After writing and directing eight raunchy, irreverent and mostly independent comedies in his relatively short 15 year career, Kevin Smith certainly made a name for himself for a certain type of movie, building himself an incredibly devout fanbase from it, too. Who knows what was going through his mind when a script titled “A Couple of Dicks” crossed his path? Maybe as he reached his 40th birthday, he was looking for a much-needed change?
The story goes that writers Mark and Robb Cullen were the showrunners on a pilot Smith directed and when they sold their script for the movie to Warner Bros., Smith’s name was thrown into the ring as a possible director. The results are Cop Out, an ’80s throwback buddy cop comedy that brings together Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in a good cop/bad cop–that’s “bad” as in dumb and incompetent–scenario. It’s the first movie Smith has directed from someone else’s script, his first attempt at a genre widely regarded as the type that Hollywood often churns out, and it also trades Smith’s long-standing association with one set of brotherly distributors (the Weinsteins) for another (the Warners).
Kevin Smith is easily one of the most outspoken filmmakers out there, but let’s face it, the guy can ramble if given the chance, so being that we couldn’t get the type of opportunity that allows us to steer the interview into any sort of coherent direction, instead sitting in two back-to-back roundtable interviews, we’re calling this one “Kevin Smith’s Best Bits About the Making of ‘Cop Out.'”
Why Direct Someone Else’s Script?
“For me, it just happened at the right time. I’d come off ‘Zack and Miri’ which I loved so dearly with my heart, but it didn’t wind up doing much more than the standard Kevin Smith business, and that movie was supposed to be the one that punched us all through to the next level. Suddenly, that type of storytelling had become very profitable, telling stories about dudes that were in love with one another, who don’t f*ck yet. So suddenly, I was making one with the guy from the other one that was insanely successful, so I’m making mine with the ‘Knocked Up’ guy and everybody thought it would do $60-70 (million) but it wound up doing ‘Kevin Smith business.’ At that point, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m done, I give up, I can’t stand it anymore.’ If I were to write at that point in my life, which I often do, I would have been writing a script about this poor fat kid whose movie didn’t make enough money. Nobody wants to see that f*cking movie, least of all me. At that point, I’m like, ‘I just won’t say anything for a while.’ Into my life comes the script for ‘A Couple of Dicks’ that the Cullen brothers had sent to me because I worked with them on this pilot called ‘Man-Child’ for Showtime, so I’d seen the script and saw their name on it, but I didn’t know why they’d send it to me. Then I got an Email from Jeff Robinov, the guy who runs Warner Bros., and he said, ‘Hey, what do you think about A Couple of Dicks?’ And I said, ‘I can answer that question a number of ways.’ He wanted me to read it and I read it and I said, ‘This is funny, dude, do you want me to rewrite it? There’s not much I can do ’cause this sh*t is funny. I can take your money to rewrite but I’d only add a couple of jokes.’ He said ‘Not rewrite.’ ‘You want me to cameo? You want me to be that Dave guy, ’cause that part’s funny. I can see a fat guy doing parkour.’ He goes, ‘I find it very odd that it takes you three guesses why I sent you, a filmmaker, a script. That’s just really funny. Three guesses. I’m surprised you didn’t ask me if I wanted you to do craft services.'”
Brooklyn, Queens, Etc…
“I had no idea there was more than one borough in the city. I grew up in Jersey and whenever we said ‘The city,’ it was Manhattan, so this script was written for Los Angeles, and when we talked about coming over here to do it in New York, they did a rewrite and most of it was still set on the island. So when we got here, we were based out of Kaufman Astoria in Queens and I was like ‘Where is Queens?’ and they said, ‘It’s where Spider-Man lives.’ Once we were there, I spent more time there than I ever spent before. I was discovering Queens and then they introduced me to Brooklyn, but I’d heard about but always thought it was a fictional place from a storybook. Suddenly, you meet these two completely other boroughs that is kind of like the real New York in a weird way. I was meeting people in the boroughs who was like ‘I’ve never been to Manhattan, what’s it like?’ I was like, ‘You are SH*TTING me!’ and they’re like, ‘Have you ever been to Brooklyn before?’ No, good point.”
Letting Tracy Morgan Run Wild
“It never hurts to always unleash, because you can always rein it in in the editing room, so while we were on the set, I think for the first week, Bruce was like, ‘Why aren’t we cutting yet?’ because we would just keep rolling. The scene proper would be done but I’d still be rolling, because I knew Tracy would be like, ‘Okay, now the scene’s about to begin.’ It took a while for everybody to catch on that we’re just going to go and see what happens, and I’ll just call out sh*t like ‘Say this, say this!’ Having Bruce there absolutely helped because Bruce would be a true governor where he would be like, ‘This is not funny. Why are we talking about this?’ so we were like, ‘Okay, if Bruce doesn’t think it’s funny, let’s rein it in.'”
