Kevin Smith - RT's Dinner and the Movies Interview

In a two-hour chat we talk at length with Silent Bob himself.

by | April 30, 2007 | Comments

Dinner and the Movies: Kevin SmithGood Friday, 2007. Working on a bank holiday requires motivation, and today I have all the motivation I need, and then some. I’m heading to the Dorchester to catch up with Kevin Smith who’s come to London on holiday and has graciously agreed to take some time out of his trip to chat. He’s fresh from shooting a TV pilot in Vancouver, but my agenda for today is that there should be no agenda – we’re here to talk about nothing in particular and see where the conversation leads.

Because despite being best known as Silent Bob, a stoic character next to his motor-mouth friend Jay (played by Jason Mewes), Smith himself is anything but silent. Anyone who’s seen either of the two 0An Evening With Kevin Smith DVDs will attest to that; Smith is a man who can talk for hours about any topic under the sun and transfix his audience for every second.

I’d met Smith once before – last summer at the Edinburgh Film Festival where Clerks II played – and when news broke that he’d be doing a couple of his infamous Q&As at the Prince Charles Cinema just off Leicester Square I couldn’t resist getting in touch with his wonderful assistant Gail Stanley in the hopes that we could set something up while he was here.

So here it is in all its no-holds-barred glory, a two-hour chat with one of indie cinema’s most celebrated directors, and an all-round nice guy.

The Q&A last night was great.

Kevin Smith: It was actually kind-of fun. The Tuesday night one was fun as well; last night we went longer than we did on Tuesday. We had a tougher time getting people in on Tuesday – just getting through the process of moving the 450 people through the door and checking their IDs and sh*t like that. We figured out the science so whereas Tuesday night we started at 7:30 PM and finished at 11, last night we started at 7:15 PM and ended about a quarter after 11.

I came to the Edinburgh Q&A you did but it didn’t feel like a real Kevin Smith Q&A.

KS: Well that was with a moderator, which I rarely ever do, but that’s what that thing in Edinburgh called for. Shane was really good as far as moderators go; I haven’t done moderators in years because some of them are just so bad and boring and they slow it all down. He actually kept it lively and stuff, but still, even with the best moderator I just prefer to get up and go and give it to them.

I love the Evening With… DVDs, but being there and sitting through it for the four hours and involving is an experience that really suits a big dork like me.

KS: [laughs] Right! It is kind-of fun. And it flies by, you know. I was talking to the woman who works the theatre – one of the projectionists. I’d only met her Tuesday and last night we were sitting out having a cigarette before I went on and she said, “I’ve got to be honest but going into Tuesday’s I just thought, ‘Four hours of a Q&A? This is going to suck so badly.’ But it didn’t, it was the exact opposite and it was fun and lively and right away when the first question hit I just thought, ‘Well this’ll be interesting.'”

When you think of Q&A you tend to think of a rather staid, straightforward self-aggrandising conversation.

“What was your motivation?”

KS: That kind of sh*t, yeah, and thankfully I don’t get questions like that. Those questions are actually much harder to answer. I don’t really think like that. It’s tougher to have a serious conversation about film, it’s much easier to just sit around and bullsh*t and tell stories about how things happen. And sometimes you’re not even talking about film; you’re talking about your dogs.

An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder
An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder

Speaking of the dogs, I was kind-of relieved to hear you’d called them Scully and Mulder because, rather embarrassingly, I was big into Star Trek Deep Space Nine back in the day and I had a dog called Kira and a cat called Dax.

KS: [laughs] Did you really? Yeah, we’re kind-of gay like that as well. It’s so weird, the show’s been over for a few years and we’ve had the dogs for like eight, nine years. Sometimes you don’t even think about it but every once in a while you mention their names and people are like, “Did you say Scully and Mulder?” And it’s like, “Oh, yeah… That’s right…”

It gets to a point where you watch an episode of Deep Space Nine and you hear, like, “Kira is on the holodeck,” and you think, “No she isn’t.” You can’t separate the character anymore.

KS: It’s weird. Our kid, too, obviously she wasn’t an X-Files watcher, so one day she rolled into the bedroom while Jen and I were watching an X-Files episode and she heard somebody saying, “Mulder,” and she was like, “They know the dog’s name?” I was like, “To be honest, they had the dog’s name before the dog had the name…”

Talking of The X-Files, I’m excited about the potential of the second film.

KS: I just read that; I read it on f*cking Rotten Tomatoes yesterday as a matter of fact! I guess it was the Gillian Anderson somewhat semi-confirmation which complemented something Duchovny had said last week or earlier in the week.

Yeah, he’d said it’s happening and we want to get it in before the strike.

KS: Right, and then she kind-of flat-out confirmed it.

I can’t wait, I mean, it’s just a no-brainer. And the fact they’re talking about doing a non-mythology entry… That just makes a lot more sense.

Right, you can’t tell mythology over ninety minutes. They had trouble telling it over nine seasons.

KS: Totally, and when they did that first feature as well you’re sat there going, “Well, it’s good, but it’s not nearly as good as some of their best shows.” I think just doing a one-off that doesn’t go all into it… I’m sure they’ll sprinkle a bit of mythology in there, but doing a one-off that’s not tied into, like, the Cigarette Smoking Man, aliens and sh*t like that.


KS: Yeah, Krycek… No more black oil. It’ll be kind-of stimulating to say the least.

Just to be in an environment with those characters again while they’re just doing their jobs is an exciting prospect. Because that show was always at its best when they were solving those one-off cases.

KS: Totally. Some of those episodes like Home, where they go and meet that backwards family with the mother under the bed, that has nothing to do with mythology but they’re so f*cking terrifying.

I’m really excited by the prospect. I probably shouldn’t be…

KS: You know, I think that’s one where you can probably get your hopes up in a good way. Enough time has gone down between the end of the series and a lot of time has gone down between the last movie and the next movie.

I hope so. Plus, Chris Carter’s used to doing TV and coming up with ideas week by week…

KS: He’s had enough time to thing something great.


So I wanted to talk to you about reviews, I know you read reviews but most filmmakers I meet tell me they never read them.

KS: That’s horse-sh*t. I don’t believe that for a second. I think everybody does and I think it’s very fashionable to say, “I don’t read the reviews.” Maybe, at best, what they mean is they don’t read the negative reviews. With Rotten Tomatoes it’s very easy to skip the negative reviews; you see that little green splotch and unless you want to torture yourself you just avoid it and go to the little red tomato.

I think, best-case scenario, they’re probably just avoiding the green splotches. But, you know, it’s a communications medium where it’s manufactured for use; you’re putting something out there to get a response. What filmmaker would not want to read that response? The box-office response only tells one part of the story.

In the age of the Internet it’s not like you’re just relying on the opinion of published cineastes to get their take on it. Film criticism, as democratised as it’s been over the last five, ten years of the Internet, suddenly you’re getting the opinion of people who, if they weren’t writing for some Internet site, would be paying to see the movie anyway. You’re almost getting the opinion of the same guy who’s paying for a ticket. And then if you go beyond even the published critics, the Internet critics, you can just read what people write on a message board and kind-of get the true opinion.

Now, you know, it’s good and bad because the Internet being the Wild Wild West that it is, and the anonymity that it affords, you get people saying things that they would never in a million years say to your face. And sometimes they’re just saying sh*t to get a reaction.

Holden, Jay and Bob get reaction from moviegoers on the internet.
Holden, Jay and Bob get reaction from moviegoers on the internet


KS: Yeah, totally. But I think when you read a message board you can’t believe the most insanely positive thing you read and you can’t believe the most belligerently negative thing you read. The truth lies somewhere in between.

I remember something brought you to the Rotten Tomatoes message boards a couple of years ago…

KS: It was the Revenge of the Sith thing. I wrote a little piece that wasn’t even meant to be a review. I had seen it and so I wrote on the View Askew website about seeing the movie. It was kind-of a mini-review but not like a three-page, well-thought-out thing. It was kind-of like, “This is what I thought about the movie.”

Which, by the way, I read and hated you for, because that was before all the press screenings and I was desperate to see that movie.

KS: [laughs] Right and that’s, I think, why it circulated as much as it did. I remember I just put it up on the message boards and our server got crashed and it wound up getting linked from all these places. I hadn’t really thought about it but I guess it was the first review and I had no idea. For some reason I thought the press had already seen it and they were talking about it.

So when that review went up, there was one thread on the Rotten Tomatoes message boards where some people appreciated my thoughts and some people totally took me to task and some people just shredded me for it. That was in an age where anything I saw that I thought was an unfair shredding I would respond. Which is such a self-defeating practice but in those days I felt the need to do it. I’ve since kind-of gotten over it.

I’d never go after people with whom I differed in opinion; people who were just like, “My opinion is completely different from yours.” I would tend to just go after people who printed untruths or misstated facts or something like that to just be more corrective than anything else. But that thread wound up going on and on and on, and there was one broad there whose insults were just getting weird and mean and I just kept going back at her with things that were even more weird and even more mean and wrote some of the most f*cking biting but f*cking cut-and-slash type of sh*t in response to her, to the point where she did the internet equivalent of crying; completely changed her tune, cried foul and that she was under attack.

It was just this weird phenomenon but parts of it were really entertaining. I felt like I did write some of my most biting and f*cking mean-spirited sh*t in one way but to this anonymous person that I’d never met.

What was really interesting about it was that most of the posters in that thread who were hurling insults suddenly changed their tune when you turned up and starting asking you to sign their sh*t.

KS: It’s a bizarre phenomenon watching what happens when you jump into the pool. Everyone is operating under the assumption that they’re having a private conversation and then when you jump in suddenly they’re held accountable for the things they say.

To begin with, though, there are always people who don’t write anything negative, so it’s not like they’re switching horses mid-stream. Then you have a high percentage of people that do switch horses mid-stream and then suddenly they’re like, “Hey man, I do like your stuff I was just kidding.” And then you have a small percentage of people who are like, “I’m not going to be a kiss-ass, I’m just going to maintain my position that you suck.”

To a certain extent you’ve got to have more respect for those people who stick to their guns.

