Kevin Smith Part 3
Interview Conducted by
Jack GirouxFinally, part three of this extensive interview with Kevin Smith. While it was originally intended to cover Cop Out, it became much more than that. It ended up transitioning from an interview to an experience. Yes, it was an experience being on the other end of the phone hearing Smith hilariously talk about Rex Reed, discussing his passion for comic books, and just his love for movies in general. It was a true marvel of a conversation. Smith is an excellent writer, an impressive director who's still evolving, and one terrific conversationalist. Types like Smith are hard to come by and that's a real shame. Here's what he had to say further about his career in general and a few films he's been involved in outside of directing.
DVD Talk: As a filmmaker, how do you think you've grown in the past few years? I know Jeff Robinov hired you for Cop Out because he thought you'd grown visually.
Kevin Smith: I am better and I don't mean that arrogantly. If you do something for fifteen years you better get a little better and I've been doing it for fifteen years. For all that time I've been saying I'm a director and now I'm finally able to really say I'm a director. You know what I'm saying (laughs)? When I first started talking about being a director it was because my sister gave me this cut of Tony Robinson's piece of advice when I said I wanted to be a filmmaker. I kept saying I wanted to be a filmmaker and she told me stop saying I wanted to be one and just say I am one. Just be it. She told me to make sure every thought I had was to be the thought of a filmmaker. Just be a filmmaker in your head and the world will follow. It works. For a long, long time. Fifteen years I wanted more people than just me to believe that I was a director (laughs). You get better at your craft and now I can stand back and say if I took my name off a film it'd be kind of indistinguishable. It's definitely not like P.T. Anderson, Spielberg, or people with a very distinct visual style.
DVD Talk: I'd say your films definitely have their own distinguishable style or signature. It's mostly dialog based, but still.
Kevin Smith: There are many different strengths in cinema. Visually, that's never been my strong suit. I'll be honest with you that it's never going to be my strong suit. I will always have to concentrate on the visual and have to put a little more effort into it. It's like how a dyslexic has to put more effort into reading. My head is just not built that way to think visually. That's weird considering I'm working in a visual medium. I think in terms of words and dialog. Fifteen years in it's just easier for me. Just as I fuck better now I make films better now. I can last a lot longer now than I could ten years ago. Same thing here. I don't rush in and blow my load early on. Now I can pace myself and shit like that. I've been through that before and now I play with the camera more. I put a little more time into. When there's a scene with two people talking and I think I could shoot it like I usually do or just do it like other movies do: by moving the camera. I'm more collaborative with my DP than I ever was. Back in the day, I'd just shoot the flick I had in my head and now I ask for his ideas. If I liked his idea better I'd use it. If I didn't, I'd say fuck lets just use my idea or we'll combine them. You just get better at the job, man. The more you let people in too. I was very dictatorial... maybe not dictatorial, but just a dick (laughs). I was very much a multitasker where I couldn't let go of things. I'm a writer so I couldn't let go of the script. It's the 10,000th hour theory. You're just gonna get better at it even if you're not trying that much. I never would've thought in a million years I'd try to go to Warner Brothers to get a job, but Jeff Robinov said he liked me and thought my sensibility could lend itself to that script. He thought I could make a movie unlike ten years ago where it would've just been another Kevin Smith movie. The twenty-four year old in me was yelling don't sellout and then the twenty-five year old me said, "you sold out when you fucking sold Clerks you dumb fuck." You know, reality changes with the older you get. In order for me to do the job I had to instill certain parameters for me to head into the lion's den. Dude, I fucking knew I was going to take it straight up the fucking ass making my first studio. Not by the studio, but later on. I knew critically I was going to get raped. I said to myself going in that I had to do it for the right reasons and put on some fucking armor. This is how I did.
DVD Talk: It was the Kobayashi Maru.
