A Second Bite at the Apple: Kevin Smith on Touring, Podcasting, and Making Movies

In 1994, a small movie called Clerks rose to the occasion of an unprecedented independent film boom that would launch multiple A-list careers while creating, defining, and expanding multiple genres. If you remember those days, the video rental store was king. Not only could you (hopefully) track down maverick films by Linklater, Tarantino, and Rodriguez, but you could find the movies that inspired that fresh crop of celluloid heroes. For some of us, there was and is no bigger champion than Kevin Smith. He shared our enthusiasms with hilarious irreverence, he wrote utterly quotable dialogue, he made movies with his friends and in doing so, Smith sparked a big bang that birthed a universe that is still expanding today. The films of the View Askewniverse feature an ever-evolving parade of characters loosely related by blood, fate, or through the misadventures of Jay and Silent Bob– two boundary-less stoner/slackers with a penchant for Star Wars, a love of comics, and a knack for mayhem played by real-life pals Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith. That dynamic duo is back for another quest in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, a direct sequel to 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back that finds the hetero-lifemates once again trying to fight Hollywood and save their images. On Thursday, February 20th, the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow rolls through Macon to stop at the Hargray Capitol Theatre, and it’s certain to be an experience like no other. There will be a screening of the film and after, Smith will take the stage to answer questions and deliver one of his legendary lectures that are equal parts workshop and standup where he’s not afraid to reveal the inner workings of an industry he obviously loves but isn’t afraid to question.

AI- This isn’t the first film that you have done a road tour for. And I dare say that the majority of filmmakers don’t put their films out there like that, to test their fan base the way you do. JJ Abrams did not do a Rise of Skywalker roadshow. Do you think that endears you more to your fans? And do you have an opportunity to see your films in ways you weren’t able to beforehand?

KS- It does. It puts me right in touch with the fans. It stops being a movie and becomes more an event. I remember I was in Kansas city watching the flick, and people were getting up with empty glasses and getting beers and then going back and watching the flick. Steady flow of people goin’ to get beers and every time they passed me, they’d be like “Great movie, man!” And I’m like, “These guys spent like 50 to a hundred bucks to see the movie and they’re still getting up to go get drinks!” And my wife was like, “Don’t you get it? It’s like a concert. Nobody sits through the entire concert, man. They get up, they move around– then they come back and see the band!” So on that level as a filmmaker, it’s amazing ’cause you’re not getting judged purely on the film itself.

It’s the intro of the movie, the movie, and then talking about it afterwards is the entire experience. That’s what they judge the night on. If they go see a movie in a multiplex, like, you know, going to Rise of Skywalker, all they got’s the movie. So if the movie makes them happy, great– if it doesn’t, they’re upset. I get a second bite at the apple. If the movie doesn’t work for ’em, well, I’m going to go out there and do an hour show afterwards. It’s more event than film and that’s kind of an unfair advantage for me as a filmmaker in as much as I get to not have to worry so much about the idea of whether or not I’ve done my job correctly, my one job correctly. I’ve got a few jobs. If me as filmmaker doesn’t work out for ’em, maybe me as entertainer will. I love that.

And also why do we do this? I know some people do it for like the money and stuff, I do it to be seen. I make stuff ’cause I want to hear what the audience is saying about that stuff when it’s done. I don’t make it in a vacuum and then put it away. It’s for consumption and rather than like, “Oh it plays everywhere and I’ll just find out how it does at the box office or retweets and stuff…” It’s beautiful to be in the room with these cats, man! These cats have been supportin’ me for like 25, 26 years at this point. Some of ’em have been on the journey with me since Clerks. It is a bizarre hybrid, you know, it’s less a movie-going experience, although there’s a movie right at the center of it. It’s the whole reason for being there. But it’s more than that. It is kind of like a concert or a standup show or something like that. When people thank me for it at the end of the night, they’re like, “That was a great experience!” You know what I’m saying? Nobody ever goes like, “That was a great film,” or something like that. But they were like, “Man, tonight was a great experience!” And I’ll take that. I’m not looking for specifics. I don’t need like my one ego sap for them to be like, “You’re a great filmmaker!” I’m just happy to have them say, “I had a great time.”

Having this experience all over the country and doing it with multiple films, do you have other filmmakers come to you and say, “Okay, you’ve done this. I was thinking about doing it, what’s your advice? Or has it been the opposite? Like, “Why are you doing this?”

I think it’s mostly people goin’, “Well, you can do this.” Like, “You’ve got that audience that loves you, so you can do this.” That seems to be the implication like, “Well you’re a one-off!” But my point is any filmmaker with an audience could do it, you know? JJ could totally do it, man. If you’re going to get up there and speak about it afterwards, anyone interested in film is probably gonna show up, you know? And sell [the show] out! So for me, I remember years ago I started goin’ out about 1995 post-Mallrats. Mallrats tanked at the box office, but colleges would book it and then they’d be like, “Hey, do you want to come talk after the movie?” And I said, “Sure, man!”

