AN INTERVIEW WITH THE GUY WHO MADE CLERKS (A.K.A. KEVIN SMITH)
by Mike McCarthy
MIKE: I understand you've been busy doing some editing. Finishing off Chasing
KEVIN: Yeah. Just took another four minutes out of it.
MIKE: You recently sold the rights to Miramax. Were you at all afraid you'd
have a hard time getting it picked up?
KEVIN: No. I always had a feeling that Miramax would pretty much step up and
grab it. The film's right up their alley.
MIKE: What made you decide to go the independent route again after doing
Mallrats for a studio?
KEVIN: Um, it just made sense. It was pretty much the route we always
intended to go and stay. With Mallrats, we kind of . . . diverged. We got
sidetracked with Mallrats. This was the idea of doing what we intended to do,
which was make this quirky little bunch of flicks. And I always dug the idea
of making a movie that's not that expensive. It doesn't have to yield that
much back during its theatrical run. Doing Mallrats for six million was kind
of forced on us, and also kind of disappointing in that if it had a limited
audience it's not gonna make back what its budget was. Chasing Amy was shot
for like 250 grand.
MIKE: I've always wondered if there had been things in earlier drafts of the
Mallrats script that the studio said were too vulgar and made you pull.
KEVIN: Absolutely, in the earlier drafts there were. The shooting draft is
pretty much what the movie is except for the stuff in the first half hour we
cut. There was some racy stuff, but during the script development process
they were just like, lose that.
MIKE: Everyone is calling Chasing Amy boy-meets-lesbian. What's your actual
pitch for it?
KEVIN: That is fairly close. On the surface, it's the story of a guy who
falls in love with a lesbian, but I don't really have a pitch line. I just
maintain that it's the most different film we've done to date. It's way more
dramatic. It was a hell of a lot more satisfying for us to make. We stretch a
lot in this movie.
MIKE: Do you want to talk a little bit about the characters and cast?
KEVIN: The cast was basically filled out with a lot of people we worked
closely with on Mallrats. I like to think of Mallrats as my six million
dollar casting call for Chasing Amy. We had a good time making Mallrats, and
it was a cute little movie, but we were working with people that definitely
could have shown more colors. Way more range. When I was writing Chasing Amy,
I wrote the parts with these people in mind so they could show that range.
Kind of stretch. Ben had pretty much played one note assholes up until this
point. I knew Ben as a guy--as a person--and he's just way more charismatic
than that. Way more colorful a character. So, I wrote that part with Ben in
mind, knowing that he could pull it off. Same with Joey. Joey pretty much
played the slut, the bad girl, and the cute squeaky voiced girl who shows her
tits--even in one of my flicks--but I knew she was capable of a lot more.
MIKE: Has Amy hit any film festivals yet?
KEVIN: Not yet. We're hoping to start at Sundance this year. Kind of a
return. Do like we did with Clerks.
MIKE: When's the anticipated official release?
KEVIN: Hopefully, February or March.
MIKE: During the Clerks credits it said Jay and Silent Bob would return in
Dogma, as they will, but did you intend to make that one second at the time?
KEVIN: We were gonna make that second, but we opted not to. We knew that the
second film was gonna get trashed. We knew that we'd take our hits from the
critics. Sophomore effort always does. Dogma was just too good a film to get
wasted on that, to get blasted just because it was the second film. So, we
figured we'd throw them a film that was kind of critic proof in our opinion,
where it didn't matter what the critics said about it, which was Mallrats.
Then we intended to do Dogma third, but Chasing Amy popped into my head and I
became hung up on that. And I thought it would make a great transition film
because Dogma is a different kind of mix of humor and seriousness and subject
matter. You're dealing with religion and it's kind of heavy stuff. At the
same time, it's more of a satire than Chasing Amy is. But I thought Chasing
Amy, especially after Mallrats, made sense as a transition because people can
look at it and go, oh, the kid can do more than dick and fart jokes.
MIKE: When I read the Dogma script, I was surprised by all the Biblical
proportions. Were they always there or did some of that stuff not show up
until later drafts?
KEVIN: Basically, Dogma was pretty much always what it is. I started writing
that right after I started writing Clerks. It was always the ambitious flick.
But it used to be daunting for that reason. It was like, this is the movie
where we're gonna show them what we could do. Something other than Clerks or
whatever. But at the same time Amy kind of snuck up and took the pressure off
of Dogma and wound up being the flick that is probably the most revealing.
The biggest step for us yet. Now we can go have a good time with Dogma and
not worry about the pressure of throwing them something completely different.
