Kevin Smith Chats about ZACK AND MIRI and Amateur Porn with Capone!!
Published at: Aug. 1, 2008, 11:35 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. It seems almost pointless to try and give details on any panel Kevin Smith is a part of. Unless you can actually see it and hear it, it's just not as funny having me describe it (I think the two EVENING WITH KEVIN SMITH DVD sets make my point for me). It's so free form and so dependent on the questions from the audience. That being said, the panel for ZAK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO was fucking hilarious due in large part to Kevin having a couple new playmates to bounce funny shit off of, in particular Seth Rogen and Justin Long.
From what little Smith said about the film's plot, it involves two best friends (played by Rogen and Elizabeth Banks), who both find themselves broke in these trying times and decide the best way to make a little cash is to make an amateur adult movie. I'm sure the film goes other places but that's where it begins.
Smith showed an extended clip from ZAK AND MIRI that was prefaced by some really funny title cards from Kevin about no recording the clip and putting it up on YouTube. There was also a deliberate false-start clip of Rogen saying "Asses! Deep in asses!" followed by a quick glimpse of a beautiful bent over ass. The title cards returned, apologizing for putting up the wrong clip. When the clips finally got going, the setting was Miri's (Elizabeth Banks) 10-year high school reunion somewhere in or around Pittsburgh, at which she has decided to hit on the one guy from high school she had a crush on and try to sleep with him (we don't see his face immediately, for good reason). She's brought her best friend Zak (Rogen) along as her platonic date, and he's left at the bar talking to a stranger named Brandon (played by Long), wearing what appeared to be a velvet smoking jacket and using a deep voice that was just as velvety. The two guys start talking and commiserating about being at the reunion. Brad admits he's an actor, and Zak is duly impressed. "In fucking movies?" he asks. "Fucking movies, pretty much," Brad answers. "Anything I've seen?" "All sorts of movies with all-male casts." "Like GLENGARY GLEN ROSS?" "Like GLEN AND GARY SUCK ROSS'S MEATY COCK AND DROP THEIR HAIRY NUTS IN HIS EAGER MOUTH." "Was that a sequel?" "It's a re-imagining." "Oh, like THE WIZ." "More erotic and with less women. No women to be exact."
At this point Rogen goes out on a limb. "I apologize in advance if I am out of line here, but are you in gay porn?" "Guilty as charged." "Are you fucking with me?" "I thought you recognized me at first. You're not my demographic, that's why I'm not insulted." "Who's your demographic?" "Do you love pussy?" "I do." "Then not you."
The scene continues scene cuts to Banks awkwardly hitting on this tall, dark-haired man, who is revealed to be Brendan Routh (Superman in SUPERMAN RETURNS). For those who had been at the panel just before Kevin's, this was especially funny. It was an Entertainment Weekly panel that feature Smith, Judd Apatow, Zack Snyder, and a grumpy Frank Miller. During the Q&A, someone asked Kevin what he thought about SUPERMAN RETURNS, and his answer was that it wasn't gay enough, that there were all these opportunities to up the gay ante as it were that were missed. So to see Routh play a gay porn star's boyfriend just killed. But the scene is made perfect when Banks declares "I fuck a lot." I longed to hear her say those words.
Zak brings Brandon over to Miri to stop her from embarrassing herself. In introducing Brandon, another one of his many porn titles dropped: YOU BETTER SHUT YOUR MOUTH OR I'M GOING TO FUCK IT. Miri is shattered, "You are fucking with me." Zak: "They're fucking with each other." Miri leaves to binge drink until she passes out. Zak is clearly curious about the gay lifestyle: "So you two suck each other's cocks?" "Like crazy," says Brandon. "You guys are totally in love, aren't you?" "Zachary, we are. I could just eat him up." "Save some for me!" "He does most of the eating in the sack, if you know what I mean."
The scene concludes as Brandon and Brendon argue about Brendon's being in the closet and Brandon embarrassing himself in public. Brendon: "Maybe for one second in this God-forsaken town I could be myself. I'm so sorry. You're right, I should just butch up and pretend that I don't love it when you shove your dick in my mouth." Zak: "They fight just like real people." And the scene goes on. It's fantastic.