Kevin Smith: Totally, I re-rigged the goddamn machine! To me, the only way I could go through it and come out clean with those fuckers who were going to scream for my blood is to do it as cheaply as possible. Doing that by not taking a huge fucking salary. I took like an eighty percent pay cut just so I could stand there and face the shit storm. I could stand there and say, "I sold out? I took a studio paycheck? Fuck you. I took an eighty percent pay cut. Chew on that." You know what I'm saying? I knew what I was facing and you have to prepare for shit like that. I've been down this gauntlet fifteen times. Not this exact one, but different variations of it. It's just like what they say in fucking Battlestar Galatica, "this has all happened before and it's all gonna fucking happen again." Heading into this release I thought it was going to be like Mallrats. There was no way in hell it wasn't going to be like that. Clerks was an indie Sundance flick and then I did a broad studio comedy and then everyone cried foul. I'm coming from fifteen years of being an indie guy doing a studio flick that I didn't even write. That's even worse. I knew I was going to take it up the ass. You can't live your life being scared of what some dick head stranger is going to say about you on the internet. That took me a long time to learn and weed really helped open my eyes on that. Why do I spend so much time concerned about what people are saying about me when it won't take a penny out of my pocket or the food off my table? It's nothing. It's just words, dude. It took me a long time to realize that and put it into perspective. What I do is nothing but a pack of cards. It's not going to cure cancer and it's not noble work at all. It's only noble as much as making somebody laugh and maybe making their day a little easier. Other than that, it's really just people going out and wanting to fucking express themselves. I always describe the passion of making Clerks as a reasonable amount of un-reasonability. It was a thing where you just don't go and make a movie. You do your homework and you do your job. Don't go make a movie. That's fucking ridiculous. People in Hollywood make movies. You need a bit of un-reasonability to do that. You can't have an insane amount of un-reasonability because then you'd go, "I want 100 million dollars to tell the story of Clerks!" That's just ridiculous. Not even going that far. It would've been unreasonable for me to go make El mariachi with my budget for Clerks because I'm not inclined to do that and I also just didn't have an action movie in my head. That would've been unreasonable. It was a small amount of un-reasonability for someone like me who didn't come from a family of filmmakers or have much experience to go and do it. Why not me? After a while I just thought filmmakers were crafted and were sent from heaven! Where do these amazing creatures come from? Where do you grow a Spielberg? (laughs) On my twenty-first birthday I saw Slacker and someone told me I could do it. I thought you really don't have to be anything to do it. That guy was a director because he said he was. If I make a movie, say I'm a director, but don't even get paid I could say I'm a director. My sister's philosophy kind of took off.
DVD Talk: It must've been a crazy experience to see how Clerks took off with that thinking going in.
Kevin Smith: I get up every day next to a beautiful woman and it's because of that movie I'm with this woman. People misunderstand me when I say that and it's not because she's a fucking gold digger. If she was, I think she would've taken off a little while back. It's been almost eleven years and she ain't digging for gold. I wake up and look at this woman and think, "If I never made a movie about that fucking convenient store I never would've left New Jersey and met her." She's good looking, dude. When I wake up in the morning she looks good. Some people look like shit when they wake up and all messy. I'd still fuck her in the morning. When I get up from my big bedroom and go to my big bathroom I think to myself this all came from something whereI had the courage to do something and just did it. It was easy. I'm not saying it's easy to make a movie and that this will happen to everybody, but it was just so easy to make that decision even when people are telling me not to. It came down to just giving something a shot and just trying to get not too much in debt. Again, just a little un-reasonability. Making it for what we made for with my own credit cards was the way to do it. I was going to live or fail on my own, but I gotta a little help from my parents and Mosier's parents. I remember reading a story about how Sam Raimi went around saying how he was making a horror movie and people would just write checks for him. I can't imagine going to a dentist and saying seriously, "In this movie one mother fucker talks about sucking all these cocks." (laughs) I'd get kicked out of town. I had to create my own reality and I couldn't go the Sam Raimi route. I saw this interview with Robert Townsend and he did this movie called Hollywood Shuffle... He talked about financing this