Kevin and David Make a Porno


For writer-director Kevin Smith and cinematographer David Klein, the first time is a charm. But so is the second, and the third… The longtime collaborators are aiming for a sixth successful project when Zack and Miri Make a Porno hits theaters Friday, October 31.

The duo met while in film school in Vancouver, Canada, but, as many know, Smith didn’t make it through to graduation. “I dropped out after four months because it was about theory with no hands-on filmmaking,” the director recalls. So, he went home to Red Bank, NJ and began writing a script about the people he met while working as a clerk in a local convenience store. “[Producer] Scott Mosier was in our class. We had an agreement that the other guy would help whoever finished writing a script first. We called David and sent him my script.”

Klein read it and asked, “When do we start shooting?”

The result was Clerks, which was produced in black-and-white with a single 16mm camera while Smith worked two shifts in the store. He cast actors from a local theater group and they shot scenes from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. for 21 days.

“I wish I could say shooting in black and white was an aesthetic decision, but it was about money,” Smith admits. “There were fluorescent lights in the store. Dave said if we shot Clerks in color, we would have to gel the lights or turn them off and rent our own. It was also more expensive to process color film, and our budget was $27,575.”

After the movie won awards and critical raves at Sundance and Cannes, the Weinstein brothers picked it up for Miramax. The deal marked a shift for collaborators Smith, Klein and Mosier as they produced Mallrats (1995), their first 35mm co-venture, and Chasing Amy (1997) in the years following.

“I was living my dream with Kevin and Scott, but it got put on hold,” Klein says. The producers who ultimately funded Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Jersey Girl insisted that Smith work with more experienced cinematographers for the projects. So Klein spent time earning credits on other directors’ movies.

“I missed working with David,” Smith says. “It was like being separated from my twin brother. We push each other.” So, in “preparing to produce Clerks II, I said there was no way I was making a sequel without the guy who shot the original film. There is a synergy between us that shows up on the screen. We hadn’t worked together for nine years, but it was like yesterday.”

In the end, Clerks II was the catalyst for what was to come. “While we were in pre-production Harvey Weinstein asked what I wanted to do next,” Smith adds. “I told him my idea for Zack and Miri. He said, ‘You have a green light. That will be our next film together.'” The idea had been percolating in Smith’s imagination in different shapes and forms for about 10 years.

Don’t let the provocative title fool you. Yes, the movie follows Zack and Miri (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) as they attempt to make a porno, but ultimately, it’s a love story about that guy and gal who sat next to you in high school. Still friends years after graduation and now facing financial troubles, they find a solution in the adult film industry. In the process, they fall in love with each other and with moviemaking.

It was during post-production of Clerks II that Smith had a passing introduction to Rogen—literally—as the actor was entering a doorway while the director was walking out. After seeing Rogen’s performance in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Smith decided he would be perfect as Zack and sent him an e-mail. The director received a response within two minutes that said, “Send the script.”
Zack and Miri Make a Porno was filmed on the streets of Pittsburgh and at the Monroeville Mall (where George Romero filmed Night of the Living Dead) during the winter months of 2007 to 2008. A cold, urban setting was the perfect backdrop, Smith explains, because it is the last place you would expect someone to make a pornographic movie. It also visually punctuates Zack and Miri’s naiveté and provides contrast for the heat of their evolving romance.

That romance was also emphasized with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which Smith and Klein agreed was perfect for an intimate story that frequently plays on the actors’ faces. “As a romantic relationship evolves between Zack and Miri, there is an intimacy that plays on their faces that is very moving,” Smith says. “When that happens, the rest of the world disappears for them. That’s a testimony to the talent Seth and Elizabeth brought to the film. You can feel the heat in the love they have for each other. It is a very powerful and emotional drama in the midst of a bawdy comedy.”

“I never light a comedy differently than a drama,” Klein explains. “There are a lot of single camera shots, which enables the audience to see scenes through a character’s eyes. I used small sources to put a little light in their eyes. It’s very subtle… just enough to get the audience to look into [them] and see what they are thinking and feeling.”

After the film was edited offline, the conformed negative was scanned at 4K resolution and down-sampled to 2K to speed up the workflow during interactive DI timing sessions. DI colorist David Cole, of Los Angeles-based LaserPacific, explains that over-sampling scanning resolution is relatively inexpensive and it renders a truer range of tones and colors.

Cole had previously collaborated with Smith and Klein on Clerks II. “That helped immensely because we had developed a shorthand for communicating,” Cole observes. “I also saw tests that had been shot during pre-production and had a sense of their vision. David could say things like, ‘Zack is looking at her in a romantic light in this scene,’ and I knew he wanted me to bring the background down a bit and emphasize the light in her eyes.”

“If an actor is flatly lit, we can try to fix it in DI, but it never looks as natural,” Klein warns. “It has to begin with properly lit shots that have the right contrast built into the exposed negative. DI is an extension of cinematography. It’s more about enhancing moods and feelings than fixing technical things. We also made exterior locations in Pittsburgh look even colder than they were.”

The cinematographer’s palette included KODAK VISION3 500T 5219, which allowed him to push the negative one and two stops, to cover the darkest night scenes without creating grain. He used three-perf 35mm trimmed raw stock to maintain image quality and rein in lab costs.

“Zack and Miri live in a very drab world in the beginning,” Smith says. “Everything is colorless. Zack works in a place where the background has kind of a drab brown tone with some brighter colors in wardrobes. As the love story evolves, the colors in settings and costumes get subtly brighter. I never used to think like that.”

Interjects Klein, “Making a movie with Kevin is a fresh, new experience every time.”

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