If you ask Kevin Smith a question, you’re going to get an answer, and when we sat down with the filmmaker last week he certainly wasn’t at a loss for words. The director was speaking with press to promote his latest venture, the EPIX special “Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under,” a document of the Australian leg of his “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old” live show with his longtime collaborator Jason Mewes. It’s another helping of what fans have come to love from Smith, as he relates his experiences with the humor and camaraderie of a fellow fan. And when he spoke with The Playlist, he was just as generous, and if you missed it yesterday, we ran the first part of our chat in which he shared his reasons why he prefers “The Avengers” to “The Dark Knight Rises,” and why his hockey epic “Hit Somebody” is being scaled back to one movie instead of two. But there was even more.
With Smith moving away from the camera and beginning to focus on various other creative avenues including SModcast Pictures, podcasts and much more, when we sat down with the director, we had to ask if he always envisioned his career diversifying as it has, and he revealed that there wasn’t a master plan. “No, that kind of thing comes when you realize that you can’t do what you used to do. How I got to where I got to was listening to some inner voice that said, ‘Do something that never in a million years did I think I could do.’ I was never a self-starter. That wasn’t in my matrix or a motivator,” he candidly said. “So when I got into it I never thought, ‘Oh I want money’ or ‘I want pussy’ or ‘I want to be famous,’ I got into it because I felt like, ‘If I don’t tell this story I’m going to fucking die.’ And then you get the point where it’s like, ‘Well, if I don’t tell this story I’ll tell another story, because this is what I do for a living now.’ So the same passion and urgency that got you there can’t sustain you.”
Smith cites “Cop Out” as the moment he realized that he “didn’t have anything to say anymore” cinematically, and moreover, he could find other outlets for his passions that didn’t require big checks being written. “The stuff I liked writing about or making movies about you can easily make podcasts about or TV shows about,” he explained. “…I realized that the Kevin Smith that made ‘Clerks‘ would not be doing the movies Kevin Smith was doing in this day in time, because he couldn’t have conceived of it then, but also because that kid, the 21-year-old, would have honored the muse. He was a film kid…But when you’re in your early twenties, rebelling against the establishment and thinking there is a clear delineation between what is cinema and what is flotsam and jetsam. It all changes. You grow up. And the priorities shift away.”
But perhaps most crucially, Smith doesn’t feel that in the current climate, his particular voice is one that is being demanded by audiences. “It wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to say anymore – I’ve got plenty to say. But in the movies it felt redundant and silly,” he said. “Especially after the economic collapse. Motherfuckers want to see movies that are huge, like ‘The Avengers.’ If you want to shell out money to be transported. Or with something like ‘Argo,’ transport us back in time. But the stuff that I do, with guys sitting around talking about ‘Star Wars’ and fighting about chicks; throw a rock and you can hit a movie like that. When I made ‘Clerks’ there was no other movie like that. I wanted to see me and my friends on the big screen. Now I can see me and my friends on the big screen.”
It’s safe to say that Smith has never had a great relationship with critics, and has decidedly stood outside the industry for much of his career. And while he has won honors throughout his career from places like the Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Independent Spirt Awards and more, Oscar has never coming calling, and he’s fine with that. “Some people are like, ‘You should keep going, you could win an Oscar!’ But that shit’s never been my cake, I don’t care about fucking awards,” he stated. “I’m not putting down the process – I love watching the Academy Awards and if someone wanted to give me one I wouldn’t say, ‘Ah go fuck yourself,’ I would say, ‘Give me ten while you’re at it!’ But awards culture, I’m not really that kind of guy. I just like to do movies that make me smile. Like ‘Red State.’ That really floats my fucking boat.”
And indeed, his horror movie is one that Smith is very proud of, a picture he feels is his finest accomplishment, and one that he stands behind as well for the unique promotion and release that saw him take it on the road across the country in roadshow screenings. “‘Red State’ is the best I will ever be as a filmmaker, maybe as an artist, and I was content to do it the way we did it – in 15 theaters without putting it on the world stage. The bells and whistles of people patting you on the back and saying, ‘You did a good job,’ I didn’t need it, because I knew I did a good job and I didn’t give a shit if nobody was there to fucking see it,” Smith said. “Back in the day, because we were bred to reach as many people as possible, even though we were at Miramax, Miramax was still hell bent on world conquest, just in a tasteful way. So at the end of the day you still wanted to hit as many people as possible. But for me I got to the point where it was like, If I know it and my public knows it, that’s all that matters. And really my public knowing it, I know that people will discover it in time. My favorite thing about ‘Red State’ is when I wake up in the morning and jump on Twitter, no lie, there’s ten people who are like ‘I just saw ‘Red State’ for the first time – holy fuck!’ People play catch up now for the next few years because it’s not this massive saturation thing.”
“Like ‘Clerks’ back in the day got discovered. It made $3 million at the movie theater and never played in more than fifty screens. But when it hit home video it got passed around and in the way you can’t pass shit around anymore. It became this currency of cool. Which doesn’t quite exist anymore. But after that I had people backing me and there was commercials for your stuff. But ‘Red State’ had this identical experience since it wasn’t shoved down everyone’s throat and didn’t have a 1,500 screen release, it has the ability to sneak up on people,” Smith continued. “That’s what I love about ‘Red State’ – it can really sneak up on people. It’s just a really fucking weird movie. People come up and they’re like ‘I loved it!’ and I’m like ‘You’re right.’ And people come up to me and are like ‘I hated it!’ and I’m like ‘Youre right.’ Because it’s designed to fuck with an audience’s expectations. I’m not saying people who will hate it will one day like it, because people don’t like to be tricked and they don’t like to see you step out of your box.
And for now, Smith views “Red State” as a parallel — and perhaps bookend — to his very first movie. “If you watch ‘Clerks’ and ‘Red State’ back-to-back I honestly feel like one is a spiritual successor to the other because ‘Clerks’ is a movie made with true passion without a thought about what will happen, and it shows promise…And ‘Red State’ feels like the delivery of that promise, close to 20 years later. Remember that guy would could have made a great movie one day? He fucking did! ‘Red State’ feels like a movie I could and should have made in the early nineties if I had the talent and if I was a born filmmaker, which I wasn’t. I was a writer first and the directing stuff came along because I wanted to make sure what I wrote ended up on the screen. And throughout directing, even though I’m a visual idiot, if you do something long enough, you get good enough. It’s like what Malcolm Gladwell says – 10,000 hours. So if you spend enough time behind the camera not knowing what the fuck you’re doing, one day you realize, ‘Oh I do know what I’m doing.’ That’s why ‘Red State’ looks so good.”
Finally, Smith says: “At the moment, if ‘Red State’ is the best I can ever fucking do, then I’m content to have it sit out there and make that statement. Until I come back with ‘Hit Somebody.’ That’s the thesis statement.”
“Jay & Silent Bob Go Down Under” is now available on EPIX.