You got Qs? Kevin Smith has As.
The 49-year-old filmmaker has never been shy about sharing his opinion, dating all the way back to when he exploded on the scene with Clerks, his low-budget 1994 flick that took the culture by storm. But these days, Smith has a hybrid professional existence. He’s still writing and directing movies, but has also added a professional track as a “talker,” hosting a number of talk show-styled programs and running a very successful podcast network.
Smith is merging movie-ing and talking with the Reboot Roadshow, a tour where he brings his current flick, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, to theaters along with co-star Jason Mewes. The duo screen the movie for a live audience, and talk with the crowd and take questions.
The approach is a novel one, and a necessary one, as Smith’s previous two films, Tusk and Yoga Hosers, were commercial flops. As Smith reaches the end of the Reboot Roadshow (Feb. 26 is on the horizon!), he took time to talk with Newsarama.
Jim McLauchlin: I was listening to Kim Masters’ podcast on KCRW, and she mentioned in reference to you, “there’s no question he won’t answer.” In the podcast, you speak very frankly about your relationship with Harvey Weinstein. So credit to you for being a no-BS guy. I know this is broad as a starter, but is out society weighed down by BS and PR-speak, and if so, what’s the damage we suffer as a result?
Kevin Smith: I know…I know there's the image machine. People want to be perceived in a certain way. Back in the 1940s and ’50s, movie people thought that the audience wouldn't buy tickets if they knew what stars were really like or something like that. In this business, there's always artifice. You can't avoid it. People will try to look their best; everyone tries to present.
This isn't a judgment on them. All I know is I was a fat kid, and at a certain point you have go, "This is it." Honesty is best for me, because people are pretty brutally honest with you when you're a fat kid. I mean, "Clerks" is a slice of my actual life. When I'm out there doing press, I'm not trying to gussy it up. People relate to honesty. Early on, I realized “just be yourself.” Don't sugarcoat it. Be frank.
[Laughs] But sometimes, honesty comes back, bites you in the ass. I remember doing an interview for Film Threatmagazine many years ago where they asked me about comic book movies and I was like, "Man, somebody should do Daredevil, but it shouldn't be Chris Columbus. This guy wrote Home Alone. F--- him. He shouldn't be touching comic books." And at the time, Chris Columbus was attached to write it, maybe direct it. I was all f---ing mouthy and s--- like that in that interview.
Then I got a call from my agent, and he said, “Chris Columbus saw that interview you did, and it really hurt his feelings." I'm like, "In Film Threat? Chris Columbus reads Film Threat?" Mind you, this was before the Internet. He was reading a paper copy. But…yeah, it really hurt his feelings. I had to write an apology letter to Chris Columbus!
I was like, "Hey man, sorry, I'm the jerk that made Clerks, and I said these things and I didn't know you'd take them that way.” So there are lessons you learn along the way of how frank to be. You don't have to be overly frank to the point of insulting people.
Jim: So positivity is your mantra now?
Kevin: Pretty much. In 25 years in the business, you’ve heard about everything I love. But go back for the last five years and try to find something about the s--- I hate. It’s not there. There's no point. Now I've been on the Internet since 1995 and have expressed all my outrages and stuff like that way back in the day. But the older I get, the less I have.
And the experience I have in watching the Internet grow is people saying, "F--- it, I hate this and I hate that and f--- this person." It's just a stew of f---ing sadness so much right now. If you're going to hear from me, if I'm going to weigh in with my opinion, it's going to be like, "Here's the s--- I love.” I'll say that ’til I f---ing lose breath. I'll cry talking about the s--- I love.
You won't really hear about s--- that bothers me. You won't really hear about my political leanings. Look at my work, and you pretty much can figure out who the f--- I am and where I stand. In that world, it's always easiest to just be frank. I think this sounds so f---ing stupid and pretentious, but it’s Shakespeare, man. "To thine own self, be true."
And now with all the podcasting, if I was always trying to put up a front, I'm on usually four podcasts a week. How would I keep my story straight?
Jim: So be honest because it’s easier, too?
Kevin: [Laughs] Yes. It's just easier to be honest.
Jim: You can't run for Congress with a record like that.
Kevin: [Laughs] No. But that's okay, because I'm nobody's politician. I can't make things better in that way. The only way I can make things better is when you're tired of all that s---, when you need a distraction, I'm the distraction guy. I’m a f---ing troubadour, an entertainer. That's who I am, I don't speak for anyone else. You can't really be who you are in the world if you've got too many masters. I like answering to me, my wife, and the audience. Like, that's enough.
