RT-UK Exclusive: Two Hours With Kevin Smith

by | April 30, 2007 | Comments

Some journalists are lucky to get 15 minutes with a director; RT-UK hit the jackpot of good fortune when "Clerks 2" director Kevin Smith agreed to a two-hour long kick back, foul-mouthed, rollicking good time chat, so awesome that we’re presenting it in not one, not two, but five daily installments! Click here to start reading.

Kevin Smith has long been one of the most accessible directors around — between his frequent appearances in online forums, on his own site (ViewAskew.com), and his world-traversing Q&A shows, he’s made a name for himself as a decidedly fan-friendly filmmaker (and earned his reputation for being the closest thing any fanboy could possibly come to being a director). RT-UK’s Joe Utichi caught up with Smith recently in London, where Smith was giving one of his patented answer ’em-until-the-questions-run-out Q&A sessions.

Up first: Joe and Kevin release their inner nerds with talk of the "X-Files" and the exciting potential of a second "X-Files" movie (guess which one named his pets after Scully and Mulder?)…

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Joe Utichi: 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.

Kevin Smith: [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…"

JU: 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.

JU: 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.

JU: 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.

JU: Krycek.

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

JU: 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.

JU: 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.

JU: 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 think something great.

Next: On reading reviews (from critics and fans alike on Rotten Tomatoes), Kevin’s infamous "Revenge of the Sith" RT thread, and getting drawn into message board flame wars…

JU: 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.

JU: MagnoliaFan.

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.

JU: 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."

JU: 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.

JU: 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.

Click here to read more, and check back tomorrow for the next installment, in which 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

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