Kevin Smith and I have been e-pals for many years – but only one of us has made a lucrative, fruitful living out of making film. Wanted to get Smith on the phone to talk about his latest flick “Red State”, which he’s the main marketing machine on, because it’s a friggin nice piece of work. Also took the opportunity to get into the ‘joys’ of working with Bruce Willis, on his last flick “Cop Out”, and get the latest on Smith’s long-gestating hockey movie, “Hit Somebody”.
We’ve known each other for years, man.
We have indeed sir, about..
Let’s play ‘remember the time….’
Oh, well remember…
Okay, remember when I got hold of some super-dark ”Jersey Girl” stills, scanned from an exhibitor magazine, and whacked them up on the site? We had it out… but I should apologize again, because I know that’s why the film failed [Laughs]
No, not that [Laughs]. That’s not what hurt the film.
The thing is, and I’ve told you this, I actually enjoy “Jersey Girl”, but I don’t know whether it is because I am a dad now, so can relate to the themes in the film, or that it’s just the fact that it’s a nice and sweet film – and we know how much I love syrup.
It’s certainly a flick that… If you like sweet movies or if you got a kid yourself, you can relate to it. But I guess a lot of people that didn’t have kids like their films a lot edgier and didn’t go for it. I remember one dude was saying, “This is the movie that the Clerks in Clerks would have made fun of,” but, I didn’t agree with that because the Clerks in Clerks are based on me. I made that movie.
Snap! And I thought Ben Affleck had the goods down pat in the film too. So tell me, are you missing Affleck now because he’s deserted you to be a big-time moviemaker?
Yeah, man. He went on to make classic pictures too. He’s certainly not doing my game. He’s doing a much better game than my game. He was a smart guy. When he got into it, he decided not to make stoner pics and went right for serious and thoughtful thrillers and doing action movies. I guess I wouldn’t call them action movies, may be too little of that stuff. He is making very ’70s movies right now, which is kinda cool.
That’s awesome for him. But you always assumed it would come to this because he sat behind so many directors over the course of the last 20 years. You just start to aggregate your own style, I’d imagine, where you’re like, “I would do this differently. I would try this. I’d try that.” You have to take the best from the people you sit behind and leave their worst behind.
So onto “Red State”. Unlike your other flicks, this doesn’t feature any of your regular players – one of whom was Affleck for some time.
Yeah, I know and nothing that… well, I worked with Stephen Root before he was in Jersey Girl but, other than that, nobody… It was kind of an important part of casting, we didn’t want any one of those familiar faces in it. Like Jason [Mewes], he just wanted to be in it. He was like, “Can I at least be an ATF guy with a gun?” I was like, “Dude, I’ll put you in there and anyone goes “Hey, that’s Jay. It’s Jay and Silent Bob.” It’s going to mess with the delicate balance I got going on in the movie.”
Fuck yes. So marketing wise, did you not want people to associate you with – because I know your name isn’t so prominent on the advertising materials – it or did you just want the movie to sell itself?
Every movie I’ve made, I always worked with the same casts over and over again, and I added to them and stuff like that. But for this, it was such a different movie than anything else I have ever done. It’s not remotely related to the other flicks at least, you know, on the surface or tonally, or content-wise. So it was in that world, since you’re jumping in a different direction, you might as well reflect it in the cast as well. So, I don’t know. The greatest complement I got on that movie was whenever somebody was like, “There’s no way you directed this movie.” That felt kind of neat and I knew it had a lot to do with the casting alone.
It’s just a very slick film, looks terrific…
Yeah. You know what it was, man? That movie was always down there. There was just no need to make it up until then. For years and years, I kind of set up the camera and let stuff happen in front of it. That was good enough because the first reviews I ever got on Clerks were like, “Boy, this movie looks like hell. But man, it’s fantastic and it’s funny and blah, blah, blah…” They loved the content. They didn’t give a shit what it looked like. So the first methods that I ever imparted, in terms of my work professionally was, it doesn’t matter what it looks like, just make sure it’s entertaining. So for the longest time, I’ve kind of clung to that. It’s almost like a badge of honor like, “Why bother to try and make it look good, man? There’s no need.” And then, after a while, you do something long enough and even if you are not trying to get better at it, you’re just going to pick up skills over the years. And if you work with people like Dave Klein who is my VP, he also picked up a shit ton of skills since we worked together on Clerks. So, it is just all about experience aggregates and being able to shoot a movie like Red State where, finally, you’ve got the content to jump in that direction like why would you overshoot fucking Zack and Miri nearly as phonetically as Red State. The material doesn’t really call for it. Most of the movies I did were just about people sitting and talking to each other whereas this one was like… Kind of a bit apart. We start off very much like a Kevin Smith movie in terms of, “Hey, these kids are talking about pussy, and they’re talking to each other and there’s a lot of dialog. Now, they are off to the woods to fuck.” Then it changes gears and then it becomes about one guy talking to a lot of people for a long time, and then boom, it turns into this quality kind of action thing and a meditation on a kind of immoral relativism if you will.
