Kevin Smith Interview
Kevin Smith is as witty, hilarious and as talkative as his films are. If you only had a few questions to ask, you'll most likely still end up talking to him for an epic amount of time. This isn't meant to be a slant; Smith is an interviewer's dream. He gives insightful, long-winded answers and the interview goes by so quick that you lose track of time. Talking to Smith for two and a half hours couldn't have been more fun. While Smith and I spent a good amount of time talking about his latest film Cop Out, we ended up covering a lot of ground. This is part one of a three part interview, make sure to check back sometime next week for part two. Cop Out is now in theaters.
DVD Talk: When you read the script what did you think of the idea of having a baseball card as a maguffin?
Kevin Smith: It was kind of cool and I liked the fact that I kind of knew that world. Back in the day, before people paid attention to comic books or thought they were viable, most of the time if you bought your comics at a place you were most likely also buying baseball cards too. Most of the time they were combo shops. I've been in that world and in a lot of those stores. As I was reading it I thought it was something that I'd never seen done before and I've never seen it referenced. You've seen baseball cards in movies, but never as a unit of currency or a part of the plot. I don't know, I just kind of liked it. It felt fresh to me.
DVD Talk: You also have a drug addict as a plot-driving device.
Kevin Smith: I kind of dug that too and Sean always wanted to keep that alive no matter what, with whether he be adding to it or ad-libbing. He always wanted to stress the fact that he was on drugs (laughs). He just liked that about his character. Everything about the dude is that he's constantly aped up on eight balls. That's how he wanted to play it.
DVD Talk: A lot of people have been saying how Cop Out is a big departure for you, in some aspects it is, but it's still very dialogue driven and just two guys talking a lot.
Kevin Smith: I know, it's a departure that I didn't write it, but I was definitely drawn to the material because it was well into my comfort zone. In terms of like it is just two people talking, there's a few tentpole sequences, but other than that you got two dudes in a car. What's the difference between that and two dudes at a counter? It was in my wheelhouse and I felt comfortable because of that. I just had to kind of man up or nut up for the tougher stuff, but you get help there to all the time.
DVD Talk: Even with those sequences, like the shootouts, there's honestly not that much.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, that's true. Once you get people into shootout-mode where you got your special effects guys, squibs and having your bullet hits going here and there then it's just like everything else. It's kind of like doing a dialogue scene, but it just takes longer to reset and nobody is speaking. The loud noises and action is just taking place and the dialogue is in the moment. I always thought of it as way more daunting and scary, but it's not. It's just time-consuming and that doesn't appeal to my very lazy nature even though somebody else is doing all the work. After you do it a few times on the flick you just get used to it and you figure out what to do with yourself during those long setups. I always wondered why directors have trailers, because I was always on set, but when you're dealing with effects and what not there's some free time. During those times you can just go sit down, write something, or eat something which was normally the case. Suddenly I got used to having my own trailer on set.
DVD Talk: Would you say that this is sort of your way of parodying cop movies?
Kevin Smith: A little but, but to me, a parody is Not Another Teen Movie. That's more of a parody, but I think what we're doing is what is said in the first few minutes: homage. It's total homage. I went about it like this: I remember reading an interview with Spielberg and Lucas back in the day in the era of their popcorn movies where they always talked about how they just wanted to do the serials and cliffhangers that they grew up watching as kids. Essentially Raiders of the Lost Arc was Spielberg and Lucas doing the westerns and the cliffhangers they saw when they were young. I just thought I was going to approach Cop Out the same way. Granted, we'll never have the same results, but I remember I was going to borrow that ethos and just try to make my version of that movie I've seen so many times growing up. I went about it as if I was sixteen in the heart of the buddy cop genre at its finest hour and as if someone gave me the script and money then this is the one that I would've wanted to make. Thankfully, I got about fifteen years of filmmaking experience under my built so it probably looks better than the one I would've made at sixteen. The one I would've made at age sixteen probably would've looked more like Clerks. When we were shooting I was just going to try and borrow a page out of Michael Ritchie's Fletch. I was going for that tone and that feel. Ironically, the Fletch movie I would've made back in the day would've been closer in tone Soderbergh's Out of Sight. Have you seen Out of Sight?
DVD Talk: Love Out of Sight.
