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Not-so-Silent Smith Speaks Truth

Not-so-Silent Smith Speaks Truth

Articles - Directing

Kevin Smith is many things to many people: A father, husband, son, director, writer, producer, actor and editor. But ask any one of his loyal fans and they’re likely to know him simply as “Kevin,” their not-so-silent friend. Smith has built a career on creating characters to whom almost any viewer can relate. His repertoire includes angst-filled retail clerks, heartfelt comic book romantics, fast-talking angels and widowed fathers, and he ties them all together with the no-holds-barred honesty with which Smith approaches every one of his characters.

Nor is that famous candor isn’t limited to the screen alone. Smith’s stand-up comedy brand of storytelling have made him a hit at speaking engagements around the world—a talent which Sony Pictures cashed in on when it released the bestselling An Evening With Kevin Smith DVD in 2002. Its sequel, Evening Harder, hits retail stores on November 28th. MM spoke with Smith about his latest release, the lessons he’s learned as a storyteller and the joys of “talking dirty” in front of your mom.

Lily Percy (MM): How did An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder” come about?

Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith directs Clerk II. Photo: The Weinstein Company

Kevin Smith (KS): The first one sold so well for [Sony] that they were like, “You want to do another one?” and I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ The first one was kind of a complete surprise for them, because they’d never done anything like that before. It was supposed to kick off a series, a bunch of directors would be doing Q&As and whatnot, but no other directors wanted to do it. (laughs) So mine ended up being the standalone. I think they expected to move 50,000 DVDs and that would be it; they moved over 300,000.

MM: On the second disc of Evening Harder you tell the story of The Mirror’s 3AM Girls, the paper’s resident gossip columnists, and how they trashed Jersey Girl and misquoted you. How do you deal with criticism like that?

KS: After 12 years you just kind of get inured to it to some degree. It always bugs you on some level, because you want people to like what you do. But you just go into it knowing that a bunch of people are going to shit on whatever you do, no matter how good it is. I loved Clerks II—I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done—and still there were people who shit on it. Granted, they were fewer than the people who seemed to embrace it, but still. Sometimes you just sit there going, ‘How can people not like this? This movie is awesome!’ But you just gotta expect it. Not everyone sees things your way.

MM: One of the things that I’ve always appreciated about you is your brazen honesty, which definitely comes through on these DVDs. Do you ever feel like you should censor yourself when you speak in public?

KS: I don’t really think of it in terms of me not censoring myself… If somebody asks you a question it just makes more sense to go with the real answer rather than the gussied-up, what’s-politically-best answer. For me, great humor comes out of honesty; the funniest stuff to me is the truest stuff, the stuff that we all kind of share in common. Even though you’re telling a story about making a movie, which is not something that everyone has done, at the end of the day it’s not really a story about making a movie as much as it’s a story about relating or not getting along or being fucking befuddled by people. People can appreciate that because we’ve all been in that headspace, so for me it just makes more sense to be honest than not.

MM: Your mom was in the audience for the Q&A you shot in London. As I was watching you tell these extremely explicit—often vulgar—stories about your sex life, all I kept thinking was I could never imagine a situation where I would be comfortable talking this way in front of my mother!

KS: Yeah, I couldn’t either until I got a job in film! My parents were very religious, we were in church every Sunday and I went to Catholic school. My mom goes to church every day now: Since my father died she’s a daily churchgoer, not just a weekly churchgoer. But at a certain point you stop dealing with your parents as parents and start dealing with them as adults, as well. You have to humanize them, otherwise there’s this chasm between you.

I think it was post-Mallrats where I first got comfortable cursing around my parents and took a lot of shit for it—not so much from my old man but definitely from my mom. But she kind of got used to it. I would rather have that kind of relationship with her because that’s how I speak with my friends so why wouldn’t I want to relate to my mother on the same level? It’s not like she sits there going like “Fuck, yes” or anything like that, but I would hate to feel like every time I’m around my mom I have to be on my best behavior.

MM: You mention on one of the DVDs that you have never really felt like a filmmaker, just a writer. Has this changed at all over the years?

KS: There are times where I think, ‘Wow, I think I’ve gotten it right’ but I mean, if somebody had a gun to my head and said, “Pick one,” it would be writing over directing any day of the week.

MM: A lot of your films have found their audience on DVD. Have you ever considered a straight to DVD release?

KS: The model has always been: You go out theatrically and then you come out on home video. There’s always a bias toward stuff that doesn’t go out theatrically because there’s this created perception that if it wasn’t good enough to go to theaters, why bother looking at it on DVD? Now all of that is changing… but I don’t know. We’ve thought about doing this Clerks cartoon direct to DVD as a movie because that makes sense to me—hit the audience there rather than take it theatrical—but there’s still that kind of engrained idea that it’s got to go to theaters first otherwise it’s not a real movie.

MM: You were one of the first directors to really embrace the Internet as a tool for communicating with your fans via your View Askew Website. You’ve had a MySpace page for a while now and you blog regularly on www.silentbobspeaks.com. Why is communicating with your fans so important to you?

KS: So much of my fan base is built off of the intercommunication of being available. So for me, on one level, there’s a feeling of like, well, if I stop communicating with them they’ll just go away. So I do it on that level to keep people interested. But on another level, writing is something that shouldn’t always be done for profit. Being that I’m paid to write for a living, there’s this risk that you get lazy and just won’t write unless you’re getting paid for it. So blogging is a way of keeping the chops sharp and also doing it in a way where it’s for the love of writing, not because a check is coming out of it.

MM: On the first disc of Evening Harder, you give some key words of advice to an audience member who also happens to be an aspiring screenwriter: “Finish it and shoot it.” Is this a motto that you stand by?

KS: Very much so. At the end of the day, I think we’re all given a certain amount of ideas and sooner or later they come to the fore. If it’s not in the first project, it will pop up sooner or later. Nothing should be wasted. There’s something to be said for actually finishing something, otherwise it becomes this dark specter that you don’t want to acknowledge and sometimes finishing something leads to the next thing and gets you someplace else. People, they don’t do it so much anymore, but back in the day they’d bag on Mallrats. And look, I like Mallrats for what Mallrats is, but I’m so glad that I did it because without it I wouldn’t have gotten Chasing Amy.

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