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"My career ended like 10 years ago, but I'm still hangin' on tooth and nail!"
"You don't do it in a vacuum. You do it for people to see. You're always doing it for recognition."
"Now that I've done enough, I can kind of take influence from my own body of work."
"In many ways, it may be the most self referential movie we've ever made...a nice way to bid adieu to all of the early work."
"Now it's much harder for everybody else to get in. So I'm sorry. I really ruined it for everybody else."
"I would say the indie movement right now is back in the cave man era and it'll come back."
"It's your voice. It's so specific and so valuable. You can't let them devalue it."
Kevin Smith  

Interviewed by Mark Sells
April 2009

Writer-director Kevin Smith is widely recognized as one of independent film's most distinguished voices. With such works as Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma, Smith has built a universe askew, replete with slacker characters, stylized dialogue, and pop culture nuance. His last feature film, 2008's Zack and Miri Make a Porno, represents a culmination of all his early works while also marking a departure for the Silent Bob era.

Says Smith, "I don't want to make movies like that anymore. Not that they're bad, but I'm older. I'm 38. And the same shit that interested me when I was a 22-23 year old, way up until the last film, just doesn't turn my crank at the moment." Since Zack and Miri, Smith has been diversifying. He has taken his act on the road, performing stand up across the country at venues such as Carnegie Hall. His upcoming tell all, Shootin' the Shit with Kevin Smith recently hit bookstores. And his next film, A Couple of Dicks, starring Bruce Willis, represents his first, big budget studio film. It's slated for release early next year.

Self-deprecating, outrageously defiant, and raunchy to a fault, Kevin Smith received the prestigious Renegade Award at the 2009 Vail Film Festival. It was there that I had a chance to catch up with him on a variety of topics ranging from the current state of independent film to his perpetual evolution as a filmmaker.

Reel Questions, Reel Answers

Congratulations! So, you're a renegade now?

Yeah. A renegade (laughs).

It's very cool to get an award. I don't know if I'm a renegade, but boy, that award is neat. And it really came at an opportune moment in my life, to be honest with you. I was super-fucking depressed after Zack and Miri came out. I was just laying around the house in a weed-induced coma feeling kind of sorry for myself.

But the recognition has got to make you feel better. What does it mean to you?

Everything, man. You don't do it in a vacuum. You do it for people to see. You're always doing it for recognition.

Most of your work takes place back East. New Jersey, in particular. Would you ever consider making a movie somewhere else, like Colorado?

If I had something that was set here, absolutely! The problem with shooting in a place like Colorado is that if you're shooting low budget, it's cost prohibitive by virtue of the fact that you have to get your entire crew here, put the lights up, and stuff like that. And it always helps when the state offers some sort of rebate or incentive!

Believe me, if it was my choice, I would go wherever I was living at the time. But the studio always sends you wherever it's cheapest. So, if this place got cheap, then yeah, you'd start seeing tons of shooting going on. It has the perfect look for a very specific thing. And at the same time, you can't shoot every movie here because it looks like fucking Colorado!

One of your earliest influences was Richard Linklater's Slacker. What are some of your influences today?

It's weird. In the beginning, there were always influences like Richard Linklater's Slacker. Hal Hartley's Trust was another big one. All the early films of Spike Lee up to and including Do the Right Thing. Those were all the movies I'd seen before I made Clerks. Jim Jarmusch's catalogue as well - Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, etc. Those were very, very influential for the first one. And the second one was kind of influenced by John Landis and John Hughes.

I definitely watch a lot of movies and I definitely look at what other filmmakers are doing, but I don't really take influences from them anymore because now that I've done enough, I can kind of take influence from my own body of work - where you can stop being influenced and start working on your own style and working to improve it with every film.

You once said that when you write, you're writing out of a particular moment of time in your life...

Absolutely - a real snap shot of what's going on at the time.

What was the snap shot like after for Chasing Amy and Dogma?

Chasing Amy was all about me working out my male sexual insecurities. Dogma was about me working out my religious insecurities.

And Zack and Miri?

I didn't know it at the time, but when I was writing Zack and Miri, it was the beginning of chapter two. Or, for lack of a better description, it was like a victory lap. Because Zack and Miri was the sum total of every movie we had ever done up to that point. It literally borrows the plot from the making of Clerks. And in many ways, it may be the most self referential movie we've ever made. It was a showcase version of 'Hey, we did this and we learned this, and we put it all into one flick." And a nice way to bid adieu to all of the early work.

Has your perspective changed, going forward?