Kevin Smith: That's the tone I would've went for with Fletch one, but with Cop Out I wanted to go with the tone of the movie version of Fletch and not the book, but I was a big fan of the book. That's kind of what we emulated the whole way. So much so that midway through the shoot I turned to one of the Cullen brothers and said, "would you guys mind if we got Harold Faltermeyer to do the score?" and they said, "why would we mind that?" I knew he hadn't worked in a long time and he's a required taste for some people. I spoke to somebody at Warner Brothers at the music department and I said I was thinking of Harold Faltermeyer and they told me he just came in a couple of weeks ago talking about wanting to do film work again. He took a while off. They were nice about it, the whole studio was nice and supportive. Most cats would've been like, "real funny Kevin, move on," but these cats got what I was going for and they think Faltermeyer is fantastic. Here's the project that absolutely makes sense in the spirit of what he's done with Beverly Hills Cop, Fletch, and Tango and Cash. I thought they might fight me on it, but they were very supportive. I didn't have to fight the studio ever, because they're like Harvey and Bob where they leave you alone during production. I think where I would've gotten into fights with the studio would've been with the script development, because that's where I tend to get really touchy, but I didn't write it so I missed all that. This was a turn-key operation for me where I got to bypass where we truly would've butted heads and with the whole directing I probably would've never have butted heads with the studio, because they'd probably tell me I'm not doing enough. It would never be me going, "you guys don't understand, man," it would be, "this is seriously how I see it, why are you laughing at me?" For me, we worked really well together. After years and years of thinking of a studio as this big thing it's still really the same thing.
DVD Talk: Your films do relatively good business and they do greatly on DVD, does that type of success give you more creative freedom?
Kevin Smith: Not really, I mean I get creative leeway when I'd doing my stuff because I think at that point people think they cant really give me notes about how to be Kevin Smith since clearly that's my world. In this world, there weren't a lot of notes handed down, but there were. I had a boss and I wasn't like, "I got this." They hire you to do something tonally and it's as if they hand you the box to an ikea desk with a few directions on how to build it. They just want you to build the desk and they want you to bring your style to it but, at the end of the day, it better look like a fucking desk. That's what they hired you to do. They were kind of interested in what I would bring to the desk, so to speak, but at the same time there were parameters. If I said I was going to throw everything out and do a scene instead where Bruce ends up sucking off a donkey like in Clerks II, they would've yanked that right away. Thankfully, I've worked in comic books where you're a safe guarder of a character for the time being that you didn't create. Being that I worked on Daredevil and didn't put a dick in his mouth or work on Batman and not have someone shit on his face on the set of a porno I knew I could sell a story without it being all me or having just a Kevin Smith story. I knew I could play the ball where it laid and respect the material and the stadium in which I'm playing in. I couldn't walk into Warner Brothers and tell them everything they thought about Cop Out was wrong and I'm going to do it a different way. That would just be weird and wrong. That's not what I was asked to do. A lot of people are saying, "I've sold out and made a studio movie," but those cats just don't get it. For me, it was all a big experiment. I've been making movies for fifteen years and I described it in Canada that I've been playing in the minor leagues and now I'm playing in the NHL. No matter what your stats are you just wonder if you can play in the NHL and Cop Out was a way to see if I could do that. I tried to do it on the most stable legs possible by trying to do it on their terms. It would've been a weird experience or not nearly as comfortable if I went to them with something of mine but, to be fair, they probably wouldn't have made it. I kind of get it now. These cats are definitely interested in me doing their stuff as long as we understand that about each other then we'll always have a good relationship. I would hesitate to go there with my own script, not because I think, "these fuckers don't get it," they just wouldn't make it. They wouldn't make any of the stuff I've made prior to Cop Out, but maybe if I got them on a good day they would have made Zack and Miri Make a Porno, because they did make Observe and Report. The chances that these cats would ever do a Clerks, a Chasing Amy, or god forbid a Dogma is none and none. You gotta understand that going in and it's just one of those things where I'm doing their stuff and as long as they understand then we have a good relationship. It's not rocket science. Steven Soderbergh laid the model down with being a cooky independent, but he'll work in the studio system because he knows the audience. He's not going to make Schizopolis when they hand him the script for Erin Brockovich. He's going to make that movie, but we're still doing are own with telling the stories we want to tell. Every once in a while... I was lucky for fifteen years where I never got to that point, but now I guess I'm there where it may come down to one for me and one for them.
DVD Talk: It's a give and take.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, for years I dodged that bullet. I got to walk into Bob and Harvey's office and just ask if I can do something and they'd just say sure. To me, that was how it only went because that was the only world I knew. After I left there you find out pretty quickly it's different. It's not like I walked in places expecting to be treated the same way, but I got it. I'm in a world where I'm playing on their ice, so to speak, and the chances are you're going to be wearing their skates.
DVD Talk: That's what I find so interesting that plenty of reviewers keep saying this is you selling out, but this really is your lowest paycheck since Dogma.
