Hey folks, ol Elston Gunn has got a Mother's Day present for all of ya muthers out there. He sat down with Kevin Smith and hit the gab like ya wouldn't believe. It's a long ass interview, so my plan is to just step over here to the side and just let these guys do their gig... Here they go...
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Kevin Smith, I believe he’d want to be described simply as a regular guy who just happens to make films. But since CLERKS, the 1994 movie that put him on the map, he has done more than just filmmaking. Among other things, he’s written comics, rewritten scripts, owns a comic book store, “Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash,” produced a “Clerks” cartoon due to air at the end of the month, and served on this year’s Sundance jury. He has also managed to create quite a cult fanbase for which he consistently keeps in close touch at his website: www.viewaskew.com. Since this interview, his latest film, DOGMA, has been released on DVD and VHS. When we sat down in his View Askew Productions office in Red Bank, New Jersey, I found Kevin Smith to be very down-to-earth and eager to talk, breaking only for the occasional cigarette puff.
[EG]: You’ve had quite a year: You finished up the run on the “Daredevil” comic with good sales and reviews. DOGMA was finally released with favorable reviews and your best box office to date; the “Clerks” cartoons were produced; you’ve had some good press and not-so-good press, and you were on the jury for the Sundance Film Festival. This time last year you were gearing up for the Cannes Film Festival. Finally, you got married and had a kid. Can you top that?
[KS]: No, I think it’s all pretty slow from here on in. We just hit a nice slow patch. The last two years since CHASING AMY have been pretty hectic, because we immediately started getting ready for DOGMA, then the comics started kicking in. Before I did the Daredevil stuff, I was doing Clerks books and the Jay and Silent Bob mini-series. So, it was pretty hectic up until a few months ago, when things slowed down on the show to the point where we didn’t have to be there anymore. It finally came to a screeching halt to where we could take a few weeks to a few months and do nothing.
We’ve been in this office space since December ’98 and still we’re virtually unpacked. So, it’s been nice to unpack, hang shit up, sit around watch TV and play video games, spend time with the family which is pretty new and just kind of look back, convalesce and think about whether there’s any point in going forward, if we go forward. You know, “What’s next?” Because we always felt like I didn’t have that much to necessarily say and with DOGMA I felt like I was done saying all the stuff that I wanted to up until that point. DOGMA was written around the time of CLERKS and completing the movie book-ended that whole chapter of life. I wasn’t one of these people that always felt like, “I’m a born filmmaker, I’m gonna keep doing this for the rest of my life.” I just kind of stumbled into it and it just sort of took off and it’s been a great career, very satisfying, but I don’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. So, periodically, after DOGMA was one of those times, there’s a moment to just sit back and reflect and wonder, “Do we close up shop? Should we close up shop?” So far, I’m like, “No, there’s a few more things we want to do.”
I guess we’ll start gearing up for those now, so things are starting to pick up again where we’re a bit trepidatiously heading toward firming shit up and saying, “Okay this is next and we’ll try this next.” Like right now, we’re getting ready to do the next flick which is the end of all the View Askew movies--the end of Jay and Silent Bob and all the interconnected stuff. That’ll close it all down and from that point on work on stuff that’s not interconnected or cult-oriented, or I guess we’ll call it the adult films--which not to be confused with porn, although that would be nice. I think after this flick that’s the direction we’ll head, do one or two of those and then maybe close up shop.
So, I’m working on starting the outline for the Clerks animated movie, depending on if the show clicks because even if the show works phenomenally well, it’s not gonna be a show anymore. Once ABC put the kibosh on it and didn’t pick up the back set of the scripts or the additional season we were a dead issue at ABC. We’re airing in May this summer, six shows and then we’re gone, that’s it and hopefully they’ll come out on video shortly thereafter.
But, since everything was in place and there are some storylines we didn’t get to turn into episodes and we enjoyed working with most of the people on the project, it just seems like maybe we will go ahead and try and make a feature something 80 or 90 minutes. We had been talking about buying the shows back once ABC shifted us into the summer. We were supposed to be a midseason replacement in March and the execs seemed to like the show and told us how much they dug it. They were ready to air it in March and then [Michael] Eisner and Bob [Iger] saw it--the two guys in charge of the Disney empire--and they said they didn’t get it. Suddenly, we got shifted to the summer as an also-ran.
Miramax never lost faith and we approached them about taking it off ABC altogether, having Miramax buy them back and cutting the six into a movie with a framing device of some sort. Paul Dini suggested doing a framing device like SONG OF THE SOUTH where you have someone like Chris Rock as Uncle Remus telling stories of Br’er Dante and Br’er Randal and Br’er Jay. And then another one was “Tales from the Quick”--which we’d used in the Clerks Lost Scene comic--doing a “Tales from the Crypt” kind of thing. But the more we thought about it, it just seemed like, well we made six shows and trying to cut them into one movie you couldn’t escape the feel of it being a TV show. So after two months of sitting around negotiating about turning it into a feature finally [Scott Mosier, my producer] and I opted to let it ride on ABC. We called up Harvey and said forget it, there’s no point in trying to turn it into a movie, let it run and we’ll see how it does.
There’s no pressure at this point because it’s not like we have to get good ratings to stay on being that we’re not going to be coming back. So whatever it does is what it does and you figure like the worst night on TV would probably reach more people than most of our films have reached theatrically. Like if you get a 5 share--which is a pretty bad rating on TV--you’re hitting five million people. The average ticket price is five to six bucks. Five million people times five to six bucks is about 25 to 30 million dollars. We did 31 on DOGMA, so, potentially with a worst-nighter and some of the poorest ratings we could get with the show, we’d still be hitting more people. More people would be seeing our stuff in one sitting than have ever seen any of our single efforts in the theater. If we were to cut it into a feature, I doubt we could do 25-30 million bucks, because I don’t know that the audience is necessarily there. But if we let it run on TV and people see it and we get some nice feedback on it and people seem to like it, then maybe we can turn it into a feature with a viable box office prospect ahead of it. So that remains to be seen whether or not we’ll do that.