movie off credit cards and that credit card thing got stuck in my head. I had all the credit cards for shit and I realized I didn't have to ask anybody else for money. We the rented equipment and if they didn't take credit cards we would just make cash advancements on those cards. I had no idea about taking cash advancements since I never had cards. I was a cash guy. The day I went to go get something from Sears where they said they don't take credit cards, but someone told me I could do cash advancements. That was the greatest day in the production's history. Suddenly we had access to more cash than we ever had before. We could take those cards and turn them into liquid cash. It was a huge boost. Film has been a constant education for me, but it also has been in life. It's taught me so much about life. You find yourself immersed in situations you never thought you'd be in. You sink or swim quickly. You learn to stand your own in room without lying or putting on a false face. It's been a weird and interesting process. To me, that's one of the most interesting parts of film. Film is make pretend. It's a make pretend job where we're trying to be kids our whole fucking life. It's great when it works and sometimes you tend to forget the little things. I stopped realizing how lucky I was when I started to read bad reviews. You think you're entitled to a good review, but you're not. You're not even entitled to a review. Period. They do it and it's kind of nice, but they can suck sometimes. It's unhealthy, but you can't avoid. You wanna sit there every day trying to think you're very lucky, but you can't block that stuff out. Look at it this way, Brad Pitt is probably out there and accustomed to having sex with Angeline Jolie. That's something no one else can imagine. It's a thing where you've been doing it for a while and are just used to it, but you're gonna keep doing it. It's the same kind of thing. It fades into the woodwork. You sit there and are sad about what they say about the movie instead of yelling out you're just making pretend everyday and just take a look at your life. It's a mix of art and commerce. It's a bizarre hybrid and you're always caught in a battle of telling a story and presenting a story.
DVD Talk: That's kind of similar to what Eli Roth said to me a couple of weeks ago about being sad that he didn't enjoy the success of Hostel.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, I mean I'd be hard pressed to say that I haven't enjoyed the success of my career since I really have. I did keep things moving though for a long time where Mosier would say we should stop and enjoy things. That never occurred to me because I thought you just had to keep going and keep your foot in the ground. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate what was happening, but we were so focused about setting up the next thing. There were definitely times where I didn't spend enough times in the moment. I appreciated it, but there were points where I just didn't really soak it in. The danger lied down that path as well where you could easily fall in love with yourself. If you only read good reviews you'd start doing that. Thank God I didn't focus too much on the good reviews since then I'd have to read more of the bad ones.
DVD Talk: I'd like to jump a bit into a few of the films you've acted in. Particularly Live Free or Die Hard. What do you think of that film?
Kevin Smith: I liked it. I liked it a lot. I mean I would've liked it to be R and for him to say mother fucker, but for what it was, I totally dug it. The jet was a little over-the-top, but I'll take it. I remember when I first saw the jet bit it was my boy Len Wiseman telling me about it and I thought, "John McClane on a fucking jet wing?" I remember bristling and thinking he'd never do that. It soon became a comic book thing where you defend it in a sense of calling the idea of Superman turning back time by flying around earth unrealistic while the whole idea of Superman itself is unrealistic. Put him on that jet. He fucking deserves it. It's not what I would've done, but I totally enjoyed. It's no less credible than all the bullshit that went on in the Die Hard series before that.
DVD Talk: You definitely can't say Die Hard 2 is better than it.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, I wasn't the biggest fan of that. I only realized that when I found out I was going to be in a Die Hard movie and went back to re-watch them. The first one is still brilliant. I find the third one fun and enjoyable. Die Hard 2 wasn't the movie I remembered I saw it in theaters. It was literally more of the same, but not in the way we wanted from a sequel.
DVD Talk: I think you could say Live Free or Die Hard was the best sequel.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, I would. I think in one place I actually said that and people wanted to put my head on a fucking platter for that. After seeing all those sequels I kind of like the fourth one. It's very close in spirit to what Die Hard was about. It was fun to do and it oddly kind of led to this indirectly. They brought Bruce on and he had to approve me.
