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Kevin Smith talks 'Red State,' Wayne Gretzky and why he's ready to leave filmmaking

April 7, 2011 |  7:25 pm

Kevinsmith Kevin Smith can talk. A lot.

Currently, he often talks into a microphone at least four hours a week spread across four separate podcasts. He has plans to begin an online morning radio show next month and also frequently hits the road for speaking tours, talking directly and in person to his dedicated fan base. He has done so much talking of late that Smith –- who with his debut feature “Clerks” came to embody the credit-cards-and-a-dream ideal of independent film in the 1990s -– seems to have talked himself out of making movies altogether. He has announced that following the release of the new “Red State” and the yet-to-be-made hockey movie “Hit Somebody” he will abandon filmmaking to become simply a full-time talker or, as he puts it, “a storyteller.”

“Red State,” which stars Michael Parks, John Goodman and recent Oscar winner Melissa Leo, will have its first local screening Saturday night at the Wiltern with onstage appearances by Smith and special guests, ahead of a fuller release in the fall. Regardless of how one feels about the film’s quality, it is undoubtedly unlike any other film Smith has made, and his first since “Clerks” to be made completely as an independent. Rather than another of the snappy, raunchy comedies he is known for, the film is a chilling, deeply felt parable of human wickedness, as a small, anti-gay religious congregation becomes engaged in a Waco-style standoff with federal agents.

When Smith premiered the film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, many in the audience were under the impression he would auction off the distribution rights after the screening to someone right there in the room, a pressure cooker of expectations and media buzz turned to a boil by protests outside the theater by controversial pastor Fred Phelps’ Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-gay congregation on which the group in the film is loosely based. When Smith used the moment to announce he was going to self-release the film, many were outraged by his piece of theatrical showmanship, some saying Smith had simply wasted the time of fellow film professionals, while others saw the stunt as a form of career suicide.

The Wiltern show will be the 15th and final stop of this first leg of the premium-priced “Red State” tour, with Smith mostly traveling by bus from venue to venue with a digital projector in the luggage hold. On Tuesday afternoon, with Smith just back from a screening of “Red State” in Seattle the night before, he took time to sit for a nearly two-hour interview .


By turns combative and conciliatory, reflective and on the attack, Smith is a candidly engaging and at times contradictory conversationalist. He certainly does not seem like someone near the end of anything, and at one point became visibly emotional as he spoke of the hockey great Wayne Gretzky and the pain of leaving something you love.

As he refashions himself into his next incarnation, he will most definitely keep on talking. And he'll likely have the last word on Kevin Smith.

-- Mark Olsen

M.O.: So I saw “Red State” as the serious, personal film a lot of people have been wanting you to make for a while now. It reads to me as a scream of anguish and confusion.

K.S.: No, no. What "Red State" is to me is about moral relativism. It’s a series of bad decisions made by a series of people who think they are doing the right thing. And that’s human nature. But it’s not a statement like I think we’re all doomed. I just couched it in a movie. Seeing it in a room with a thousand people that want to be there, it ain’t like seeing it at Sundance. You can’t penetrate that, you know how difficult it is to get through folded arms? These cats [coming out to Smith's tour stops], they paid their 65 bucks, they’re predisposed, you really gotta ... to lose them. You gotta be Charlie-Sheen-first-night-in-Detroit bad to lose an audience at that point. So we go out and deliver on the promise of that 65 bucks and they feel they’re getting their money’s worth.

M.O.: But the film seems to take such a dim view of humanity; there are no heroes, only villains and victims.

K.S.: Maybe there’s a little social commentary in there, but it’s a horror movie. People are going to read a bunch of ... into it, but I know what my intentions were. I wanted to make a parlor trick of a movie. I just didn’t want to make a Kevin Smith movie. Just once before I left this directing game, I wanted to make a Coen brothers movie by way of Quentin Tarantino.

M.O.: Some people might even take issue with your describing “Red State” as a horror film.

