Wisdom Wednesday: Kevin Smith’s Seven Golden Rules of Moviemaking
by Kevin Smith

kevin smith

Director, screenwriter, sometimes actor, and all-around major geek Kevin Smith has deep roots in independent moviemaking, filming his first feature, Clerks, in the convenience store he worked at for just over $25,000.

The small indie film soon traveled to Cannes where it won the Filmmaker’s Trophy and was quickly snapped up by Miramax. Needless to say, Smith’s career blew up. He has since written and directed a diverse variety of work, such as Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Zack and Miri. Smith has been a major proponent of independent cinema both advocating for it and participating in the process. The outspoken director shocked the industry in 2011 when he auctioned off his film, Red State, to himself, choosing to self-distribute rather than sell it to a studio.

Smith is also is undoubtedly one of the heirs to the throne of mainstream geekdom, involving himself with comics from every possible angle. He produces the unscripted series, Comic Book Men, and owns his own comic book and novelty store (Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash). Most recently, Smith made his annual appearance at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, premiering the trailer to the Slamdance Grand Jury Prize-winning film, The Dirties. Through Phase 4 and the Kevin Smith Movie Club, The Dirties will be released in theaters and On Demand October 4, 2013. Until then, you can catch Smith’s “anti-movie review” show, Spoilers, on Hulu while patiently awaiting the arrival of Clerks III.

kevin smith

1. Edit while you’re still shooting. On every flick since Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, I’ve been editing while still in the midst of production. I’m not talking about some hired editor piecing together an assembly while I’m on set, either. I mean that whenever I’m not shooting, I’m in the editing room with my footage. While the crew is taking 15 minutes to an hour to set up the next shot, I’m behind the Avid, putting the flick together.

2. Chop while rolling. It’s all upside when you’re editing while you’re shooting, as you’ll know right away if there are any shots missing. More than twice over the course of Clerks II, I was able to grab cutaways or re-shoot coverage a mere 48 hours after wrapping on a particular scene, thanks to chopping while rolling. Two days after wrap, I had a fine cut of the flick because I’d spent the entire shoot editing whenever I wasn’t on set (during production I average three hours of sleep a night).

3. Show your edited footage as often as possible. Another benefit to cutting while you’re still in production is that it affords you the opportunity to share the scenes with the cast. Until they see cut scenes, the film is solely theoretical to them. Give the actors actual scenes to watch and suddenly they can see the film taking shape, too. If you’re lucky, the cast will get pumped seeing how well all their stuff is turning out and you’ll enjoy the trickle-down benefits: A freshly-inspired troop of performers who’ll come in every day and give you even better performances.

4. Include the cast (and crew) in on the editing process, too. I’m not saying they should all ride shotgun at the Avid, but once you’ve got scenes cut, roll ‘em for the cast and crew. In some cases, they might provide insight you hadn’t thought of yourself. At the very least, it will convey how collaborative you can be and foster good will amongst the people who are already eager to help you realize your vision.

5. If you’re shooting a talky picture, spare no expense on the sound recorder. Without special effects or stars, your dialogue is the selling point of your flick. Therefore, it behooves you to hire the best sound recordist/mixer you can afford. Same goes for your boom guy/girl: Don’t cheap out.

6. Never fish off the director’s pier. Don’t shag the help. Better to tug one out in your trailer than create an environment of weirdness by dipping your pen, or having your pen dipped, in company ink. After the flick has wrapped, hold a circle jerk/daisy-chain/gang-bang with the entire crew if you like. But while you’re in production, keep it all business.

7. Don’t make Jersey Girl. Trust me on this one.

Don’t forget to visit us next week for more movie knowledge! Previous Wisdom Wednesdays have shared the expertise of Danny Boyle, Steve Buscemi, Jim Jarmusch, Zack Snyder, Gus Van Sant, Neil Jordan, John Waters, Eli Roth and Wim Wenders.

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3 Comments

  1. Sean F

    August 2, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Eric, have you read his last book? He loves Jersey Girl, but knows that it stands as the one he didn’t convince others to love (at least enough others). It’s more a laugh at himself moment than a bash the movie joke. And in a way, it did really damage his career.

  2. Eric Norcross

    July 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I liked Jersey Girl! Can’t stand it when filmmakers trash their own work on the account of public response – even when it’s a joke.

    • Greg

      August 2, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      He speaks quite glowingly about Jersey Girl in his book “Tough Sh*t” but he also talks about why it failed. If you haven’t read it, it’s totally worth picking up.