After the panel, I got a chance to catch up with Kevin, who was in desperate need of multiple cigarettes after literally coming off about three straight hours of paneling. No need to preface this interview. You all know Kevin. He basted our Talkbackers in JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, and that's all you care about. I'll have separate interviews with Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks COMING very soon (see, I can speak Porn as well). I found myself behind the screen in Hall H at Comic-Con and actually got to meet Traci Lords, who is also in the movie. The best line of the panel was after Traci Lords said that she was 15 when she started making adult films. I guess Kevin didn't realize this, and he responded, "You were 15? You're like the Miley Cyrus of porn." Despite AICN's long history and friendship with Kevin, this was actually the first time we'd ever met, which explains my first comment to him. Enjoy. Here's Kevin Smith…
Kevin Smith: Hey, man. How are you?
Capone: Good. And good to finally meet you.
KS: Good to meet you.
Capone: You've been busy today.
KS: Today was a busy Con day for me. Yesterday too. I did two panels yesterday, and tomorrow I moderate "Battlestar Galactica."
Capone: I'll try to get into that one [I failed]. I was talking to both Seth and Banks earlier about how ZACK AND MIRI seems to tackle two things in American culture that are incredibly prevalent and timely: amateur porn and the growing poverty situation.
KS: [laughs] Yeah, thank God for the recession! Now the movie makes sense, because if we were having a very strong financial year, people would be like, "This could NEVER happen."
Capone: Those fucking poor people.
KS: Exactly. Now it's actually possible.
Capone: Is that something that's really dealt with in the film?
KS: Yeah, that's kind of the reason that they hatch the scheme. They're at wit's end and their means are insanely limited, so they cook up the scheme and that kicks our flick into motion at that point.
Capone: You talked about how you seem to still have that reputation that you don't like going off script, but that's not really true anymore, is it?
KS: It was definitely true with CLERKS and MALLRATS. CLERKS because that was the only way I knew how to do it. I was a rank amateur working with other rank amateurs. MALLRATS was just an extension of what we'd done the first time--it works, let's stick with it. And CHASING AMY was the last time I was really "Stick to the periods and the commas and shit." But after that, on DOGMA, you're working with people like Alan Rickman who's a brilliant fucking actor and can act circles around anything you could possibly say in the way of direction. So that dude, if he said, "I want to change this line; I want to say it this way." I was like, "Go nuts. You're fucking Alan Rickman." And then Chris Rock, anybody who is funnier than me--and there are lots of them among he people I get to work with. I would never tell Chris Rock, "You can't say that is this movie because it's too funny" just because it's not in the script. We've been kind of open ad-libbing, not nearly as much as Seth says they do with the Apatow stuff, but I'm not the guy who throws something out because I'm too proud. "I didn't write that, so it can't be in the movie."
Capone: Speaking of DOGMA, you were one of the few directors to give George Carlin acting work later in his life.
KS: JERSEY GIRL particularly, that was a really big part. I know a lot of people didn't see it, and a lot of people--particularly Ain't It Cool News in the Talkbacks--don't like it…
Capone: I saw the screening in Chicago where you did the Q&A afterwards.
KS: But Carlin was amazing in that movie, really really great. Carlin was a real student of acting and performance and treated it more seriously than anyone else I've ever worked with. He created backstory for his character and stuff like that, really did research, tried to get a dialect correct. He was really into performance, because everyone knew him as a stand-up, but he always wanted to act. So I felt good about the JERSEY GIRL thing because he actually got to show that he could totally pull off a role that wasn't typical George Carlin. You watch DOGMA, and that's very much George Carlin. But in JERSEY GIRL, he kind of got to play a real part.
Capone: He's terrific in JERSEY GIRL. For the record, I gave the movie a good review.
KS: Thank you, sir. Thanks you. You're one of the few.
Capone: I remember that Q&A very well, because the film was PG-13, so there were quite a few teenage girls and their mothers in the audience, largely because of Jennifer Lopez being in the film. But then the Q&A started, and your foul mouth chased them right out.
KS: Right, right. I can't go up there…I tend to treat the people who would go see our movies, the audience, as I would my friends. And if that's the way I speak to my friends, why wouldn't I speak to the audience that way?