And then I’m starting to work on Green Arrow for DC [Comics] and I just handed them an outline and they’re kind of happy with that, so I’ll start writing those as well. And then there’s another script I’m thinking about doing after we’re done with the View Askewniverse type films which I’m halfway through, so I would finish that off somewhere along the line as well.
I don’t know that we’ll ever top the year that we had. I can never top getting married, unless I get married again and I certainly don’t want to do that. You can’t top having a kid, unless you have another one which I guess is the plan, but still the first one is tough to go through that. I’m a pro at this point, so it won’t be that first child experience. So, no, I don’t think we’ll ever top the ’98-‘99 we went through, but I’d be content to not go through it again. It was nice to do it once, I don’t need to do it again.
[EG]: Wow. You hit several things there I want to talk about. First, I suppose the show is the main focus right now because the first episode airs this month.
[KS]: Yeah, May 31, post-“Drew Carey” at 9:30.
[EG]: Why television? How did the whole idea come about and why “Clerks” as opposed to another idea?
[KS]: I remember way back in ’95, when we were working on MALLRATS, somebody told me that they went in and read on a CLERKS sitcom and I thought, “What?” I had no idea. And we got back and I found out that either Touchstone or Disney TV was working on it with the WB at the time during its infancy and doing only one or two nights a week. And they produced a pilot for it—something I wasn’t involved in. When I heard about it I was like “Can I be involved? I did make the movie.” And it was too mishap with the agency--like CAA kind of dealt it right out from under me, made this deal with Disney and I had nothing to do with it.
So, I called up and got involved and there was a guy they got involved to create the show named Richard Day? It was weird having to meet him, the creator of the show, because I thought, “I’m the creator of the show in one way or another.” But I remember handing him some script ideas that I had and some scenes I’d written and he told him “Well, this will make a good B-plot” and I was like “B plot? Interesting.” And we were in an auditioning circumstance at the lot and I remember Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson came in and they didn’t even hire them to reprise their roles, so I remember going downstairs for a cigarette with Mosier and I was just like “You wanna leave? You wanna even be involved with this? It’s not even our show. They’re not even treating it like our show and apparently we don’t have much of an input here.” So he said, “Yeah, let’s go.” And we left. And they went on and produced a pilot which was fucking abysmal and I remember watching it and thinking “My name isn’t even on it.” And then I said, “Thank God, my name isn’t even on it.”
So, they never aired the show and it was a dead issue, but around that time, I approached CAA and Miramax and said “Why don’t we do a cartoon based on CLERKS?” Because at that time I think only ‘The Simpsons’ was the only primetime animation and I said maybe this would work as a cartoon. And I remember we pitched at Fox and they were saying “’The Simpsons’ is kind of one-of-a-kind and I don’t know that anything else would ever work in primetime animation, so, no.” Then cut to ‘98-99 where throw a rock and you’ll hit a primetime animated show. And we had done the Jay and Silent Bob and Clerks comic books and sent them to Harvey and said this was something we were working on the side and he called and said this would be great as a cartoon, ever thought about it. I said, “Yeah, I approached you guys about doing it.” He said, “Let’s do it.” They were putting together Miramax TV and they had “Wasteland” at that point. So we went around pitching and Dave Mandel got involved—he wrote for “Seinfeld” for the last 4 or 5 years of its run and he used to write at “SNL.” He was a really good guy, we shared an agent and we got along real well, so we brought him on as one of the executive producers. We came up with a concept of what the show would be which is like the movie redux with some more elements thrown in. And “The Simpsons” was always kind of a role model—like if we could be half or a quarter as funny as “The Simpsons” then, fuck it, we’re doing great. So, we went out and pitched to WB, ABC, HBO, UPN, FX, maybe Comedy Central, Fox had far too many animated shows already. FX had the best take on it—they thought we could xerox our ass for a half hour and they’d run it for at least a season because they needed programming. ABC didn’t seem to hip to it and we went away. The WB said they had something like it in development which eventually became “Mission Hill”, so Dean Valentine who was an executive at UPN used to work at Disney. In fact, he was the executive overseeing “Clerks” the sitcom back when they made it for the WB and he called up Michael Eisner and said “Look, there’s a show that you guys are pitching and we really like it. Could you help us out in getting it.” And, apparently, Eisner got off the phone and called Harvey and said, “What is this? Maybe I should see it first.”
So, we wound up having to pitch to Michael Eisner and Bob Iger. We sat in a room and pitched the same shows we eventually made and they said, “This is great. Bring it here.” UPN was offering us twelve episodes on the air, no matter what. ABC said we can give you six, but we told them UPN was offering us twelve. And Eisner said UPN wouldn’t exist in the year and “Dilbert” just debuted with pretty strong numbers, but he said “Dilbert” wouldn’t save the network and the [twelve share] Dilbert got that week would be a six the next week. He was actually, right about that, but as we all know, UPN is still around. So it seemed like the ABC offer was the one to go for, we sat around talking about it and the guy said UPN’s not gonna exist and he is the chairman of the company and maybe he knows something we don’t. And if we’re gonna try it, let’s go for the brass ring and go on a major network, so we opted to go for ABC and that’s pretty much how we wound up there.
[EG] After seeing the shows, there are a lot of character development you didn’t have in the movie, several pop references—
[KS] The stuff, good or bad, we’re known for. Some people really like that and some people really hate it and think that’s about all we can do, that’s about the level of our talent—regurgitating pop culture, but either way it really works on the show.
[EG]: It looked like it was a lot of fun to write and I noticed you wrote most of the scripts with Dave Mandel.
[KS]: The only one we didn’t write was the “Little League” episode. Brian Kelly, who was a writer for “NewsRadio,” wrote the Bad News Bears/Temple of Doom parody episode.
[EG]: I guess this is the first time you had a writing collaborator, so there are obviously differences between this and your films which you wrote by yourself. What did you like or not like about the television process?
[KS]: I think I had my strengths and Dave had his strengths. He is a fantastic TV writer and understands the idea of writing for the limited attention span of a TV audience and he’s really great with the “set-up, punchline, set-up punchline.” He’s really great kind of thing and complemented whatever weaknesses I had and I think I may have complemented whatever weaknesses he had. So, it worked out okay. At the end of the day, I still like writing by myself better, because you rise and fall on your own merit. It’s kind of if the show tanks, there’s more than one person to blame, really. Blame me or Dave or the exec producers who are me, Dave and Scott or blame Miramax TV or blame Touchstone.