KS: I think in theory you’re supposed to but, you know, let’s be honest; it’s human nature to like people who are saying nice things to you rather than f*cking horrible things to you. I’d rather see them all just f*cking flip-flop and be nice. I don’t know anybody – unless you’re a f*cking masochist – you don’t want to read horrible things about yourself. You’re supposed to respect that commitment to their opinion and their ideals but it sucks sometimes. You’re just like, “Dude, just cave. I’m here, I’m reading.”

But I’ve since kind-of calmed down about reading all that stuff. It’s an ever ongoing process and learning curve and I’ve been making films for thirteen years now but – at least for me, I don’t know how other people deal with it – it takes a long time to process that if you don’t want to read negative things you just don’t have to. And Rotten Tomatoes makes it easy by seeing that splotch. Even if you see on your message threads a subject line that’s just heinous, you simply avoid it if you don’t want to take an hour, two hours out of your day to wind up addressing it. Or if you just don’t want to feel like sh*t because there are times when you’ll read something that’s just so negative and finds all the chinks in your armour and really cuts you to the quick and addresses your own insecurities that it will effect the rest of your day in a way like, “They’re right, I suck. What am I doing?”

And it’s so easy to believe the negative over the positive. Overwhelmingly the majority of the things people write are positive but you will remember verbatim the negative things. I think that’s part of human nature as well, to focus on the bad rather than the good. And when it’s you sitting in front of a computer screen, alone in a room, that is the whole world. That is the most important thing in the whole world; suddenly everything boils down to you and this person and their horrible opinion of you. And then your kid walks in the room and you’re like, “What are you doing? I’m going to get out and hang out with my kid.”

Because ultimately whether they’re right or wrong it’s just opinion. It’s subjective. There is no right and wrong; if that’s how they feel that’s how they feel and nothing you do, no film you can make, is really going to turn them around. But it’s so easy to get lost in that; to get lost in the opinion of some faceless individual on the Internet. When it’s just you alone on the Internet that person represents everybody else in the world. It’s tough to kind-of keep perspective and just be, “This is just one dude.” Even if they’re a bunch it still represents a small sample.

Do you get to avoid that on your message boards? I remember when I signed up again there was like a nominal fee to join.

KS: Yeah, it used to be free on the View Askew message boards. In fact, first there was no signup and anybody could just post something like that.

When it was the threaded thing?

KS: Right, going back to like 1995; late ’95, early ’96.

TS and Brodie circa 1995 - the View Askew Message Board opens.
TS and Brodie circa 1995 – the View Askew Message Board opens

Which I think was when I first found it.

KS: That was the very beginning at that point. It’s mostly all positive but then you get some jokers who are there either to tell you that you suck or just to pick on the other people; just to rabble-rouse and what-not. So years down the road we instituted like a password program where it was free but you had to join up and that way we were able to delete your entire account or ban you from the board or something like that.

But then, just because you’re signing up for password if people really want to have fun at your expense they’ll do it regardless so that’s when we instituted a $2 join fee. I don’t keep the two bucks it goes to RAINN, the rape charity. So it’s going to a good cause but it’s insane how two bucks will stop any number of assholes who are just looking for a cheap thrill.

And, you know, it’s not like it stops them anywhere else on the Internet. The Internet’s massive and they’ll find a place to do it for free but they won’t do it in your own backyard. If they want to do it they can still do it, they can pay their two bucks and start a bile thread and you can just as easily delete it and ban them. So it’s like, “RAINN thanks you for your two dollars and if you want to say more join up again.”

It convinces you how trivial these people actually believe their opinion is that they’ll only post it for free.

KS: Totally. And that’s the thing; at the end of the day are they really committed to their cause? And nobody is, in terms of negative. Think about the things that you love and what great lengths you’ll go to in support of them and to voice your opinion about them and then you think about the things you don’t like or absolutely loath; how often would you go out of your way to voice your opinion on them? If it’s something like, you know, a war that you feel is unfair or a crime against children, probably you’d go out of your way for it. If it’s something like a f*cking movie, why on earth would you waste your time? You’ve got to really hate a movie in order to hunt down a website where you’re pretty sure the filmmaker’s going to see it to tell them how much you hated it. I mean, you can just do that for free with your friends or just vote with your wallet and never go to anything that that filmmaker produces again.

Or protest a movie with a group of your friends outside a cinema.

KS: Yeah, and I mean, you’ve really got to hate a movie to protest it; to kind-of get out there and make up little placards and sh*t like that.

Thos cats are a breed of a different colour altogether. It’s not like they’re cineastes or feel like they have better tastes in movies than most people and they feel the need to cut you down because they don’t like your movie and they don’t feel you’re as worthy as other filmmakers and what-not. These are cats who are just fundamentally opposed to your movie based on what your movie’s saying vis-a-vis their faith or something like that. I would take internet flamers a thousand times any day of the week over a Christian fundamentalist who really feels like you’ve offended their sensibilities.

There was a documentary on TV here recently by this investigative journalist-cum-documentarian about a family in the middle of America…

KS: Is it the Reverend Phelps family? That dude is in this movie we produced, this documentary called Small Town Gay Bar, which was just playing here at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. My friend, Malcolm Ingram, made it. That dude, Reverend Phelps, is featured in his doc and when were at the Q&A at the screening the other night someone mentioned that Phelps was on that show fairly recently.

Phelps is a dude who’ll sit down with anybody. People have asked, “How did you get that interview?” Phelps is such a press wh*re that if you showed up with a cardboard box with the word “camera” written on it he would sit down for an interview. But someone said that in that programme he actually wasn’t into the interview and was kind-of like c*ck-blocking the dude to some degree?

He was.

KS: Which is totally uncharacteristic of that guy. He’ll sit down with anybody. He and his family will go on CNN or Fox News or whatever, you know, and just be shredded by the interviewer for their points of view. The liberal media will shred them for their God Hates F*gs campaign but the conservative media will shred them for like going to soldiers’ funerals and picketing. The dude’s getting it from both sides and all ends, but they’ll happily sit there and use the forum because they know they’re reaching a wider audience to maintain their point of view even if they’re being demonised and villainised – and rightfully so – by whoever’s interviewing them. It was odd to hear that the dude was c*ck-blocking him.

A still from Malcolm Ingram's Small Town Gay Bar.
A still from Malcolm Ingram’s Small Town Gay Bar

I think what threw them off was that he asked something like, “How many children do you have?” Because I guess some of them have left the flock…

KS: One of them is gay too. Malcolm found out during the interview and he didn’t include it in the doc because the dude got really tight at that moment. And, also, you can’t substantiate it. You can’t produce absolute proof. But I guess it turned out that one of his grandchildren was gay and so that dude has kind-of been ex-communicated from the flock. I guess that kind-of fundamentally goes against their f*cking God Hates F*gs stance!

You’re talking about a guy who affects and offends people on a very personal level who he himself, when you go at him personally, that’s when that dude shuts down. It’s the irony that he’ll go to a funeral of some soldier who died in Iraq and lobby against him and create more pain – pour salt in the wounds of a family who’s already mourning the loss of their child – and hurt them on a very personal level, but when you bring up something that’s personal to this dude he’s just like, “This interview’s over, I don’t want to talk about it.”

You would imagine he’d be able to see and find some empathetic vibe inasmuch as, “Oh sh*t, what I do hurts and offends people because I know when it happens to me I’m hurt and offended.” His agenda transcends the personal, that dude is working on what he maintains is on behalf of God. He’s taken what he considers to be the source material – words in the Bible – in strengthening his point of view.

He’s a really fascinating individual and I’d heard about him for years and years even prior to Malcolm having him in his documentary because Howard Stern used to play clips from his website on his radio show. And, you know, I’d seen him in the news over the years because he is a larger-than-life figure inasmuch as he makes insanely f*cking inappropriate statements that catch your attention because you’re like, “Who would say such a thing?”

That dude’s always fascinated me and he’s really informed that horror movie that I’m working on. Very much so…

Move on to Part Two as Kevin talks more about his horror movie, Red State, the movies that inspire it, his Minnesota-set comedy script, indie cinema in 2007 and, erm, Britney Spears… Click the link below.

That’s interesting. I don’t want to push you to much because I know you’re keeping in under wraps–

KS: I’ll tell you what it is because I haven’t told anybody yet, so fuck it; movie’s called Red State and it’s very-much about that subject matter; that point-of-view, that position, taken to the absolute extreme. It’s certainly not Phelps himself but it’s very much inspired by a Phelps-like character.

I haven’t really seen a movie like it before and that’s kind-of why I’m jazzed to do it. That’s why it’s tough to call it a horror movie. To me, it is a horror movie, but it’s not so much the traditional take on it.

When you say horror movie you traditionally think something between the Wes Craven slasher movies and the psychological ghost stories.

KS: To me there’s all kinds of horror, and killing someone’s not the absolute worst thing you could do to another human being. But, you know, it’s up there. There are so many other things that you can do that are absolutely horrible or horrifying whilst still keeping people very-much alive. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for Malcolm’s doc I don’t think I’d have thought about doing it but I watched his doc and the Phelps stuff is the most riveting, fascinating stuff about it. And then I went and watched all the raw footage and it’s even more fascinating. Suddenly the wheels just started turning and what-not.

The more you think about it, the death in a horror movie is very much the end, the release.

KS: It’s the money-shot in a porno. When you’re watching porn the money-shot is like, I guess it’s over and we’re moving onto the next one. And that’s kind-of what the death in horror’s always been in a very exploitative manner. Stabbing somebody and splashing blood all over them is the equivalent to some dude exploding over some broad’s face.

More interesting in any porno is everything that leads up to that money-shot. And that’s kind-of the same thing with a horror movie. Killing somebody; you’ve seen it done so many times that it’s ultimately kind-of boring. There’s only so many ways to skin a cat and cinematically people have found very creative ways to kill people over time, but at the end of the day you’re still killing somebody. It’s everything leading up to a death which is kind-of interesting.

Stalking in a horror movie is more interesting. Michael Myers stalking Laurie Strode is more interesting than him killing the P.J. Soles character, or the nurses in the hospital in Halloween II.

The Shining
The truly terrifying The Shining.