K.S.: They go, "that’s not a horror movie." Yeah, we’ve learned that on the road. But look, I don’t know what else to call it. I worked at RST Video, that same video store in "Clerks," for many years. We had categories that went drama, horror, comedy, children's. It only fits in horror.

M.O.: I’d say it’s a drama.

K.S.: Aren’t the things that happen in it horrifying? Seriously, isn’t it horrifying to watch a dude cellophaned to a cross and watch him shot right in the head just because they don’t like gay people? That’s horrifying, that’s a horror movie to me. Maybe to you a horror movie is a dude with a chainsaw. I didn’t know there was one label. Honestly, you call it whatever you want. After Sundance, people were like, "it’s not a horror movie, it’s an action thriller." I’m like, great, call it that. To me, it’s a horror movie.

M.O.: I’d like to ask you about Sundance. Would you have staged that event differently in hindsight? Some people seemed to feel there was a bait-and-switch with your auction.

K.S.: Who, what people? People who were never gonna help us out anyway. We would have had action, sales, but we weren’t interested. I knew from Day 4 of the movie that we should do this on our own. The way I did it, I don’t regret at all. The only regret I have is had I known that the Phelpses were going to protest the movie I wouldn’t have even floated that auction thing. The auction thing was floated long before we got into Sundance off me going, "You know what, if we get into Sundance I intend to pick my distributor in the room auction-style." Which I argue I did to a T. I did exactly what I said I was gonna do. Everyone else extrapolated. People said, “He’s going to auction it to the highest bidder in the room.” I didn’t say that. And I didn’t correct them either.


M.O.: But do you think the hoopla around the screening as an event got in the way of people seeing the movie on its own terms?

K.S.: I always get in the way of the movie; that’s the simple truth. It’s always something. I like making my movies and I know exactly who my audience is. And in this instance I’m just playing directly to them. I’m not going for your audience, I’m just going to play to mine. Why should that upset anybody? And that’s essentially what I said on that Sundance stage. I don’t have enough confidence in this movie to overspend on marketing so I’m just going to take it out myself, try to four-wall it and not spend any money. And, granted, it took 45 minutes to say that, some of it was funny and some of it a little too uncomfortable for some cats in the room and there were some people who were like, here come the long, sharp knives. It didn’t matter. Our way was clear; I knew exactly what I was doing.

M.O.: And this ties into your decision to leave filmmaking?

K.S.: It’s no longer just the movie. It’s not the movie, dude. That’s another reason I don’t feel like I’m a filmmaker, really. Most filmmakers, most directors –- Fincher, he makes a movie, puts it out there, he doesn’t say ... he’s making another movie. Spielberg doesn’t need to promote the movie. Clint Eastwood can’t be bothered to say word one about what he does. These are master craftsmen who do what they do and let the work speak for itself. I’ve never been able to do that. I’ve been the guy who goes out and buttresses the work afterward. As soon as the movie is over, I’m like, "Hold on, let me tell you what happened –- me and Bruce Willis got into a fight and also I got kicked off an airplane." It’s never been just about the movie. For almost 20 years I’ve made that painfully clear. I’ll come out and talk for more time than the movie runs. Now we’re in a world where I don’t have to play by anybody else’s rules. In their world you have to spend millions of dollars to get people to see the movie. In my world I can just tell people on a podcast and they come to see it. I came to the conclusion I don’t have to work for anybody anymore, I can just work for the audience.

M.O.: Do you think you’re going to…

K.S.: Never.

M.O.: Take some time away…

K.S.: No, never.

M.O.: And then come back.

K.S.: No. I’m done.

M.O.: Would I be the first person to say to you I think you’ll come back to filmmaking?

K.S.: No. Everyone says that. I swear to you, you’ll be the 12th person I say I’ll pay a million dollars if I return. I know me. I know my internal barometer.

M.O.: How do you know?

