Rumors that Kevin Smith no longer does press have been greatly exaggerated (by himself on Twitter). Here is my third conversation with Smith since his paradigm shift with Hollywood that led to him self-distributing Red State in a road show. We were on the set of “Spoilers,” Smith’s new movie review show on Hulu (see me in the green shirt on the Amazing Spider-Man episode!). Talking about movies naturally led to what Smith’s been doing lately, not just the long-awaited hockey movie Hit Somebody but if the superfans remember long ago, talk about something called Ranger Danger and the Danger Rangers. We dug inside his controversial strategy with the press and found out his current strategy really goes all the way back to Clerks.
CraveOnline: For all the journalists who were mad you weren’t doing press anymore, here we are. We still talk.
Kevin Smith: Everyone misconstrues everything. When I was like, “I’m not doing press anymore,” I was talking about Red State because that was part of the experiment. Aside from releasing the movie, part of it for me was let’s see how self-reliant, how responsible we can be and how much we can do on our own. For me I was like, “Let me see if I can go out and sell this movie without talking to anybody. Let me see how far I can take it.” The last few years everything has been about let me see how far I can do this by myself. At the end of the day, when you’re waiting for help from people, you’ll wind up waiting a long time. There was a good 10-15 year period of my career where it was predicated on waiting for somebody wonderful to say, “Here’s a bunch of money. Go make pretend.” But if you just scale down and explore your own power and see how much you can do without putting your hand out or hat in hand, you’d be surprised. So during the Red State tour, I was like, “I’m not going to do press. I’m going to do radio.” I did lots of radio, but “I’m not going to do interviews and sh*t like that.” You and I always talk. That’s the thing. Every journalist will take what you say – not every journalist – but bloggers will take what you say and try to turn it into a holy war. There was a guy at Sundance who wrote a column that was like, “Kevin Smith Is Not Your Friend.” [Laughs] Which I thought was like, well, that’s a ridiculous thing to say. Of course not. But if we meet, maybe we’ll be friends. It was what it was, but like you said, you and I continued to speak throughout.
I was sad because I thought our time might be over, but you do what you’ve got to do. I’m glad it wasn’t forever.
Was it sort of a meta thing because talking about not talking about it is still kind of doing press?
That was the other thing too. There was a period during Red State where sometimes I would just say things just to watch the reaction. In saying, “I’m not doing any press” and press running it, sh*t like that, when you’ve been doing this as long as I’ve been doing it, you’ve got to make it fun for yourself periodically, like recharge the batteries. That was a lot of fun. Everything about it was fun because you become used to one way of working, everyone telling you how it is. Then suddenly you can sit there going, “Well, let me see how it is. Let me see if I can change the reality of everything I know this job to be. The deferential attitude I’m supposed to have to people that judge my work. The bullsh*t smile and swallow sh*t you know because you like receiving money to make movies. The taming down of sh*t that you want to see because someone who was giving you cash was like, ‘Well, I don't know if that is what we want our money in.’” Stuff like that and I realize it’s ridiculous for me to like, “Hey, I want to express myself. I need your money to do it.” F*ck it, that’s not true.
So I went out for like a good year and change, and even with the Red State tour we were selling tickets on, everything else we tried to do for nothing. Put up everything on Smodcast.com, even the movie show’s free. You can watch it with commercials on Hulu. You don’t even have to be a member. So the idea was if I can just generate a lot of free sh*t and put it out there, that flips the script as well. Everything you know about the job change[s]. It can become more exciting for you and if it’s more exciting for you it’ll be exciting for other people as well. So you take people on a ride. I’ve said that thing a zillion times but Harvey Weinstein sat me down in the beginning, when he picked up Clerks, he said his one lone piece of moviemaking wisdom and advice, which all he needed was one and I don't know if he even remembers or gave a sh*t or was listening to himself. But he said, “A movie doesn’t begin and end when they enter the theater. If you’re really good at your job, a movie begins long before they get into the theater. And if you’re a f*ckin’ magician, the movie never ends even after the credits role.” For me that was always [the question]. How do you keep the movie going? Because I don’t have the gifts of a Michael Bay or Chris Nolan. I don’t make exciting movies. I make movies where people talk to each other. People like to go to the movies to watch exciting sh*t happening. There was a period in the ‘90s where they’re going to watch themselves. That’s how I got f*ckin’ popular because I made movies about the people that watch movies. Generally speaking now, people just want to see robots and superheroes and I love those movies.
I don't know if that’s what they want. That’s just all they’re offered.
The box office receipts, look at this summer’s box office so far. The peak is the superhero movie.
But there’s nothing else available.
Well, you saw Men in Black III came out, you saw Prometheus came out and they’re doing the business they’re doing but they ain’t doing the business that Avengers is doing. So that means that everyone that makes decisions is going to be like, “Well, I think we should go with the sure thing.” In that case, I’m all right with it, man. There was a period where I thrived telling weird little stories but now that period [is over], now I can do that elsewhere. I can do it on TV if I want. I can do it on the internet. There was a time where all I could do, the only place I could tell my stories was independent film. There was no place else, but now throw a rock. There’s lots of options and new media burgeoning all the time. It feels like why “square peg round hole” it? Making movies is a costly proposition.
