Only weeks after the Mooby’s pop-up restaurant inspired by his Jay and Silent Bob films took over Tin Roof on International Drive, filmmaker Kevin Smith himself is appearing live at the Dr. Phillips Center’s socially distanced Frontyard Festival for an evening blending stand-up storytelling with behind-the-scenes Q&A.
Orlando Weekly was lucky enough to get a one-on-one sneak preview of the performance in a nearly hour-long phone interview covering everything from his intergenerational quarantine and legal weed to a certain convicted Miramax mogul.
How have you and your family weathered the pandemic?
Fortunately, we didn’t catch COVID. Some friends of mine did [but] I didn’t lose anybody to COVID.
As a family, it was actually wonderful for all of us. We’ve all lived together — me, my wife, my kid Harley and [my wife’s parents] — since the kid was born. Over the course of the year before the pandemic, we were off shooting Jay and Silent Bob Reboot and I then went on tour, and Harley went off to shoot something.
The house was kind of splitting up; Harley was 20 and probably looking at getting her own place sooner or later. Suddenly, the whole family was back together.
We all got to hang out together, and we made a TV show while we were doing it. TBS did this game show called Celebrity Show-Off, and they’re like, “We’ll give you a camera and you could do whatever you want.” Most of the people did shows where they talked to the camera and stuff like that. I was like, fuck, man, if we’re gonna put it on TV, I’m gonna make a sitcom! And so we made a little sitcom called Son-In-Lockdown with everybody who lived here.
How did the pandemic impact your famously active touring schedule?
I would estimate that of my yearly nut, 90 percent of it comes from me being on the road. So in a year we weren’t allowed to be on the road, thank God I had me some savings. Thank God I have Masters of the Universe to work on for Netflix, because animation keeps going. Everyone just goes home, and they work on the artwork from home, and Mark Hamill is in the closet in his house recording voices.
We did a lot of driving gigs at the beginning of the quarantine, and then moved mostly online. The online gigs are free but still at least you’re constantly engaged with the audience.
How did your stand-up career start?
I started in film going, “I’m a filmmaker,” and then one day I realized, “No, you’re the guy that stands on stage and talks about making films; you just happen to make films so you have some shit to talk about on stage.” Once I came to peace with that — once I realized, “You’re never gonna be Quentin Tarantino, you don’t want to be Quentin Tarantino, you just need some shit to say to people that changes every year, otherwise you’re saying the same shit” — I realized I was part of the act.
I learned this early, in 1994. We were showing Clerks at the Houston WorldFest, and we did Q&As afterwards. People loved the Clerks Q&A because I wasn’t erudite, I wasn’t the guy trying to tell you how we made this film. I didn’t come across as a film person, I came across as the audience. I can’t tell you what aspect ratio it’s in, but I can tell you how we got that cat to shit on cue.
[After the Q&A] we’re standing behind the door, so the people who are in the auditorium don’t know it’s us, and people are walking. The first two dudes out the door have a conversation that affects the rest of my life, and I don’t even know who these fucks are. I wish I’d chased him down and got a good look at him so I could say, “Dude, you made me the man I am today.” One guy says to the other guy, “What do you think of the movie?” and the other guy goes, “I thought it sucked but the fat guy was funny afterwards.”
And right then and there I was like, there you go, I missed him with the movie but I got him by talking about the movie. So I realized early on that’s a second bite at the apple. Most filmmakers just get the movie itself, and if you don’t like it, that’s that, thumbs down. Most filmmakers aren’t like me. I’m a filmmaker [who] comes out and goes, “Wait, before you make your decision, let me tell you how Bruce Willis hated me while I was making this movie and we fought all the time.” For me it’s not like the credits roll and the movie is over. In my world, the experience continues because, now that you’ve watched the flick, let me tell you all the fucking circus acts I had to pull off to make this fucking happen.
I directed four episodes of Supergirl and three episodes of Flash. I loved doing it because I love those fucking shows … That being said, I can make more money for one night standing on a stage talking about directing Supergirl for three weeks than I made being on Supergirl for three weeks.
