Kevin Smith Reveals His Craziest Movie Pitch Ever (Guest Column)
Settle in, kids. It's gonna be a loooooong story.
As is so often the case with the best-laid plans of SMice and SMen, since the last blog, shit with Tusk went all sorts of astray. And shitty. And hopeless. It was almost as if I'd become the main character in my own script, and fate was trying to sew me into a walrus suit.
When we last left our zero, he was trying to pull together this weird little horror movie called Tusk, based on Episode 259 of SMODCAST, "The Walrus & the Carpenter." The idea had quickly gone from a goofy, stream-of-consciousness sketch in a podcast to an exercise in possibility and momentum, where I casually guided the whimsy of every artist's first question ("What if…?") toward the unruly and expensive moviemaking process -- just to see how far it could go. I wanted to bring together the two great passions that have governed the last two decades of my creative life: first indie film, then indie broadcasting. Tusk would be the world's first movie based on a podcast.
For those not playing at home, the podcast episode was inspired by a listing from GumTree.uk, a website that specializes in living situations and apartments to rent. In one memorable listing, a homeowner offers a living situation free of charge -- the only caveat being the lodger would have to dress like a walrus from time to time.
Yes -- a motherf---ing walrus.
The listing was written eloquently and briefly mentioned that the writer had once been lost at sea with a walrus he nicknamed Gregory as his only companion. The author writes of being heartbroken by the separation from the walrus and identifies the whiskered beast as better company than any humans he'd ever known. To this end, the author is interested in recreating the best time of his life with a would-be lodger in a realistic walrus costume standing in for the beloved Gregory.
The listing got my creative juices flowing, and I began reconstructing the whole thing as an old British Hammer horror film, in which a mad scientist intends to sew some hapless lodger into counterfeit blubber, creating a chimera in an effort to answer the ultimate riddle, "Is man, indeed, a walrus at heart?!"
Mosier and I took the tale in more and more ridiculous directions, cracking ourselves up. And then, in the midst of all the fun, you can hear something strange happen: As stoned as I always am, this walrus picture was starting to sound like a worthy endeavor -- or at the very least, a movie I'd like to see.
I wrote the script in 20 days.
Miracle of miracles, Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions had read the script and said, "Let's do this." My idea was to debut at Sundance 2014, 20 years after Clerks had visited the festival and altered the course of my destiny from register jockey to naughty auteur. And I was scheming to revisit my roots so I could try to tell the lie that tells the truth one more time. It would be just like it was in the old days, when everything was easier, like making movies. And jogging. And breathing.
But it's not a movie if everything's going well. No flick gets out of the first act without the main character facing a hurdle -- and I'm nothing if not the main character in the ongoing movie of my life.
The long story short is this: On Aug. 5 (about two weeks after I posted the first Tusk blog), the e-mails and the phone calls from Blumhouse started slowing to a crawl. That weekend, I could feel the ice cracking below my enormous girth as I waited for some sign of life for our little walrus picture. On Monday, I got a couple of e-mails that were bullets to the head of the Sundance 2014 #WalrusYes vision quest: Turns out Jason wanted to wait ‘til January to start shooting -- a start date that was based on the availability of an actor he felt was commercially appealing enough to get an audience to come see a walrus picture. It was disappointing, but Jason wasn't saying no; he was saying yes to January. With a star.
But to suddenly delay Tusk when momentum was on our side? While that is always the absolute right of the entity funding the flick, it was counter to what I was trying to accomplish with a punk-rock production of Tusk. Making the project dependent on casting arbitrary box-office bait seemed completely disloyal to the spirit with which Tusk was conceived and turned into a screenplay. This was meant to be a punk-rock movie, pulled together with spit, glue and passion. Waiting for a "star" makes sense for a studio movie, but not for a $2 or $3 million dollar horror flick. For a film of this size and scope, casting should be done based on who's right for the part, not who'll sell the most tickets. Besides, I imagine the eventual ticket sales generator of Tusk will likely be the audience's desire to see what a human-walrus movie actually looks like.
After the jump: How Kevin convinced one of his favorite actors to star.