Capone: Talk about working with Seth and Elizabeth. They seem like the next great comedy super couple, who could just keep making movies together for years.
KS: Totally. They are really wonderful together. That dude is probably the best actor I've ever worked with in my life. He's not just a funny dude. He pulls off dramatic stuff in this movie really well. And she is, by far, the best actress I've ever worked with in my life. She just elevated the whole thing, man. She brought real humanity to what could have been a very two-dimensional role. The two of them together are just really magical. The clip we showed, you don't really get to see much of their chemistry together, because it's one of the only moments in the movie where they're split up into different sections. But mostly they're in every scene together, and the were really wonderful together. The movie works because of their performances.
Capone: In a lot of ways, she's an unsung comic actress.
KS: I agree.
Capone: Even in the clip you showed, she has this nervous giggle that she uses that is always makes me laugh. I remember being mesmerized by it in 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN.
KS: Yes, yes. The scene in the clip that we showed, she took the simple line, "No, I'm really good. I've had a lot of experience," which could have played flat and hit the editing room floor. But she sold it, and that laugh of hers is just gold. She plays awkward really well.
Capone: I love what you said about Seth and his style of ad libbing, that it's not just funny shit that you could never use other than on an outtakes reel.
KS: Right. He's insanely gifted. With our stuff, he didn't so much improv as he did ad lib, just adding lines that weren't necessarily on the page, where he's really gifted. Any actor can do that, throw in their own lines and be funny doing it, but it's not usually germane to the discussion. They'll throw in lines and the crew gets a good laugh, because when you're shooting a scene, you hear the same dialogue over and over again. As soon as there's a slight variation, it's like "Oh, I haven't heard that; that's funny." But none of it tends to be very usable. Seth is very excellent at making any ad lib he throws out there absolutely usable. His key is to always make it usable. So when you have a guy who is ad libbing, saying things that sound like they're coming out of the character's mouth, it's germane to the discussion, it propels the scene forward, it doesn't stop it short, it's all adding to what gets you to the next beat. That's a true gift, and he's really good at it. He's a genius. He's the best I've ever seen in terms of an ad libber.
Capone: You're last couple of films, even CLERK 2--and it sounds like ZACK AND MIRI as well--you've got these nice little romances going on here. What's going on there?
KS: Even MALLRATS was the same thing. The backbone of that movie is about relationships, first between the boys and then between the boys and the girls. CHASING AMY is very much a romance. So I've always been a big fat--emphasis on fat--softy at heart, and that stuff kind of pops through.
Capone: It feels like the older films are romances for guys, whereas the more recent material seems suited to both sexes.
KS: Right on. Think about it: half the population out there are women, which means a good portion of your audience are going to have a lot of women in it. I think it's nice to have stuff in there for them as well as the guys.
Capone: There was a nice balance of men and women in your audience tonight.
KS: That's good to see.
Capone: I caught FANBOYS last night.
KS: Oh, how is it?
Capone: Pretty good. You're in it with Jason Mewes.
KS: Am I still in the cut?
Capone: I think this is THE cut, too, the one that will open in theaters.
KS: Man, we shot that so long ago, and I've never even seen the scene.
Capone: Was there not a time when you were going to play Harry Knowles?
KS: At one point, yeah, they wanted me play Harry, but I couldn't get out there in time to do it because we were working on something else.
Capone: With all the time that's past, you probably could have come back and done it at a later date.
KS: I know. At one point, there was a discussion, they were talking about reshooting. And I said, "If you guys want to reshoot the Harry scene." But somebody had already done it.
Capone: You know Ethan is playing him now, right?
KS: Ethan Suplee plays Harry? That's even better. He's a much more talented cat than I am.
Capone: I've seen a different version where it's a different guy.
KS: Right right. I think he was some local guy.
Capone: Ethan has this generic Southern accent that Harry just doesn't have, but that makes it even funnier to me.
Tell me about where you are with RED STATE.
KS: RED STATE, the Weinstein Company didn't want to do it, didn't want to finance it, which is the first flick we ever gave them that they didn't want to finance. They were like, "We don't get it." It's not strictly a horror film. It's not an easy film to market. And it's a challenging film, it's a little different.