How did the Mooby’s pop-ups happen?
Mooby’s came out of nowhere. We thought we’d do it [in Los Angeles] and that would be one month and be done; it wound up going two months.
Suddenly we had a franchise, something we can take from place to place, a very easy turnkey operation where you just go to a restaurant that’s willing to cosplay as your Mooby’s: Give them a very limited menu they’re going to work from, bring in a bunch of souvenirs, and you’re off to the races. And so suddenly Jay [Mewes] and I had a way to interact with the audience that wasn’t the standard way of interacting with the audience.
Some people ask, “Why do you do so many things?” and No. 1, I do them because they seem interesting to me. I’ll be never be a master of anything, I’ll just be a jack of all trades, master of none, and I’m OK with that. Life is experiential, and I like doing this.
What’s your current connection with your home state of New Jersey?
Very good. It never ended. I live in California, but I always go back at least once a month, [most] recently for the grand opening of the new Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash [memorabilia store in Redbank].
Jersey is a currency … it gives you this weird biofilm of authenticity, where people just assume off the bat that you mean what you say, that you’re not a poseur.
When you grow up in New Jersey, you grow up right next to Manhattan, which is like being fucking Tom Cruise’s little brother. Everybody in the world talks about New York, the world sets its time by Manhattan, Manhattan sets the fucking tone. New Jersey is the easy go-to butt of a joke for every fucking New Yorker … so you already start growing up in New Jersey with a chip on your shoulder because of that.
I think that has a lot to do with trying to, like, step out of the shadow of something far greater than yourself. That’s why I kept most of my shits set in Jersey; the comic-book store is in Jersey. Because, as a kid I was always like, why not here? Why do [movies] always talk about Hollywood, New York, why isn’t New Jersey a cool setting? Every time I was at a movie as a kid, and they would reference our home state, I’d go crazy, like “holy shit, they know we exist!” It’s still a big part of me, not even just something I flash like a badge, but it’s deeply in my DNA.
What’s the future of theatrical distribution versus streaming services for upcoming independent filmmakers?
I think I would always try to get into a theater, because that’s what every moviemaker dreams. They don’t dream, “They’ll watch it on their phone!”
To every moviemaker, a movie is an experience, it’s not just the physical product. It’s walking into a theater, the lights go down, all the attention is being paid on the bright center spot on the curtains. It’s romantic, so I think every filmmaker would always want their movie to be picked up by a distributor to play at a movie theater.
That being said, like I learned early on, like, that’s expensive. You can go that route, but it’s best to go that route when you’ve got something that is a surefire hit or a franchise. Marvel movies, spend all you want on making it and then spend all you want on marketing it, because it’s still going to connect in a big bad way.
Marketing has always been my hurdle; budget, not so much. Getting the money to make the movies is not that difficult, particularly if you can keep the budget low. You can even provide it yourself, which I’ve done a few times. But marketing a movie, at least back in the day, was always my weakness. We made Clerks II for $5 million, they spent $20 million marketing. Couldn’t we have flipped those fucking figures? I could have paid everybody instead of asking them to do it for next to nothing because we’re friends.
I imagine the 2021 version of Kevin Smith that never made Clerks in 1994 would be selling it as an NFT, but I would still probably find a way to put it in a theater, even if it was just for one screen. There’s still a romanticism about being in that room, but who knows how long that romanticism lasts after quarantine. I know a lot of people can’t wait to get back out there, but how many of us are gonna feel completely comfortable enough to suspend disbelief when we all stop to think we’re trapped in a fucking room with a bunch of heavy breathers?
Big studios are going to be fine, [but] for the small-time storytellers it would honestly feel hopeless, except for the fact that most of the storytelling being done on Netflix and Amazon closely resembles the world of indie filmmaking I came from. Most of the challenging material — thoughtful material, stuff that kids coming out of film school would want to be doing — probably [the] best place to go for that is to the streamers.