It’s like The Shining

KS: Totally, think about it, there are very few deaths in The Shining and yet that’s a terrifying film; one of the scariest films or all time. And the shit that’s really terrifying in The Shining is unreal. The two little girls who died years before are more terrifying even than Nicholson chasing his own son through the snow with every intent to kill him.

I think what makes it scary is that at the end of the film nothing really changes. Nicholson might be dead, but the hotel is still there. Even in a franchise like Halloween, Laurie Strode always moves on at the end of every movie having vanquished Michael Myers one more time. It’s up to the sequels to bring him back. The Shining, though, stays with you as you leave the theatre.

KS: Right. And to me, too, the notion of using a Phelps-like character as a villain, as horrifying and scary as that guy can be, there’s even something more insidious than him that lurks out there in as much as a public or a government that allows it and that’s the other thing that I’m trying to examine in a big, big way. It’s weird because for a few months I’ve been saying “horror movie,” and technically it is, but it’s also not a very traditional horror movie in the sense that people have been asking me, “Is it a slasher movie? Is it like the Japanese horror flicks?” It’d be much easier to just show it to them when I’m done and be like, “This is what I meant.” At which point I’m sure there’ll be people saying, “This ain’t a horror movie!” But to me, it is.

You mentioned that you were also writing a non-Askewniverse comedy at the moment…

KS: That one I’m almost done writing and the horror movie I have to start writing after I’m done with the comedy. But I’m going to shoot the horror movie before the comedy because we shoot that somewhere in the middle of the country in a true red state and the other one takes place in Minnesota in the middle of winter, so we have to wait for snow.

What was also interesting was that you said you were curious to see how it’d be to write the horror movie because you’re so used to being able to pad out a script with jokes.

KS: Totally. I think this is going to be one movie I write where there’s not a lot of dialogue. I mean there definitely will be dialogue in it, especially if you’re dealing with a character like Phelps whose biggest weapon is speech and hate rhetoric, but the flicks I do are wall-to-wall dialogue and this movie, not so much. I’m more interested, in this movie, in the quiet and the silence and everybody not having the exact right thing to say, or some witty repartee to spout, at the right moment. It’ll be an interesting exercise for me to do something that’s kind-of outside my norm, not only inasmuch as I’m not doing a comedy but not doing a movie that’s wall-to-wall people speaking to one another or having long, elaborate conversations about pop-culture and stuff.

Something that’s going to rely on the visuals a lot more than your films have to date as well…

KS: Very much so. There was a movie that was out last year that I absolutely loved, Half Nelson, that my D.P. Dave Klein and me were both in love with the look of it, and that’s kind-of the look that we’re exploring for this thing as well.

I loved Half Nelson. I saw it post-Oscars so I’d kind-of had all the pre-release hype about Ryan Gosling.

KS: He’s just wonderful in the movie. But everybody in the movie – rightfully so he got singled out for an award – the girl was amazing, the drug dealer was great. That movie really reinstated my faith in American independent cinema. That and, this year, Black Snake Moan did the same thing. American indie cinema is alive and well.

Is Black Snake Moan really independent though?

KS: Technically I would say yes. It was put out in the States by Paramount Vantage, which is the boutique label of Paramount, but if Vantage didn’t exist you can imagine if that movie came out ten years ago some smaller one-off distributor putting up the money for it.

I actually think it’s a wonderful companion piece to Grindhouse because both of them – well Grindhouse is two, but for the sake of argument let’s call it one movie – are revisitations of an exploitation drama and a type of cinema that nobody’s really seen in quite some time. Whereas Grindhouse has very explicitly stated that that’s what their intent is and both features play as such, Black Snake Moan didn’t really sell it as such but that’s kind-of what it was. You’ve got a girl chained and in heat; nothing’s more exploitation than that, but it’s a deconstructionist view of it and not in an ironic sense; just playing one of those movies in the here and now with people like Sam Jackson and Christina Ricci. I thought it was really great.

Did you see Alpha Dog?

KS: No I didn’t.

While we’re talking Black Snake Moan; I’m kind-of blown away right now by how much talent Justin Timberlake has as an actor.

KS: He’s really good. There’s a dude who if he didn’t have a very big career in music, and a burgeoning career in film, they should f*cking tie him up for Saturday Night Live because any time he’s on Saturday Night Live that show rises to a place it hasn’t been in a while. He just brings something good out in the show.

Unfortunately we don’t get it over here.

KS: Right, but you’ve seen Dick in a Box and stuff like that?


KS: Dude’s really funny in that variety show format. Sketch comedy.

I loved that Matrix Spoof that they did for the MTV Movie Awards.

KS: He’s definitely talented. I thought he was really good in Black Snake Moan and I think he’s making the right choices. He’s not top-lining a feature that he’s carrying all by himself and they’re sticking a gun in his hand and he’s running around trying to save the world. He’s taking really interesting roles so whether you like his music or not it’s like, “Wow, this dude is actually doing some interesting stuff.”

Black Snake Moan
Justin Timberlake and Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan.

For Justin Timberlake Black Snake Moan is not the sort of project someone with his profile has to do.

KS: No. Nor if you were casting that movie would you be, like, “I know who would be good for this; Justin Timberlake.”

I’m glad it’s working out for him; there are so many young actors who aren’t great and so you cherish the rare talents.

KS: And when you think about it, he came from that same school as Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears in as much as that they were all members of The Mickey Mouse Club. Whether you like any of their music or not; from a young age they were kind-of bred to perform. Period. Music being the predominant venue for that entertainment but also they had to perform on the show; they were actors as well. It’s kind-of interesting that those three kids all came from the same school and he’s actually doing something outside of the music that lends to the training he got as a kid.

Right, because let’s be honest, it’s probably better for everyone if we forget about Crossroads.

KS: Yeah… Or just Britney Spears in general for a while. It’d be nice if everyone just left her alone and let her have her f*cking meltdown. It’s kind-of tragic that everyone’s watching it and nobody’s doing anything. Number one, nobody’s really inclined to do anything about it because it’s ultimately more entertaining to watch somebody melt down than to help them out, but number two, you just can’t help anybody like that. As a guy who dealt with Jason Mewes and his drug-abuse problem – which is different, I know, because I don’t think Britney’s is solely drug-orientated although it does look like drugs are in the mix with that – you can lead the horse to water but you can’t make them drink. Those people actually have to make the choice for themselves.

It seems to be the case with her, too, that she surrounds herself with people who are quite happy to allow that lifestyle. Or rather, they fear for their employment if they stand up and say anything.

KS: You watch that situation and you just think, “How the f*ck did anybody let it get as far as it did to the point where she’s in a public salon shaving her head with everyone taking pictures?”

And then someone goes and sells the hair on eBay. Humans aren’t built to deal with humiliation like that. The celebrity media has never been as powerful as it is now and to have all of your dirty laundry aired in public must be incredibly difficult to deal with.

KS: And whether you want to or not; like some would argue, “Well, if she’s going to shave her head why didn’t she just do it at home?” You know, everybody should have the same freedoms as anybody else has; if she wants to go to a f*cking beauty salon and shave her head she should be able to do that without the whole world being like, “Look at the freak.”

It’s gotten to a stage where she just can’t walk down the street without being chased by a gang of photographers. I guess you kind-of avoid that. Not to suggest you’re not as famous as Britney Spears!

KS: [laughs] I’m definitely not as famous as Britney Spears. I would have to engage in mass genocide on a Hitler-like level to approach the popularity or notoriety of a Britney Spears!

But I’ve got to imagine you’ve been in scenarios where you’ve felt uncomfortable with the press around.

KS: I’m OK with it. I mean, I don’t really live out loud in as much as I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, so I’ve never been out in public insanely drunk or high off my ass where people are rolling cameras. And also I talk about sh*t so much, whether I’m on the message board at or writing in the blog or doing the SModcast or going out and doing the Q&As or going to comic book shows. Like, if you’re remotely interested in me there’s plenty of information disseminated out there provided by the source that nobody’s like, “Let’s find out what we can!” There’s almost no point in interviewing me from that angle because I’m saying things anyway and putting information out there.

There’s certainly no need for people to spy on you if you’re happy to discuss your sex life and anal fissures and whatever.

KS: [laughs] No, you can’t pry into my life because my life is so f*cking public!

But it’s kind-of sad because when she’s at her best she has a lot of fans.

KS: I wrote a piece about her a few years ago. I mean, she’s past my time; she was not really on my radar. I’d heard some of her songs on the radio but it wasn’t really my kind of music. I saw I think it was an HBO concert and I was just flabbergasted and appalled that it was nothing but lip-syncing. I wrote a piece that wound up in that Silent Bob Speaks book. And it was kind-of an anti-Britney piece but it wasn’t about Britney as much as it was about, like, if you’re going to pay sixty to a hundred bucks to go see somebody don’t you actually expect them to sing rather than lip-sync? At that point you’re just paying sixty to a hundred bucks just to look at a pretty girl; which you can pretty-much do for free on the internet.

Kevin with buddy Jason Mewes in 2006’s Clerks II.

Yes, but to the same extent you could make the argument that you went to the theatre and it sucked because the actors all read from a script.

KS: That’s true. I guess it’s the performance; it’s the art of the performance if there is indeed such a thing to a Britney Spears concert. Which I guess there must be because she has a following.

I think for her audience there definitely is.

KS: Totally. And that’s the other thing too; you’ve got to consider the audience she predominantly caters to. I am not the audience so when I watch her lip-syncing I think, “This is ridiculous.” But to a bunch for twelve to fifteen year-old girls, and boys, that’s right up their alley.

And I’ve got to say, have you ever tried singing and dancing at the same time?

KS: That’s the thing, man; people who can actually pull it off amaze you. And that’s the thing, the bar is raised by people like Madonna who will get up on stage and sing her song while doing f*cking virtual callisthenics and then you see Britney Spears who’s dancing and not really singing, just kind-of lip-syncing and it’s like: in a world where a woman who’s way older than you can do it maybe you should try a little harder.

But again, it just doesn’t matter; I’m not the audience. You’re talking to a dude who can barely walk and talk at the same time without breaking a sweat and getting into heavy breathing and sh*t like that.

