It’s been over two years since ComingSoon.net has spoken with filmmaker Kevin Smith for Cop Out and a lot has changed in that time, most notably his decision to self-release his religious horror film Red State and throw himself into the world of podcasting, internet and cable television.
Over the past ten or so years, Smith would regularly appear at Comic-Con in San Diego and have his own Q & A panel in Hall H even if he didn’t have a movie to pimp and he toured with that, before the cable network EpixHD asked him to do a number of exclusive specials, the latest one, premiering today, November 30, being “Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under,” which has Smith and his long-time on-screen partner Jason Mewes recording their “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old” Smodcast in front of an audience in Australia.
When you talk to Kevin Smith, there’s no such thing as “to make a long story short” and in the 45 minutes ComingSoon.net was on the phone with Smith earlier this week, he covered a lot of ground, answering many questions we had, as well as quite a few we hadn’t even thought of asking. Even though Smith tends to go off on rants, we never got the impression that he’s angry per se. In fact, he may be happier than ever, having found a certain artistic enlightenment by not forcing himself to make another movie after finishing Red State and focusing on some of his many other projects, all of which he touched upon in his usual bluntly honest fashion.
On How the Epix Relationship Came About:
We wondered how it came about that EPIX were so keen on getting into the Kevin Smith business with “Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under” being their third special.
“On Epix alone, I’ve done two of those show. I’ve had four DVDs prior to that but the first time Epix came to me, said ‘Hey, do you want to do one of your Q & As?’ and that was ‘Too Fat for 40′ which was right after SouthWest, so that kind of made sense. ‘Hey, people have heard of you because of that plane thing. Want to try something out here?’ I thought they’d do it once and that would be it and then they came back and asked me to do another one. I said, ‘Yeah, I have a sh*t ton of stuff on my mind.’ I’d just come off the ‘Red State’ tour, so it pretty much became this weird ‘Red State’ companion Q & A, part story of ‘Red State,’ but really it’s this love letter to the audience saying ‘Get off your ass and go do this.’ Anybody can do this. That special ‘Burn in Hell’ was all about, ‘Let me tell the story of Red State’ but before these cats leave, let me f*cking arm them for a war on banality. ‘Go out there and make some f*cking art, kids. Don’t ever be told you’re not f*ckin’ talented.’ I saw an article online where someone said Quentin Tarantino is untalented and we all know that’s f*cking factually untrue, so in a world where there can be somebody with the opinion that a genius like Quentin Tarantino is untalented, that means you’ve got a shot and it’s a level playing field.”
On Why He Hasn’t Been Making Movies
This is actually what began our conversation when I made the comment that he seems like a really busy guys these days and mentioned all the stuff that he’d been doing since Red State.
“What got me into the film business was me following my heart and chasing the passion of ‘I gotta make this movie on a dime’ and now I’ve gotten to a point where now I’m just making movies because that’s what I do for a living and it went from being the art to being the thing that was paying the bills. You don’t want to treat your art that way. It’s like loving someone and just using them for sex. You balance it, so I said to myself, ‘Slow down, just stop or don’t do it.’ There’s an expectation that if you’re not making films then ‘who the f*ck are you because that’s what you do for a living?’ I had these little offshoots of things that I liked doing that I could also figure out how to do because walking away from movie money, trust me, that was tough, dude. That movie money is heroin. I haven’t had the big paycheck since ‘Zack and Miri’ but back in the day, they give you fat money to make pretend and it’s tough to walk away from that money. You’re like, ‘I’m going to make pretend anyway, but if I don’t do it with these cats, I won’t get all that sick money,’ but then you become beholden to that money and as an artist, you can’t perform like that all the time. The sh*t that made up ‘Clerks’ and ‘Mallrats’ and ‘Chasing Amy’ was a lifetime’s worth of experiences and then I shot my wad making those movies, even ‘Dogma,’ and for the next seven where I left the real world and just started making movies for a living and my whole life was making movies.”
Smith then went through almost his entire career, movie-by-movie talking about why he did them but it ended up with the conclusion,
“Treat it like the artform that it is, not a business. Don’t use it like a f*cking ATM. Use it like the artform. You got something to say? Then go behind the cameras and put something together so ‘Hit Somebody’ is taking my sweet ass time with what I consider my thesis film, like the thing that I want to express everything that I learned in 20 years of making films.”