Michael Parks is brilliant in it, but I just wanted to stress how great John Goodman is in it. We know Goodman started out doing funnies, everything from “Revenge of the Nerds” to, of course, “Roseanne” but he’s a great dramatic actor – he was terrific in “The West Wing”.
Yeah. He was in The Artist too.
The Artist, yeah.
He lives up to his name of course. He’s just a special sauce you can add to anything that it turns into tremendous performance. Like this dude, he’s a ninja of performance and kind of a, not a ninja at this point, a Jedi master, because he just effortlessly makes a different performance each time off the bat and added material, whether it’s strong or weak to do anything to make it work. He’s a magician.
Did the investors insist on a ‘name’, is that why Goodman’s in there? Was it important to those that lent the bank to have a draw card?
I guess the producers, the folks that put the money and to the folk, the financiers, considered Goodman and they were not… It wasn’t really cast-dependent. I think when it got to movie finances, they were like, “Well, we know you’ll be able to do something.” And, it’s kind of financed on me, in terms of like the stuff I’ve done and whatnot. So that’s why I always felt really responsible about getting the money back. Because, I did work for Miramax once, the same company for years and you need to catch certain movie business. They give you money with their eyes wide open knowing, that who knows what will happen when they pull the arm of the box office slot machine. So when you’re dealing with investors who are outside the film world, if you want them to continue being investors in the arts, you don’t want to fleece them. A lot of people kind of fleece people for their money. People will show interest in being in the movie business. Financiers and people who like, “Hey man, I like the movies. They seem fun. I want to see if I could be of…” People will just fleece them, man, rob them blind, and then, they’ll never get their investment back, and then they’re just told, “Hey man, that’s the movie biz.”
So for me, I felt like that since I’m going to take money from people, and they’re not even in the movie biz and it was a chunk of money, it was two million and two million, or two and a half and two and half, or get a million dollar tax rebate on the film. So, two and a half and two and a half, from two separate parties, my first order of business, once I made the flick, was make sure they get paid back. That’s why I kind of took it out the way I did because I feel, if I didn’t get it the other way, there was good a chance they wouldn’t have gotten paid back like they’re paying minimum guarantee at Sundance that year of two million a share, four million, and whatnot. That could’ve been the last money that movie ever saw. So after years and years of sitting around, and watching people distribute the movie in town, waste money doing it on commercials and shit like that. I was like “With a budget this small, man, I’ll get the check and make that budget back so that I can pay those dudes back and whatnot.” I figured, you pay those cats back right away, if you need to go back to the wealth to make another movie. There you go, man, most cats think they’re, “Okay. You got us some money back right away.” Those cats right now, man, I wish they would talk to other movie investors, and they find out how irregular that is. I wonder if you went back and did the math or did the receipt, from all of flicks that would sub-ends 2011 with us, January, not too long it just happened. How many of them have paid their investors back already?
John Carter is now appearing on the side of a milk carton…
It’s a tough business, man, as you know, it’s gotten even tougher. Specialized film has gotten incredibly tough. The Artist just won an Oscar, and you would imagine you would see some kind of massive spike forward at the box office, but not at all. So, it’s very tough for specialized film out there. And making sure that you pay the investor back is always fucking key because you might need to go to them again someday. So that, to me, unless they became as important as making the movie, or maybe not as much as I want to make this flick that wasn’t like my flicks, but more like a Quentin Tarantino movie by way of Coen brothers. So if you’re going to go that direction, man, make something weird. Me, I couldn’t guarantee it would make any business, because it wasn’t funny, like my other stuff is funny. It’s darkly funny and whatnot but you can’t really sell it as a comedy. It’s just weird and fucked up and took five years to find money for. So that’s when I was like “You know what man, I know I can make money on this movie, if we take it out the way I’m talking about, don’t do any of the marketing, and I know I can get these dudes to pay it back and whatnot. Let’s try it out.” But actually, they were adventurous enough to be like “Okay”, and it kind of worked out.
So where are you touting the flick next? Still on the road tour?
