Kevin Smith: I almost wanted to "curl up in an asylum" when Southwest controversy was brewing
With an $18-million haul for "Cop Out" at the box office this week, Kevin Smith has the biggest opening of his career (even if it's also a relatively modest one by studio comedy standards). We caught up with Smith, one day removed from the opening weekend and about 10 days removed from the Southwest Airlines publicity blowup that almost engulfed said opening.
In a colorful, profanity-strewn conversation, Smith had plenty to say about all of that -- how Arnold Schwarzanegger called him to speak at an obesity conference, how Warner Bros. Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov is just like Harvey Weinstein, how critics don't matter anymore, how he's going to spend the next few weeks hammering out the script for his hockey comedy "Hit Somebody" ... and how how he's not taking planes again for the foreseeable future.
24 Frames: You had a respectable opening but you didn't hit No. 1 this weekend. Did that cause any weirdness for you with the studio?
Kevin Smith: I thought they'd be like, "You didn't get to No. 1 ... you." But what I learned about the studio versus what I used to think is that these cats could care less about the horse race. They just care about the bottom line. And we made a movie for $34.2 million that's already made $18 million just on the opening weekend in the U.S. The other thing I thought I'd get castigated for is the reviews. I
thought [Warner Bros. President] Alan Horn would yell at me. But they didn't really care about those either.
Were you personally bothered that some of the critics were so harsh?
KS: It's weird -- these were some of the worst reviews I ever got in my life, including work I did in grade school. But they're completely out-of-sync with what people want to watch. It's just a different world than the one I entered. I came from a world where critics matter. Janet Maslin made my career by saying I turned straw into gold. We don't live in that world anymore. It's about the marketing, and the Internet takes care of the rest. But I wasn't surprised they were that nasty. When a movie is called "Cop Out" and it's made at a studio, half the reviews are going to ... you for that alone.
Were there any that did get to you, the other half?
KS: Some of them are like "How dare you not cure cancer with his film?" And I'm like "Cure cancer? I'm just trying to make a TNT classic." And A.O. Scott insinuated that I did it for a studio paycheck and I guess he didn't do the research and see that I took an 80% pay cut. People assume it's a studio movie and you just cashed the check. But everybody took a pay cut so we could make an R-rated movie. Bruce [Willis] even a took pay cut. We didn't make the $75-million version with Will Ferrell and Marky Mark. We made the $34.2-million version.
Speaking of an R rating, a lot of people wonder how much the studio got involved in development. This is a script you didn't write, and you're not making a movie with the Weinsteins, with whom you had such a fruitful collaboration over all those years, but with a major studio.
KS: Say what you will about Harvey and Bob -- they're true believers. And I worked with Jeff Robinov for the better part of the year, and he's a true believer too. He just happens to work with a bigger wallet. These cats are just like the brothers Weinstein. They stayed away through production and then in post, probably more than Harvey did. I mean, Jeff has been that guy who takes chances on people like Chris Nolan.
Have you had any contact with Harvey before or after "Cop Out"? Is it weird to be releasing a movie with someone else for the first time in a long while?
KS: I wrote Harvey an e-mail two weeks ago. Everyone has written you off, I said. But this isn't the end of the third act; it's the beginning of a new act. Buy the Miramax name back, make a deal with a cable station, buy the library and then you put everything on Blu-ray and call it the Miramax Reunion collection. It becomes more poetic than Gretzky returning to end his career in Edmonton. I told Harve, "You buy that studio back. I will make every movie there until the day I die. That's so romantic ..." But in a world where that doesn't happen, it's nice to know there's a new family that welcomes me at Warner Bros.
So does that mean we can expect you to do another movie with them?
KS: It was easy this time. I don't know what it would be like if I went in with something I wrote, or let's say something I didn't write but wanted to write. They were talking about "Hit Somebody," the hockey movie I wanted to make based on the Warren Zevon song. And I said, "I know you like me right now. But I sweat blood for this. If you say you're committing to it then you're saying you're greenlighting this movie." So we said we'll talk.
What's "Hit Somebody" actually about?
KS: It's not a movie about the NHL. It's a movie about the game, and it's a movie about Canada. I look at it and keep describing as what I'm going for as the "Forrest Gump" of hockey movies. Not flat-out funny stuff I've always done. It's a more serious comedy.
If you get that one going, does that preclude you from coming on to direct another studio comedy that already has a script written?
KS: There are about five scripts that Warner Bros. has handed me that they're interested in. One of them is with Tracy [Morgan]. The romantic in me wants to paint it as a "Platoon"-like battle for one soul, a battle between Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe. But it'll come down to what happens next. If best-case scenario, I'm shooting "Hit Somebody" by the end of the year, then what am I going to do between now and then? Maybe nothing. Or I can multi-task and spin another plate while waiting for it to come together. And there's also "Red State" [a dark political drama he's written]. There's some very interested money that wasn't interested a week ago, before "Cop Out" came out.
It must seem like a long time since all the Southwest stuff was happening about two weeks ago. Did you ever think about not tweeting about it?
KS: There was this part of me that wanted to be, like "An injustice was done" and shine a light on a bunch of ... cockroaches. That's how I was raised. At the same time, I got really scared for the movie, and I don't mean at the box office. I'm a big believer in karma, and I wanted to go out of my way to make sure I didn't do anything to mess up this movie. And then I had to cognitively reframe it and I think I need to be true to myself. It's like I tell my daughter, "You start yelling or you start telling." I didn't think there would be publicity. I thought a few people on Twitter would write about it. I didn't think the press would write about it. Why would they?With millions of people following your odyssey on Twitter, it was hard for us not to. But I take it you won't be flying Southwest for a while?
KS: I won't be flying at all. I'm doing this Q&A tour in something like six cities, these gigs in Austin and Milwaukee and Detroit. And I rented a tour bus. I just don't want to get on a plane. Someone else is going to drive the bus, and on the road I'm going to write "Hit Somebody." I have reams and reams of notes, and I wrote the ending and I feel like it's a zit and it's built to a whitehead and then you put a warm ... on it and it'll pop.
After all the Southwest stuff, there was also an unusual interaction with a certain governor. What happened?
KS: I got a message that Arnold Schwarzanegger called me, but I thought it was a joke. So I didn't call him back for a couple days. Then finally we spoke, and he joked that he wasn't calling me for a job, and then he laughed at his own joke, which I thought was funny. Then he told me he wanted me to speak at an obesity conference which he was putting on with Bill Clinton. And I started telling him that the whole thing with the airline wasn't about being fat -- it was about bad customer service. And there was a really long pause and he was like, "The conference was yesterday."
You also pulled out of part of the "Cop Out" junket after the Southwest stuff started happening. Why?
KS: I talked to [Warner Bros. marketing chief] Sue Kroll three days before the junket. I said, "I'll talk to print. I'll talk to radio. But I can't do broadcast. All they'll take from it is 'Here's this outraged fat ... from Southwest. Remember him?'" And I said to Sue, "The moment they say Southwest, do you want me out there talking about Southwest in terms of sexual assault? Do you want that to be the face of 'Cop Out?'" But I took my pain and turned it into someone else's comedy. That's what you do do. That's how I was able to keep from curling up in an asylum when for two days the whole world was calling me fat.
How do you feel about all that now?
KS: I'll say this -- $18 million makes everything a lot easier to take. I avoided two bricks -- the brick of everyone calling me fat and the brick of all those terrible reviews. I'm glad the box office was a Nerf ball. I couldn't have taken another brick.
Photo: Kevin Smith. Credit: Carlo Allegria/AP