On the road with the Reboot Roadshow Tour, we’ve been all over the country. And I got this one question from two different people in two different parts of the country, blue and red, where somebody asked, “You influence a lot of people, why aren't you out there talking about the election or politics?”
I honestly don't feel that's my responsibility. In fact, I think that would be irresponsible of me. I'm a f---ing clown! I'm glad people like some of the things I say, but I'm an entertainer. It doesn't matter what I think. You should get your punditry or your endorsements from somebody who really thinks about this s---.
Now when Dave Chapelle came out for Andrew Yang, I was like, “That makes sense. Dave Chapelle is way more educated than me on the subject of politics.” Also he's a guy who speaks on that regularly in his work. But me? It would just be so ridiculous. Like, “Silent Bob endorsed blank.” Who gives a s---? I can't see myself ever being involved in that world. It's not like I don't vote or something like that. I vote, we give money. I'm just not, like, "Hey man, you all gotta give to who I gave to!" and s--- like that.
Jim: Speaking of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, what made this the flick that you wanted to do right now?
Kevin: It started life as Clerks 3, and then I did a pivot and said we'll do Mallrats 2. I wrote a script and went into Universal. Universal is like, "Wait a second. We own Mallrats?"
Kevin: Their thoughts were pretty much, "Well, we read this, and it is neither fast nor furious. We don't really do stuff like this anymore.”
Jim: Plus, your pecs are just a little bit south of The Rock’s.
Kevin: [Laughs] Oh my God, no. I don't look like that. So that wasn't happening. Meanwhile Jay [Mewes] and I had been touring "Jay & Silent Bob Get Old," and we sell out no matter where we go, man. It doesn't matter if it's like a f---ing 200?seater or a 6,000?seater, asses in seats. For almost 10 years we’ve been doing it, and Mewes, he's been going, "How come we don't do another Jay and Silent Bob movie?"
I'm like, "We're lucky we got away with that s--- once. It was the late '90s, before anyone figured out what we were really about. The fact that you and I were the leads of the movie, that's f---ing crazy, that'll never happen again."
But after Clerks 3 and Mallrats 2, two failed attempts to reach into the past, I was like, "You know what? Maybe the kid's right. Maybe we should make a Jay and Silent Bob movie, because we own these characters. I don't have to ask anybody for f---ing permission to do this. We could just make a movie with us.”
So I started putting together Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. Initially, it was just a joke: What if made the same, exact movie all over again? We're making fun of reboots and remakes and sequels.
It started off as a joke. Then I had a heart attack [in February 2018]. Then it became so much more. Then it was like, “Oh s---, this might be last movie I ever do, man. If that's the case it has to stand for everything I stood for in life. I have to put everything I know into this movie and stuff.”
It became much more important and took on much more heart. It was always going to have some heart to it because the story’s about Jay finding out he's got a daughter. Jay is a fantastic father in real life, the best dad I've ever seen, and I include myself in that equation as a dad.
I've watched him be a perfect dad. Him and his kid are best friends. It's adorable. She's four and a half and he's 45, and they meet at the exact same maturity level. He's got such a wonderful relationship with his kid, more so than any kid?parent relationship I'd seen before.
So suddenly we had the meat on the bones. Yes, it's a road trip that apes [2001’s] Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but it's also its own thing where he finds out he's got a kid. And we make jokes about social justice warriors and woke culture and the Klan and Russian collusion. Basically it was taking characters from the '90s, and inserting them into the present day.
A lot of people are like, "You can't make jokes like that anymore." I disagree. It depends how you go about it, man. As long as you don't punch down, you're okay. And we were never punching down. We were punching ourselves the whole f---ing time. After the heart attack, it took on a lot more meaning. Then it became what it is, this giant f---ing family affair and almost a cover album of me covering my own f---ing tunes, and this "oh my God he f---ing survived" party.
Andpeople were like, "This f---er almost died. I better show up and come correct for his movie. I'm going to help him out. He only needs me for a line, but I don't want to feel this weird guilt that I felt when I heard he almost died." So we got our cast.
Jim: The thing is, you can only do that trick once. You don't want to have another heart attack.
Kevin: [Laughs] It's true. It's true. I've been going out of my way not to have another heart attack now but yeah, there's no temptation whatsoever to be like, "Well, we have to cast soon, perhaps I'll stop my blood medication. Perhaps I'll stop my Lipitor and let fate take over."