How Making ‘Red State’ Contributed to That Decision
“‘Red State’ for me is something different, it’s like a mash-up movie in a way that I’ve never seen it before. It homages heavilyQuentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothersso naturally someone had to go before me in order for me to make that movie and their styles influenced me. I don’t sit around going, ‘What would it be like to make a Kevin Smith movie?’ I know exactly how to do that, it’s in my DNA. But making a Quentin Tarantino movie, that seemed exciting. I watch his movies and go, ‘Oh, I wish I could do sh*t like that’ and ‘Fargo’I love everything the Coen Brothers do and I always wish I could do something like that. One day, I got to a point where I was like, ‘Stop wishing, try it. That’s what ‘Red State’ was. Naturally, it’s experimental to begin with because you’re mixing up two kinds of storytelling and then throwing in your own. As much as I’m like, ‘This is a Quentin Tarantino movie by way of the Coen Brothers,’ by the end of ‘Red State,’ it’s unmistakably a Kevin Smith film even if it doesn’t look or feel like anything else I’ve ever done before. To now go and make a movie just because I haven’t made one since ‘Red State,’ now I want to savor it, in a way where I can’t use it as an ATM anymore. There’s other ways to make money and that’s where all the other work comes from.”
On His Decision to Write Off the Critics
Shortly after Cop Out, Smith courted controversy when he wrote off film critics, swearing that he would not screen his movies for them anymore. When he brought Red State to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, he refused to have a press screening, forcing all the journalists to stand in line to get tickets for the premiere. Smith explains why this decision was important to his growth as a filmmaker and artist.
“That was a necessary evil, man, in the step of making ‘Red State’ because I wanted to make that in the conditions that I made ‘Clerks’ where I wasn’t thinking about what a critic would say or what a movie would make at the box office, if someone was going to pick this up or buy it. How it might be compared to works of my peers. I made that movie just because I had to make it. I had to make ‘Clerks’ because it was in my head and heart. I had to see what it would look like in the real world without any considerations but make it for the sake of making it. ‘Red State,’ I wanted to do the same thing because I loved it so much that I knew it had a chance to be something that I was proud of, something that I was like, ‘Man, this is the f*cking movie that nobody in a million years thought I could make. This is the movie that would best show that I am actually a filmmaker, not just a guy that writes dialogue movies about tits and farts and sh*t. I needed to get to that pure place to make it, so I can’t be the guy sitting around going, ‘What are the critics going to say? Are they going to see this thing that I’m trying to do? Are they going to compare it to something Quentin’s done?’ I thought that was an unhealthy relationship to be thinking about how it would be received by 100 people vs. an entire audience. I was lost and that was not the person that made ‘Clerks.’ If you say critics are irrelevant. Guess what? Every critic is going to write a sh*t review of your next film.”
“I’ll be honest that it sucked because I like being liked and I especially like being liked by the film community, but it was a toxic relationship and in order for me to make the best film I’ll ever make, at least to this point, I had to go back to a place where nothing else mattered. I had to be an art student again and I became that guy that was just like ‘So long and thanks for all the fish.’ Getting rid of that part of the process, the ‘okay, what are critics going to say?’ If I knew in advance that all the critics are going to be like, ‘F*ck you, you fat piece of sh*t,” then I could make the exact movie I wanted to make because I would not be second-guessing myself and going, ‘How can I please this certain group of people?’”
On Cloud Atlas
While talking about his own frustrations with filmmaking, Smith cited the Wachowskis and Tywker’s Cloud Atlas as a film that has impressed him in the way it defied the need for a three-act structure.
“They’re not going to do the cookie-cutter, these are the beats you need in a mainstream or even now, an indie flick. They f*cked with the form and that just blew my f*cking mind. You don’t always get rewarded for f*cking with the form. First one through the door usually winds up taking a bunch of bullets in the face, but these cats, they’re onto something. They’re being experimental on a large scale the way that Nolan was kind of experimental on a large-scale with ‘Inception.’ Even though a movie like ‘Cloud Atlas’ doesn’t make a sh*t ton of money, you sit there going, ‘Thank God, that movie exists.’ It’s going to be discovered by a lot of people over time that didn’t rush out to see it in movie theaters. Sometimes to get to great art, you have to break the formalism and those guys totally broke with the formalism.”