Kevin Smith: Since Dogma, yeah. This is the least amount of money... To be fair, I get paid an obscene amount of money to do what I do. I'm overpaid, never bitch. It was definitely an eighty-percent pay cut from what I made on the previous flick, but that being said, lets be honest this is more money than what most cats will make this year. I cant be like, "I'm poor," but eighty-percent is a huge drop. I don't care about whether you're talking millions or nickels, eighty-percent is a big drop. I kind of gave mine up because we wanted to make the movie R-rated. If we were willing to make the movie PG-13 everyone could've went full fee and I would've made some ridiculous studio directorial fee or maybe not so ridiculous, but certainly it would outrage the people who can't stand me and what I do. For me, I was just thinking you couldn't make this movie PG-13. There's no point and none of those movies were. Lets just do it as it's written as an R. Plus, you got Tracy Morgan. Why wouldn't you want Tracy to swing for the fences? Money is a weird thing to me. I like the money I make in this job, but it's never been the aim. For me, I just wanna be inspired and be a true believer and shit. This was a true believer situation because they were setting it up like Mirmax would have. They'd show you the box, tell you how to get done, and what are the sacrifices you're going to have to make to do it. These are the hoops you gotta jump through. Having trained with Harvey and Bob for years they were easy hoops to jump through. I'm the guy who's, "give me less money, I don't need more to make this story." For me, that was inspiring and a challenge. Those were comfortable terms under which I could make my first studio film, but technically, I've been making studio films since Mallrats. Universal owns that and Disney owns the rest of them. Last time I checked, Disney is a pretty big studio. This was like my first Warner Brothers logo upfront, no Harvey, no Bob and not much to make of it. It's like hockey, with Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr. They had their ups and downs, but after a year where they're looked down upon the next year they come back... Now that I smoke as much weed as I do, and I've been doing that for a good year and a half, I'm not just a flat-out stoner anymore, but I just always got THC floating around my system. Now that I do that, I'm able to view my career in the same way. Don't get hung up on the moment, dude. This is one thing. Longevity allows you to do that. I've been making movies since technically 1993. That's sixteen years, I can look back and go, "I went through this before on Mallrats. Then, years later, everybody loved that movie. So it's like, who cares what the bad reviews say?" I've been through this and I now have parallel experiences for a lot of things. I've had a lot of relatively good moments that would be lesser to others, but that are big to me. I feel like I'm okay. Having just had a movie that opened up very well for the first time - I've had movies opened well, but not like this. With this, you start to get emails and phone calls from motherfuckers that never paid attention to you before. For years you think if you have one of those type of openings the air will be so much sweeter, the pussy will be so much fucking better and even pita bread will magically taste fucking better. I'm here to tell you, everything still stays the same. People are still shitting in my mouth on the Internet and there's still people putting halos on my head on the internet. Nothing has changed. A few more people call you up and some more doors open up, but it's more or less the same. Now I'm more interested in seeing where the career goes. There's that old adage of there's no such thing as failure, because everything is a learning experience. For years you go, "that's bullshit, failure is failure and failure is enough to repulse a winner like myself!" (laughs) You reach a point where you've failed a lot - maybe not a lot. I've won more than I've failed. The good thing is when you stumble or when people jam a huge fucking cock up your ass, as they did with the reviews on Cop Out, something always good comes out of it. Even in the moment, but you don't see it in the moment because you just notice all the shit that's happening. Two years from now completely different story. Shit, maybe even one year from now. Dude, life moves so fast and if you talked to me two weeks ago I would've said I'm never leaving my house again. The whole world is saying I'm fat, but now two weeks later it's as if nothing happened. Life just moves so quickly and you stop focusing on what everyone is saying about the movie... Somebody told me that one reviewer literally asked for me to retire.
DVD Talk: Plenty of the reviews have been pretty mean-spirited.
Kevin Smith: Very mean-spirited. Very few of them actually seem to review the movie.
DVD Talk: Did you see Rex Reed's review?