I don't want to make movies like that anymore. Not that they're bad, but I'm older. I'm 38. And the same shit that interested me when I was a 22-23 year old, way up until the last film, just doesn't turn my crank at the moment. It might later on, but right now, I'm looking to do something else. Try some shit that for the last 15-16 years, I've been like 'Oh, I would never do that!" Now's the time to try it, I think.

What's independent filmmaking like today versus 1994, when you made Clerks?

There just doesn't seem to be an independent cinema anymore. Certainly, not the one that I grew up in and the not the one that was easily recognizable back in those days. Now, things are different. People are ecstatic if they get their film distributed. They're happy to play on two screens. Or they're happy to top out at like $50,000 or something. And that's something that, back in the early to mid nineties, wouldn't have been good enough.

Now, the bar has been lowered. And indie film just isn't what it used to be. Most of the filmmakers get immediately co-opted into the studio system now. It's not necessarily a bad thing because in the studios, they're letting you make more interesting and adventurous movies because of the independent film movement 10-15 years ago. So, in many ways, it definitely made things better for me and the people who got in at that point.

It used to be that all the studio films would suck and now it's like, 'Wow, the studios are actually willing to make interesting flicks! Fuck. Let's go work at the studios!" But, it just means that everyone who's come up behind us, particularly the people who are doing it now, have such a tough road. It just doesn't exist like it did back in the day.

When I got into independent film, anybody could get in. Now, after me, they're like, 'Shit, we let retarded kids in?' Now it's much harder for everybody else to get in. So I'm sorry. I really ruined it for everybody else.

Technology is having a huge impact on the way films are made, the way they're distributed, etc., particularly for independent films. What do you see as the biggest technical challenge in independent cinema over the next 5 years?

Well, there's a movement in indie film right now called Mumblecore. It's the biggest thing in independent film right now. Essentially, they're the movies that we used to make. Just talkie movies.

Shooting talk is very cheap. So, it's just movies with people who have small problems and they talk them through and what not. Pretty much the same shit I've been doing my whole career. But now, there's a whole movement about it in what's left of the indie film movement. And it blows my mind that you can't find anybody who's heard of it outside of the hardcore independent film scene and the independent film fan.

It's weird. It's like the indie film movement kind of went from the fringes to front and center to mainstream and now, it's starting again. Remember the end of The Matrix? It's just going to happen again. And Battlestar Galactica, when it just ended? It all happened before. It'll happen again. Same thing.

Now, the indie film movement is rebuilding itself on the fringes. In 5 to 10 years, it'll be like it was 10 to 15 years ago. It'll be this new renaissance for indie film and what not. Because, at that point, the studios will stop making interesting films, they'll discover that Batman can make money, but the interesting films don't necessarily do. And in a world where the economy is collapsing more and more rapidly every day, studios are changing their business model.

There's not nearly enough profit in the movie business that there used to be and it will all change. If you're looking at it on a human history scale, I would say the indie movement right now is back in the cave man era and it'll come back, but that's what it does. It reaches fever pitch and then just goes back to zero and starts over again.

It's cyclical.

Very, very cyclical. Somebody out there is Quentin Tarantino for this movement. Somebody out there is going to be me - the jack ass who's not that talented but somehow gets in. It'll happen again.

It's just kind of weird. There was a period where I thought indie film is dead. But then I realized, it's not dead. It just does this all the time.

As a filmmaker, what have you learned over the years? Specifically, words of advice for today's independent filmmaker wanting to make their own Clerks?

You just have to do what you want to do. You know, I didn't create this sentiment. A far better writer did (Shakespeare), but "To thine own self be true." Nobody can tell your story but you. That's the only thing you've got going for you. Because anybody can direct. I can't, but if you wanted to get some guy that could, you'd get a visual stylist. A strong visual stylist to work with you. But not everybody can tell your story. And that's the important aspect of it.

If you look at this movie I'm going to make, A Couple of Dicks. It's a funny, wonderful script. But it's not like I'm the only one who can tell it. Any number of people can tell it because it's fun. Sure, I'm going to put my stamp on it at the end of the day. But I can't make it as relevant as Chasing Amy. At the end of the day, it's an entertaining movie. That's our manifest - to go out and make an entertaining flick.

But when it comes to Chasing Amy or Dogma or Clerks or anything I've written thus far, that comes from this very specific place that nobody else could ever really do. They can do their version of it and shit, but I'm the only one that can make that movie.

And that goes for every filmmaker. It's your voice. It's so specific and so valuable. You can't let them devalue it by telling you that your movie isn't commercial enough - they need you more than you need them. At the end of the day, it sounds nice to say at film festivals, but it's absolutely fucking true. The moment they realize the power balance goes this way and not that way, indie film will re-emerge again.

Kevin Smith Interview (CONTINUED)



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