MIKE: Clerks was your film debut, as everybody knows, but was it your first
KEVIN: Yeah. It absolutely was.
MIKE: I was flipping through a screenwriter's directory and it said you wrote
a script called Busing. What's that one?
KEVIN: That's a script I wrote for Hollywood Pictures right after Clerks got
picked up. Thankfully, it never went anywhere. We're trying to get it back to
do it for Miramax. It was the first job I got after Clerks. It's been
described as Clerks in a restaurant.
MIKE: Jay and Silent Bob were in Clerks and Mallrats and will be in Chasing
Amy and Dogma. Do you plan to include them in your future directorial efforts
KEVIN: No. I think Dogma's the last one. It gives them a nice send off.
MIKE: Were Jay and Silent Bob in the Busing script?
KEVIN: No, they weren't.
MIKE: Silent Bob only speaks once per film. Do you aspire to ever play more
KEVIN: In Chasing Amy he has a huge monologue where he explains the title.
It's about four minutes. So, that's the most talkative thing I've done in the
films yet. As for playing more talkative characters? I don't know. It's
always fun to act, but it's definitely not my forte.
MIKE: Has Jason "Jay" Mewes done any acting outside of your films?
KEVIN: He did a smaller film we produced shot up in Canada called Drawing
Flies. It actually debuted at the Vancouver Film Festival recently. But,
yeah, he played a completely different character.
MIKE: Will that be released here in the U.S.?
KEVIN: We're gonna check it out. We're seeing. Hopefully a Canadian
distributor will pick it up. That's where it will play best.
MIKE: I remember hearing a rumor that Four Rooms was originally going to be
Five Rooms and that yourself and Richard Linklater were going to be two of
the filmmakers involved. Any truth to that?
KEVIN: Sort of. There was supposed to be five rooms and Richard was supposed
to be involved, not me. But somebody had asked . . . Who was it? I heard a
story--I think from my lawyer, John--where the producer, Lawrence Bender, had
asked him if Richard was gonna be available to do it. He represents Richard
as well. John said, no, Richard's working on something, but you know who
would be good, this new guy Kevin Smith, he did the movie Clerks. And
Lawrence Bender was like, oh, I don't think so. So, he kind of boxed me out.
MIKE: I always wondered if Quentin was just afraid someone would show him up
in the dialogue department.
KEVIN: No, it smelled like Lawrence Bender's insecurity.
MIKE: You're currently rewriting the new Superman script. How did that come
KEVIN: Basically, it came from Chasing Amy. The execs producing the project
read the script and really liked it. They had me come in and talk about
Superman. After jumping through hoops for about a month and a half, they gave
me the job. It's ironic because I would say Chasing Amy is about the farthest
thing from Superman you'll probably ever read.
MIKE: Is it just dialogue you're rewriting or . . . ?
KEVIN: No, it's everything. It's a page one rewrite.
MIKE: Great. Who's the villain going to be?
KEVIN: There's Lex Luther and Brainiac. Then there's Doomsday, of course, and
the Cyborg Superman.
MIKE: Has a director been attached to the project yet?
KEVIN: Not yet.
MIKE: Might you direct it?
KEVIN: Hell no. That's way too big. Way too big.
MIKE: OK, then we know you'd write something you're not directing, but would
you ever direct something you didn't write?
KEVIN: I would only direct stuff that I write because I think that's where my
talent lies, in that I know what my dialogue should sound like. Directing
somebody else's script, to me, it just seems like I couldn't do it justice.
MIKE: As far as writing and directing go, which gives you more fulfilment?
KEVIN: Oh, definitely the writing. Hands down. Although on Chasing Amy I felt
like I grew a little bit as a director. But, still, it will always be the
writing. If I had to choose one it would be the writing always.
MIKE: Now that you did Chasing Amy as an independent again, and have dealt
with the studio doing Mallrats, are you hoping to get another studio deal
after this one, or do you want to remain independent now?
KEVIN: Well, we're doing Dogma for Miramax next. And that's a nine
million-dollar movie. So, I mean, somebody's picking up the check.
MIKE: And, of course, you need that money to translate what's in the script
onto the screen. It's not like having to spend six million on Mallrats.
KEVIN: Oh yeah. Nine or ten million is gonna be a stretch, actually.
MIKE: Where did the inspiration for Dogma come from? Were the religious pokes
thoughts you've always had?
KEVIN: I think they're thoughts I've always had. Growing up Catholic
definitely does a lot of that to you. There's things like Matt Wagner, a
comic book writer/artist that did this book called Mage, which was a big
inspiration. And everything like listening to George Carlin talk about his
Catholic background on his comedy records. Sam Kinison talking about his
religious life. Things like that always kind of sink in. So, I kind of made
it into a thing of my own.