On His Love for Smodcasting:
Other than Twitter, Smith’s Smodcast network is where his presence can be felt the most in recent years, doing hours of original podcast programming a week, and he told us why that is.
“I love every movie I made but what I get out of the podcast, the electricity of this entertainment that’s forming as we speak, simply by conversation, not sitting there going, ‘Well let me take this out, let me change the way I said that.’ I would never have said, ‘Let’s sit down and do a podcast together’ if I was off making movies and stuff. I’d be concentrating on saving the material and putting it in a movie instead and now it’s like, ‘Don’t save it, just put it out there and see what happens.’ The beauty is it’s free. That’s something I couldn’t do at the movies because someone else is paying for them and they want their money back. The beauty of the podcast is that I can say, ‘I made this, it didn’t cost me anything to make except my time. Boom, there, it’s f*cking free.’ Suddenly, people are listening to hours of your podcast and when you plop by their hometowns, they’re going to pay to see you live, so we’re supported by that way. If you can f*cking earn off the sh*t you’re going to do for free anyway, you my friend have cracked the code of the universe.”
On Jason Mewes, His Recovery from Addiction and How He Became a Top-Notch Storyteller
Since the main point of this interview was to talk about the Epix special “Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under,” Smith eventually got around to talking about his longtime on-screen and now podcasting and touring partner.
“From (the podcast), I was able to build my relationship with Jason Mewes. He was on junk for a bit, fell of the wagon and then I was ‘Dude, can’t do it anymore, you’re out of my life.’ He got clean and when he came back, I was like, ‘The only way you’re going to stay clean is if you’re out there talking about the drugs.’ He would never talk about heroin because he was like, ‘It’s dirty. If you tell people you skin pop, that turns them off, I won’t get hired.’ He was trapped by the fear that people would find out he was using heroin. After he got clean and came back, and this was about the time we opened Smodcastle here in Los Angeles, he was hanging around the theater and wants to be friends again and trying to show me he’s cleaned up. I said, ‘Look, dude, you have to think about this like one of those Christian Scientists. Name it and claim it. If you go out there and talk about the monkey, then everyone’s looking out for you. Right now me and the people around you, we’re looking out for you, a little circle of people know you have this problem. If you go out there and make yourself accountable and talk about it. Just do what you’d do in an NA or AA meeting but do it with a sense of humor. Suddenly, you’re free. It’s a talking cure and then you have a bunch of witnesses, people who will be looking out for you and intervene.” It’s the idea of NA or AA but doing it out there in the world. We started doing it at Smodcastle, then we moved it up to the Jon Lovitz Podcast Theater but then we took it out on the road. Now Jason Mewes makes his living out of sitting there talking about how he used to do drugs but that’s just one portion of the show. The rest of it is him talking about f*cking and he’s become an amazing raconteur. If you watch the special or listen to any of the ‘Jay and Silent Bob Get Old’ podcasts, that dude has become a Garrison Keillor level storyteller who can hold his own on stage. Suddenly Jason Mewes went from being a guy who was a roofer to a guy who played Jay in the movies to now a guy who can now stand up on stage as strong as any stand-up comic and talk about his life in a compelling and interesting way.”
The Origins of “Comic Book Men”
He told us how the AMC show “Comic Book Men” came about from him convincing two other long-time friends, Bryan Johnson and Walter Flanagan, to talk about their own experiences running Smith’s comic shop “Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash” in Red Bank, New Jersey. And this is a really long story that came out of our discussions of the podcast.
“I was just talking to Charlie Corman and he said that AMC wants to do some geek programming, and I said, ‘I don’t have any ideas but you know what you should do? A reality show for the geek community because everyone’s got a reality show now but there ain’t none for us.”