Not this one but at the end of this year we’re going out again on tour with a cartoon movie this time – a super groovy cartoon movie which is about 180 degrees away from Red State. But it’s great to learn about touring film thanks to Red State because boy, it will make next one even easier, but we had such a blast. It was like going to church, every one of those dates. We had about 15 dates in total. It was like going to church each night, man. And sitting there, watching it with the audience. I’m ahead of the movie because I made it but knowing that, like, “Here comes the turn!”, and watching them react to them and whatnot. I was live tweeting the whole time on the road, in the US. That was awesome. It was such a good time. I recommend it for everybody. I had Morgan Spurlock who is now gonna tour his Comic Con documentary, and I was like “Right on” and Emilio Estevez, who you know, toured his movie The Way. It’s a great way to kind of get in touch with the audience and it’s a great way of kind of control the future of the art.
“Red State” or “Cop Out”, what was the more pleasurable experience? Fess up!
I mean Cop Out was rewarding on a whole different level. Unfortunately, there’s one element of it that wasn’t working as well as everything else, but what are gonna do. You’d be lucky if these things work at all. So, I don’t know. I mean, I know a lot of people we’re like, “Oh, Cop Out, it fucking sucks and it’s a piece of dick,” and all this stuff. I learned so much making that movie, not just the life’s lessons about how to work with people who don’t really want to work with you, but also just kind of like how to work with random people. You want to talk about new or across the boards. I had a bunch of new people, a new crew and stuff like that, working in New York City. And most importantly, man, it led to Red State directly. This was the flick that, when I sat down with one of those investors. One of the dudes who put in the money, the cat goes… I said, “Hey, man, did you read the script yet?” And he goes, “No, I don’t need to.” And I said, “Why?” And he goes, “Because I saw a movie that you directed. It had Bruce Willis in it. Your name was on it and so I know you know what you’re doing.” And I was like, “Oh, my God! That’s why I did Cop Out, so someone would pay for Red State.” [Laughs]
The hockey flick is next?
Yep, next up, we’re starting a hockey movie called Hit Somebody. I was talking about doing it June/July, but it’s probably looking more toward the season itself, and so a late-year start. It’s the last flick I want to make. So that’s what we’ll do future wise. Right now, we’re working on the Comic Book Men TV show, which is on AMC over here and the live touring and the podcasts. Like if you go to toosmart.com, you’ll see where we are at all times. I spend a lot of time on the road now, so we’re starting to mix up some TV with the road gigs, and then through the end of the year, we’ll do our tour and then boom, we’ll work on hit somebody and stuff, try to stay busy.
What about your acting career, no more ”Die Hard” in you?
Boy oh boy, I’m waiting for a call. I’m ready to revisit the Warlock. Something tells me that call’s not forthcoming. I’m happy to do anything, man. I just did a little piece. There’s a movie that played up at Sundance called, “For a Good Time, Call.” That was kind of fun. But anytime people come and reach out to me, I’m here. So, it’s nothing I pursue, acting, but when people go, “Hey man, you want to come do this thing?” I’m usually like, “Alright.” Especially, if it’s very nearby.
Were you kicking yourself, though, that you got offered a part in a ”Die Hard ”movie? Was that like a bit of a friggin’ dream?
Oh, it was astounding, man. It was so cool, and this was before I’d ever worked with [Bruce Willis]. And even after I worked on Die Hard, and my one day turned into one week, I still thought he was super cool, super cool to work with. He was really nice to me on that set too, but when you direct him, it’s different. He doesn’t go out with you to the party. So if you’re placed in the role of like, “Hey, I’m ostensibly in charge here.” Suddenly, you go from being the dude standing beside him in a scene to a dude who he just doesn’t want to listen to. You become the reason he’s got to get up in the morning, and roll out of bed and come act in this fucking movie. Suddenly, the relationship just soured, man, because he looked at me like a boss. And I don’t even act like a boss. I mean maybe that was the problem. Maybe he felt I didn’t act boss-like enough. I’m not one of them alpha male guys. I don’t really respond well to people who go for the kind of like, “I’m the top dog here!” I’m like, “Alright. It’s your world. Go ahead.” I’m not the guy that’s just like, “No, I’m the top dog!” I just wait until top dog drops dead then I go back to work.
Excellent catching up with you, Clint…I don’t know when we’ll.. are you guys on, Monday?
Yeah. We’re on Monday, yeah. So I’m about to do the ‘my kid’ shift. So I take my little girl out for an afternoon of shits n giggles, so it’s a nice juggle.
Always appreciate you taking the time, man.
“Red State” is now on DVD and Blu-ray