Exclusive: Kevin Smith Makes a Porno

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It’s kind of surprising that ComingSoon.net hasn’t talked to filmmaker Kevin Smith more often in the past few years, considering that he’s been a regular at Comic-Con in San Diego for the past ten years, and his movies generally appeal to the same audience that read this site.

Smith’s latest movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno has been making the festival rounds in the past month, but when it played at the Toronto International Film Festival, we got to sit down with Smith for an all-too-short interview on the movie with the rather deceptive title.

Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks are the Zack and Miri of the title, long-time friends and roommates living in squalor and forced to make some hasty decisions to pay their rent including, you guessed it, making a porno movie with Zack’s coworker, played by Craig Robinson from “The Office” and Pineapple Express. While some people might expect a movie full of sex, nudity and depravity, that’s only a small part of what’s ultimately a rather sweet and romantic look at friendship enduring through trying times. Even though Jay and Silent Bob may not be anywhere to be found this time, Smith made sure that his long-time partner-in-crime Jason Mewes did have a very revealing role.

ComingSoon.net: I guess when people hear the title for your new movie, they automatically think, “Okay, Kevin Smith is finally making porn.”
Kevin Smith: (chuckles) Yeah, “Apparently ‘Clerks II’ didn’t do well enough and now he’s in porn.” Yeah, I guess the title has been a boon and a bane in many weird ways. Like the title got the movie greenlit from just the announcement of the title when I was talking to Harvey Weinstein. He was asking, “What do you want to do after ‘Clerks II’?” I was like, “There’s this movie I’m thinking about doing, a comedy called ‘Zack and Miri Make a Porno'” and he was like, “Done, greenlit.” I was like, “Don’t you want to know what it’s about?” and he was like, “With a title like that, I can’t imagine it’s about much more” and I was like, “Well, I hope it is.” But at the same time, “porno” in the title is definitely going to put some people off, and it’ll definitely put off a bunch of people who would never see this movie anyway, but it might put off some people that would enjoy it because it is kind of a sweet movie.

CS: You kind of ended up making another romantic movie, which seems to be very common with your recent films as even “Clerks II” had this romantic thing going on. Is this your plan of getting people who might normally go see romantic comedies in to see them?
Smith: I just try to make the romantic comedy that I would like to watch, because I do respect and admire the romantic comedy but some of them are so chaste, and I’d just like them to kind of reflect more real life than just the kind of fluff that usually winds up in meet-cute stories. Certainly, I have to say we don’t have fluffy moments in this movie. If you’re going to do a rom-com, they’re definitely bound to be in there, but it’s how you get from Point A to Point B that’s kind of important and we do it a little dirty.

CS: Just a little dirty. At what point did you decide you wanted to have Seth and Elizabeth star in it?
Smith: I started writing the script with Seth in mind. It was written for Seth. I saw him in “40-Year-Old Virgin” on DVD, ’cause I didn’t see it in theaters, ’cause we were making “Clerks II” at the time, and when I finally caught up with it on DVD, I was like, “This dude is genius!” I like that movie a lot, and Carell’s wonderful, but Rogen was the true star to me, and I was like, “This dude needs to be a leading man.” So I started writing it and handed him the draft two weeks before “Knocked Up” opened, at which point I was like, “This dude is a leading man, like this guy’s on billboards all over town.” I was a little afraid we were not going to get him at that point. When you add to that the fact that he can generate his own material, he certainly doesn’t need anyone writing for him, but mercifully, he liked the script and jumped on it.

CS: That’s pretty cool, because I think if you tried to get him now, it would be twice the price.
Smith: Yeah, he’d be a mighty expensive get and you’d have to find room in his schedule, but we kind of got lucky. It was the first movie he signed to do after “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” broke, so he already had “Pineapple Express” in the can, and so there was this opening, but now there are no more openings in his schedule. He’s way too busy.

CS: Yeah, he keeps busy, and you also got a bunch of other guys who work with Apatow. Do you actually know him or have met him?
Smith: You know, I hadn’t met Judd until the San Diego Comic-Con this year when we were on a panel together, but you know we obviously have a lot in common, although not the box office.

CS: Not yet.
Smith: Well, we’ll see, but I said, “Hey, your boy killed it in our movie. You gotta come over and watch it” so he came over to the house and watched it a couple weeks ago, and gave it his blessing, it was really nice. He gave me an excellent suggestion, an excellent note on it as well about swapping out this one shot that was on the monitor in that scene in Delaney’s basement. I had a still image of them like engaged but he was just like, “Go use the real footage from that sequence where they actually make love. It’s just so powerful to have him watching it, you just get the impression that he’s watching the happiest he’s ever been in his life.” I was like, “That’s so great” so I used the live shot instead of the still.

CS: It’s funny that you’d never met, because when “40-Year-Old Virgin” came out and even the year before, everyone was saying, “You can’t make R-rated comedy” but you were doing it for years, but people thought that limits your audience. How did you feel about that since “Clerks II” came out in the middle of that.
Smith: Thank God that Judd Apatow did what he did because for years I was convinced that there was a glass ceiling of $30 million to any movie that mixes raunch with sentimentality, but those dudes shattered that ceiling and suddenly, I was like, “Oh, they’ve made commercially viable the kind of movie I’ve been making for a few years now.” So that’s kind of cool and it paved the way for this. Like ten years ago, we try to make a movie called “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” it wouldn’t happen unless we were doing it for like 500 thousand bucks and going right to arthouses.