So you go out and kind of give the movie a second life by traveling. Slowly, over the ears, I’ve built up an audience. First at colleges and then out in the real world, normal theaters and stuff. And then later on with podcasting, we started touring that. So I’m a live show act most of the year. We just combined the making of a movie or movie in general with the live show aspect. When Jay and I aren’t out on the road with Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, we’re usually for the last 10 years, we’ve been on the road with Jay & Silent Bob Get Old, our live podcast.

You bring up the podcast, and you were one of the very first to take advantage of the internet for promotional aspects and connecting with your fans, way ahead of the curve with podcasting. What have you seen as far as the evolution of promoting your work over these years? Where are you at now? What’s the latest thing that’s helping you get the Kevin Smith word out?

Right now, of course, it’s social media and all the podcasting that we’ve done over the last… Well, let me see… It’s coming up on… We started 2007… February… Oh, we just passed… Oh my God, I forgot to celebrate it! February 5th was the 13th anniversary of SModcast! We’ve been doing it longer than most cats and you know, I added to that, of course, Jay & Silent Bob Get Old, Hollywood Babble-On, Fatman Beyond… All the podcasts I’ve done over the years, we built an audience there through the social media. We built an audience there and that’s how I kind of informed people. We didn’t market [Jay and Silent Bob Reboot], you know, we didn’t take out ads and stuff like that. There was definitely a trailer, but we didn’t spend to do the tour. The tour is almost completely pure profit. We have a tour sponsor that kind of pays the bills but then on top of everything else, there was no like, “We gotta spend a lot of money in this city, let people know we’re coming!” We just did it through our social media and through the podcasts and then like the YouTube channel and stuff. That, for me, is key. I don’t want to have to spend money to make money. You already spend money to make the movie. And in most cases… We made a $10 million movie, which after the rebate shooting in New Orleans was about an $8 million movie. In order to market a movie like that and release it normally… Like Birds of Prey just came out. You spend way more than you spent makin’ the movie to market the movie in the case of a small movie. Birds of Prey is a movie that costs like 90 million bucks. They spent $40 million to let you know it was coming.

Something like “Reboot” costs 8 million bucks, but in order for us to market it and release it like Birds of Prey, we would have to spend another like $20 million just in marketing! That’s not even the cost of making the movie, that’s just buying ads and stuff! I get to avoid that. I don’t have to take out ads. I can directly tell the audience, “Hey man, we’re coming to town with the movie!” And that’s how we’ve sold the flick. I remember when I first started doin’ Q&A at colleges, nobody else was doing it. Or [An Evening with Kevin Smith]. And now a lot of people figured it out. “Oh my God, I could go talk about my career anywhere!” I see a lot of cats doing that. Podcasting was something that, in the beginning, nobody else was doing and now everybody’s got a podcast. So I honestly feel like you’ll see some filmmakers in the future goin’, “Hey, we keep the budget low enough, we can just take this movie out on tour, bypass marketing altogether. Bypass the studio system too!” It’s just another alternative.

That’s a bold statement to make– to bypass the studio system altogether. Is that stemming from the fact that you’ve always, and you’ve spoken on this on numerous occasions, felt like an outsider within the industry?

Oh yeah, very much. And not in a way where I’m like mad about it or anything, but I know I do a very specific particular thing, and I’m lucky to have gotten into the entertainment business at all. But in terms of the movie business itself or the industry, yeah, I’ve always been kind of outside of it, on the outskirts of it. And not in a they-are-wrong-and-I’m-right kind of way. It’s just that I do a very specific thing, but in doing that very specific thing, you just have to find alternative ways to connect to the audience. That’s all a studio used to be. A studio was a way to finance a movie and then get that movie to the audience. But this is the third time we’ve toured a movie. We did Red State, we did Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie, and now we’ve done Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. After those three tours, I’m now convinced that the next movie, Clerks III, I just want to finance completely myself out of pocket and then take it on tour and make all the money back myself. I can literally double my money. If we spent like $5 million to make the movie, I could tour the movie for one whole year, just touring it like we’re doing now and clear 10 million bucks. And that’s without spending a lot of money to get there. Now, I just want to see if that’s possible– if I can do something completely independent. That’s how I started. Clerks was just me making a movie with my friends on credit cards. And then the dream was, “Man, I hope somebody buys it!” And somebody did. But now 26 years later, the dream is, “Man, I want to make my thing and I want to still own it and I want to take it out and exhibit it ’cause now I’ve learned how to do all these things!”

Clerks III… I know there’s been a lot of speculation… There’s not a whole lot out there about it. You had some difficulty wranglin’ everybody back together for that. How were you finally able to make that happen?

