Kevin Smith on Why Quentin Tarantino Said No to 'Tusk' (Guest Column)
The director's tireless campaign to bring his walrus horror movie to life continues.
Tusk will mark the second time I get to define my job as "sitting around and watching Michael Parks act." And I never would've known Parks' work had it not been for the biggest Parks fan on the planet: Quentin Tarantino. So since Quentin likes to act (and since he had dug Red State), I figured I'd ask him to join me on the cinematic walrus hunt. But not behind the camera -- in front of it.
So while doing my annual Hall H Q&A at the San Diego Comic-Con this year, I told the audience that I'd given a copy of the script to Quentin, in hopes that he'd play the relentless French Canadian cop on the trail of a monster-maker. A few of the lazier websites regurgitated misinformation they read on other blogs, writing that I had offered Quentin the role of the human-walrus. This was incorrect: I wanted Quentin to play the detective and speak like Les Habitants! I'd heard him do an Australian accent in Django Unchained, so I was hoping he might want to ham it up as a Quebecois as well.
Then the weirdest thing happened: Quentin passed on the role of Guy Lapointe. QT said he dug the script and couldn't wait to watch Parks (pictured, right) let loose his internal Kraken, but he had no interest in acting at the moment. It was a bummer, as having Q in the mix would've been poetic. Without him, I would need someone equally genius to play Lapointe -- our French-Canadian Javert. If it wasn't going to be Quentin, then who would play Guy? And with the loss of Blumhouse and my inability to find any money to make Tusk, there was a far bigger question we needed to be asking ourselves …
Were we were even making a movie anymore?
Tusk had been a fun ride while it lasted, quickly gestating from podcast to screenplay in 20 days. It opened doors, introduced me to new people, and got my juices flowing again. But maybe this was to be Tusk's full potential: just an unfinished reminder of the possibilities of creativity. I'd taken this fun exercise in whimsy as far as it could go, right to the edge of reality. But maybe it was never meant to be an actual film as much as a feeling. Maybe the walrus-muse had done her job stirring up the filmmaker long-dormant in my heart, and now that I had the feeling back, I was ready to make a movie. So did it really matter if we actually made that movie? Hadn't this whole joke gone on long enough already?
Not. Even. Close. Bud.
My agent Phil Raskind came through like Jerry Mah-f---ing-guire and saved the day. Raskind introduced us to Alexis Garcia, a fellow agent at WME who puts together financing for flicks. And Alexis threw [producer] Shannon [McIntosh] and I into a room with Sam Englebardt and David Greathouse.
The white Sam and Dave come from a film financing banner formed by Sam and William D. Johnson called Demarest. The Demarest bunch dug the Tusk script enough to talk about possibly coming aboard, fully understanding that we had an ambitious timeline. Any patron who sinks large amounts of money into art should always be entitled to proceed at the speed they're most comfortable with; after all, it's their money. But in order for Tusk to be at Sundance on the 20th anniversary of Clerks, this wasn't a luxury we could afford our potential patrons: A decision had to be made pretty quickly.
Sam and Bill made up their minds pretty quickly, and thank SMod almighty … Demarest agreed to make Tusk! The press release after the jump …
"DEMAREST FILMS SPEARS KEVIN SMITH'S TUSK"
Principal Photography to begin November 4th in Charlotte, N.C.
Oct. 2, 2013 (Los Angeles, CA) – Financier and production company DEMAREST FILMS (Machete Kills, A Most Wanted Man) will underwrite and produce visionary director Kevin Smith's next film, the audacious and utterly terrifying Tusk.
Tusk, which commences principal photography in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Nov. 4, will star Justin Long (Live Free or Die Hard, A Case of You) and cult favorite Michael Parks (Red State, Django Unchained). Smith will direct his own script, which evolved from Episode 259 of his long-running podcast with Scott Mosier, the award-winning SModcast. Tusk's horror story follows a podcaster who sets out to interview an eccentric, reclusive old seafarer, only to find himself a plaything in the gruesome plot of a deranged killer.
Demarest's Sam Englebardt and William D. Johnson will produce Tusk alongside Shannon McIntosh, for Smith's SModcast Pictures banner. Demarest's David Greathouse and Jennifer Schwalbach are executive producers. SModCo's Jordan Monsanto and Chris Parkinson, the author of the hoax walrus ad, are associate producers.
Demarest CEO Sam Englebardt said of Tusk, "Demarest is a director-driven company, and Kevin has always been at the top of our list of filmmakers with whom we want to work."
Chairman William D. Johnson added, "We are hugely excited to see what results when Kevin applies his brilliant, twisted mind to classic horror filmmaking."
"I can't thank the good folks at Demarest enough for wading into weird waters with us," said Smith. "They are the walrus. Goo-goo-gajoob."