I like writing the scripts for the flicks we do because the buck stops here and I get the kudos and I also get the shitty end of the stick for the people that hate it. I don’t know, I guess I’m more used to it and it’s certainly not an ego-centric thing. I like to think I’m not really a person who collects the praise and I think I’m pretty gracious and generous in sharing the credit where it’s due. I don’t know, I just feel like it should have one person—you all have to subject to one vision of what’s gonna go on, otherwise you have this too many cooks philosophy that the studios kind of trade in when they make flicks. Thankfully, we didn’t have too many cooks to the degree that it hurt the show with “Clerks,” but still it’s not really the way I like to work as much as working solo writing a script and then we all team up and try to bring it to life.
There’s good and bad to it. The bad, of course, is when people hate it, they hate you. Also, when people know exactly where to point the finger. We’ve got a really nice cult fan base, I think and we’ve gotten heaps of good press. And me being a real internet junkie, of course I only focus on the negative. Like in something on AICN, you can’t not read those Talk Backs and those Talk Backs are fucking vicious. They’re insanely vicious. They’re worse than any reviews I’ve gotten from a critic, and I’ve got some bad fucking reviews. You know, there’s nothing like some dude in fucking Iowa who can really ruin your fucking day by hitting your sore points. I don’t know how they do it, I guess they just guess, but they tap into shit—your deepest darkest insecurities and it’s hell. At the end of the day, it beats laying brick for a living, but still, when you read the stuff you’re always like, “Fuck, I gotta do better.” Or “I’m gonna find this fucker and beat the fuck out of him” and it’s weird and we have it on our board, though not nearly as much, because on our board, generally fans come.
Some people that hate you won’t really go out of their way to fuckin’ slam you. It’s like we’ll quietly hate you and tell people how much we hate you in our circles. They won’t seek you out to tell you. Periodically, you get these hard core people who are just like “Yeah, I’ll hunt him down and tell him how much I can’t stand his shit.” Never to your face, mind you, of course always through the sheer anonymity of the internet. But, even that factor doesn’t preclude me from like not wanting to just do my stuff by myself. Because it always occurs to me it’s the ultimate communication medium where you throw something out there to see if anybody identifies with it. And I just rather that be me throwing my message out there or me throwing my idea out there to see if anyone identifies with it rather than the kind of combination of ideas from a bunch of people. It gets a little more dissipated that way, I’d rather just be focused and be my call into the darkness rather than a bunch of us.
[EG]: So, you believe that you definitely won’t get picked up for the full season?
[KS]: Oh, I know for a fact we won’t. I know we’ll never get picked up by ABC unless we pull a 30 or 40 share. I mean we have to pull last episode of “M*A*S*H” ratings, so we tried when we weren’t happy with the summer slot we actually investigated other networks to go to and UPN had closed it’s doors by this time. They were just like “No no no,” I guess they felt burned by the last go-around we had with them. And Comedy Central and some other places, but by this point it was just too expensive for them to pick up, you know, I mean $750, 000 an episode is pretty moderate for prime time animation. I think “The Simpsons” is well over a million per episode, “Family Guy” is kind of in our neighborhood.
For a network or an off-network or a cable station to pick us up they’d have to be shelling out $750,000 per episode for 6 shows and that’s it. And then they could maybe decide to pick up a show for a full season but they could never pay for the budget of the show, it’d be too cost prohibitive for somebody like Comedy Central. I dunno what “South Park” costs per episode, but it ain’t that much, that show’s very inexpensive. For us to turn around and be like “Hey, we need you guys to pay $750,000 to do another one of these or times that by a full season of 22. It’s just way cost prohibitive, it’d be the most expensive show on any off-network like on Comedy Central, And you have a cash cow like “South Park” which you can produce for far less than $750, 000. Why would you commit to something like “Clerks” which in its given form isn’t even as revolutionary or as boundary-pushing as “South Park?” So I could definitely see why they wouldn’t do it. It makes total business sense.
[EG]: After it’s run, do you plan on releasing the shows on video and DVD?
[KS]: Yeah. Hopefully, one DVD and a couple videos, maybe like three per tape or something like that.
[EG]: Are you interested in doing any more television down the road?
[KS]: At this point, no. It’s a weird, different beast and I have a newfound respect for anyone who can get on TV, let alone stay on TV. It’s so bizarre, even shows that I can’t stand or watch and go, “God, how did this shit end up on TV?” It takes so much to get on and stay on, unless you’re at something like UPN or a start-up network where they’re like, “Look, we just need programming period.”
[EG]: I read where you are going to take some extra efforts to make sure your next script isn’t going to be as accessible as DOGMA.
[KS]: Yeah, the DOGMA script got out very early on and I remember the Catholic League maintained that we posted it publicly on our website, which we didn’t. [The News Askew website] had a copy of it and we didn’t own News Askew, it was kind of an independently operating site. [Brad Plevyak and Chris Alley] ran it, and still do, but it was their own site and they could do whatever they want. Later on, they came under the View Askew banner, so stuff like that has to be taken down. No filmmaker worth his salt wants to leak his script, you always want to keep it secret. Not because you’re afraid of criticism, you just don’t want people to know what you’re doing. You want them to experience it for the first time in a movie theater, hopefully, and kind of dig on it and discover it that way. Otherwise you got a bunch of people going into a theater knowing what’s gonna happen at every step of the way and God forbid there are scenes missing from the script they read. Suddenly, their enjoyment of the movie is hindered a bit. Some shit just doesn’t make the final cut, even if you liked it on the page maybe it just doesn’t work onscreen or in the case of DOGMA the film was far too fucking long, so it has to go by the wayside.
Yeah, the next time around I just want to keep it quiet, so there’s no expectations built in. And that’s the worst enemy, I think, of any filmmaker is the expectation of an audience. Thankfully, I’m such a lousy filmmaker that the expectation is always low. All I have to do is make them laugh once or twice and I think I’ve covered my ass, but working with low expectation is something I’m really into because then you don’ t have people going, “It’s gonna be great,” and then the large potential for disappointment.