K.S.: Because I’ve done it for 20 years. Coming up on this August will be the 20th anniversary of that moment that I was like, I’m gonna be a filmmaker. Show me anybody who does a job for 20 years. I think I got into Wayne Gretzky at the right time in my life, when inside the artist in me knew that it was coming to an end. And watching and learning about the career of Wayne Gretzky gives you the feeling of, it’s OK to stop. You can stop doing something that you love. I love film, in a big way, but I don’t have to be involved with it for the rest of my life. You do it as much as you can, you give it your all, you empty the tank and you take the hits. It doesn’t matter what they say, but you have to be honest with yourself when you know I’m not going to be able to play the game at the level I’d like to play it at. When I got into Gretzky, he put that quote together and he made it much easier for me to make a really difficult transition. I don’t want to go. It’s awesome. If I can’t do what I was meant to do, if I can’t produce the same work, I shouldn’t do it.


M.O.: But you seem so positive about “Red State” and “Hit Somebody” and the place you’re at as a filmmaker. Why walk away now?

K.S.: Go out high. Win a Stanley Cup and leave. End magically. But end. I always hoped it would be on my terms and not somebody going, "You ... get out." I’ve seen it happen to people. It’s terrifying when you’re an artist. You can put on a good game and talk about how freewheeling and fun it is, but it’s scary when you see people lose their voice because they don’t matter, they’re not monetizable. And you’re just like, one day that’s going to come down to me. The business end of it, it’s run by people fueled by fear. They know when they accept the job they are going to get fired one day. And art can’t be fearful. You have to be fearless when you step on that stage. Going out there and being dangerous is where good art comes from. For a while I wasn’t dangerous, and this is dangerous. Not just the movie itself, but everything about it. It’s a reasonable amount of unreasonability to step outside the box and say I think I can sell this better by myself.


Photo: Kevin Smith Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Photo: Michael Parks in "Red State" Credit: Anthony Michael Rivetti

Photo: John Goodman in "Red State" Credit: Anthony Michael Rivetti

Comments () | Archives (19)

The comments to this entry are closed.

The interviewer seems a bit disinterested at the least and snarky at the most.

Well, who can take Kevin Smith seriously?

Kevin Smith has come to terms with his life, if not his weight. The article said he talked to Smith for 4 hours, and yet there is only few minutes of talk in the article, where's the rest?

I like Kevin Smith's movies, but now he's just being pretentious of his self described "art." C'mon "Jersey Girl"?

Kevin sometimes being humble is the best course of action. Like Quentin Tarantino you'll fall from grace with your audience and fans.

I agree. The interviewer was lame. Kevin Smith inspires me. Never been a big fan of his movies, but I've always loved his attitude. GL KS

Fantastic article and fantastic interview. Perfect length, perfect subject matter. I'll be passing this article along to friends.

Amazing interview, read it a couple of times and you quickly realize that Kevin gets it, where other directors/writers do not
Kevin gets, what the audience wants to see and impart from the movie, he understands the emotions and the feelings of the audience.
Its really a sad thing to hear he is giving up film making, mostly because he knows what we want to see. Just imagine how good he will be in 5-10 years with his experience, maturity and skills, my gawd he would be over the top and the best director/filmaker we will have ever seen.

I sincerely hope he returns to filmaking in about ten years, reason being, he will knock the audiences and the öld timers on their collective asses"

But, whatever, filmaking, podcasting, writing, or stand up comedian, he will be way ahead of his time.

The interviewer or Kevin?
Good riddance.
Clerks was over-hyped and everything he's done since is direct to dvd material.

Perhaps Red-State and Hit Somebody will be different.

One last thing, Kevin-
If you stop making movies, why would ANYONE pay to hear you talk? You'll have no more clever anti-celeb stories to spew for hours at a time.

See ya in the video store, dude.

Wayne Gretzky? Is he really comparing his filmmaking 'level' to that of Wayne Gretzky? The creator of Clerks 2, Jersey Girl, Chasing Amy, and Cop Out... is saying his career is akin to that of the greatest scorer in NHL history? Not only is this a slap in the face to Gretzky, it also devalues his own cause greatly when there are actual, high level filmmakers out there deserving of far more attention than Smith.