I will always be eternally grateful to Sam, Bill and Greathouse. My walrus was drowning deep in the raging seas of unmade screenplays and Demarest flat-out rescued Tusk, pulling the beast onto their production ice floe. So after a month of dimming hope and a constant string of mostly nos, somebody finally said yes. It felt amazing. I cry during nearly every episode of my podcast Fat Man on Batman, so of course I bawled with joy and relief when someone said they believed in my dopey ideas enough to put real money behind it. When I asked them about needing a star to move forward, Sam said, "Cast who you want; we're gonna sell this on you and the walrus."
Speaking of which, who would build this walrus suit? On the podcast, I'd suggested reaching out to special effects wizard Greg Nicotero. I was one letter off: Greg is the N in the legendary gore-makers KNB EFX Group. But with the N wrapped up in directing The Walking Dead, I went to the K -- as in Robert Kurtzman. The SFX icon who dreamed up the very flick that introduced me to Michael Parks -- From Dusk Till Dawn. The man who made the Army of Darkness march now runs a company called Creature Corps out of Ohio. I sent him the script and he sent me chilling designs for a walrus suit. After talking about it and writing about it, I could finally see what the human-walrus was going to look like. And holy fuck, was it nasty! That's when I realized we weren't making a horror movie; clearly, we were making a monster movie!
So with a walrus suit, one Long walrus, superhero financiers, a new draft of the script, a start date of Oct. 1, and a new home in the Great White North, Tusk was looking like it'd finally wade into the icy waters of production, roughly four months from the moment I recorded the podcast that triggered it.
I'd always dreamed of making a movie in Canada. Granted, I directed the Reaper pilot up North, but that was somebody else's script. In my Canadaphile's heart, the fat boy who started his sojourn into cinema with the Vancouver Film School as his gateway felt his journey would never be complete without making a Canadian film in Canada. In Toronto, we'd found this beautiful mansion in the woods that was going to double for the house of horrors owned by Michael Parks' character in the flick. This wouldn't be the usual movie bullshit of shooting Toronto for New York or some other American city -- this was new bullshit: shooting Toronto for Winnipeg. And as a bonus, I was gonna be in Canada for the start of hockey season. Shit was working out!
And then we lost the location. Sadly, the house in the woods we loved had already been scooped up by another show ahead of us. And since 90 percent of the flick takes place in and around the house location, it meant not just finding a new on-camera house, but finding a new on-camera house that could also be home to the entire production full of trucks, trailers, generators, cast and crew over the full course of the shoot. We'd never find another location I dug as much in Toronto on such short notice …
But there was a house that suited all our needs tucked away in the woods of North Carolina.
In indie film, you learn to be nimble. It's like being a hockey player inasmuch as you may not have control over where you ply your trade: If you're playing for Boston and you're suddenly traded to Edmonton, you don't get to bitch about it, you just go. A move to North Carolina, as it turned out, would save our low-budget production even more money. So 48 hours after losing the location, we were saying goodbye to Andrew and the Canadian shoot, and saying hello to a Charlotte shoot. Back in the first blog, I wrote about starting Sept. 15. Then we pushed our start to October. Now, with the move to North Carolina, we've pushed the start date for what I hope is the last time, to Nov. 4.
And that's where we are today. Had I known David Greathouse (or Casa Grande) a few years earlier, I might've been president of these United States, so valuable an asset is this man to any production. Greathouse, Shannon and I were in Charlotte last week, scouting locations with Jason King and my first female first assistant director, Alisa Fredericks. We also got to meet with John Kretschmer, the production designer we scored off Homeland as they wrap their third season. Kretsch's designs for the walrus enclave where Justin is trapped were nothing short of brilliant. And thanks to the genius of locations legends Jason King and Randy Byers, all of our locations are within one square mile of each other. We walked around for hours picking the rooms in which we'd set scenes I'd only mused about in a podcast mere months prior. And in a month from this moment, I'll be in North Carolina, watching Michael Parks as he attempts to turn Justin Long into a human walrus.
A month ago, I sat down with Michael Parks and read the script from top to bottom. It was so delicious to watch him as he descended deeper and deeper into the madness of the walrus-maker. I can't wait till audiences get to see what I got to watch in a command performance of sorts: One of the world's greatest actors bringing to life some of the most f---ed up dialogue I've ever written. And I can't wait to watch them watching him.
But let's be honest: Justin's gonna have the heavy lifting on set. Literally -- as Kurtzman's human-walrus suit is big and bulky. And it all begins with a simple layer of latex, which was applied in Hollywood this weekend …
So on Nov. 4, we dig our tusks into the ice and go to work, hoping to be done in time to make it to the Sundance Film Festival in January. Not sure we'll make it, but I'm hoping I have to write a check for the submission fee, just like I did 20 years ago when I had amazing Bugs Bunny checks (see below) …
What started as a podcast became a script and is now about to be a movie. You see, kids? Sometimes when you chase whimsy as far as you can, it gets winded and weird enough for you to catch it.
That leaves just one last loose end: with Quentin out of the running, who would play the Mad Mountie of Montreal tracking the monster-maker? When I write again in January, I'll tell you the long, twisted tale of the casting of Guy Lapointe -- which includes the story behind this Tweet …