Local Celluliod Hero Believes In His Art But Not His Own Myth
A Two River Times Interview By Eileen Moon

RED BANK - It's a long way to Red Bank from Nebraska, but worth the trip to those pilgrims with the call to visit the holy sites featured in Kevin Smith's movies.

They pay homage at the Quick Stop in Leonardo, where Mr. Smith made his first movie five years ago in the wee hours after he finished his 4 to 10 p.m. shift behind the cash register.

They swing down Highway 35 and cross the bridge into Red Bank, intent on making a stop at Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash - the comic book store Mr. Smith owns on Monmouth Street.

Comics remain Mr. Smith's favorite form of literary entertainment. "It's a real passion of mine," he says, noting that the comics he reads are far from the 'rock 'em, sock 'em stereotype of 'Big dudes in tights beating each other up. The comics I read are highly literate, so I don't feel I'm missing anything."

He's pleased about the fact that he recently had the opportunity to write a comic book followup to his film, "Clerks," which will be published next month. "I made a movie so I could write a comic book," he jokes.

If he's in town, he doesn't mind heading down to Silent Bob's to say 'hi' to the cats from Nebraska, take some pictures with them, sign autographs if they want. "You gotta respect that," Mr. Smith says from behind his cluttered desk in his even-more-cluttered office on Broad Street. "These are the people that kind of keep you employed."

In the handful of years since he dropped out of film school and wrote his first script about a day in the life of a goin' nowhere, so-called Gen X, convenience store clerk, Mr. Smith has been wined and dined at the Sundance Film Festival, "done meetings" with the moguls of Hollywood, had his picture on the cover of Time magazine. He bought a condo. He bought a house here for his parents.

"Unlike many who achieve fame in that fabled city known as Tinsel Town, Keuin Smith has not been born again, has not sought to reinvent himself. "

His plan is to do what he loves in the place where he lives and above all, remain human, avoiding the pitfall of believing in his own myth. "I think the best thing that's happened careerwise was "Mallrats" going right into the toilet," he says. After that, 'You know you've been praised and you've been chastised... (the important thing is) Did you keep your integrity?"

Twice a day, he logs onto the View Askew Web site, where he's happy to offer some advice to other aspiring filmmakers.

But he's not enamored of people who contact him in search of the Holy Grail of filmmaking. "If their attitude is, 'Yo! Help me Out!', It'll show in their work," Mr. Smith says. "You want people to suffer for their work to some degree."

His initial inspiration came from seeing Richard Linklater's film, "Slacker" several years back. "I didn't call up Rick Linklater and say, 'How? Where? Why?,"' Mr. Smith says. "I just started reading as much as I could. I thought, 'If this is a movie, I could make a movie."'

With the activities of his View Askew Production Company crawling across his Broad Street office suite like an overgrown philodendron, Mr. Smith is looking to buy the former municipal building at 32 Monmouth Street when it comes up for public bid. He is already leasing the second floor for his post-production facilities.

If he's able to buy the building Mr. Smith says he'll put the comic book store on the ground floor. That way, the next time 'the cats from Nebraska' (or Long Island or California) stop in, he'll just run downstairs to say hello.

Remaining accessible isn't just a public relations ploy for Smith - it's part of a philosophy that has kept him grounded through a dreamcome-true experience that he has no intention of allowing to lead him into a lifestyle of faux friendships and power moves on the left coast.

"I could be making a s---load more cash, but I don't want to do those movies," he says.

He'd much rather continue working with his friends, with the real life of Red Bank as the vortex of View Askew Productions.

Mr. Smith has recently directed two Coca-Cola commercials and is about to begin work on "Dogma."

"It's a little end of the world movie," Mr. Smith says. "The first three flicks we've done have been pretty believable relationship pieces. This one has angels and demons... (It explores) the idea of faith and spirituality versus organized religion."

He doesn't expect it to be controversial, saying that it would, be terrible if people took it wrong. "In the end, it's a real reverential piece," he says. "It's one big love letter to God, if you will, so to that degree, I think people will be surprised."

At 27, Smith says, he's accomplished more than many have the opportunity to do in a lifetime. "Doing what you love to do - it just doesn't take much out of you," he says. "At the end of the day, you never feel like,

"God Almighty, what am I doing?"

View Askew Productions