Take note: when a filmmaker realizes that he suffers by "buttressing the work afterward" and by saying, "It’s never been just about the movie," then perhaps, Kevin, you should look at the movies you've made. The Gretzky of filmmaking, you are NOT. You're not even in the major leagues, dude.

Which is the WORST Kevin Smith film? Hard to answer, right? So many contenders...

i love that he referenced the great one, but wayne did not go out on on top after winning the cup. he skated off with the rangers and was done. but even at 50% wayne was better than 99% of the league. heck, i bet he could still score 20.

I never really "got" his films and didn't find them to be that good.
But I'm a 59-year-old white guy, so what the hell do I know?
Movies these days are made for 14-year-old boys playing video games.

Director Kevin Smith has a lot pride and integrity when praising his own success story as a filmmaker in Hollywood and the idea of leaving a legacy that he has created in what he describes as "Go out high. Win a Stanley Cup and leave. End magically. But end. I always hoped it would be on my terms and not somebody going, "You ... get out.". Smith seems happy with the work he has done and comfortable describing it all as not only a self-victory but an all-around win for everyone included, that being his fans, people he has worked with, and the idea of a promising future. Kevin Smith fits the description of a fun and happy filmmaker who realizes that it could be a good idea to leave the movies and play it safe rather than risk an undetermined fate that he thinks could exist in Hollywood for those who aren't careful. Smith's obsession with ice hockey and his plans to film a movie around the sport speaks loudly of who he is as a person, as well as of his having a considerable amount of genuinely solid character. In the grand scheme of things, much like Smith's idol, professional ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky who'd won five Stanley Cup championship rings in the time it took him before he'd retire from his career in the NHL which happens to be in total nearly the same number of years that Smith has spent being a leading Hollywood director, Kevin Smith isn't willing to make any mistakes that he feels might cost him dearly in the long-run.

Brendan Ryan

The Brendan Ryan Company
Houston, Texas

Kevin should make a superhero movie as his way out. I think some others have done well with the genre - faverau, the inception guy.... etc... but it would be a shame for Smith to leave before making his mark on the superhero movie franchise.

I think The Justice League project would be a good choice as he was a writer for comics. ....

I think Kevin Smith is a last hope for making a DC Comic cool.

Most of you posting here are the ones he's talking about. He's not trying to impress you or play to you. He knows that there are a lot of people that don't like him or don't enjoy his work. To try to say it's not art is ridiculous. Art if not everything in life is subjective. He's gotten to the point where he knows he's got his audience that is going to come see him and support him, and that's what he cares about now. 163 great episodes of his podcast yet he has nothing left to say? He'll always have stories to tell and he will always be entertaining to me and all of his other fans. Don't worry about him if you don't like him, because he won't be worrying about you.

His comments about Wayne are simply about drawing an analogy between two people who love doing what they do, facing giving it up. That's all!

Everyone on here bashing KS's movies... he knows you're not his audience and he doesn't care. His audience doesn't care if u "get it" either. Those of us who have enjoyed Kevin Smith's work will always support whatever media he chooses to work in. He doesn't need your approval or praise for his work. Kevin Smith's fan base will always be supportive.

Actually, Ray, he does seem to seem to need our approval and praise. He's been surprisingly open about the declining public opinion of him as a film maker being a large contributor to his decision to retire.

As well, Ray, you talk about negative opinion as not coming from his intended "audience" but it seems to me that in reality the vast majority of those criticising him today were at one time fans of his, who only became "haters" as the films got worse and worse and Smith's ego grew and grew.

Its funny cause you can tell who listens to SMODcast on these comments and who hasn't. This article doesn't shed any light on anything Kev hasn't said already. But as far as ending his career in film making, he will ultimately gain. Go look at the most downloaded lists at iTunes; him and his fellow SMODs are some of the most downloaded. And he continues to sell out venues to live SMODs, week in and week out. Sorry but you'll be hearing from Kev Smith for the rest of his life.


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