Produced By: Kevin Smith on How 'Tusk' Rebooted His Career, His Ideal Comic Book Movie

The filmmaker shared stories of Johnny Depp and 'the f—ing walrus movie' on the second day of the PGA’s annual conference on the Paramount lot.
Johnny Depp, Kevin Smith  AP Images

In a spirited conversation with KPCC host John Horn (who remained silent for nearly the entire event), Kevin Smith explained how his divisive horror film Tusk brought him out of his three-year filmmaking hiatus, and where his career might take him next.

Speaking on Sunday at the Produced By conference in Los Angeles, the Clerks filmmaker said he quit directing because "I figured I had nothing left to say," and explained he felt his best films were all extensions of his personal life. "I walked away because I lost personal shit to say. That was the only way I knew how to do the job — to steal from my life," he said.

He decided to return with Tusk after he and Scott Mosier thought it up on their podcast SModcast. "I said, 'Kevin, no one is going to make the movie about the guy who turns a guy into a f—ing walrus. The only way you’re going to see this movie is if you make it yourself,' " Smith said.

He said he intends to return to the film he'd intended to be his final work, Clerks 3. "I wrote Clerks 3 like a King Lear movie in a convenience store. It’s funny, but it's f—ing sad," he said.

But first he’s working on Yoga Hosers, the Tusk spinoff he considers a counter to male-centric comic book movies. It stars his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, who he said surprised him by refusing to go to Avengers: Age of Ultron with him. "I can't bring my kid to a comic book movie because there’s nothing up there for her," he said. (He said he brought up Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, to which his daughter replied she was "one out of seven.")

Speaking on his ideal producer for upcoming projects, Smith said, "I'm looking for a woman in a producer. Who knows more about creation than a woman?" and noted his entire team of production coordinators on Yoga Hosers are women.

He dismissed the idea he'd ever get the chance to direct a comic book adaptation. But he said if he did, he'd like to put a "noir-ish thriller" spin on a DC Comics character called the Question, a vigilante who erases his facial features with a special substance.

"I always thought if you were in an alley and f—ing Batman showed up you'd be like, 'Oh f—, Batman.' But if a dude shows up with no features and starts punching you, you would probably kill yourself in fear," he explained.

The conversation at Produced By centered on the strange origin story of Tusk, his horror comedy released in September starring Justin Long (and with Johnny Depp in a memorable supporting role). Smith explained how the idea evolved from a Twitter poll of whether he should pursue the project (he received unanimous "#WalrusYes" responses from his followers) to securing backing from Demarest Films. He said the company's Sam Englebardt explained his support for the film to Smith: "He said, 'I just want to see if you can do it.' "

He said the project hit a snag when he received a no from the guy he wanted to play the role of oddball policeman Guy Lapointe: Quentin Tarantino. "He loves to do funny accents. We all saw Django," said Smith. But Tarantino wouldn't play the role.

So Smith went to a friend through their children's school — Depp — and texted him a pitch for the offbeat project. Depp replied, "Color me intrigued." (Noted Smith, "He is an exquisite texter. No Emojis, no hieroglyphics. He writes f—ing words. It’s like getting a text from Lord Byron.") So Smith immediately called Englebardt and told him of their new prospective performer.

"There's a long beat of silence, and Sam says, 'Kevin, I know weed has gotten us this far, but you might want to ease up,' " recounted Smith. But Depp continued to express interest in the project. "No one ever offers him shit like this anymore," said Smith.

On the day of shooting, Depp contributed one idea on his character’s appearance. It was the actor's suggestion that Lapointe's large prosthetic nose be painted to resemble a part of the male anatomy.

"I was like, 'If you want to wear a dick on your face, this walrus movie is the place to do it,' " said Smith.

The filmmaker said he’s not upset with the film's poor box office performance, but objected to the limited 600-screen release and the distributors' secrecy with the film’s walrus creature. "If I saw a picture of that walrus I would be like, 'F— yeah, I want to pay to see this guy ruin his career again,' " said Smith.

In his advice to aspiring filmmakers, he supplied a metaphor for Hollywood: "There are so many paths into that house. Everyone tries the front door, and that is valid, but there are tons of back windows."

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