It was a huge cap to the year as well. Then right before the end of the year, the Library of Congress announced that Clerks was one of the 25 films on the National Film Registry. It's preserved forever and s---. It was just this magical year, now two years, because February is two years since the heart attack. This run with the movie, it couldn't have happened at a better time. It was really dope. It will never repeat. I'm sure the next movie will get kicked in the balls. But this whole year has been like the perfect way to mend a broken heart.
Jim: Cool, man. Tell me a little bit about the business aspect of the tour. I’m assuming this is amortized in such a way where it's very profitable. This has to making more for you than a Tusk or a Yoga Hosers...
Kevin: I wish we had done this with Tusk and Yoga Hosers. We toured Yoga Hosers a little bit, not as thoroughly as this. And to be fair, nobody was banging down the doors for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. Nobody was sitting there going like, "You know what's going to make a bunch of f---ing loot? Jay and Silent Bob!" So I had to make sure the budget was smart, sensible, tight.
We had a $10 million budget, but we shot in New Orleans. Now that's only $8 million bucks, because you get a 20 percent rebate. We found Saban Films was willing to give us money for domestic release, mostly a home video release. I want to say that was $2 million. Universal has worldwide, everywhere that's not America, and they came in at $3 million. Right there, you got $5 million. You'll only need $3 million more from equity financing. Equity financing is the money I honestly feel you got to pay back. You don’t have to pay back Universal, because it’s one more thing for their library, one more title that will be exploited from now until the end of time. They get to resell it and resell it when they do library deals, streaming deals, from now until the end of time. If they can't make $3 million off of this eventually, then maybe they shouldn't be in the movie business.
Now equity financing, those are the people that are like, "I'm going to invest in this because I believe in the movie business. I hope I get my money back." That's the money I like to get people back because that's the money that never gets back. Nobody gives a f--- about those people. They're the last people that get paid back and stuff.
So Jordan [Monsanto], Jason's wife, she produced the movie. And we do the touring all the time. We built this touring business where people pay 50 to 100 bucks to watch me and Jay sit there and talk about the old movies. So it seemed a no?brainer that if we brought a new movie with us, they'd be just as happy, if not happier, to see that and then to watch us sit around and talk. We were counting on the audience that we knew we had built up over the last almost 10 years of touring that they would come out and see something.
I told those cats, the equity investors, "We start shooting February 26, 2019. By February 26th of next year, we're done with our tour, and you’ll be paid back.” And they were, all the equity investors paid back within one year of their investment.
That's f---ing unheard of. They instantly are like, "We're ready to go again. What else you got?" Because they never see f---ing money back in the movie business. The tour paid them back, and we made some scratch on top of it for ourselves. I love it. Financially, it's great. It makes us look smart and s--- like that.
And personally, I love it because it's like going to church every night where you're both the priest and Jesus Christ. It's like being celebrated by 1,000 people every night.
Jim: That sounds so humble. [laughs]
Kevin: You know what I'm saying? It's dizzyingly wonderful. If somebody was like, "You got to do it all again, but you don't get any of the money." I'd be like, "I don't give a s---." It's worth it to go out there and feel that f---ing infusion of joy, man. The movie was made first and foremost for me, the world's biggest Kevin Smith fan, but for those who are into those movies, there's a lot to get out of it. It's an astounding trip. It's like going to the best high school reunion you never had.
A lot of movies f---ing spend $40 million, open to $3 million, and climb to $15 million if they're lucky. And we didn’t have to advertise this f---er on TV until people realize it exists. It's just like, well, if I'm willing to escort the movie everywhere, and be there with it, that makes the movie a premium.
That means you're not just going to the movie, you're going to hang out with the dude that made the movie. Since that audience is predisposed to go see me speak live anyway, bringing the movie into the equation is just like this incredibly sweet added bonus.
Jim: Is this replicable with somebody else? I mean, obviously you've got a hardcore audience, God love them everyone. But I don't see Sony Pictures Entertainment sending Brad Pitt out on the road or anything like this.
Kevin: You telling me that wouldn't sell out?
Jim: That would.
Kevin: Absolutely. Basically you just need somebody who's got a following, got an audience, and is willing to do it. Could Quentin [Tarrantino] do this? He did. Remember he toured The Hateful Eight? I don't know how long he it did, but he went out and toured it for a little while, live shows.