MIKE: Chasing Amy is a very heartfelt script, and Dogma has lots of thought
provoking elements, but they're also very funny. Could you see yourself ever
writing and/or directing a straightforward drama or something?
KEVIN: I think that would be really hard for me. Humor is such a natural part
of who I am. It winds up in everything. It would be really hard not to do
it. I mean, I could probably get away with doing something dramatic, but it
would always have some funny lines in it. The humor would always be there.
Maybe not as obvious, or as loud as it is in Clerks or Mallrats, but I think
it would always be there. Even with Chasing Amy, the first hour or forty five
minutes, it feels like a comedy. It's my funniest stuff to date.
MIKE: That said, do you think your knack for humor will ever become a curse
to you as a writer?
KEVIN: No, not really. It hasn't affected me. Writing Superman Lives, I can't
really do comedy. You can be kind of funny, or cute like they are in Batman,
but just as long as it doesn't go overboard.
MIKE: When you write your scripts, are you trying to write comedy or do you
not set out to write any particular genre?
KEVIN: I think it pretty much starts off as what it intends to be. It's like,
this is gonna be a funny flick or blah, blah, blah.
MIKE: You've said in the past that Slacker is the film that made you realize
you could make films yourself. Since then, has there been another movie that
you think would have inspired you to make films had you not seen that?
KEVIN: Um . . . shucks. I don't know. Maybe Welcome To The Dollhouse. Just in
terms of the tone of the film. It was decidedly mixed. It mixed humor
wonderfully with the drama. I think that would have done something for me.
MIKE: The Clerks and Mallrats soundtracks both sport dialogue excerpts. Will
the Chasing Amy disc?
KEVIN: I'm not sure. It would be nice, but I don't know if the tone of the
film is right. It's a little more serious. But we might.
MIKE: Have you decided on any bands for the soundtrack yet?
KEVIN: No. We start the end of this week, the beginning of next week.
MIKE: Before the Clerks soundtrack, the only other soundtrack I'd ever heard
with dialogue was the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. Was that the inspiration
KEVIN: No, I think the inspiration was actually two other soundtracks. One
was Batman, the Prince soundtrack with the dialogue clips on it, and Terms of
Endearment. That had dialogue on it. It had been a common practice once in
MIKE: Was it really important to you that the Clerks disc have dialogue?
KEVIN: No. It just kind of popped up later on when we were putting the
soundtrack together. The prospect of having an album or CD that actually had
my words on it, I thought that was really cool.
MIKE: The "Berserker" and "Chewbacca" tracks really fit that film. Were they
written for it?
KEVIN: With the "Berserker" thing, Love Among Freaks had covered it after
Jason sang it in the movie. They covered it as a lark and I said, yeah,
that's pretty cool, include it. The "Chewbacca" thing was actually found by
the people who put the soundtrack together.
MIKE: What are your favorite tracks on that disc?
KEVIN: I'm still very partial to the opening track that Love Among Freaks had
done. I do like The Jesus Lizard track a lot. "Making Me Sick." I like that
track. And, of course, the Soul Asylum track, which the boys kind of wrote
for the movie. That's very dear. Very near to my heart.
MIKE: And, of course, you directed the video for that. What was that like for
KEVIN: It was a lot of fun. It was different because, you know, video's
pretty much a visual medium and that's it. And I'm a dialogue guy. But I
enjoyed it. I really, really enjoyed it. The guys were great. They didn't
want to play instruments in the video, which made it much easier to do the
video I was thinking of doing, which was just basically Jay singing the song.
MIKE: Were there any other videos from Clerks?
KEVIN: There was a video for "Kill The Sex Player," but somebody else
MIKE: What about Mallrats. Any videos there?
KEVIN: There was a Goops music video that I directed for the cover tune of
"Build Me Up Buttercup," which was just me and Jason. All Jay and Silent Bob.
It's actually on our website. You can download it and see it.
MIKE: What's the website address?
KEVIN: It's www.viewaskew.com. I've been very into the website as of late. I
spend a lot of time online. People ask questions and I spend a lot of time
MIKE: When people spot you on the street, do they call you Kevin or Silent
KEVIN: I get a lot of Silent Bob when people do recognize me, but I have
shorter hair in real life and I wear glasses. So, I'm not instantly
recognizable. So, it's people that have seen me in interviews that usually
pick me out and say, you're that guy that did Clerks, right?