, if not our biggest fucking movie because of DVD. It's the gateway movie, the one people see before Chasing Amy or Clerks. It's how a lot of people found the stuff that we do - because of Mallrats, of all movies. So knowing that happened with Mallrats, I don't expect an exact repeat with Jersey Girl, but I feel that once it hits video, it'll find its audience and people will dig it in a way that nobody dug it theatrically.
Maybe it's one of those films that people will need to just discover on DVD...
Totally, like The Shawshank Redemption or something like that. That would be good!
What are you working on next?
Next up, I've still got to finish the script for the Green Hornet movie. I don't think I'm going to direct, I'm just writing it. Then I'm going to do that $250,000 movie I was talking about. Ten years in, the thing I start thinking about is: what I do doesn't require a lot of money, like the kind of movies I like to make. It's this (gestures to the interview), just put a camera onto this shit and let it roll. I just like fucking talking movies. Talk is cheap and shooting talk is cheap. I don't know, for me, I'd just like to make movies that are cheaper than what we got used to. Like Jersey Girl, I love that film to death, man, but there's no reason that movie should have cost thirty five million bucks. You can't even go, 'Well Ben got paid $10 million, and Jen got $21 million', because you're still at a $21 million dollar movie. There's no way that movie needed to cost twenty one fucking million dollars. So I'm trying to reign my shit in, be more in control of it. Not listen to people go, 'Well, this should be your budget'. Because it's not necessary.
- Geoffrey Kleinman