But is does take stamina, and you’ve got to take life on the road. We’re doing 65 cities, and on some of these, there’s two and even three shows, so I think we’re doing 72 shows. But…pick a name. Pick a name out of my hat. Josh Gad. He's the snowman in Frozen, he was in Book of Mormon, he's all over the place. Got to imagine if Josh Gad had a little movie that he directed or he was in, he could escort from place to place. There's enough Frozen fans who are like, "Oh my God, I'll f---ing totally go see him in person.” Any actor or actress with a following could totally do it.
You just can't be greedy and say, "We're going to make that f---ing Star Wars money." No you're not. You just have to f---ing shrink to the size that you think might show up, and then shrink below that just in case. If someone told me, "This is the only way you can do Clerks 3 and Mallrats 2," I'd be like “done and done.”
Jim: So in terms of flicks, what is next?
Kevin: Right now it is either Clerks 3 or Mallrats 2. Some people I'm sure are like, "He's just going back into the past, that's not very original." But I would point out that a few years ago I made this Tusk movie that was very original and everybody said, "Quick go back to the past." Clerks 3 and Mallrats 2, I'm in the middle of writing them both at the same time, side by side. Whichever one finishes first, whichever is easiest to tackle, we'll do that one, and then the other one will follow.
Jim: The superhero movie still kind of rules the day, and you've got something like Joker now, which is a different kind of superhero or supervillain movie. You've had at least tangential involvement since the '90s and the aborted Superman flick. Do you want to, or do you think you can, take a swim in a pool like that again?
Kevin: I don't want to and I don't think I can. I think it takes a better constitution than mine to do that kind of stuff. I can't imagine what I would be like on one of those gigantic movies. Also, I like to do too many other things. When you're making one of those movies, that's like a year, two years of your life, and you're making, technically, somebody else's movie.
I wouldn't get to podcast. I wouldn’t get to tour. I wouldn’t get to do any of the other stuff that I like to do that I could also make a living off of. A lot of what I do depends on me generating new content all the time, with the amount of podcasts that I do. If I'm working on one of those movies, you can't talk about s---, so I got nothing to talk about other than "We're still making this movie."
I love those movies and I support them wholeheartedly. But I don’t look at those movies and go, "Man, I should be making one of those." I love making Kevin Smith movies. If I don't make those, nobody else will. They've got plenty of people to make them Marvel movies.
Jim: On the comics front, Batman: The Widening Gyre is supposed to become Batman: Bellicosity. Is that on your horizon?
Kevin: It is. I'm going to hold up a prop. [Reaches for and holds up a folder] This red folder goes with me everywhere. It’s got three issues of art with notes for me and [artist] Walter [Flanagan] to go back into and finish. I've been carrying this folder for two years. It's not Walter's fault. He's free as hell. It's just a matter of me getting down to it. I feel incredibly bad because I did an entire different miniseries in the interim. Right after my heart attack, Mark Millar was like "Hey, do you want to do Hit-Girl?” and I was like, "Oh, I'll write Hit-Girl."
Walter’s got a lot of the art done. The notes I've got on Batman: Bellicosity are just like, "Ooh, we need to add this because I want to move this over to here” and stuff. I will definitely get around to it.
Jim: You've mentioned your broad and well?known podcast network. We were having a conversation a few weeks ago where I mentioned that I don't want to say that you're not in the movie business, because clearly you are, but you're probably more in the conversation business these days.
Kevin: God, yes. I'm a talker now. I go up to Sundance now and instead of bringing a movie, I interview people for IMDb, which is something I've been doing for the last 4-5 years. Then I go to San Diego Comic?Con and interview people. That's the talk business. I just did the Crisis Aftermath specials for CW. That's the talk business. Podcasting, that's the talk business. There’s a lot of work that involves me just being me, talking about other things, which I like.
Still, you won't hear me slag s---. You'll only see me talk about the things I really like. Some things I don't talk about only because I don't get to catch up to them in time. I was left out of the Mandalorian conversation because I was touring Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.
Jim: You've heard about the Baby Yoda, right?
Jim: There's a Baby Yoda. [laughs]
Kevin: Yes, of course. I mean, it was tough to miss it and s---. It felt strange to be so far behind in a conversation that is so important to pop culture. But just ‘cause I wasn’t talking about it didn’t mean I didn’t like it. I just hadn’t seen it. When I talk about it, you’ll know. I just suck the dick of everything I love so hard. So hard, and with so much energy and vigor that there's no energy left to expand on the things I don't like.
Jim: That's a good way to end this. [laughs]
Kevin: [laughs] The hottest analogy I could come up with.