But you can get up on a stage for four hours and do it.

KS: Stand up in one place, yes, but it’s not like during the show I’m running around the stage and doing a synchronised dance to whatever I’m talking about.

It kind-of impresses me, though, because you’re a smoker too, and being that we’re both gentlemen of above-average waistlines I know that standing on stage for four hours, all the while talking and not smoking, would be an impossibility for me.

KS: The smoking thing; I guess I’m just conditioned to flying where you can’t smoke anymore anyway. Like coming here, I did the four-and-a-half hour hop from LA to Newark and then the seven-and-a-half hour hop from Newark to here and all that time I couldn’t smoke so it doesn’t really affect me. I’m kind-of used to long periods without smoking. When I smoke I’m way into it but I’m not a nicotine junkie where if I’m not smoking I’m ready to punch someone in the face. Given the freedom to smoke I will go through two packs, but if that freedom is inhibited by the fact that you’re in a venue where you can’t smoke, that’s never really been a problem for me.

Is that something you’ve conditioned yourself through the flying then?

KS: No, it’s just I’m not a nicotine fiend. I seriously don’t believe that I’m physically addicted to cigarettes; I just enjoy smoking. My wife on the other hand is physically addicted to cigarettes; if she goes without a cigarette for a long time she gets tense, she starts getting punchy. She’s been on planes and has had to wear a nicotine patch. Whereas me, I smoke because I like having something in my hand, I just like the drama of smoking and it’s just something to do. I can put them down, walk away from them for weeks, months or years, it doesn’t matter, and I just enjoy doing it.

Which is even worse and more stupid than someone who’s addicted to nicotine because at least they have the excuse that they have a physical addiction to it and they can’t stop; I can and I choose not to. So I’m even more retarded than the people that are just physically addicted to it.

And ten years earlier in the original Clerks.

I flew over to the American office when I first started and the eleven-and-a-half hour flight just killed me.

KS: Yeah it’s tough. I imagine if you’re a nic-fiend that’s tough. That’s where you appreciate the stop midway where you can get off the plane and run and have a cigarette.

And, also, they’re a lot less friendly to smoking in America than they are here. Though that’s about to change I guess?

Yeah, it’s been banned in Wales and Scotland I think the ban kicks in here over the summer.

KS: It’ll be a lot tougher when you encounter it here man. It’s weird because, you know, I remember you used to be able to smoke in a restaurant and now you can’t do that. You have to find very few and far-between states in the middle of the country where you can still do that kind of thing, but the two big ones, New York and California… Forget it, you’re f*cked. Even in Jersey you can’t smoke in a restaurant anymore. It’s kind-of a pain in the ass.

Especially in a place with weather conditions; at least California it’s kind-of generally seventy degrees and up so you can go outside and have a cigarette and not be subject to the conditions. When you’re in a place that actually has a winter and you go outside and you’re sitting in fifteen-degree weather just so you can have a cigarette it makes you feel even dumber for smoking. You’re like, “I could be inside, warm, if I didn’t want to do this so badly that I’m forcing myself into inhospitable conditions to do so.”

I think that’s what’s worrying me more than anything else because we have very, very, very changeable weather here as I’m sure you’ve experienced in the past.

KS: Totally. I was just up in Vancouver shooting a pilot for the CW Network back home, Reaper, and Vancouver is one of those places where you can’t smoke inside. It’s also one of those places that are insanely rainy. While we were there, there was a time when it just poured rain for four, five days at a time; so f*cking gloomy. I found myself outside, getting drenched, trying to cover up my cigarette with my free hand so it wasn’t going to go out from the rain and I remember sitting there thinking, “Why am I this dumb? I don’t need to be out there doing this.”

I’d love to have been the guy walking past you with one hand hovering over the other holding a cigarette.

KS: [laughs] And I’m wearing the coat too so that guy is going, “God, this dude LIVED that role!”

On the topic of television pilots, I remember you were acting in a pilot for a US version of Man-child, what ever happened to that?

KS: Yeah, we did it and then I don’t think Showtime is picking it up. They made three pilots and I think they only picked up one and Man-child wasn’t one of them. It was weird because they tested it twice; first the production company, Sony, tested it and it tested through the roof and then Showtime tested it and it tested even better. So it seemed like a virtual no-brainer – it had a great cast with John Corbett and James Purefoy, Paul Hipp and Laura Ford – but for whatever reason Showtime decided to go with a more serious half-hour drama with David Duchovny in the lead and didn’t go with Man-child.

But he’s already had a series!

KS: Yeah, but, I mean, maybe that’s why you go with him because he’s already had a series! I had a call from one of the Cullen brothers – Mark Cullen who with Rob Cullen were the two guys who did the show – and I was on the first day of Reaper up in Vancouver and he left a message saying Showtime wasn’t picking it up. He sounded so despondent and I just thought it was a joke. I was thinking at the end of the call he’d be like, “I’m just kidding, we start shooting in May.” But I called him back and he was like, “No they didn’t pick it up.”

And it had such a pedigree, man, it was a Darren Star production, had Corbett and Purefoy both who had been on successful shows, but they didn’t pick it up, which was a shame because it was a really, really funny show. I saw it all put together and it was funny, and the fact that it tested as well as it did… That just led us to believe, like, “How can they say no? What excuse can they possibly give?” They can’t pick the show up because it’s really funny and it tested through the roof twice?

They test with fifty people and hold fifteen back to do a focus group. And twelve out of fifteen women – and the show is so not geared towards women, it’s very-much a guy show – twelve out of fifteen women said that they would drop what they were doing to watch the show on a weekly basis. The guy doing the test was like, “We haven’t seen numbers like that since Desperate Housewives.” Showtime decided to go another way. I’ll never understand TV.

You mentioned it in the same breath as Weeds, and I love that show.

KS: It would have been a great companion piece to Weeds.

Weeds – to which Man-Child would have been a great companion piece.

In general I think cable shows tend to be a cut above what the networks are producing.

KS: Totally, and that was the thing about Man-child which turned out to be a negative because the only place it could have thrived would have been on cable TV. It was very candid, very frank and loaded with vulgarity. In a world where Showtime says no to it, Showtime won’t let it go to offer it to HBO and at HBO it’d kind-of be a no-brainer because you’ve got Corbett who was on Sex and the City for them and Purefoy who was on Rome for them. But when Showtime nixes something they don’t want to give it up in case HBO does pick it up and it becomes huge and successful and then Showtime looks stupid.

So even if Showtime was willing to let it go and say HBO passed there’s nowhere to go after that because where can you air it in America that could let the show be what it is?

TV seems to be a tough medium to break. I would imagine that you wouldn’t, at this stage of your career, have any struggle getting a movie made.

KS: Well, I think if I had an insanely ambitious, for me, type movie where it was like I need fifty, sixty million I think it’d be way more difficult. It would be cast dependent at that point. But the stuff I do is generally small budget so based on the audience that we have, in almost every case the Weinstein’s just know they’re going to make their money back at the very least and at the very most turn a nice profit off it as well. Keeping the budget small has kind-of worked for us inasmuch as we’ve never had trouble getting something done.

But on TV it seems it doesn’t matter how much money it’s going to cost or more importantly the pedigree attached to the show, it’s much harder to get anything out there. Joss Whedon, for example, has an incredible writing pedigree and he’s got to be one of the best writers working today and yet he gets a show greenlit and it gets cancelled after a handful of episodes air. He’s turning to film because he can’t get anything made on television. It’s bizarre that it works like that.

KS: Yeah. There was a guy who worked on Reaper, the show-runner named Tom Spezialy, he was the show runner on Desperate Housewives and he said, “First season, three episodes in, clearly the show was a big-time hit, even then we were still getting notes from the network on how to make it better.” They delivered a number one show and still they would note it to death. I can see how it’s a frustrating process for anybody involved. I don’t honestly know how people do it in TV. Now I know why people drink and do drugs because it’s such a soul-killing, against-all-odds process.

You think about the number of pilot scripts that are written every year, only a portion of those scripts are selected to be developed, and then out of those selected developed few, only a marginal percentage of those will actually go forward to a pilot stage. And out of those pilots that get made even a smaller percentage make it to network. So I’ve kind-of learned through the process of Man-child and Reaper that when I see something on TV that I’m like, “This is absolutely dog-sh*t, how did this get on TV?” I will now treat it with a modicum of respect because it ran some insane gamut to get to where it got, to get on TV. Even the bad ones won an absolute lottery to find a slot.

And once you’re in that slot, it’s not the end of the trouble. I love Scrubs and it’s weird to me that it struggles to get renewed every season and when it does get renewed NBC throws it around the timeslots as it sees fit.

KS: They keep moving it around but in defence of NBC they’ve kept it alive. They could have said, “This isn’t performing as well as we had hoped so f*ck it, let’s just get out of here.” But they’ve kept supporting it, they just keep trying to find a timeslot for it and it just doesn’t quite attract the audience that the critics feel it should or that the network feels it should. But at least they kind-of stick with it, whereas in something like the case of Firefly, they did something like twelve episodes, you’re talking about a network – Fox – who gave it a shot and it didn’t work within a few episodes and the just pulled the plug altogether.

You can see why it’s soul-destroying to be a show runner on TV.

KS: Never mind the show runners, it’s the creators; people who came up with idea for whom it’s their lifeblood, their passion. They struggle so hard to get to that point and after a few episodes the network throws them in the garbage.

And in Joss’s case, you are talking about a guy, too, who had a successful, syndicated show with Buffy. And Angel spun off. Granted it was never in the top ten, top twenty ratings-wise, I don’t think, but he had the demographics numbers. The audience tuning in to watch was an audience they could sell adverts to. You figure the dude’s got a track record, stick by him. Maybe the show doesn’t take off right away but perhaps by season two it will.

The days of Seinfeld are long gone; Seinfeld started very f*cking slow as a summer series and then within the third or fourth season it really took off and started climbing into the top ten all the time. That was an example of a network sticking by a show they liked even though it was a ratings challenge, and it eventually panned out for them. Very few people are willing to take that risk anymore. Now it’s like, if it’s not working in the first two months f*cking yank it.