There’s a reason they make them as big as they do because they got to make a lot back. You don’t make potentially huge amounts of money on stuff where people sit around and talk to their friends I guess, unless Judd Apatow’s doing it. So at that point, it’s like figure out a way to change it. If I don’t have those gifts that draw people in, then I gotta find another way to suck ‘em in and the other way to suck ‘em in is you just start the story long before the movie begins. Everyone’s invested. Red State, talking about it three years before we started shooting, telling the audience what it’s like without giving it all way. Then while we’re making it, feeding them podcasts, feeding them footage, cutting early teasers. Everyone’s involved. They’re involved from the discussion stage years prior. They’re even involved now, even though the movie’s done with its primary life. There’s still people finding it and then me starting the whole narrative over again for them. You do that, man, and I won’t ever be Chris Nolan or Michael Bay, even if I put all my efforts and concentrated, I’m just not that guy. Those aren’t the stories I want to tell. I love watching them but I’ve got no interest in telling them.
So if I want to tell the stories I want to tell and do the weird sh*t I want to do, I’ve got to get people engaged way out. That’s why I’m talking about Hit Somebody for three years now. People go, “Did you start that movie yet?” Maybe one day I can explain it to them but I talked about it not because it’s about to happen but because that’s how it happens. That’s how I seed the earth. By talking about it enough, it just becomes reality. If you proceed through life like, “This is going to happen,” every one of those movies I made was done like this: Yeah, we’re going to make this movie Clerks. Yeah, we’re going to make this movie Mallrats. That was before we knew if we had the money or not. You’ve got to believe it first before anybody else can believe it. Sometimes it takes a few years of seeding the earth and telling people, “It’s coming, it’s coming. It’s for real, it’s for real.” And that gives you lots of time to perfect and build. I never saw it as a curse, having to start early. I always saw it as yeah, man, this’ll get people more invested than they’d ever be if we just put it out in movie theaters and commercials.
So what do I have to do to change the journalism game?
You already are, dude. You’re nice and tolerable. That’s way different.
If Hit Somebody is the last movie, does that mean you don’t want to do Ranger Danger anymore?
Well, now I can do it as a cartoon. Now I can do it as a web series if I want. It’s no longer just you have to do this one thing. I don't know about anybody else, I’m sure it’s exciting for other cats, I hate taking tens of millions of dollars. That’s scary, man. It really is. Especially when they’re gambling on a dopey idea you had, like a make pretend idea. So for me, I kind of feel like I’d almost rather do that anywhere but have the pressure of “Here’s $50-60 million. You’ve got to make this movie gross.” I don't know if it will. So at the end of the day, if I want to do it, I feel like I can do it comics, animation, web series, any number of things, TV now.
When you do your $60 road shows, do you find that people stop texting during the movie since they paid so much?
Well, during Red State I texted like crazy.
You can, but the people who paid to watch it.
During the Q&As they text.
No, but I’m asking about this problem where we can’t get people to just watch the movie anymore.
I know, it’s crazy. We’re going to tour this other one coming up next year. There were people during Red State who I was tweeting and they were tweeting me as I was tweeting which I thought was cute, and then I’d be like, “Watch the movie.” Next year we’re going to take out the Jay and Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie.
I told you that before anybody else. You got the scoop, man. We’re going to tour that and we use the Red State model and now we get to perfect it. With this flick it’ll be way easier to take it anyplace. I don’t even care if they tweet during the movie. I hope they do, because then they’ll watch it again. I don’t mind them watching it twice.
I never thought about that upside. If people text or tweet during the movie and end up liking it, they’ll have to watch it again for the parts they missed.
We were going to do for Clerks II a commentary track that you can download for your iPod and listen to watching the movie in a theater on your earphones. We recorded it and we were talking about it, planned two weeks out from the movie hitting theaters. All of a sudden I got a call from Harvey going, “One theater chain was not going to play your movie if you encourage people to bring recording devices into the theater.” We were like, “An iPod’s not really a recording device,” particularly at that time. Now you can stuff a microphone on but even then I was just like, “These are people that are coming back again. Don’t you want people to come back again?” But they ruled it out so we wound up pulling it. But that’s the kind of thing. When you work for somebody else, you have to listen to that kind of sh*t. Next time around, when we do Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie, I’m going to be like, “There’s a commentary track online. You can listen to it. So go as many times as you want, man. Or listen to the commentary track without the movie itself.”
We don’t hear you talk about Ben Affleck much anymore. Are you still really good friends?
I made a joke tonight about Ben. I haven’t seen him in a little while. Last time I saw him was at a screening of The Town at the DGA building back when that movie was out. That was a year and a half ago I guess. Last time I spoke to him, he borrowed a print of Red State and he liked it and he cast a few people from the movie. Like Kerry Bishe is in Argo, John Goodman and Michael Parks. He borrowed the print and then I sent him an e-mail a couple weeks later. I was just like, “You didn’t let me know what you thought, man. Did you not like it?” He goes, “I cast three people from your movie. What do you think?”
Be sure to read about Smith’s TV shows “Spoilers” and “Comic Book Men” in our TV channel.