[EG]: You mentioned closing out the “View Askewniverse” with one flick or two? You’re going to do an animated film and that’ll be the end?
[KS]: I think so. It depends. If we do the animated Clerks flick, then that’ll be the last gasp of that thing. I don’t consider the animated show or, if we did an animated film, to be part of the whole thing because it really doesn’t fit into the anal retentive chronology we’ve tried to create. But, in terms of live-action, the next feature would be the last one of the kind of live-action flicks that we’ve done.
[EG]: Is that written? Is it ready to go?
[KS]: I’m working on it now. I’m almost done, it’s just figuring out where to go with it to finish it all off. I’d say there’s a good two-thirds of it that are finished.
[EG]: Is this what’s considered the “Ultimate Jersey flick?”
[KS]: Some people have called it that. It’s not. Some people expect to have every character come back. No, there’ll be characters from the other flicks who pop up. Jay and Bob figure prominently, of course, but we’ll see some characters from the other flicks, but that’s about it. It won’t answer every fucking question, as if there are any questions really left. It ain’t like a Lucas trilogy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’ll be a nice bookend, I think, to the whole thing.
[EG]: Does it have a title?
[KS]: No, not yet.
[EG]: You going to kill off Jay and Silent Bob?
[KS]: No. Let ‘em go off into the sunset.
[EG]: What kind of films do you want to make after that? You mentioned “adult films.” What does that mean to you? What do you really want to do?
[KS]: Stuff that isn’t necessarily manufactured or written from a “slacker” point of view, which I guess I’ve been pigeonholed as and it’s not even really a pigeonhole that I fight. Yeah, I guess I was a twenty-something year old filmmaker, all I did was make twenty-something year old films. Whether or not some people thought CHASING AMY was a mature film or DOGMA was a mature film, they still always had the undertone of dick and fart jokes and mainly, broadly comedies. So, I think when we start moving away from that it’s not like we’re moving away from comedy, it’s moving away from the easy laughs which I think a lot of our stuff is comprised of easy laughs. I think there’s really a lot of really strong dialogue in the flicks we’ve done and some of the laughs you really have to think about or we have to work for, but sometimes I always tend to go for the easy joke. Having Jay and Bob pop up once is an easy joke. I mean that’s kind of a crutch and it’d be nice to get away from the crutch and see if I can rise or fall on my own merit which I haven’t really had the opportunity to do since CLERKS. Like that movie came out and had to rise and fall on its own merit and, thankfully, it rose to the degree it did. Ever since in then, it’s just like, “Oh, I’m in trouble, what do I do? Oh, Jay and Bob show up. I’m safe,” or mention some of the other flicks. You’re just dealing in the same subject matter all of the time. So, working apart from that completely would be a nice stretch.
There was a book that I really liked that I wanted to option. It’s a great book and would make a hell of a flick. It’s called SEX AND ROCKETS. It’s about Jack Parsons, the second most important rocket scientist in history who designed the jet propulsion system they still use today on the space shuttle who also happened to be a practicing Satanist. It’s just a weird fuckin’ movie and it’s something that when I read an article about it in Mean magazine and I dug it and I was just like “This is a weird fuckin’ American story. You know it’s about the ultimate separation of church and state--in this case it’s like the church of Satan. But it’s also just a weird tragic American figure, who led this bizarre double life and never quite reconciled it. There’s a magazine called Mean magazine and I read the article in it and then I saw the book a few months later and I saw it in a comic book store in Los Angeles and picked it up. It’s called SEX AND ROCKETS and it is a great read and a weird story and it just really quietly kept speaking to me and it’s a movie that somebody should make and I don’t know if it’s made but somebody should definitely make it. And then I spoke to Don Murphy the other day and he’d optioned it and I was so happy that somebody thought it was worthy of trying to turn into something.
So, maybe that’s the direction that I would lean which some people would think is a real 180 degree turn away from the shit of the done, but isn’t really at the end of the day because we’ve always strived to make stuff that’s just a little different. You can call our shit poorly made and you can call it stupid and me a bad filmmaker, but it’s at least never been the same and it’s not like a lot of the stuff that’s out there. You know we’ve always lived up to the production company’s name, the view is kind of askew, so that flick would really fall right into the parameters of something I would like to do or maybe take on and still that may be way too ambitious for me. I don’t know if I’m talented enough to pull something like that off. But I guess it’s about giving it a shot rather than just resting on the laurels of continuing to do stuff that I’ll know will work for at least a certain audience, trying something that there are no guarantees whatsoever and it’s a complete crapshoot.
[EG]: You mentioned being pigeonholed which reminded me of reading an article where Kevin Williamson said he was worried about being pigeonholed as a horror writer. Now he’s trying to tackle different genres. Have you thought about trying out different genres or maybe other adaptations?
[KS]: Yeah, for something with CHASING AMY and DOGMA, I got to do something more than just make jokes. You know, I got to stretch the dramatic muscles a bit, so I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily been pigeonholed. And I don’t feel like I’m necessarily just a comedy guy and I don’t think it’s a far stretch for me to think about doing a drama, but it would never be a flat out drama. It would never be like Woody Allen’s SEPTEMBER or something like that, it’ll always have some humor to it, but maybe the humor won’t be as overt as it’s been in some of the other stuff we’ve done. I can’t imagine ever doing anything without any laughs in it whatsoever. And I’m a huge courtroom drama freak and I just see one of those one day in the future and maybe I shouldn’t do it because I like courtroom dramas so much, but it’s something that would really appeal to me. The verbal gymnastics of a courtroom drama really falls right into my lap, it’s right up my alley, it’s the kind of thing I would probably enjoy.
[EG]: A challenge.
[EG]: In the latest Premiere, coincidentally the same issue where you’re talking about Sundance, there’s an article about Billy Bob Thornton bringing independent spirit to studio films and how sometimes it doesn’t mesh. Having made a studio film (MALLRATS), and having been classified as an indie director, would you pretty much adhere to what the studio says if you were to make another one? Do you think treating a studio film like an indie movie is loosely biting the hand that’s feeding the project?