There’s no heart involved anymore.

KS: It’s business, man. It’s purely f*cking numbers; dollars and cents and whatnot. And every once in a while something that has something to say or something of quality slips through and winds up earning as well as appeasing some sort of artistic intent.

Double-bill fun in Grindhouse.

Whereas in film, I’d imagine that Harvey Weinstein isn’t wanting for a few quid here and there but he’s still willing to give things a shot and put his faith in something.

KS: Thank God, ’cause otherwise I wouldn’t have a career. And, you know, those dudes are to be applauded for Grindhouse. I know they’re taking a lot of sh*t because in overseas territories outside of the UK and the US they’re going to split those movies into two, and everyone’s like, “How come we can’t see it the way you guys are seeing it?” First off, it’s like, just wait six to eight months and you’ll be able to see it on DVD. But second off it’s kind-of a defensible position.

Everyone’s like, “Oh, they’re just money-hungry.” They invested a lot of money making that movie and they’ll invest a lot of money in marketing that movie. Give them a shot to make some of their f*cking coin back. Even if the movie makes a hundred million bucks they’ve still got a little ways to go before profitability based on whatever their budget was and based on the P&A they’ll wind up putting into it.

So, you know, they should be applauded, if anything, for letting the movies go out as one in the territories they are, and some would argue the top-earning territories. If they’ve got to split it up overseas to kind-of ensure their investment, can you really blame them for doing that?

And Quentin has said that ultimately they’re made to complement each other but in the tradition of grindhouse they’re two separate movies that can be watched individually.

KS: Totally. Having seen it, Grindhouse would not suffer from being split up into two movies. They still both work independently and they still work co-dependently.

I ultimately think Kill Bill is the same.

KS: Totally. In fact, Kill Bill, that was a movie I was really glad was split up into two, because of the cliff-hanger nature of it. That really lent to Volume 2 being what it became. Grindhouse is not a cliff-hanger but when you split it up into two they’re both an independent viewing experience. It’s a three hour and five minute experience. If somebody was like, “The only way you can watch this is if it’s split up into two,” I’d be OK with that. Although, to be fair, it was the fastest moving three hours and five minutes I ever sat through and at the premiere once it was done if they were like, “We’re going to show it again right now,” I would have sat and watched it again for another three hours. It is spellbinding, that flick.

I’ve been trying, at the moment, to find classic grindhouse prints to screen and it seems in the UK they were pretty much dumped after they played. Even going into the production of films I’ve heard horror stories about props being dumped into tips after they wrapped on films like Star Wars.

KS: They just auctioned off that Obi-Wan Kenobi cloak and if you read the story behind it you’re just blown away. Apparently they got it from a rental house and then when the movie was done it went back into rotation at the rental house and could be rented out for costume parties and sh*t like that, the very same one that Alec Guinness wore. Until, you know, a collector bought it and put it into their collection and kept it out of heavy rotation.

But that was at a period when movies weren’t as celebrated and obsessed over as they are now. Every piece of a movie means something to somebody now but back in the day you’d wrap a movie and throw sh*t out. Because it wasn’t any big deal. The primary source of revenue or the primary source of interest was the movie itself. Over the last twenty-five, thirty years, sh*t like the props becomes something. A stormtrooper helmet can fetch $50,000 if it was truly used in the movie.

Even the marketing materials, even lobby cards. They’d put them up and throw them out but now you can find an expensive set of lobby cards for movies when they used to do it. I’m sure had the guys running theatres known back in the day how much they’d be worth one day they never would have thrown that sh*t up.

They sometimes produce glossy promo material for press screenings. I don’t think I’ve thrown a single one out; I have them in a box at home.

KS: Right on, I’m telling you man; you wait two, five years and throw that sh*t up on eBay, you’ll walk away with a nice chunk of change for something that didn’t cost you a dime.

I went to Elstree Studios a couple of years back and we met a guy who works for the town council as a film historian – it’s probably the only town council in the country with a film historian on staff – but he was telling us all these stories about going drinking with Alfred Hitchcock and walking Harrison Ford down to the shops to buy a newspaper while dressed up as Indiana Jones.

KS: Like a real Forest Gump of cinema history!

Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan and his cloak – we had to get some Star Wars in somewhere.

Yeah. And, heartbreakingly, he was telling us stories about discovering great tips full of audition tapes from the fifties and sixties featuring all of these amazing actors who came through the studio on their way to being famous. And they’d been tossed out.

KS: It’s so strange. I read a story about the original Wicker Man and the twisted f*cking history of how long it took that film to become a cult classic and how it was pretty much thwarted at every turn. I guess part of their film wound up paved under some road that they were building at the time. They were clearing out an office and dumping sh*t and it just wound up getting paved into the road near the office. It’s The Wicker Man, how could that happen?!

I guess it comes down to hindsight being a wonderful thing, but it’s hard to wrap your head around the concept of anyone doing that or of anyone equating a screen-used lightsabre to a metal pole of no value.

KS: Absolutely right. I’ve always been something of a packrat so I’ve kind-of kept everything that I could and if I didn’t keep it I went back to get it. When we were shooting on Clerks II we had to swap out the big Quick Stop sign at the front of the store with a burned-out version, so we took the real one down and then we had to replace it with a very clean, crisp new version for the end of the movie. So when we were done shooting I asked the Thapars if we could just give them the clean, crisp new version and just take the old version, and they said yes, so it’s now the most precious prop I have and it was an unintentional prop, it just happened to be the store sign when we shot the movie, thirteen years ago, but now I own it.

I’ve been very good at keeping everything but the one regret I have is Mallrats. It was the first film we made with a budget and when the movie was done I didn’t lobby to keep any of it because they owned it all. There were some things I managed to collect over time – I got the grappling gun and little sh*t like that – but like the wardrobe just went back into general circulation at Universal and then they had a f*cking garage sale and somebody walked away with Brodie’s jacket and that shirt and all the clothes. I kept, of course, the Jay and Silent Bob stuff.

But ever since then, from Chasing Amy forward, I’ve kept everything; I’ve kept all the wardrobe, I’ve kept all the f*cking props. Every once in a while I’ll get a call from Miramax Archives going like, “I think you should give that stuff back.” And I’m like, why? It’s just going to sit in some storage unit somewhere, I’m going to put it up in the store, you know, where people can see it and appreciate it and touch it.

You’re no longer collecting props; you’re in the business of making them too.

KS: It is kind-of fun, man, like owning stuff like the Buddy Christ statue is a cool thing. Having that where people can walk in and see it is a cool thing.

I’ve never had a chance to visit either store.

KS: You should definitely come if you get a chance. Both of them function primarily as stores but since we have all the wall space and since people seek out the stores based on the flicks it just always seemed like a good idea to house the props there. So when you go it’s not just like going to buy the comics, if you’re into the movies you can see the sh*t that we used to make the movies. The wardrobe is either on dummies standing up or in frames against the wall and whatnot. In Jersey we’ve got the Bluntmobile and in California we’ve got the breastplate armour that Ben wore with the broken wings on it.

That costume is awesome.

KS: It is kind-of cool but when you look at it up close you can just see the sh*tty little cabinet hinges that hold it together. But, you know, on film it looked kind-of good.

Ben and Matt have their cabinet hinges adjusted on the set of Dogma.

I heard a story that Rickman was very uncomfortable in the wings.

KS: Very much so, he threw his back out in a big bad way. As you say, hindsight being 20:20, if we were smart we would have just stood the wings up on a stand behind him, kept his legs kind-of closed and made it appear they were attached to him. Instead we harnessed those f*cking wings to him and they were like ninety-pound wings to begin with and then when we were operating them – because they were hooked up to wires and levers that made them open and sh*t like that – anytime you move them you’re moving them in a way that wasn’t orchestrated ahead of time. I wasn’t like, “Alright, Alan, so on this line I’m going to do this.” So it kept throwing him and his back.

You can see it in the film and you can see the effects of it later in one shot in the film when he shows up at a restaurant right before the third act begins. When he comes into the scene, I think Bethany says, “What are we doing here?” and then Alan slides into a chair and says, “Going out in style.” The slide in the chair looks really good on film, just the way he did it, you’re like, “What a classy way to move into frame.” He had no choice, he had to slide in like that because he couldn’t just sit down; his back was shot and he’d been out of commission for two days. He was a real trooper to work with that bad back but it did put him down for two days.

You’ve only ever used Rickman once in your films.

KS: Yeah, just by virtue of the fact that I’ve never done anything classy enough to include him in. After Dogma we did Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back and there really wasn’t anything in it for him. At one point I was going to put him in Jersey Girl as the guy that ran the publicity agency that Ben’s character goes to see at the end. But in the movie version he kind-of leaves before he even gets to the meeting; he sits down with Will Smith and leaves before he even gets to meet the Angelotti character. If we took it to the Angelotti stage and I’d written a version of it that included that character we’d have been able to use Alan in that scene but we didn’t so it didn’t happen. Then we did Clerks II and it was such a small cast that there was no place for it.

So in the case of Alan it’s really about figuring out something that you want to call in for, you know, because he’s such a great actor and you don’t want to waste his time with some bullsh*t little role. Same with Eliza Dukshu. Even Claire Forlani who I really loved when I did Mallrats; I think she’s a really good actress. I would love to work with her again but I haven’t found anything for her yet.

Is it true that you’re over here for a playdate for Harley?

KS: Yeah, it’s nice to be able to afford to do something like that. But ultimately the trip didn’t wind up costing me anything. We got our tickets for free because I had a bunch of points, so the air travel didn’t cost a dime. The only real cost is staying in town and as you’re no-doubt aware it’s f*cking expensive here for an American. I think if you’re British you’re kind-of used to it by now and it is what it is.

Well, I’ve got to say, it’s f*cking expensive here at the Dorchester…

KS: Very expensive in this place, too. So, you know, when I set up the Q&As it was partly knowing that I was going to be in town and I might as well do some Q&As but it was also partly like, that will finance the entire trip so it doesn’t really cost us anything to come here. The whole thing winds up being an expensive time and since the kid gets to hang out with her best friend that doesn’t cost anything; that’s a worthwhile expense.