CS: You’ve worked with Harvey Weinstein for years, and he’s never said, “You have to make a PG13 movie” or that kind of stuff. He wouldn’t do that, right?
Smith: No, he’s always been very good about letting us do what we want, and he knows that he can make his money back on us at the very least and sometimes turn a profit.

CS: Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like there’s a lot more improv in this movie than we’ve seen from you in the past. Is that a perception or is that true?
Smith: Well, it depends. I define improv as there’s no scene, a bunch of actors, “go make something up” but we always had structure on our set, because we always had the script, but there’s more ad-libbing in this flick than I’ve had in the earlier stuff that I did, maybe about as much as we had in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” but the wonderful thing about the ad-libbing this time is that Seth is so damn good at it. Seth is an innately talented ad-libber. He knows not just how to say something funny that’ll make the crew laugh on the set, but he knows how to ad-lib the line that’s organic to the scene and it sounds like it’s coming from the character, not the actor, and actually propels the plot forward, and that’s a guy that you always want around, man, because he doesn’t just execute, he elevates.

CS: Also Craig Robinson and Justin Long are amazing improvisers.
Smith: And Justin Long is an insanely funny man, very very talented. I think we saw the best Justin in “Live Free or Die Hard” because he got to kind of be Justin and be funny, and I think this movie, you actually get to see how much range the dude has. He should play Fletch, because he can just play 20 characters in that movie and still be one guy.

CS: I have no idea where that project is or who’s doing it, but that’s a good idea.
Smith: I don’t know where it is, but they should start looking at Justin Long pretty hard.

CS: Also, you gave porn star Katie Morgan some legitimacy and her first IMDb credit.
Smith: I dunno, she did have the HBO credit. When we cast her, I hadn’t seen her porn work and I’d never seen the HBO show, but I found her… I was looking up porno actresses, because Seth suggested, he said, “Look, why don’t we for the Bubbles and Stacy roles, let’s just go right to porn actresses because it’ll be so easy when it comes to the time where you’re like, ‘Okay, so we need you to take your top off.'” He said, “The worst thing you can ask a porno actress to do on your movie is a thousand times better than the least worst thing that they do on their day job.” I was like, “That’s pretty smart thinking” so I started looking up actresses and the problem is a lot of them are great at the sex and performance-wise, not quite there, but I found this clip on YouTube of Katie doing the performance part of a porn before it gets to the sex, ’cause that wasn’t on the YouTube part, and I was just like, “Wow, this chick can actually act. Is she really a porn star?” I started looking her up and she was truly a porn star, but she had really natural comic delivery.

CS: She has a personality.
Smith: She does. She has a total personality.

CS: And she’s so good in this, especially in that scene with Elizabeth, that I don’t think anyone would have any idea she came from porn.
Smith: Totally, and the nice thing about her, too, is she gives off this vibe of making sex fun, like she just has this sexy, fun vibe to her, and when you know her and talk to her, she has this incredibly boring, plain, free from controversy or strife backstory. Like most of the backstories you hear of people in the adult film industry, some of them are very sad, but hers is like, “I just wanted to do porn because I like having sex,” and I was like, “You are every 13-year-old boy’s fantasy.” It’s like this is what 13-year-old boys wish to hear is that the porn actress actually likes having sex.

CS: What’s your relationship with George Lucas like these days? Lucasfilm has an entire staff of lawyers whose only role is to look for copyright infringement, so how did you get away with doing a porn version of “Star Wars”?
Smith: They haven’t seen it yet and we mixed up at Skywalker, so there are people up there who are aware of it, but they’ve always been really good to us in the past about any of the other “Star Wars” stuff we’ve done. Granted, this one kind of pushes the edge of the envelope in terms of putting a set of nuts on R2D2, but hopefully, they’ll see it in the spirit in which it was done, which was a little bit of reverence and a little bit of risqué I’m used to.

CS: I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first “Star Wars” porn movie ever made either.
Smith: It has to not be. Somebody in the ’70s had to have done it, man, at the height of real porn, when they were shooting on film and what-not, and when they were still making porn that had movie title knock-offs to it, but I have yet to see it. I’m sure now it might surface if it exists.

CS: Before we finish up, I wanted to ask about “Red State.” What’s going on with that as far as it moving forward?
Smith: I hope so. We’re still looking for some cash for it ’cause it’s not a really commercial film at all. It’s very bleak and very dark and there’s no one to root for in the movie, so it’s kind of like a real film festival type of film but it’s not the type of movie that you can take into multiplexes and do a bunch of business with unless it becomes like a water cooler type of movie where people start talking about it. So we’ve had trouble finding financing for it but hopefully that’ll come together soon. Script’s all done, we want to make it for like $5 million in the Mid-West and do it with a bunch of unknowns and see what happens. None of those things add up to people rushing to you with a checkbook like, “I want to cast unknowns and I want to shoot in the Mid-West and I want to make it for $5 million! And it’s bleak and nobody’s going to like it!” Nobody’s rushing to give us money for it.

CS: I think people have certain expectations because you’ve done so much comedy and they expect if you’re doing horror, it’s going to be the most grotesque thing you’ve ever seen before that you’ve been saving up all these years.
Smith: Yeah, but it is definitely a 180 from everything else we’ve done including “Zack and Miri” but at the same time, it’s not like a splatter film. It’s not like slasher balls-to-the-wall gore, it’s more unsettling and disturbing type of horror.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno opens nationwide on Friday, October 31. Look for an exclusive clip from the film next week.

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