[KS]: There’s certain rules you gotta follow if you’re gonna accept the big studio dime. Like when I worked on SUPERMAN, the scripts that I worked on wouldn’t necessarily be the version of SUPERMAN I would’ve done if they were just like “Just write a SUPERMAN movie.” There were a lot of parameters I had to work with, you know, the death of Superman was a major parameter they wanted me to use that storyline, Brainiac as the villain was something they were intent on. When I had to work closer with Jon Peters on the project, he had all sorts of weird kind of parameters. Like, “I don’t wanna see him in the suit and I don’t want to see him fly and I want him to fight a giant spider in the third act.” Shit where I’m like, “What? A giant spider. Are you crazy?” But being that I was the hired writer, they weren’t hiring me for my vision necessarily, they were hiring me to execute their idea of what they wanted as a Superman flick. Here are all of the ingredients, do this. So I couldn’t go in there and be like “No, I wanna do this thing. I want to do my version,” because you’re accepting the job of translating all their ideas into one flick. So there are certain things going into it, so it’s not like “I’m gonna try and bring in an independent voice to this thing. Not at all.” Chiefly, I don’ t know if I consider myself an independent filmmaker, I’ve only made one flick quote unquote independently. That was the first one. Every movie after that we’ve gotten money from other people to do, so to me an independent is kind of do it yourself. Really, you’re answering to absolutely nobody. We’ve never done that with the exception of CLERKS. Even for something like CHASING AMY which we made for $250,000 we did it under Miramax and we did go through notes with Miramax at one point and we did go through test screenings. It’s never really completely independent. The other traditional definition of independent film for me is always making a movie that could not be made in a studio system. That’s the one I think I fall into sometimes, because most of the stuff we’ve done couldn’t be made in a studio, wouldn’t be made in a studio, the studio couldn’t give two fucks about it or wouldn’t let you do it, the exact movie that you wanted to make. DOGMA is a flick that never would’ve been made at a studio and we saw what happened when Harvey and Bob tried taking it to the studio after they bought it away from Miramax. No studio would touch it. MALLRATS was a film we made at a studio, but the studio itself didn’t put it out, they put it out through their arthouse arm Gramercy. Universal didn’t distribute it. And I’m sure they wish in many ways they hadn’t made it, although it’s a movie that flopped in theaters, but more than made up for itself on video. I don’t think I necessarily make stuff that would necessarily be made at a studio. It depends if your definition of a studio includes Miramax.
Miramax is for all intents and purposes a studio, so that completely negates me as an indie filmmaker and even if I don’t make flicks that would be made through a studio, apparently I do, because Miramax distributes the flicks. So, it’s been a long time since I’ve been an indie filmmaker. I just make flicks that are a little off-center, I guess, and that some people tend to think of as indie. You know, “This is obviously indie because we can’t really sum it up in one line and it’s not really a mainstream film, so it must be indie.” And I think that I just make films that have a marginal audience and that’s about it. So, I don’t think I would ever take a “studio job”--I would never direct a script that I didn’t write because I’m not a talented visual filmmaker. My visual filmmaking skills-- my filmmaking skills period--are kind of pedestrian. I’m only good at realizing the scripts I write and some people don’t think I’m good at that. I think that’s the closest I can get to filmmaking because I’ve never really thought of myself as a director, as much as a writer who just happened to make sure his script get onscreen. I’ve been asked by studios to direct films I didn’t write and I’m always taken aback, “Did you see the movies I made? They’re not very good looking, you might want to get somebody who knows what they’re doing with the camera.” I don’t think I’d ever be in the predicament of trying to be an indie maverick inside a studio system, I mean, the two times I flirted with it--with MALLRATS and SUPERMAN--the end results weren’t that satisfying and I played it according to the rules. I was just doing the job that I was hired for at that point. There were a few other times I’d done rewrites, like I’d done a couple rewrites on COYOTE UGLY for Jerry Bruckheimer. They wanted me to punch up dialogue and maybe work on a few scenes and I was able to do that, but did I rewrite the movie into my vision of COYOTE UGLY should be? Absolutely not. Because that’s not what I was really hired for. They were happy with their concept, they just wanted somebody to make a few jokes or give people more believable dialogue or something along those lines.
[EG]: Would you then direct your own adaptation of someone else’s book?
[KS]: Yeah, because if I ever got involved with SEX AND ROCKETS on that level that’s what it would be. I would adapt that book and then direct it, but I wouldn’t direct someone else’s adaptation of a book because I have a complete block when it comes to shit like that—in trying to realize somebody else’s vision. It would be arrogant of me to try to attempt it, because I’m not built that way that’s not the way I think or see—I don’t see things very visually. Some filmmakers can read something and can see the whole movie I can only see the movies I’ve written because I saw them when I was writing it. I had the pictures in my head when I was typing the words. But there was a time when GOOD WILL HUNTING was offered to me to direct. And I love GOOD WILL HUNTING, we brought it to Miramax we loved it so much and we got to have our names on the movie as executive producers, but as much as I loved it I was like “No, I can’t. I can’t do it justice. Find somebody who can do it justice. I would make a very uninteresting version of this, I don’t even think I can get to the point of making an uninteresting version because I can’t see it like that. It’s a great read, but I can’t visualize it. I can’t tell you what I would do with it that would make it any better than it is right now as a script. So find something that will bring something to the party. And you know they did, they got Gus Van Sant. So, if I was ever gonna direct something that didn’t originate with me like a book or a comic book it would be something that I adapted because then at least I would have a general idea of which direction I was heading.
[EG]: Speaking of being an admirer of GOOD WILL HUNTING, what are some other movies out right now that you like? Who are some other writers/directors you admire?
[KS]: I mean, how could you not like BEING JOHN MALKOVICH? It was one of the highlights of last year. I loved RUSHMORE. I really dig what Wes Anderson does. I mean it certainly is not an auteur-driven movie, but I can’t wait to see the ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE flick. I’m a huge Rocky and Bullwinkle fan and I read a version of that script that Kenny Lonergan wrote in ‘97-’98 that was very funny and true to the show. Then I saw a movie that he directed at Sundance, it was one of the movies that we awarded. He did a movie called YOU CAN COUNT ON ME which he had written and directed. He’d also written ANALYZE THIS, which was a fine movie. I wasn’t wild about it, it was okay, but I really loved his BULLWINKLE script and I really liked the movie he had done at Sundance. So, Kenny Lonergan is a guy that I kinda dig on. And I’d be curious to see what people think of YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, it was pretty good.