She’s growing up really fast.

KS: Yeah, she’s going to be eight in a couple of months. I’m getting old, man. That kid represents a f*cking ticking clock because the older she gets the older I’m obviously getting. Prior to a kid you never really notice aging. Granted before Harley came around I’d been working for six years and I’d never really noticed my age in those six years because you’re working in a make-pretend business where you get to make up stuff for a living and play all day long. Suddenly when Harley came on the scene the older she gets you have to acknowledge the fact that, I am now this much older based on her age than I was when she first got here.

Kids age you in a weird way. Not inasmuch as they take a lot out of you and turn you grey but you can’t not mark the time based on how much older they’re getting.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when she hits her teenage years; if she starts rebelling against dad.

KS: I don’t think she’ll rebel against dad, I think she’ll rebel against mom. That’s what daughters tend to do is to rebel against mom. And her primary relationship is definitely with her mother. As far as she’s concerned Jen hung the f*cking moon, she worships Jen. In the last year or so she’s gotten more interested in me in general but I think the older she gets the more that dynamic will shift. Most teenage girls will be like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, mom,” and sort of rebel against mom, and I’m going to be there for her to lean on going, “You’re right, your mom’s an idiot.” You know, just feeding that rebellion. I don’t think she’ll rebel against me because how do you rebel against a guy who has almost no rules set in place to begin with, you know? I guess the only way she could truly rebel is if she became a fundamental Christian! And that’d be kind-of heartbreaking!

Jersey Girl
Ben Affleck and Raquel Castro in Jersey Girl – Kevin Smith gets sentimental.

I really liked Jersey Girl

KS: You’re one of the few!

So I understand! But I saw that film as a next stage for you, drawing on what it was like to be a father; you were pretty brave in wanting to try something different.

KS: People didn’t see it that way. People were just like, “What the f*ck? Why did you make that movie?” But I couldn’t have made that movie and then made Clerks II. Clerks II is a movie that’s informed by what we learned doing Jersey Girl. With Jersey Girl I got tagged with being overly sentimental meanwhile Clerks II is, in fact, overly sentimental; you just don’t notice it because it’s buried in a slew of vulgarities. It’s as overly sentimental, if not more-so, than Jersey Girl is.

And embarrassingly I have to admit that if I didn’t outright cry at the end of Clerks II I came pretty damn close.

KS: Yeah. Me too, and I wrote it, so you’d imagine it wouldn’t affect me. But when we did that last shot of the movie, that pullback, which wound up being not only the last shot of the movie but also the last shot of the production, it was kind-of moving. And then sitting down and watching that movie, cutting the movie, and watching it after I cut it, it still moves me. I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I love that movie so much. The stuff in the jail cell with Randall is real f*cking tear jerking stuff. That’s when the movie reveals itself to be what it’s always been and what people have often suspected the first movie was about; it’s a love story about two dudes who just don’t f*ck. [laughs]

That pullback at the end very much felt like a door closing on the View Askewniverse.

KS: Very much so.

I know you’re looking to do an animated film with those guys.

KS: Yeah, but that would kind-of be more in the vein of what we did in the Clerks cartoon which is not related at all; way more over-the-top and just kind-of fun for the sake of fun.

It feels like the doors are closed on the View Askewniverse, though. I imagine if, in ten years, I wanted to look in on Dante and Randall again, or I wanted to do a meditation of what it was like to be in my forties, I would immediately think of Dante and Randall. There will always be a compulsion to go back to that universe, just because I like those characters so much, but you’ve got to move on, you’ve got to try other things and whatnot. You know, we got lucky inasmuch as we went out on a high note with Clerks II, so it’d be tempting fate to reopen it yet again. It’s a shame because I like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back so much. I think it’s a fun movie and I think it’s funny and I would love to do another one with just me and Jason running around doing stupid sh*t, but I doubt it’ll happen.

Does it have to be Jay and Silent Bob to get you and Jason together again on-screen?

KS: It’d be weird to put me and Jason in a movie and not be Jay and Silent Bob. I would put Jason in a movie again – when I do the comedy I’m going to cast Jason as someone else – and I don’t think I’m going to be in it at all. But when I think about being in a flick, particularly beside Jason, I just see me in a long coat and him in his f*cking duds.

Even when I was up in Canada shooting on Reaper I was just thinking, “Maybe I should do Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian.” That lasted like 45 seconds to a minute and change one day where I was like, “It’d be fun to come up here and shoot it and make a bunch of Canadian jokes,” and then I was like, “Move on, dude. You’re done. Don’t beat that horse right into the ground.”

Because it’s just one step away from Electric Bugaloo

KS: [laughs] Pretty much!

You’ve done your share of rewrites; I know you haven’t done them for a while…

KS: Last one I did was Coyote Ugly.

Coyote Ugly
She never went pro – Kevin stopped rewriting after Coyote Ugly.

Based on the fact that you were ultimately torn away from that project; were you interested to see where they went with it and how it was reviewed?

KS: I was curious to see it. I went to the premiere and I was curious to see what remained and what I saw was nothing. One line remained and some character names remained and certain things like jobs, John Goodman being a toll collector and stuff, that didn’t exist in the draft prior to me.

What was the line?

KS: Not even a great line, man, but essentially I got paid a sh*t-load of money for that one line, because that’s really all they kept. It was this joke where one of the girls infers something like being a lesbian or doing some kind of gay stuff with chicks. The one character says, “Are you a lesbian?” And she says, “No, I played in the minors but I never went pro,” as a way of saying she f*cked around with girls but it wasn’t a lifestyle for her. That’s the only line that they f*cking kept which I was always astounded by.

And that’s why I can’t do those gigs anymore because ultimately it comes down to the fact that it’s just money. Any number of people will call me a hack on the internet and they’re just absolutely incorrect. That’s not even a matter of opinion to me; it’s just factually untrue. A hack is somebody who just takes money simply to direct a movie, they have nothing invested in it personally and they don’t care about. A hack is somebody who’s paid to grind it out; they need someone to shoot it and you may as well grind it out. I’ve never done that; I’ve never had that experience. If I’m rewriting and they’re paying me $200,000 a week to do so, that to me feels like hackdom. The only reason I’m doing that is because there’s a cheque attached.

When I first started doing it, I started doing it thinking, “I think I can actually make this better. I think I can write dialogue for it and improve the script somehow.” After the Coyote Ugly experience – which wasn’t a horrible experience while I was doing it – but seeing the end result and seeing how little of the effort I put into it wound up on the screen it was just the case that all they did was pay me a bunch of money for one crap joke. At that point I just realised that I didn’t need to do it anymore.

I believe Joss Whedon did the line, “You know what happens to a toad when it gets struck by lightning?” in X-Men which was about all they kept from his rewrites on that script.

KS: Crap joke. [laughs]

Terrible joke; but in the context of Whedon I can see how that joke might have played.

KS: Yeah, but in the context of that film though it was just a bad delivery and it didn’t quite pan out.

That’s why Reaper was kind-of an interesting experience for me. I went into it having enjoyed the script but I did feel like, “Hey, I can make this a little better.” And also it was kind-of an interesting experiment because I wanted to see if I could direct someone else’s script also. So that, for me, even though I did get paid nicely for it, wasn’t about the money it was about wondering whether I could take someone else’s script and realise it. And along the way perhaps beef up the dialogue and make it a little funnier and stuff like that. But now, having gone through that process, I just don’t want to do that again either.

There are too many cooks in that world. Way too many people to satisfy.

Like at the end of the day, with my scripts, they’re mine from beginning to end. That means I reap the praise for it and take the bullets for it. Something like Reaper I can’t reap the praise for it or take the bullets for it because so many other people were involved in the decision-making process. For me filmmaking is so personal and I just prefer to keep it that way. So much so that whether you like it or not, I love it and that’s me at the end of the day. That stands for what I wanted to say or tried to communicate. The other paths of filmmaking, filmmaking by committee, I just don’t feel comfortable doing.

I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done because there are people who are born to direct other people’s scripts. Like, you know, nobody would call Martin Scorsese a hack and there’s a dude who doesn’t generally write his own material but he can take someone else’s script and elevate it and make it brilliant and make it his own. I don’t have that talent so all I can do is take the stuff I write and keep it as my own.

Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese – a cook who won’t spoil the broth.

It’s something I always struggle with as a critic; if you’re not there from the moment someone first comes up with the idea to the moment the film is released and you’re in a screening room watching it, it can be hard to know who to give credit for what you liked about a movie and who to criticise for what you didn’t like. It comes down to educated guess work; in the case of something like Sunshine, being a big fan of Danny Boyle’s work I think I can tell when he’s worked on a film and how he’s elevated a script and brought his own talent to bear even though I don’t think he’s ever written a movie himself.

KS: Yeah, it’s kind-of interesting. To continue the example, if someone were to say, “I’ll tell you who wrote it but I’m not going to tell you who directed it,” chances are you could figure out a Martin Scorsese movie pretty easily. Steven Spielberg, same thing.

But conversely, I think I struggle when it comes to recognising a writer’s work. Not all writers, but it’s much harder. Ultimately, the buck stops with a director, which I think is why it’s often easier to find a director in a movie.

KS: Totally. Though every once in a while a script comes along where you just think it’d be as good in the hands of any director.

A film like Little Miss Sunshine.

KS: Yeah, that’s a really script-driven flick. Even Good Will Hunting, you know, I think Gus did a great job with that movie but ultimately the script screams through. And no matter whose hands the script was in, the script was always going to be the most memorable thing about that movie.

I have to say, I don’t even necessarily think of Good Will Hunting as a Gus van Sant picture.

KS: But it really is. When you see it you can see Gus’ flourishes and whatnot. Particularly that fight scene when they stop in the playground after seeing those guys. He’s like, “Remember me?” and he punches the dude and they play Baker Street and he gets into this weird slowed-down fight. Very clearly at that point it’s a Gus van Sant film. But not the same Gus van Sant film that, say, My Own Private Idaho is.

