Skip to main content

How Kevin Smith learned to love making movies again

How Kevin Smith learned to love making movies again

/

All it took was turning Justin Long into a walrus

Share this story

Kevin Smith at this year's New York Comic Con
Kevin Smith at this year's New York Comic Con
Courtesy of ReedPop

Kevin Smith’s legendary film Clerks hit theaters 20 years ago this month. Shot in black and white with a measly $27,000 budget, the film ended up being a critical success and launched Smith’s filmmaking career. He spent the next decade building a quirky and bizarre film universe that mixed his trademark brand of vulgar humor with surprisingly intense and personal stories; his movies were never box-office smashes, but they were cult hits that built him a loyal and passionate fanbase.

In more recent years, however, Smith’s output has slowed down and started to dry up. He tried his hand at some more conventional Hollywood movies (Zack and Miri Make a Porno with Seth Rogen, Cop Out with Bruce Willis) with limited success and seemed far more interested in engaging with his audience through the internet via his now-huge podcast network. Films started to seem like an afterthought. Tusk, Smith’s "walrus movie," has changed all that.

"I just took what I lived and put it in the movies."

"Honestly, I flat-out stopped [making movies] and I wasn't intending to come back, except for Clerks 3," Smith told me over the phone. While Clerks and the films that followed them were often polarizing to critics, they were also films only Smith could have made, full of details pulled from his own life. "I'm not a creative person," he says, "I just took what I lived and put it in the movies. And at a certain point, you strip-mine what little real life you had."

Going down the list of his initial films, Smith points out all the personal connective tissue running through each: "Clerks exists because I was a clerk, and Mallrats because I hung out at the mall, and Chasing Amy because I had problems with a girlfriend's past, Dogma because I was an altar boy and in Catholic school for eight years." By the time he got to movies like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith realized he was making movies about making movies, simply because he didn’t have "a real life to draw on anymore."

That realization is what caused him to nearly give up on filmmaking altogether. "Look, the only way I know how to do this job is to do it personally," Smith says. "That's why when people were like ‘Clerks sucks!’ I’d get tight about it — you're not just talking about my movie, you're talking about my entire life, my friends, everything I feel." Compounding the problem is Smith’s current status as a fairly successful, happy, normal individual, content with his work, wife, and child. "A lot of people go ‘make another Chasing Amy!’ and I'm like ‘I can't,’" he notes with just the barest hint of frustration. "That [movie] came from a really bad place — a horrible place where I tried to get over shit. Now, I’m happy, and happy people don't make great art" — Smith pauses, arriving at his thesis statement — "but they can make weird art."

The experience of making 'Tusk' has reinvigorated Smith's movie career

Tusk — an incredibly bizarre horror-comedy film about, in Smith’s words, "a guy who turns a guy into a fucking walrus" — and its forthcoming follow-ups Yoga Hosers and Moose Jaws are perfect example of his current filmmaking philosophy — Smith is back in the moviemaking game purely on his own terms, and he’s clearly feeling reinvigorated. "Rather than be like ‘I’m not making movies anymore,’ I just decided after Tusk that the mantra was more about, ‘I'll only make movies that only I would bother to make,'" Smith declares, following it up by noting dryly that "nobody would ever try to make that walrus movie." And while Tusk was considered a box office flop, Smith says that the low budgets he now works with have let him make films with very little risk. Tusk even helped him find a financing partner who is helping Smith complete his bizarre, Canada-focused "True North" horror trilogy — and finally get Clerks 3 off the ground.

That movie should mark a return to the more personal stories Smith told in the first half of his career. It’s a Kevin Smith film, so it’ll surely have its share of oddities, but it sounds like Clerks 3 (which begins shooting in June) will draw more on Smith’s life than any movie he's made recently. "This is what happens to Dante and Randal in middle age," he explains. "It's very much a movie about like…" Smith’s voice trails off, then he sighs deeply before finishing his thought. "It’s about The End. Realizing that, you know, fuckin’... ‘We can do this!’ and youthful exuberance eventually goes away, and you're left with the real life."

'Clerks 3' will be about what happens when 'youthful exuberance eventually goes away and you're left with real life'

Rather than focusing on the hapless clerk Dante who dominated the first two Clerks films, Smith says Clerks 3 will focus more on the disgruntled but hilarious man-child Randal. "This dude does not know how to function in the real world and [he] winds up escaping in a way that's kind of similar to the way I escaped from life from time to time," Smith explains. "There's something about being online a lot that informs this movie."

He may say that he doesn’t have another Chasing Amy in him, but it appears Smith is ready to go back and strip-mine his personal life at least one more time for the sake of his oldest and most beloved characters. "I don't know man," he says slowly, "it's just a really nice swan song for Dante and Randal, and I dig it." That said, fans shouldn’t worry about Smith throwing aside the overly vulgar yet hilarious humor that has characterized his the previous Clerks films. "It’s gonna have this weird earnestness to it... but there’s also a shit-ton of fuckin’ laughs."

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 5:33 PM UTC Striking out

A
Youtube
Andrew Webster5:33 PM UTC
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew Webster4:28 PM UTC
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


A
Andrew Webster1:05 PM UTC
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.


E
TikTok
Spain’s Transports Urbans de Sabadell has La Bussí.

Once again, the US has fallen behind in transportation — call it the Bussí gap. A hole in our infrastructure, if you will.


J
External Link
Jay PetersSep 23
Doing more with less (extravagant holiday parties).

Sundar Pichai addressed employees’ questions about Google’s spending changes at an all-hands this week, according to CNBC.

“Maybe you were planning on hiring six more people but maybe you are going to have to do with four and how are you going to make that happen?” Pichai sent a memo to workers in July about a hiring slowdown.

In the all-hands, Google’s head of finance also asked staff to try not to go “over the top” for holiday parties.