DVD Talk: I found it kind of surprising that some people thought Willis couldn't do a straight comedy. He was pretty good in Death Becomes Her and has done a lot of good comedic work.
Kevin Smith: Also Moonlighting. That was the first thing I knew him from. Not Die Hard. He came from comedy, but McClane changed his life overnight. I think he ended up not doing as much comedy as he wanted to. Bruce is a funny dude.
DVD Talk: Jumping into Southland Tales, what do you think of that film?
Kevin Smith: Southland Tales is kind of indistinguishable. I kind of have a hard time understanding what it is, but I admire it.
DVD Talk: You definitely can't say it's not ambitious.
Kevin Smith: That's the thing, man. He was a heart player. I don't know what's going on in his head sometimes, but he's definitely all heart. He's a true believer and on that level you wanna support it. Having seen the movie, I just had to ask Richard to explain it. I remember at one point he said it was important for him to tell a story more linear than Donnie Darko and I asked him, "when are you going to do that?" That definitely wasn't it (laughs). He had a plan and a vision in his mind for that flick. I think he accomplished it. I think he got it to where he wanted it to go. A lot of people certainly have a hard time seeing what he saw. I'm not dismissing them as dumb since even I didn't know exactly what it was about. I think even Richard isn't the best one to explain his work anyway. I remember talking to him about Donnie Darko asking him what it meant and he said, "I'm not sure." (laughs)
DVD Talk: (laughs) His commentary says that a little bit.
Kevin Smith: Totally. Sometimes it's better letting someone else talk about your work. I kind of liked it though. It was cool to be involved in a special effect too. He took my legs off and the makeup took a long time to put on. I remember reading all the time about that long process and then there I was for six hours under that process. It was another thing where I got to do something I never thought in a million years I'd get to do. I got to go in for a day, play a part, and not play Silent Bob. I got to surrender myself to another director and it's very rare for me not to direct myself.
DVD Talk: Have you seen it more than once though? It definitely grows on you.
Kevin Smith: Oh, totally. I dig it. I've seen that in three different versions. I saw the Cannes version, the shorter in-between one, and the final theatrical cut. People will act hostel about that flick though. It's where their just angry about it.
DVD Talk: Did you see his followup The Box? That was solid.
Kevin Smith: I haven't seen the theatrical version of it, but I saw the longest cut of that too. That was something around 2 hours and eighteen minutes. It was his first Director's Cut and it was long. I remember the general concept being awesome. All that stuff was awesome. What I saw though was very long and had a lot about Mars in it. I presume some of that would come out... did it?
DVD Talk: It was mostly just hinted at in the final cut.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, there was a lot more of that in the version of I saw. Lots. There was so much stuff about Mars where I said, "What about the story? Wasn't it about a box and pressing a button? Why is Langella's face missing?" I remember reading the first draft of Southland Tales and it read like a cross between Short Cuts and Pulp Fiction. It was set in the real world with no futuristic things. It's Los Angeles on the brink of a meltdown. When I read it I thought it would absolutely win an academy award for the screenplay. That thing was so fucking new and groundbreaking. When I showed up on the set I asked for my lines and they sent me the final draft of the script. Richard had completely put it through his Darko filter where it was now futuristic, had the drug stuff, and the processor in the ocean. It altered dramatically. That's his process. I said how I liked what he did before that, but it wouldn't be Richard if he didn't do what he did. Richard can only do what Richard does. That's how Richard sees the world: through Darko eyes. Everything ends up going through that filter and changing. For some people it's an acquired taste. I dig it. He's still willing to take chances. At age forty, you stop taking the chances. Life changes. You don't wanna rock the boat and you gotta push yourself. The thing that makes people like Richard and lesser me get hired is that we don't see the world like everyone else. Cop Out is fun and that is me pushing myself. Some say it was an easy studio job, but I've never worked harder in my life. Someday I'll tell stories and you'll hear some shit. That's what Red State is about. It's something I would've done fifteen years ago, but that's not to say it's the type of movie I would've done then. It's not comedic, but