Capone: All I've heard about it is that it deals with fundamentalism.
KS: Yeah, yeah. So they passed on it, and I got it back. And then we went on to ZACK AND MIRI, so I hadn't thought about it for a while. But once we got into post on ZACK AND MIRI, then I started getting back to work in terms of finding the money for RED STATE, and I think we're getting very close to securing some independent financing for it.
Capone: Okay good. I'm hearing that you've currently got an NC-17 rating for ZACK AND MIRI from the MPAA after a couple of submission, and now you're entering the appeal process. Where are you with that?
KS: I've seen some reports on it that make it out to be something more than it is. It's just a simple case of …every time you make an R-rated comedy, chances are you're going to butt up against what's acceptable. So we knew going in chances were that they were going to flag he movie; it's got the word PORNO in the title. So I submitted first cut--one hour, 45 minutes. And they said "This is NC-17," and they gave me two specific areas to look at. I said okay, so I cut 12 minutes out of the movies, and that was after our first test screening, so most of that was stuff that was flat anyway, so I took that out. In that cut, we addressed their issues as well. We resubmitted it, and they said, "Well, you're close but there are these two moments that you should focus on in terms of length." One they wanted out completely--a 14-frame shot that they were like, "This can't make it." It wasn't even a second long. And they were like, "Maybe you can work with the sounds in it or something." So I did trims in the other section; there was a lot of thrusting they wanted taking out, and then the other section I worked with the sound, but left the shot in--it's 14 frames, it's not even a second! Let it run. They still said it was NC-17. I wasn't frustrated, I wasn't mad, I was just like "I feel like I've gone as far as I'm comfortable going; let's take it to the next stage," which is the appeals part of the process.
I've been through the appeals process before, once on CLERKS, where we got an NC-17, had an appeal screening, got it overturned to an R. And once on JERSEY GIRL, they gave us an R rating, and we tried working with them in terms of the cuts, but they felt that this conversation between Ben [Affleck] and Liv [Tyler] in the diner about masturbation, which was a really clinical conversation about it, was just beyond the pale for them. They felt it pushed into R-rated territory, which I found strange. So we said, let's take it to the appeal part, had the appeals screening, did our dog-and-pony show where you get up and make your defense for the film, and the MPAA talked about why they feel it's R. And they overturned that one without us having to make a cut. So that's basically what we're doing here. It's not like it's some great fight against censorship. I haven't blogged about it, I'm not out there screaming "Oh my God, they're violating my fucking civil liberties or my rights as an artist." It's just part of the process. And on August 4, we'll screen again, I'll show it to the appeals committee, I'll get to make my case and cite precedent as to "These movies have done something similar."
Capone: I'd heard that you were in the process of gathering your supporting material.
KS: We had to put together the examples. Because they used to not let you cite precedent; now you can. So we'll do that, and the MPAA will make its case for why they think it is NC-17. And then the appeals committee will decide. You have to win by two-thirds majority, or something like that. But the simple fact is that if it doesn't get the rating, if they still maintain an NC-17, then I've got to go in and take the notes, because contractually I have to deliver an R. An honestly, even if they were like, "Hey man, you can go out as an NC-17," I just feel like it would set the movies up for disappointment because I don't feel that it's truly earned an NC-17. It feels like a hard R to me, but if I was going to see an NC-17 movie, I'd want to see something that I couldn't see in an R-rated movie. But there's nothing in this movie that I feel like is any further beyond he pale than I've seen in any other R-rated movie, even any other R-rated movie that we've done. But you know, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't. With CLERKS II, I sweated that movie going to the MPAA because the donkey-fucking scene is going to get us an NC-17, and it didn't. We submitted it, they gave it an R, and that was that. We got lucky then; this time, we didn't get so lucky. Hopefully we'll get the overturn, but if not, I'll go in and trim until we get the R.
Capone: When Seth Rogen says he's been watching your films since high school, does that make you feel like the elder statesman?