Kevin Smith: I didn't, but I heard about it. At first there was that kid in me who liked to fight with people on the Internet for when they say shit about my movie. Not when they just don't like the movie, but when they just say wrong shit. Why get mad over a fucking opinion? What's the point? First, that kid in me bristled me and said, "what did Rex Reed say!" Rex fucking Reed is like an eighty-year old man, nobody even reads Rex Reed. Someone read me a piece of the review and it sounded like he didn't even see the movie. It's like, how can he talk about me like that? He doesn't know me. In fact, with all due respect, when someone told me Rex Reed wrote a terrible fucking review for the movie I said, "Rex Reed is alive?" He's such a name from my youth. Rex Reed is a regional name from my youth that I was surprised and delighted to find out he's still alive... until I found out he was shoving his fucking cock up my ass in print. That made me think, "boy, I wish Reed wasn't as alive as I just found out he was." I don't wish he was dead, I just wish he wasn't reviewing the movie. I just thought that nobody fucking reads Rex Reed, why should I care? Even if people did... We all knew this was going to happen to the movie, but maybe Adam Siegel didn't though. Adam is one of the producers and one day while we were in the editing room we were chitchatting and he said something about reviews possibly being positive. I paused the monitor and turned around and said, "Adam, you and I gotta have a serious talk." I told him we were not going to get good reviews on this movie and when he ask me why, I just said it was never going to happen. When he responded that I was involved I said, "Number one, that doesn't guarantee good reviews. Number two, that's probably going to get us targeted." There's a huge target on this movie's back because of me. There's a lot of cats that love to tell me what I should be doing. I told him I had to prepare, told him not to expect good reviews, and actually just expect bad reviews. I just didn't expect they'd be that bad (laughs). Boy, they fucking spared no quarter and just went at it. Again, and here's the God's honest truth, I only read two reviews. One was The Village Voice, which I loved so much and I just said, "I never need to read another review!" Which was good since the rest of them would be so horrible (laughs). The other was the L.A. Times, because I was told we got one from the home team, and I just shouted like Ghostbusters, "we got one!" That was enough for me. Honestly, I'm sure I'd say this just now because I got the worst reviews in my career on this movie, but I honestly didn't even read the reviews on Zack and Miri Make a Porno. They were good for that, I saw the Rotten Tomatoes number and I was pleased. That's all I needed to know. I used to care what was written about me and the movies, and now that stuff just doesn't interest me anymore. I'll tell you what, that fucking Southwest thing fucking teared me from ever wanting to see my name in print again. That was so horrible, two days straight the topic on the news was fat, fat, fat. Believe me, right then and there I was just going, "I'm done reading about me." I used to collect articles written about me and put them in a book laminated, because my mother told me to do that. Someone finally pointed out to me on Clerks II that the Internet exists and they save everything. I realized they were right and I guess I didn't have to keep doing that anymore (laughs). I'm glad I did it, because all those articles from back in the day aren't all online. I still had all those, but then I stopped doing something that defined me for ten years. For ten years anyplace, any article or anything that dealt with me or the movie it would get cut out, go in a pile and someone would laminate it and it would go in a binder. That's the world I came from. Miramax saved all of its press clippings and I was urged earlier on to do the same thing. You gotta keep a record. We didn't know the Internet was coming, but when it did and we didn't have to do that anymore. That was such a huge thing for me and a big part of my life, but then one day it just went away. Same thing like the reviews. That used to be a big part of what I did. That was the only way you knew in the beginning what you were doing. I couldn't talk to, I mean I get to talk to you, but you didn't get to talk to a critic and you only read their reviews. I couldn't talk to some guy who just bought a ticket unless I went to a movie theater and hung out to talk to people. Now, thanks to the Internet, I can hear from those people who bought tickets. That's what it's all about. Not to be dismissive of critics especially now at my weakest, critically speaking, but I would rather hear from some dude who went out to see the movie during that blizzard that just hit the east coast than hear from Rex Reed who didn't eve see it, but just wanted to tee off on me for a couple of paragraphs. At the end of the day, those cats - the critics, God love them - they see it for free and then they have the ability to shove a knife in you. What a weird dopey system that is. I don't know, you just reach a point in the growth process of this business where the house wins and they're going to get ya. They're going to see your movie for free and they can fucking shit in its mouth if they want to now. Unfortunately, for those of us who just like movies even when they're not so bright that stuff just doesn't matter anymore. Critics don't make or break movies. They can make or break a documentary here and there. They also shine a light on some wonderful movies, but no critic has the power to break a movie anymore. Come on dude, those are some of the worst fucking reviews I've seen in a while...
DVD Talk: For big movies, like Transformers, most people really don't care what critics have to say.
Kevin Smith: No, of course not. It's ridiculous and it's a waste of time to have some critic write a fucking review of Transformers or Cop Out. There's no point. Get a twelve-year old to review it because that's who you wanna hear from. I'll believe a twelve-year old. If they say something sucks I'll believe it. If a twelve-year old says something rocks, I'll believe it. I'm not going to believe some fucking dude or chick who says, "I saw the movie for free, had a few hours to digest it, had a chance to think of my political stance on the filmmaker and the studio and had the chance to think about the people I want to push or hold back on, and now I'm going to write my fair and unbiased review." It doesn't work like that. I believed that forever since that was the world I was raised in. I believe to this day the New York Times review of Clerks made my career. Janet Maslin opened so many doors with that review. That review meant something. Reviews don't matter as much anymore. Why? Because you can talk to the fucking audience. That was the only way to hear about. I don't know, it's weird. I'm not bitter about it, because I didn't read many of the reviews. Even if I did, it's just a lot of energy to spend on a movie that didn't try to do anything besides making people laugh. That was it and that was our agenda. It has nothing to do with art except for the art of making people laugh. We had very talented artists onboard to make that happen. But for a movie like this, why even bother reviewing it? To me, it just makes a film critic look like a bully. Why bother?
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