There are old favorites too. I’ll always go see something that Spike Lee does, I’ll always go see something Oliver Stone does and Cameron Crowe. You know I’ll pretty much see anything that comes out, but there are some people that I can’t wait to see what they’re gonna do next.
[EG]: Anything you stay away from?
[KS]: Sure. Yeah, lots. There was a lot of shit during the past few months over me not liking MAGNOLIA and it’s not like I would avoid a Paul Thomas Anderson flick like the plague, I just didn’t really like MAGNOLIA. I loved BOOGIE NIGHTS. It’s a really good flick and HARD EIGHT was fine, but BOOGIE NIGHTS was amazing and really well-done and MAGNOLIA just wasn’t my cup of tea, but I would see something Paul Thomas Anderson does in a heartbeat. Unless it’s MAGNOLIA 2.
[EG]: That’s part of the not-so-good press I mentioned earlier. Do you think you have a tendency to sound off when you shouldn’t?
[KS]: Yeah, apparently I have a big fuckin’ mouth and I guess I take it for granted that our website is read by more people than just our fans. Yeah, I got into trouble with the ABC thing where I was just like, “Fuck ABC and I can’t believe they’re moving us and lied to us and told us one thing and did something else.” And that got out there and then the thing of me not liking MAGNOLIA it’s like, “Who cares if I don’t like MAGNOLIA?” Big deal. I’m just a guy like everyone else who does or doesn’t like movies. I guess the difference is some people keep their mouth shut about it and some people don’t. And it just feels weird to have to govern yourself because it may be a slow news day and somebody may write a piece about how you don’t like something or something that you said.
So, it’s weird because after the MAGNOLIA thing, I was wary about saying stuff online because what if someone picks up the story on this, and I just throw caution at the wind because at the end of the day you can’t. I don’t want to lose touch with the people that I’m not that far removed from like directing and directors and people in the business in general have always occurred to me like THE WIZARD OF OZ, “Don’t look behind the curtain. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” And it’s not. There shouldn’t be an iron curtain between the filmmakers and the audience. We’re all part of the same collective. When I’m not making films, I’m part of the audience. Part of the fun of what I’ve done for the last six or seven years is demystifying the process where it’s like “Look, if a fuckin’ monkey like me can do it, any one of you can go out there and pick up a camera and do the same thing.”
And it all goes back to me seeing Richard Linklater’s film SLACKER. Seeing that movie and being like, “Well, if this counts as a film, I want to make a film.” And it really demystified the process for me. It wasn’t like the typical mainstream fare I was used to seeing at that point. So I always felt there was no point in trying to maintain this distance of, “I’m the filmmaker, you are the fuckin’ audience, and you have no idea what smoke and mirrors I’m pulling back here.” It’s not that mysterious at all and whether it’s through a website or through the events that we throw like Vulgarthon or the Stash Bash we did for the comic book store.
I do tons of Q and A’s with colleges throughout the years. I really go out of my way to try and make people understand the only difference between you and I is I am up here now, you can do it later. If I can do it, fuck, you can do it. Give it a shot if you really want to, if you’re inclined and if you have thoughts about doing this thing, then go for it. What the hell? It’s a gamble, it could pay off. So, I wouldn’t want to go into an overcautious mode where I’m like, “Well, I don’t want to say anything in case the press picks it up, you know, fuck ‘em at that point.” I guess, to some degree you have to use a bit of judgment as to what is or what isn’t for public consumption, but I haven’t really found anything that isn’t for public consumption. I’m pretty much willing to discuss anything, so I just don’t want to start that “Well, you guys, I don’t really want to talk about this, because you’re separating yourself from the audience. So, I dunno, I guess my mouth has gotten me into trouble sometimes, but what the hell? I’d rather that happen than standing on this bizarre stupid illusion that what I do is so fuckin’ removed and from the gods that we have to keep a distance from everybody. I say burn down the walls of the club. Let everybody in. Give everybody a camera. Give ‘em a shot.
[EG]: For a couple of years you have been associated with several film projects, sometimes they’re rumors, sometimes they’re true, but a lot of them you have already addressed, yet people still ask about them. Once and for all let’s run down a list of some of these and you can give a few words of your involvement. First up, CLERKS 2.
[KS]: CLERKS 2. That was a rumor I started. We tacked that on to the end of DOGMA like “Jay and Silent Bob will return in CLERKS 2” and it was something we were toying around with doing and then we came to our senses and said there’s no reason to do a sequel. We’ve been doing sequels, more or less, to CLERKS ever since, so why would we go out of the way to do it. I love those characters, Dante and Randal and I really like Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson and I really wanted to do something else with them but I’ll do it in another capacity, why try and do CLERKS again? Plus, what a ridiculous idea. It’s like you’re opening yourself up for “More money, less funny” and “Give this kid the black and white again because he obviously can cut the mustard in color.” Also, CLERKS also kind of tapped into the zeitgeist of that moment. I don’t know if it necessarily is something we could repeat, or if there’s a story we could tell that would necessarily have the same connection with the audience that that movie wound up having. So, yeah, it is something we toyed with seriously and then decided not to do.
[EG]: MALLRATS 2 for Dimension?
[KS]: I remember one day I was sitting around and I was on the website and I actually threw out there, “Hey what do you think about a sequel to MALLRATS?” Because MALLRATS is kind of the unfinished business of the stuff we’ve done. It’s a movie I do believe that if it had come out 3 years later than it did, it probably would have done well.
Maybe if Dimension had existed when we were making MALLRATS, and if they were more than just a sci-fi genre arm--because that’s what they kind of started as--if they had been willing a comedy, we would’ve stayed there and done it there. Harvey and Bob know how to get a film to its audience, so the movie would’ve had a better theatrical life than it did. And it always kind of irks me that people say “Oh, that movie is terrible.” It’s not much worse than other flicks I’ve seen and it’s not much worse than the flicks we’ve done. It’s not much worse than CLERKS. Maybe it’s not better, but it’s not that far removed or a terrible picture. And I’ve added to the mythos of that film myself by always describing it as the film that went in the shitter, or the flick that everyone hates or the red-headed stepchild of all the flicks we’ve done that just gets beaten and slapped around.