I think, basically, it came down to financial. The boys, Brian [O’Halloran] and Jeff [Anderson] who played Dante and Randal were asked… At first, I was asking them to like, “Hey, take a financial hit like I’m doing ’cause I want to make the movie.” And that’s the thing that like, as the guy who wants to make the movie, I have the ability to drop the budget. I have the ability to give up my salary. I’ll do anything to get the movie made. But I always presume that everyone else feels the same way. It’s not really the case, man. So I was asking the dudes to take a ride very inexpensively on this movie, not get paid. It created an issue and the issue turned into a chasm and then suddenly we weren’t making the movies. This time around, I spoke to ’em both and I was just like, “Look, we’re gonna find the figure that is gonna make you happy to come to work every day.” Clerks we made for 27,575 bucks, and I think the boys each made three grand a piece to be in the movie. Clerks II we made for like 5 million bucks, and I think the boys got a hundred or 200 grand to be in the movie. So here we are about to make Clerks III, and Jeff Anderson pointed out, wisely, he was just like, “Somebody’s always making money from this movie, but it’s never us. We always have to do it cheap. But then the movie makes a bunch of money– and who gets all that money? It’s never us.” He’s absolutely right.

Years later, we’re coming off of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot and I saw Jeff at this signing that me and Jay were doing and Jeff was there as well. And I told him, I said, “Look, you were right all that time ago. You should be paid for your time. And I want to make this movie bad enough that we’ll figure that part out. I want to make sure that you feel comfortable.” I remember Michelle Williams gave a speech when she won like an Emmy or a Golden Globe where she talked about like, “I was paid the same amount as my costar and because of that I could concentrate on just my work. And here I am winning an award because of that!” People deserve to be paid for their time. So with Clerks III, it’s just a simple matter of that, making sure that the boys get paid for the time where they feel comfortable enough to come to set and go make the movie.

What’s the word on Mallrats 2. Is that going to happen?

Yeah, it is! I’m writing both Clerks III and Mallrats 2 simultaneously. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot kind of made that all happen.

Is it easier for you because you have created this extended universe? That you can write them both at the same time? ‘Cause you inevitably, you’ll be dealing with some of the same characters?

Absolutely. There’s absolute crossover between the two– and also thematically, they both get to be pretty different. Clerks III is a movie about middle age. If Clerks was a movie about my life in my twenties and Clerks II was about life in my thirties, Clerks III is about middle age and towards the last part of your life and stuff like that. That’s completely different thematically than Mallrats 2, which is about the prom. You know, it’s a high school movie at the end of the day.

You brought up Red State earlier, which I thought was fantastic. It was a completely different direction for you– but it worked.

Thank you. I love that movie.

The performances from John Goodman and Michael Parks… And Michael Parks you got to work with again for Tusk. I don’t want to get into a deep discussion on that one, but your dive into the horror genre was certainly a unique take. I want to know where we stand with Moose Jaws? Because that was the one that had my attention.

Moose Jaws, which is Jaws but with a moose instead of a shark, is third in line. So we do Clerks III, Mallrats 2 then Moose Jaws.

Awesome. You always have so many spectacular cameos in your films. What goes into making that happen? Do you know who you want or do you just start reaching out to see who’s available? And when that happens, how do you decide who’s gonna go where and be what?

When we were headed into “Reboot”, like down to new Orleans to shoot the movie, the only cast that we had locked at that point was me and Jay, Harley, my daughter, Jen, my wife, and then Diedrich Bader, Jason Biggs, and Melissa Benoist. Everyone else came while we were in production. And all of that is just some phone calls, just callin’ up friends. You’re calling up agents… I remember Chris Hemsworth had said something about me in Vanity Fair, and I was like, “Oh my God, he knows my name!” So when we were making the movie, I was like, “Someone reach out to Chris Hemsworth,” and his manager or agent was like, “The only reason I’m in this business is because I saw Clerks when I was a kid, so let’s get this happening.”

And so that worked. Having the heart attack worked, you know, ’cause a bunch of people showed up just to see if I was still alive! Shooting in New Orleans helped with the cameos because some people were like, “Oh my God, you’re gonna fly me down to New Orleans during Mardi Gras? And all I have to do is work for an hour? Done and done!” That’s how we got Craig Robinson in the movie. It’s by hook or by crook, you’re just makin’ phone calls, you’re reaching out in every direction, and also you just can’t count on anybody. Like I rarely write a cameo into the script. There’s just availability for a cameo. You just write a part and then hope that you fill it with somebody kind of cool. Because when you write specifically for people, chances are they might not be able to show up. Mark Hamill, I wrote him into the movie as Cocknocker again, the character he played in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but he couldn’t come out and play with us this time. So I took the character out altogether.

Speaking of Melissa Benoist, you’ve worked on episodes for Supergirl for The Flash, you’ve written for comic books. You are a comic book fan, a comic book film fan… Why have you not made a comic book movie yet? A superhero film?

They’re so hard, man! Honestly, you go talk to them Russo brothers! They spent like two years makin’ [Avengers: Endgame], and it’s just… I don’t have that kind of vision. I love those movies, and I love watching those movies… And working on the CW shows, like when I’ve directed The Flash and Supergirl, they’re fun ’cause you’re in and out in like nine days tops. Tops! Those whole episodes shoot in only nine days. Usually, around day six I’m like, “Are we still doing this? We’re not done yet?” So I can’t imagine that I would have the patience to one of those gigantic movies. Nor do I have the vision. I’ve only got the vision for movies where people sit around and talk about those gigantic movies.

The Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow will be LIVE at the Hargray Capitol Theatre on Thursday, February 20th! Limited tickets are available now!