Before getting to that, we have to insert Smith’s story about his other long-time friends Bryan and Walter
“My friends Bryan Johnson and Walter Flanagan, they were on the Smodcast back in the day, the flagship podcast and people would say, ‘Your friends are really fascinating, they’re funny.’ And I was like, ‘I know, right?’ I thought they were really compelling and Bryan was the basis for the Randal character (in ‘Clerks’), Walter Flanagan was the basis for the Brodie character in ‘Mallrats’ so I keep telling them, ‘Boys, you need to do your own podcast. You guys are funny and the audience likes you.’ Flanagan was like, ‘Oh, they’re just nice to us because of you.’ Poor Bryan Johnson was dealing with some issues, he didn’t think his life was worth living and I have this theory is that all human beings need is food, f*cking and to be heard and I think Bryan Johnson wasn’t feeling his heart and he always his friends were just being nice to him. I said, ‘Dude, record the f*cking podcast, make the show with Walt.’ And Walter did it because he saw that Bryan was flailing. They sit down and record with Brian Quinn the show that becomes ‘Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave!’ and they put that out into the world and what happens? There’s a bunch of strangers suddenly who start telling Bryan Johnson ‘You’re f*cking funny’ and suddenly Bryan’s feeling validated in the way he can’t believe coming from his friends. When total strangers are dropping compliments on you and telling you you’re real, that makes a difference. Bryan points to ‘Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave’ as the podcast that saved his life.”
And back to the AMC pitch .
“I pitched the show ‘Pawn stars in a comic book store’ and I said, ‘You can find the most disturbing comic book store staff on the planet and then you go shoot there,’ then AMC said they’d like to see a pilot presentation. I was like, ‘How do we find the world’s most disturbing comic book staff?’ and was told that waits until they want to go to series but just to find a comic book staff and shoot something that would look like the show. I said, ‘Well, listen, I own a comic book store in Red Bank so we could shoot it there for free and the dudes that work there, they do this podcast, they’re kind of funny so they could be the stand-ins for what the show would look like. We’ll shoot them and tell AMC that’s what the show would look like and then go out and find our comic book staff.’ I gave them a link to ‘Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave’ and Charlie Corman calls me back in the morning and says ‘Kevin, you’re a f*cking idiot, this is the show. These guys are the f*cking show. Why are you looking for another comic book store? You have a comic book store and these dudes staff it and they’re quick and funny.’ I assume they’d want to find someone more photo-genic. It never occurred to me, dude, to put my store forward. That just felt weird. I wasn’t in it to f*cking show for the Secret Stash. Once he heard ‘Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave’ that became the show and the AMC people came down and met the boys and said, ‘Hey, they’re funny, let’s try it.’”
“Boom, now we’re into our second season and heading into our third in February. A couple years after doing (the podcast), ‘Comic Book Men’ the AMC show, the one that airs after the mother*cking ‘Walking Dead,’ the show of the moment on the network of the moment, we ended up on that network simply because of that podcast, simply because those boys for a year had been doing ‘Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave’ and had gotten so good at talking to one another that people said, ‘Hey, these guys should be on TV,’ and it wasn’t even my idea!”
How “Comic Book Men” Brings Things Back Full Circle to “Clerks”
“‘Comic Book Men’ being close to ‘Clerks’ is a by-product. When I saw the first cut of ‘Comic Book Men,’ I got on the phone with the editorial team that worked on the show and said, ‘Hey, man, this is like: Clerks, the Reality Show.’” They were like, “Isn’t that what you wanted to make?” I was like, “Now it is but you guys figured out how to make it.” I couldn’t even f*cking see that they were making “Clerks: The Reality Show.” That’s not even what I pitched and I love watching it. I was so happy that I went to ‘Season 2′ because I enjoyed watching it so much. The boys shoot 90% of it when I’m not there and then I come in for 2 days three times during the shooting period to do the podcast wraparound. When I get sent a cut of the show as exec. producer, there’s so much sh*t I’m not seeing because I’m not on set. For me, I enjoy it so much. I’m a fan of the show and I can’t even take pure responsibility for it. Most importantly, it’s Brian and Walter, it’s all predicated on them because all that sh*t is them talking.”
Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under premieres on EpixHD on Friday, November 30 at 10PM, followed by a marathon of Kevin Smith’s other two Epix specials, “Too Fat for 40″ and “Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell.”