As the original advocate for Ben Affleck playing Batman, what was your take on the Snyder Cut of Justice League?
After I watched the Snyder cut I texted [Affleck] to say that it was great … I enjoyed the Snyder Cut a whole fuck-ton, and also felt like it’s a great model for like every other studio.
You can give almost any filmmaker a second bite at the apple. You keep it reasonable; we can’t all fucking walk away with $70 million to redo the movie, [but] it’ll cost a nominal amount to reopen a cut and put in the stuff that the filmmaker didn’t the first time around. It just creates more value for a product that they already have that’s just gonna sit there; it’s another way for them to monetize something they already own.
In a world where your mom’s watching WandaVision, they’ll be happy to watch bonus features, cut features and extended director cuts.Shit, can we do a Jersey Girl: The Snyder Cut? We do have a completely different cut of that movie where Jennifer [Lopez] is in it a lot more. So I’m all for it; if there could be a Snyder Cut, there could be a Bennifer cut.
Why was the ending of Mallrats set in Universal Studios Florida but filmed in Hollywood?
I wrote it for Florida, because when you’re raised on the East Coast you don’t think about the West Coast, fucking vacationland to you is Florida. So, it was in the script as Florida. They wouldn’t let us shoot it in Florida, but we could shoot it in Hollywood. I said, “Should I make it Hollywood?” and they’re like, “Who’s gonna care?” It’s one of the few losses in my career that bugged me [and] I blame Universal for that fully … I’m not gonna say like that I’ve lost sleep over it over the years, but it is something that always bugs me.
How have you processed the revelations around Harvey Weinstein, who executive produced many of your films?
It’s not like we were ever friends, but he did buy the movie [Clerks], and that changed my life. Suddenly you’re thinking, there’s a monster at the heart of my story. My wonderful little Cinderella story about a kid from New Jersey who makes a movie, then the movie gets picked up and everyone lives happily ever after. But the guy [who] picked it up turns out to be an arch-fucking-criminal.
I had dreams — I wanted to make movies. All those women that he either raped or sexually harassed — they also had movie dreams. But I was not made to do anything to make mine come true other than sell him the movie. It made me feel like if I’d known this, if somebody could have told me at the beginning of my career [that] the guy who fucking buys your ticket and puts you on this roller coaster hurts all these people, I just would have said it’s not worth it.
I did feel like I had to do something, [and] we still get residual checks for Clerks, Chasing Amy, all the flicks that he was involved in, so I just donate all those to Women in Film going forward. It sucks finding out that somebody you thought highly of was not only someone who didn’t deserve that respect, but also an active fucking felon. That kind of shit will make you really re-evaluate: “What business am I in?”
Could the Jay and Silent Bob-branded legal cannabis introduced in California come to Florida or New Jersey?
Caviar Mike [Brunson, founder of Caviar Gold] has to partner up with people in all the weed-legal states, and then he brings all the equipment and then teaches them how to make the weed. I know he’s been dealing with folks in Florida, so it could be happening in Florida very, very soon. In New Jersey, they just went weed-legal and it’s gonna take them a minute to figure out the rules … and it’d be nice if we can get one of those licenses.
I would partner up with the folks who own Quick Stop, the Toppers, and if we could, open our Jay and Silent Bob weed store at the RST Video location right next to Quick Stop. That’s what we’re building toward right now.
What’s the future of your View Askewniverse on film?
In Clerks III, Jay and Bob are running their own dispensary out of RST, so if I can make it happen in real life — if you can take reality, turn it into fiction, and then turn the fiction back into reality — at that point, how is it different than necromancy, for heaven’s sakes, different than turning lead into gold?
God willing, or SMod willing, we’ll be filming that this summer, and I feel like if we can get Clerks III going, then Twilight of the Mallrats happens even quicker.
I had a heart attack a few years ago, so I always feel like I’m living on borrowed time. So more than “how much money can we make?” now I just do things because I’m like, “Well, that’d be fucking cool to do.”