it's a bold movie. I don't care who likes it or doesn't like it. It'll piss some people off and some will love it. It's more in line with Clerks and Chasing Amy more so than Mallrats. Me doing Cop Out will always be a gutsy move of mine. Some won't see it that way. In the end, it's not that gutsy though. It's a cop comedy with Bruce Willis. Red State, nothing like that. It's a thing where you're just raging against the machine. It's like what we did when we were younger. It's just like I'd never discourage Richard from doing Southland Tales. While I loved that original script that he did I'd never tell Richard not to do that. He's not Richard Kelly if he's not taking that script and making it baffling. That's kind of who he is. I think people gotta respect who they are. For years people will try to hammer out your hedges and bitch. People will argue you're not original and then when someone puts their balls out on the table and does something crazy then and they say you've failed. Bullshit. You can't judge a failure in the moment. Maybe it was financially, but that movie is going to impact people for fucking decades. Maybe not like E.T., but the people who are affected by it will be severely fucking impacted by it. It's gonna hit them in profound ways. It's like the stuff I do. Not everyone sees it. Those who do, they'll take a bullet for it since it's speaking directly to them. Richard Kelly is exactly like that for a different bunch of people. For people who dig what he's reaching for or get their dick hard for his movies it's respected. It should be much more respected than people telling him to change something or saying he's doing it wrong. Let him do what he's gonna do. Every movie I've done I've been told by a critic that it's my last movie. I don't mean to bash critics, but that seems to be the discussion. There's been some critic on every movie predicting the end of my career on every movie. After nine movies, it's fair to say they're wrong. Richard should do the same thing. He sees the world a specific way and that's what makes him pop. Even if you don't get Southland, love it for what the fuck it is. So few people are doing that.
DVD Talk: You can still dislike a movie like that, but it's still okay to admit it's ambitious and aspires to be something more than most films.
Kevin Smith: Totally. There can be a movie I love and never see again. I loved District 9, but once that movie was over I never needed to see it again. I thought that was it. The magic of that is a one hitter for me. I had no idea what to expect and it took me on an amazing fucking journey. If I watch it again it just becomes a movie. It even got an Oscar nomination. If I saw it again I could easily say it's just Defiance with aliens. They handled the beginning so well and he made something completely different.
DVD Talk: Gotta ask, any realistic chance of seeing Clerks 3?
Kevin Smith: If it did, it would happen when they're in their forties. The first one was when I was in my twenties, the second one in my thirties, and I'd like to focus on them when I get to forty-three or forty-four. If we're all alive then there's a pretty good chance it'll happen. I'm sure I'll have something to say when I hit that age and I'd use Dante and Randall to express it. I don't think I'd bring Jay and Silent Bob back though. That'd be tough to explain. Like, would these dudes still be there? I don't imagine older people doing that.
DVD Talk: I can see Jay and Bob being those type of guys you see at parties who are obviously far too old to be there.
Kevin Smith: Totally. Buying beer for young kids and shit. Trying to get laid.
DVD Talk: The question you probably get asked the most I've left for last: how do you write your dialog? Where does it come from?
Kevin Smith: I don't know, man...
DVD Talk: Does it just come naturally?
Kevin Smith: That's how I hear it. There's that line in Good Will Hunting where Will said, "I can just play." That's kind of like how I hear dialog. Mosier's theory is that years and years before ever doing a movie I was writing. Just writing for the love of writing from when I was twelve to the time of writing Clerks. Mosier said I was just a fucking loaded gun when I got to Clerks. He was right. The more I thought about it all that practice came in handy. You develop a voice that's your own and if you're lucky it's distinctive. It's where people will accuse you of that all your characters sound the same. I don't know. I'm happy if all my characters sound the same. They should sound like me. I'm the guy who wrote. They don't all sound like me to some people.
Thanks again to Kevin Smith and the ones who helped set this up. Lastly, it was rather cool to hear Smith at the tail end of the interview discussing the site. Yes, he reads DVD Talk and had kind words.
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