Right, but I think Good Will Hunting is in a different league to Idaho and films like Gerry, Elephant and Last Days. Those are true Gus van Sant pictures. I think he’s very smart in knowing where to hold back, if that’s the right phrase, and let the script be in Good Will Hunting.

KS: I think in that example he was pretty much serving the material and the material really didn’t call for very showy theatrics. It was a very simple, beautiful, character-driven story. Dressing it up with any number of odd camera shots or just general weirdness wouldn’t have served it that much. I think you kind-of saw a bit of the same thing when he did that Psycho remake. Dude’s working from the original text and there are very few moments where you’re just like, “Oh, that’s very Gus van Sant.”

Conversely you look at stuff like Gerry, Elephant, To Die For even, which is a wonderful script, he was able to bring some Gus van Sant to it. But that’s what I think makes him a really good director. Same with Ang Lee. There’s a dude who, show me an Ang Lee movie and don’t tell me Ang Lee directed it, I don’t think I’d be able to pick it out. And that’s not a bad thing, that’s not to say he has no signature style, it’s just Ang Lee is so willing to try out so many different mediums and storylines and be totally in service of the script.

Good Will Huntin
A script-driven movie. Robin Williams and Matt Damon in the Kevin-exec-produced drama Good Will Hunting.

In some ways, though, I’m disappointed that Ben and Matt became huge as actors, and are obviously very, very pretty, and they haven’t written anything since.

KS: It is kind-of weird, although Ben recently did an adaptation of a book called Gone, Baby, Gone. I saw it and it’s a wonderful film. It’s an insanely strong directorial debut. He was working from the Dennis Lehane source material but he did a really bang-up job directing it and one of the most noteworthy things about his direction his how out-of-the-way it stands in service of the story.

First time directors, I think, particularly people who’ve worked under Michael Bay or any number of directors that Ben has worked for that don’t include me, who actually have like a visual style and a flashy visual style, you’d imagine that for his first time up to bat that he’d want to not so much ape them but be inspired by the things they’ve done, to move the camera and make it very showy, and that movie doesn’t, the camera really just serves the script.

I was really impressed by that, he didn’t just start whipping that camera around for the sake of being tricky and being, like, “Look what I can do with it.” He really let the story and the performances drive the film and it’s a really interesting and wonderful movie.

But it’d be nice to see those dudes write an original script again.

And you can’t feel too bad, because I can’t say I’d want to tear Damon away from Bourne or Affleck away from Hollywoodland

KS: Or even The Departed. I think that was one of my favourite performances of last year; Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson and Matt in The Departed. I thought Matt was f*cking brilliant in that movie. But yeah, they’ve both kind-of gone on to do a bunch of other stuff and who knows if they’d have been able to do it if they’d just been concentrating on screenwriting.

I think eventually they’ll get around to doing it again but I think, also, once you’ve won the Academy Award I’d imagine you’re gun-shy where it’s just like if they write something again and it doesn’t hold a candle to Good Will Hunting suddenly everyone’s going to re-evaluate Good Will Hunting. Maybe it’s best just to leave well enough alone and just be, like, “We did it once and it worked out phenomenally for us, so let’s just count our blessings and move forward.” I guess to a certain extent you always suffer from the fact that people are always going to compare your work to Clerks.

KS: Totally. And it’s weird, like it didn’t just stop with Clerks. You’ll find a bunch of people who’ll say, “He never made anything as good as the first movie,” then you find a bunch of people who’ll say, “He never made anything as good as Chasing Amy.” And then there’s a smaller school who are huge Dogma fans and everything after Dogma has been crap. [laughs] Nobody will every say nothing is as good as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but, you know, you’re always competing against your prior films and it’s always a weird position when they’re judging you against your body of work because it’s just like, that was then and this is now. Not every film can be Chasing Amy; just be happy that there was one f*cking Chasing Amy.

People will bitch about Spike Lee movies – although The Inside Man people are like, “Hey, Spike’s back to form.” – but for me Spike Lee could make nothing but a series of dog-sh*t movies for the rest of his life – and I don’t think he has, I’ve really enjoyed everything the dude’s done to some degree or another – but he made Do The Right Thing. If you get one fantastic, brilliant film out of a filmmaker over the course of their entire career, that’s a blessing. I don’t think you need to expect for them every time to get up and knock it out of the park; no director can do that. Steven Spielberg is one of the most well-respected, successful, brilliant and gifted directors working, but not every Spielberg movie is as great as Jaws or as great as Schindler’s List. You can’t knock it out of the park each time it’s just impossible.

Maybe it’s possible if you make fewer movies, but then you’ve got to be like Terrence Mallick where you’re making movies once every fifteen years or something like that.

And I don’t think that’s necessarily going to guarantee success either.

KS: You can’t have a body of work unless you have a body of work; unless you have a bunch of films under your belt.

Ultimately, you work at your own pace. Woody Allen can push a film out every year like clockwork and it works for him…

KS: And sometimes they’re brilliant and sometimes they’re just the latest Woody Allen movie.

JFK – Oliver Stone’s masterpiece?

Right, but ultimately that’s the way it works and if that’s what it takes to get the occasional Annie Hall or Crimes and Misdemeanours, so be it.

KS: I agree man, sometimes the really brilliant ones are few and far between, but be happy that there are any. That’s the way I feel. It’s like Oliver Stone. I haven’t cared for the last few Oliver Stone movies, but it doesn’t matter. Oliver Stone made JFK and he never has to make another good movie for the rest of his life, for me, that movie was fantastic. It was a real gift to cinema.

So even if somebody’s saying, “This isn’t as good as Clerks,” it’s still somebody saying Clerks meant that much to them that the bar was raised to a place where they feel that anything that doesn’t quite hit it is not living up to the promise or whatever. Although it’s weird, I always look at Clerks and I think, “Where do you see promise in that movie?” I see the promise of a dude who likes to write dialogue and that’s all that is. And I’ve pretty much lived up to that promise!

But that’s also a ridiculous thing to say because you can’t switch off from your own work. I read the first reviews I ever wrote and the first interviews I ever did and they appal me, but if I hadn’t written them I wouldn’t be where I am today because if they were truly appalling they wouldn’t have been read. It’s human nature to be critical of your early works.

KS: [laughs] I guess it’s really up to the audience, right, because you’re just to close to it that you can’t really see what people see. Which is good and bad because it means people can see good in it that you didn’t intend or didn’t see just as they can see bad in it that you really didn’t intend and didn’t see. It’s such a subjective experience sitting down and watching a movie. It has so much to do with any number of mitigating factors; you can watch the best movie ever made on the sh*ttiest day of your life and you’re going to view that movie differently than you would view it under normal circumstances or on the best day of your life. And that’s going to inform your viewing experience.

I had that experience with Sideways; I hated that movie first time around.

KS: Did you revisit it?

I did, more than once, and from that second time I got it.

KS: I saw that movie and I too was just unimpressed. It didn’t really do anything for me. But I haven’t revisited it since. But a movie that affected me in that way was The Talented Mr. Ripley. The first time I saw that movie I felt it was just pretty people in pretty places; who gives a sh*t? The next time I saw it I realised it was f*cking brilliant and fascinating and it’s become one of my favourite films.

But it is very subjective and I know I’ve always had trouble with comic book movies. I don’t have a huge history of reading comic books, but I’ve always had trouble seeing what people see in movies like Spider-Man. X-Men was, I think, the movie that changed my mind, but I still can’t wrap my head around Spider-Man and Batman Begins and many others. I know they’re hugely adored and I certainly recognise that they’re good movies, they just don’t play to me.

KS: Hey, man, I’m with you on Spider-Man, I was not a big fan of Spider-Man. I liked the first half-hour, forty-five minutes of Spider-Man. The moment he got in the suit I was just not that interested. Oddly enough I liked Spider-Man 2 much more than the first Spider-Man. But what do we know? People f*cking love that Spider-Man picture. I don’t know, but to me it just didn’t do what it did to everyone else.

That was a movie too where first time I saw it I just hated it, second time I saw it I was like, “You know what, maybe I just gave it too hard a time.” It is what it is.

From the sounds of it you’re more interested in the Peter Parker side…

KS: In the movie? Yes.

Whereas for me the Peter Parker side is what really annoys me.

KS: That was the boring part? Of the movie itself I enjoyed the Peter Parker stuff more than the stuff where he got into the suit. I couldn’t stand that Green Goblin suit. At a certain point in the movie it just looked like two action figures talking to one another; both of their faces are completely covered and it didn’t even have to be Willem Dafoe and f*cking Tobey Maguire. It could have been two stand-ins wearing those suits with the actors looping in the dialogue later on. That’s why when you get into Spider-Man 2 and you’ve got Doctor Octopus and Alfred Molina with a face unencumbered by a f*cking mask and he’s emoting it’s a lot easier to appreciate the performance and appreciate the craft.

That’s why I always thought it was a really weird and bad choice to stick the Green Goblin in a metal mask when you have a guy like Willem Dafoe who has such a wonderful face to begin with that all he had to do was paint it green. There’s one moment in that movie where he’s looking in the mirror and having a conversation with himself and he gets into this Green Goblin voice and he has this really twisted, massive smile and that’s the Green Goblin. You don’t need to put that dude in a metal motorcycle helmet; just paint his face green. I think that was the part of the movie that really bugged me and held me back from liking it.

Spider-Man – Behind the mask he’s just a whiney teenager.

Were you a Spider-Man fan, though, from the comic books?

KS: I did read Spider-Man but I was always a Batman guy. But I was certainly into that character. Like I totally appreciated Spider-Man and what he meant. You know, the beauty of that character, and what Stan Lee says, is like, any kid can read Spider-Man whether he’s black, white, Asian, whatever, and identify with the character and see himself in that mask because he’s covered from head-to-toe in that costume. Like Batman, at the end of the day, his mask is open from below the nose and you see it’s a white guy so it’s tough for somebody, I imagine, who’s black to imagine themselves as Batman because clearly Batman is a white guy.