I think in retrospect, people think that it’s worse than it really was and I guess it’s worked in favor of the flick, because you have people saying “I really liked MALLRATS” or “I finally saw it and I really liked it.” I guess it builds low expectations by the way people talk about it or they we talk about it. In truth, we got some really nice reviews on the movie. Not all the critics hated it. Entertainment Weekly gave it a good review, Janet Maslin gave it a good review. Then there were some like Ebert hated it and Kenny Turan of the L.A. Times hated it and wrote this review that I’ll take with me to my grave. He said, “If Sundance or the AFI ever gives a course on what not to do as a second film, MALLRATS should be at the heart of the curriculum.” And then he went on to chew it a new asshole. It didn’t get nearly as favorable reviews as the other flicks, but it also wasn’t universally panned. So there were notions like that where we thought it probably would work because it was so popular on video and it was a great sell-through title and the DVD was a real hot seller like the audiences would show up if we did another one. And so I posted it on the board one day and asked if it was a good idea and most people thought it was a good idea and then there were a few honest souls who said, “No, it’s not a good idea, you should probably move on.” That’s true and it’s more of that sequel thing. Why bother?
[EG]: FLETCH 3.
[KS]: FLETCH 3 was something that came about before CHASING AMY came out. My agent sent out the script to CHASING AMY and, suddenly, people were interested in me again for a few minutes. And I had some meetings where people were like “We really like the writing, we’d like you to start writing for us.” That’s when I started the rewriting career and SUPERMAN came out of that. When I met with Universal and Stacey Snyder, they said, “Would you like to do something here?” I was like, “No, because you guys really didn’t do well with the movie we did here. And I just don’t want to go through an experience like that again, but you guys do have a property I think you still have it which I was always very interested in which is FLETCH.” They were like, “Really, you want to do a FLETCH movie?” And I said, “Well, I’d at least like to write it. I don’t know if I want to direct it, but I would like to give it a shot writing,” because I was a huge fan of the Gregory McDonald novels. And they said “Well who do you see as FLETCH?” And I said, “Well, I mean, Chevy Chase is Fletch. He’s still alive.” And they said “Yeah, but he’s old. We’re not really in the Chevy Chase business anymore.” I said, “Well, I think it’s the only way you can go, I mean, he’s still around and he was really funny in the first two.” So, they sent me over to Brian Grazer at Imagine and he was all “Yeah, I’m up for it, let’s do it.” And I signed a deal and was supposed to start writing and then I got knee deep into DOGMA and it just kept getting put off and put off. And I remember my agent called me while I was on the set of DOGMA and he was just like, “Well, Universal wants to know if you are ever going to get around to FLETCH.” And I said, “Well, I’m filming the flick right now and I’ll be editing it for the next 6 months, I won’t get to it for at least a year.” And then he said “Well, why don’t you just pass. Why don’t you just let it go. And that way they’re not waiting on you and you’re not carrying the reputation as the guy who can’t meet a deadline.” And I let it go, it went by the wayside and then I read that Chevy Chase was really pissed off at me and said that I was real Hollywood and that was a real Hollywood move. And I was just like “Buddy, you can accuse of me being a lot of things, but Hollywood just never seems right.” It doesn’t fit, but I don’t know, he seemed pretty pissed off about the whole thing. And it really irked me because I was like “They didn’t even want you in the movie, dude. I had to fight for you and granted I didn’t make the movie, at least I was on your side. That I didn’t get around to doing it, hey I’m sorry, but don’t snipe at me because of it.” So, that won’t happen either.
[EG]: Are they using any of your script for the new SUPERMAN?
[KS]: I don’t think so. Again, if they stick to the formula using the death of Superman storyline with using Brainiac as the villain, that’s about the only similarities it may have. Bill Wisher did a draft and I heard Oliver Stone is supposedly interested, so I don’t know if any of my shit survived, but I know we’d be similar in that respect only.
[EG]: COYOTE UGLY. That’s coming out soon.
[KS]: I just saw [the COYOTE UGLY script] because they’re doing the Writer’s Guild arbitration thing and I saw some of my jokes and some of my lines but not enough to demand screen credit. There’s about six or seven writers on it, I think I was the third one.
[EG]: ALIEN LOVE TRIANGLE.
[KS]: Bob Weinstein had asked me at one point because they had IMPOSTOR and another sequence was called ALIEN LOVE TRIANGLE. They needed a third because MIMIC was originally a part of it and was blown into a full feature, so he needed another thirty minute sci-fi short. And he called and said, “Do you have anything?” And I said, “There actually is this one story that I wouldn’t mind giving a shot,” so I guess that’s how the rumor got out there. But then that kinda went by the wayside because they took IMPOSTOR and blew that up into a feature as well, so all that’s left of the original three is ALIEN LOVE TRIANGLE which Danny Boyle of TRAINSPOTTING did. So I don’t know what they’re going to do with it, but I don’t think they’re trying to make an anthology film with it anymore. And the idea that I had for the flick, I think I may hold on to and do as a feature one day.
[EG]: Can you go into that?
[KS]: (laughs) No.
[KS]: I worked on the comic and then at one point the comic was up for grabs and I called up Bob and Harvey and said, “There’s this great comic book. It’d be perfect for [Matt Damon] and he’s familiar with it and he used to collect the comic and you could get Robert Rodriguez to direct it and I’ll do a draft.” And they said, “Great, let’s do it.” And they started pursuing it and Marvel’s Avi Arad was asking for ridiculous concessions like they wanted a 60-70 million dollar film with a 40 million dollar marketing budget. And it’s not really a special effects extravaganza, it’s a blind guy in tights, so they never made the deal work and I think it wound up over at Columbia. For a long time, Chris Columbus had it and then it got free of Chris Columbus and that’s when we were trying to option it but we were opposite the guy who was attached to it until recently Mark Steven Johnson. Miramax threw up their hands when Marvel wanted a lot for it, so there was just no way we were gonna pay that much for this movie and I said “Look, I’m with you. Let it go.” So it went to Mark Steven Johnson who did SIMON BIRCH. And I guess he was attached to it for a while, but I heard that nothing’s happening on that either.