KS: Just old. I feel like, wow, I've been doing this for a while. And then I stop and realize I've been doing it for 15 years. We made CLERKS in 1993, so this is my 15th year of doing it. You're bound to meet people who were young when they saw the first one. It's kind of cool, it's kind of nice.
Capone: I remember seeing CLERKS at the Chicago Film Festival that year and no knowing shit about it. But the description in the program said it looked like it was shot with security cameras, and I thought that sounded cool.
KS: Thank God somebody said that first because it was a great sentiment to have in front of the movie before people saw it because the kind of expected to see something looking shitty [laughs]. But at the same time, and I said it during the panel too, after you read all the reviews on the first movie--it doesn't look good, but, man, is it entertaining--I was like, man that's what I'll do my whole life. I will never try visually, and I'll just keep making funny movies. But after 15 years, I'm at a place where I'm like, "I'm going to try and improve my craft as a visual storyteller.
Capone: You mentioned during the panel that ZACK AND MIRI looked better. What did you mean by that?
KS: I think Dave [Klein, cinematographer] and I found a perfect groove on CLERKS II. I thought that movie was visually interesting, more visually interesting than anything I've done. And when I say "bring up my craft," I mean essentially bring it up to "adequate," something that most people would consider, "Yeah, that's what it's supposed to look like, asshole." We did it when we shot the pilot for "Reaper," which we did with Dave as well. And we're actually proud of the way that looks.
Capone: I dig that show. I can't exactly tell you why, but I've seen every episode.
KS: It's a totally watchable show. So going into ZACK AND MIRI, it was the first time Dave actually had a big budget to work with; I think the biggest budget he'd had up to that point was the $6 million he had on MALLRATS, which he didn't even have the whole $6 million, that was just the budget of the movie. But this time, we've got a $24 million movie. It doesn't mean you get any more equipment; it just means you get time. So we were shooting five-day weeks, and since it's not a micro-budget, we can take our time and he can take his time setting up shots, setting up his lighting. And the results is a really good-looking flick.
Capone: The R-rated comedy has become fashionable to audiences and studios, and now that you've made one that's not a Jay and Silent Bob story, are you thinking in the back of your head, "This might be the one that just breaks all the records?"
KS: I'll be honest. We've got Seth Rogen, and that's the biggest gun in our arsenal right now, because it looks like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is going to do well. Seth Rogen has become a major movie star, major comedy movie star, so that's what we got going for us. I don't think that the movie is any better or worse than CLERKS II in terms of the story we've told or the jokes that we're telling. So really everything hinges on Seth's popularity.
Capone: With the Apatow production, people are always talking about how they all have heart at their core, and it sounds like the same is true for ZACK AND MIRI.
KS: Yeah, and Elizabeth kind of spilled the beans a little bit [during the panel], it is a very sweet movie. It's just very filthy getting to its very sweet moments.
Capone: They asked me if I wanted to interview Traci Lords, and I said, "Honestly, I don't think I could. I'd be too nervous. She's a cultural icon." How did you come to get her in your film?
KS: She is, she really is. To me, she's up there with Stan Lee an Johnny Rotten, who I've met. She's a living pop culture icon. Almost everybody in the world knows who Tracy Lords is. They may not know everything about her; they may not have even seen her body of work, but they know the name. She was wonderful to work with; she's real serious about the craft as well. She hasn't done porn in 20 years, and she's done a lot of TV and a lot of movies. So I think it's good because of Seth, it's a little more high profile, so she might be able to get some more work off of this. She's a hell of an actress.
Capone: Who does she play?
KS: She plays a character named Bubbles. I know, after I said that, "She's very serious about her craft," and I gave her the part of Bubbles to play. [laughs] She's quite good in it. Katie Morgan, same thing. Most people know Katie from the HBO show, she's done a few of them. And she's done a lot of adult films, but Katie's really fucking funny in the movie. Katie can totally get work off this flick in non-adult film, and I think she will. She's adorable in this movie.
Capone: Kevin, thanks so much for talking to us for this long. I know you have things to sign and places to go.
KS: I think we're just going to dinner or something. It was good meeting you after all this time.
Capone: Hopefully you'll make it to Chicago with ZACK AND MIRI.
KS: We'll definitely make it to Chicago. Take care.