An Audience of One… Named “Bruce Willis”
“All of us were stepping up our A game just to make this one f*cking dude laugh and I think that is part of the reason why that scene is so funny. He didn’t figure it out until the very end. I think Bruce felt, ‘Ah, we’re all making a movie,’ but he’s got 25 years. He’s got longevity in a business that doesn’t have longevity anymore. When I was a kid and I walked into a video store or movie theater, they’d have a picture of Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, sh*t like that, to represent movies. He’s that face. He represents movies now. You go into a video store or a movie theatre and they have murals? There’s John McLane or any number of things he’s been in. He’s like a living legend and sh*t and I was intimidated ’cause I’d never worked with a movie star before. Please don’t tell Ben Affleck I said that.”
Working in the Studio System
“I give credit to Jeff Robinov. This is the nearest thing that I can figure out now that I’ve been inside. This guy seems to be making all these weird decisions and moves that are good. Basically he takes interesting filmmakers and puts them into studio movies, so you’ve got Guy Ritchie shooting ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ you’ve got Christopher Nolan shooting f*cking ‘Dark Knight,’ you got me shooting ‘Cop Out.’ There was some other f*cker they did. I like what they do here, but I make movies that need a needle to be thread and they make chainsaws at Warner Bros. Their thing is that ‘We like how they thread a needle but let’s see if they can make a chainsaw.’ You got cats doing stuff you wouldn’t normally associate them with and I like that, that’s ballsy, that’s trying for something. Soderbergh laid the ground. He went into Warner Bros. first and said, ‘I’m going to make ‘Ocean’s 11,’ I’m the guy who made Schizopolis.” You can’t make two different f*cking movies than that! But he did and he was successful.”
Studios Do Have Their Benefits
“The best example of having them behind you is three weeks I was up in Toronto and we were four weeks out from my release right now and there was more awareness for my movie this far our than there was for ‘Zack and Miri’ 12 seconds ago, that’s the difference. When we had the title hiccup, when there was the moment where we had to change from ‘A Couple of Dicks’ to ‘Cop Out,’ their whole thing was, ‘We can’t market the movie effectively if we can’t run ads before 9pm.’ That was the problem. If we can’t do that, we can’t market the movie effectively. I was like, ‘What are you talking about? It’s an R-rated movie, we’re going after people who watch TV after 9 anyway!’ Their marketing is like the Bombing of Dresden, they just take it out and they make a huge impact. You cannot turn around without being aware of that movie and what it’s kind of about and when it’s opening, that’s how they market. So the idea of them not being able to advertise before 9pm terrified them. Once we agreed to change it and they started their marketing campaign a month later, you could see why they were nervous. You can’t do what they’re doing with this movie if you’re hamstrung by a time. They’ve owned the Olympics for the last week. Every time I’ve watched an Olympic event, it’s like ‘Sponsored by Cop Out’ and I’m like ‘WHAT? I made that movie!!!’ Because for fifteen years in the world I come from, I was so involved in the marketing and publicity and they always tell you where it is and what you need to do to make it better, I was used to that, and these cats are like, ‘You did your job, you made the movie, thank you, we got this from here.’ All of a sudden, you’ll be walking somewhere and there’ll be a billboard up and you’ll be like, ‘How did that happen?'”
The Retro Music
“Ironically, we were shooting the movie and I would always say to Robb and Mark Cullen, ‘Am I crazy man? I just want Harold Faltermeyer to score the movie.’ The vibe I was going for when I was shooting was ‘Fletch,’ and I was temping the movie with ‘Fletch’ cues and sh*t. At the same time, Faltermeyer apparently went into Warner Bros. and was just like, ‘Hey, man, I feel like scoring again, what do you guys have?’ ‘Well, we’re not sure, but we’ll get back to you when we figure something out.’ Then all of a sudden, I was calling someone at Warner Bros. going, ‘Hey, would you guys fight me on Harold Faltermeyer?’ So they put us together and I loved him so much. He watched our temp cut which had all of his music in it from ‘Fletch,’ ‘Tango & Cash,’ ‘Beverly Hills Cop,’ so he was just f*cking flattered. He was sitting there watching the movie where he was the third character the whole time, so when he came back to do the original score–as opposed to all the cues of his we stole before–he just did a great job. I loved every time I would get an Email from Harold Faltmeyer and there would be a cue in it. Pull it down, put it in my iTunes and listen to it and the first time I heard the theme song, the main cue? I just wanted to go back in time and tell 15-year-old me, ‘You’re going to have a Harold Faltermeyer theme song in your movie!'”
Before we wrapped up, Smith also talked about editing the movie himself and how important that is to his creative process even for a movie he didn’t write and how hard it was for him to accept the fact that the studio wanted another editor to come in after Smith to do a pass on it. Like with Faltermeyer, Smith threw out a name of an editor he liked and trusted, that being Stephen Mirrione, the Oscar winning editor of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, and Warner Bros. indeed got Mirrione to look the movie over, but he only made a couple of changes.
All of the above culminates with the release of Cop Out nationwide on February 26.