Spider-Man, you know, once he’s in that suit you can be any ethnicity and see yourself as that character. You can be any age and see yourself as that character. That’s always been the appealing part of Spider-Man. Not to mention the fact that, yes, under that mask we all know he is a white teenager, the problems that he dealt with are different than, historically, problems that comic book characters had to deal with. Even though the dude had tremendous power and could go around kicking the asses of bad guys he had problems getting girls, living with his aunt, wasn’t very well liked and sh*t like that and he had trouble making ends meet; simple human problems that make him a more identifiable character.

Right, and I think that’s what I’ve always had trouble figuring out. If you’re not wholly absorbed by the way comic books tell their stories, you kind-of expect your superhero movies to be fun, action movies. That’s why I think it was X-Men that cracked me, because it wasn’t just some whiney teenager bitching about not being able to score with Kirsten Dunst, there were a group of people and all of them had different issues related to their lives as superheroes and, more to the point, the same common issue which was that people just didn’t like them because they’re different. And that issue tied into the fun, action side of it, and was handled suitably subtly, whereas it didn’t and it wasn’t in Spider-Man.

KS: Totally, and that’s the genius of getting Bryan Singer to direct it because you’re getting a gay man to tell what is a gay allegory using pop-cultural characters. When Stan Lee created the X-Men he wasn’t thinking, like, “This is going to be an allegory for the gay community,” but all the writers that came after him clearly saw the outsider benefit of the story. A band of people who were looked down upon by society but were just trying to live their own lives. Bryan Singer really took that and kind-of magnified it without ever coming out and saying, “Look, it’s a gay allegory, it’s about a bunch of people who are gay.”

That was a really great marriage of filmmaker and material whereas in Superman, not at all. He was telling a story that he had no connection to like he did with the X-Men. Which is not to say that Bryan Singer should only ever make stories that are essentially veiled gay allegories but the marriage of Singer to that X-Men material in terms of a popcorn entertainment and being able to bring something else to it, I always thought that was insanely interesting and well done. Him with Superman just didn’t feel like a great match.

What’s interesting about that whole thing, though, is that I believe Superman was always his dream project, and he’s ultimately more of a fan of Superman than he is X-Men.

KS: That’s weird. You get in trouble for saying it quite a bit, but in the right hands any writer can make a boring character interesting. When Alan Moore wrote What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, the story he wrote about Superman which was really f*cking interesting. Or they did an episode of the show about it but it was a comic book that existed long before, For the Man that Has Everything it was called and it was celebrating Superman’s birthday.

Mongol gives Superman this black lotus thing that attaches to Superman’s chest and it’s a psychotropic that puts you into a world where your deepest desires are fulfilled. Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin show up at the Fortress of Solitude on Superman’s birthday, each to give him a gift, and Superman’s got this massive thing attached to his chest and they can’t break Superman out of this trance.

What’s going on in Superman’s head based on this thing attached to his chest is the life he would have lived on Krypton had it not blown up. It’s a really poignant and touching story about a dude whose parents are still alive living a normal life like everybody else, married with a kid, just all the things Superman never had because his home was destroyed.

So when he finally breaks free of this thing he’s so filled with f*cking righteous indignation and burning anger that he attacks Mongol in a way that you seldom see Superman take on somebody because a villain has cut him in a way more deeply than anyone else has by giving him a taste of a life he’ll never know.

And of course the thing winds up attached to Batman and his family comes out of seeing Zorro and walks home happily, you know, and he grows up a normal kid with his parents.

So, you know, it’s a really, really touching story and it just goes to show you how Superman, in the right hands, can be a very interesting character. But overall it’s a character that’s just tough to write for because he’s God. It’s like writing a story for God. God can do anything so it’s tough to figure out sh*t that makes that interesting, you know.

And really great writers like Alan Moore can do that but generally, to me, Superman is less interesting than the X-Men because in the X-Men you have a lot of angst that those characters have to deal with. You have the element of them being a band of outsiders who are trying to help a society that wants nothing to do with them and wants to see them extinct. So I don’t know why he’d be more interested in Superman; probably because he liked the Dick Donner movies, which is very apparent from watching Superman Returns.

Straight out of the seventies: Zodiac.

Right, you go into that movie and it’s like you’ve walked into a theatre in the seventies, only with a much more modern toybox. You don’t see movies made that way these days.

KS: Very much so.

That said, I went to see Zodiac the other day and that movie is straight out of the seventies, right down to the classic Warner Brothers and Paramount logos at the start.

KS: That’s a movie that should be on a double-bill with All The President’s Men. That was a really great flick. A little long, but a really great flick.

And yet, not so Fincher…

KS: No, but oddly enough he’s the only guy who could have made that movie. I liked that flick and it’s just weird that it didn’t get the audience it deserved. It was a sixty million dollar film and I think it topped out at about 35-40, something like that. Didn’t do nearly as well as it should have. I think that was a movie they really should have brought out earlier or at the end of last year because it’s a serious awards contender I thought.

You walk out of that movie and wonder why it’s coming out a few months into the year.

KS: The story is just fascinating. You don’t have to be even fairly well read on that subject but if you know the story of the Zodiac killer you know the ending of the movie, which is that they don’t get him. Unless this dude takes a completely different turn with the movie, they never find out who it is really, a hundred percent.

Which is possibly why Zodiac will never be a mainstream film because, without wanting to generalise–

KS: Because there’s no sense of, like, “We got the villain,” which is what American audiences want. It’s true, everyone wants to see the guilty punished and the good guys win, but that’s a story where it’s all about a dude who does something horrible and gets away with it and with all the resources at everybody’s fingerprints they’re just frustrated because they can’t close the case; they can’t pin the blame on somebody to the 100% satisfaction of the legal system.

Even in that movie when they start heading in that direction and it just winds up being an empty, false lead, it’s just a brave thing to do in American film to do this kind-of bait-and-switch where it’s like, alright, this is going to lead to something, but it leads to a dead end. But that’s what the case was, you know…

It’s weird that in the span of the first quarter of 2007 you have three movies that are so insanely influenced by movies of the seventies; that could be equally at home having been released circa 1970 to 1977 as they are now. With Black Snake Moan, Zodiac and Grindhouse.

It’s a cinema zeitgeist thing; you see it quite a bit from year to year.

KS: We’ve got four filmmakers who grew up watching those movies and now it’s kind-of influencing the flicks that they’ve just done.

Cinema seems to regenerate itself in that way; back in the Clerks days you had the Richard Linklater stuff too and that was very much the flavour of indie cinema at the time. Even at the Academy Awards, the films have always tended to check the same boxes, but from year to year you can find complementary projects being released.

KS: Right. But as far as the formula goes, this year hasn’t been quite so obvious. This year is the first year for me that I feel like the Best Picture award truly went to what I felt was the best picture of last year. I loved Departed, it was my favourite film of last year, and when it wound up winning best picture I’m like, “Holy sh*t, every once in a while, it happens!”

Plus it was a real moment that Martin Scorsese finally got his hands on one of those statues.

KS: And it’s one of those moments too where you realise that he got skipped over for Raging Bull, he got skipped over for Goodfellas, you feel like sometimes the Academy rewards people after the fact for performances that were better in the previous film. Like Jeremy Irons gets overlooked for Dead Ringers but they give him the award for playing Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune. A couple of years before the dude is in Dead Ringers where he has to play two distinctly different characters and it’s a tour-de-force performance that just kind-of gets overlooked.

Martin Scorsese, though, that was the first time in recent memory where they finally gave an Oscar to somebody, after passing him over time and again for strong work, for work that’s just as strong. He did a fantastic f*cking job.

And it’s great, too, because everyone assumed The Aviator would be his year. In retrospect, you’re glad that he didn’t pick it up then because the moment means so much more when it’s really, truly deserved in that year.

KS: It’s a dude winning an award for a genre in which he’s previously shown great chops.

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver. Clearly the inferior film to Rocky. Erm…

Definitely. Taxi Driver always weirded me out though because I really can’t see how Rocky is even possibly the better film.

KS: Considering the United States, though, it’s easy to see. Rocky is an underdog story and that appeals to everybody. Taxi Driver is about alienation and anger and people don’t want to embrace that as much as they want to embrace a dude from nowhere who can pull himself up by his bootstraps and become something. The movie is tailor-made to be embraced by Americans. It’s embraceable by almost anybody, really, but particularly Americans. And the story behind the story is almost tailor-made for that as well inasmuch as Sylvester Stallone was a struggling actor himself and put this thing together on the cheap and boom it explodes out of anonymity.

It’s the same thing with Ben and Matt in Good Will Hunting. Not only is it a great story about overcoming adversity but the back-story is these two dudes who couldn’t get cast in movies wrote themselves dream parts with a brilliant script; you want to reward not only the brilliant script but the dudes for succeeding.

It still amazes me that those guys weren’t big before Good Will Hunting based on the fact that they’d been acting for a while and they’re very, very pretty.

KS: Matt had definitely fared better than Ben inasmuch as he had Courage Under Fire before Good Will Hunting came out, and it was a pretty big part. Rainmaker was shot before Good Will Hunting came out too. But yeah, it’s very strange.

Damon was the bomb in Rounders.

KS: Rounders is an imminently watchable movie. I can pop that flick in and watch that anytime. I’m never bored by that movie. Although, again, that movie didn’t work for me first time around. Second time I saw it I was like, “This is fantastic.”

It’s such a go-to movie that you can just pop in and that’s really a testament to those two lead performances. Ed Norton is a fascinating character to watch and Matt is a fascinating character to watch as well.

Most of the poker pros today got interested in the game watching Rounders.

KS: Totally. Basically Texas Hold ‘Em exploded from that movie. And it didn’t happen right away. That movie came out and didn’t even do that well – I think Rounders topped off at $19 to $25 million – but within three years of that movie’s release suddenly Texas Hold ‘Em became so insanely popular and it has to be traced back to Rounders because it introduced people to that game; to that particular instance of poker.

John Malkovich is brilliant in that movie.

KS: He’s f*cking fantastic in that movie. That’s a dude you can watch in almost anything, he always has something interesting to offer.

Dinner and the Movies was a conversation between filmmaker Kevin Smith and RT-UK editor Joe Utichi at The Dorchester Hotel, London, Friday 6th April 2007. Many thanks to Gail Stanley for her help with organisation.

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