[KS]: I worked with Matt Wagner on the Oni Double Feature and I contacted him before that because I loved Grendel and Mage. And I wondered if anybody were optioning theswe and I thought Grendel would make a cool flick And Mage was very influential—you could see a lot of Mage in DOGMA—the structure is pretty much the same. So, at one point, when he had an option deal with these two guys, Andrew and Ross, we were going to bring it to Miramax. And they drug their heels on the whole thing, and didn’t treat Andrew and Ross very seriously and it took a long time, like a year, to try and finish this deal and it wasn’t really panning out. So, Andrew and Ross took it to Spyglass Entertainment and I was working on stuff and they asked on last time if I was going to do the adaptation and I said, “No, I’m busy right now, I could get to it in a year maybe.” And they wanted to go now, so they went with somebody else, which is cool, I’m just happy to see the movie get made.
[EG]: GREEN LANTERN.
[KS]: GREEN LANTERN only came up once in a discussion with Lorenzo DiBonaventura, I think I was just finished working on SUPERMAN and he thought maybe we could work on another DC comic. He said “How about Green Lantern? Do you think Green Lantern would make a good movie?” I said “I guess under somebody else, but I’m just not a huge Green Lantern fan, and I don’t think I’m the guy you want adapting it. I’m sure there are people out there who are massive fans and who really know a lot about the character. Maybe those are they guys you should be going after and not me.”
[KS]: [Preacher creator Garth Ennis] asked me and Scott if we would attach our names to it and see if we could set it up anywhere with Miramax, of course, being the first option. And Miramax passed on it because Rachel Talalay was attached as the director and they sold off most of the foreign rights for financing. So, all Miramax would have was domestic and they like to have to worldwide when they do stuff and also Bob wasn’t a big fan of the material, he said he didn’t quite get it. He said, “THE CROW, I understand. This I don’t get. Is he good or bad?” So, it kinda went by the wayside and we’re still attached, but we told Garth, “Look, if having us in the mix helps, great, the moment we’re a hinderance, we’re off.” No money changed hands or anything, it was just, “Yeah, our names are on it for as much as it helps.” But apparently it hasn’ t helped that much. I think it would be a tough sell at this point after DOGMA for any studio to go like, “Yeah, let’s do it,” because you see what happens when you make a movie even remotely about religion.
[EG]: SCOOBY DOO.
[KS]: When there was Turner Pictures, Amy Pascal asked me if I wanted to do SCOOBY DOO and I said “Yeah.” I did have an interest at one point I wanted to write it with Scott because he’s a Scooby Doo fan, but he had no interest, which was weird, and then I said, “No, there’s really nothing I can do for it.” Then I guess Mike Myers got interested, so, of course, it’s way better to have him interested than me
[EG]: SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN.
[KS]: God, there are a lot of these fucking things aren’t there? SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN was something that came about during MALLRATS. Jim Jacks the producer was really good friends the guy who plays Oscar Goldman but he had the rights to SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and he wanted to make it into a movie and we went out to lunch one day and I told him “I’d love to write it.” I was a huge fan and had all the toys and such, so I pitched my idea for the story and he said, “That’s great. Let’s do it.” We went in and pitched it to Universal to Nina Jacobson, she dug it and I was hired and sent off to go. It took me a year to turn in a first draft because I was working on other stuff. Getting the job was fun, but having to actually do it was really tough. I would get up and some days and I’d be like, “Fuck, I don’t know what Steve Austin does today. I have no interest right now.” So, I finally did get around to doing it and I approached it like a comic book and turned in my draft.
By that time Nina Jacobson was gone and replaced by another guy and he was gone and replaced by Kevin Misher and he read the script and said, “This reads like a comic book.” And I said, “Does it? Awesome.” He didn’t like that. I didn’t have to do another draft and when I was finally done with it, I really did like it. I didn’t try to push the edges of the envelope technologically, like inventing shit where they had to craft shots, it was really kind of retro in its low tech approach. I was told, “The exec doesn’t want to do another exec’s project.” That I get. Him saying it was too much like a comic book, I think he meant as an insult, but I felt it was a compliment. Now, they’re making it into a comedy and I think the Farrelly brothers are involved.
[EG]: NAME and BUSING.
[KS]: BUSING was a script that I wrote for the now defunct Hollywood Pictures--the Sphinx that Stinks--at the time they were still around. They’d flown us out there, after CLERKS got picked up at Sundance, to make the studio rounds and meet people. That’s when we got offered weird, stupid projects. And on the last day of our trip out there, we had to sit down with the head of Hollywood Pictures and pitch them something because they didn’t fly us out there for nothing and I said, “BUSING.” They said, “What’s that?” and I said “It’s CLERKS in a restaurant. This is good to go.” I turned it in and they didn’t like it. Cary Woods was the producer and he was just like “I don’t like it. It’s terrible “ even though it was the exact fucking thing I pitched em and very close to CLERKS and MALLRATS. So that was it. I turned it in and got paid like $75,000 back in ’94 which I was like “Holy shit. Seventy-five grand” and eventually we got it back because they didn’t want it. So, a lot of it, I was actually going to use for the CLERKS sequel, but we didn’t wind up doing that, so it just kind of stays where it is right now. There’s some good funny stuff in it. And NAME is something I said was a flick I wanted to do and just never followed up on it.
[EG]: It was never written?
[KS]: No, never written.
[EG]: Anything you’re working on now that’s not your own stuff? Any other projects?
[KS]: No, the last rewrite gig I had was COYOTE UGLY. The Green Arrow series for DC. I mean, it’s not my character but it’s the only thing not mine I’m working on right now.
[EG]: When’s that happening?
[KS]: I don’t know. Hopefully before the end of the year, because Frank Miller is doing his DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK at the beginning of 2001, and I don’t want to be anywhere near that because that’s going to be massive. So, hopefully, we’ll be done before DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK if not shortly after.
[EG]: Do you get annoyed when people ask you about all these projects over time or are you just apprecia