Midnight Madness: Kevin Smith Pushes the Envelope with 'Tusk'

Man turning into a walrus? Check. A-list star in prosthetic makeup and sporting an accent? Also check
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Kevin Smith

Putting the "madness" in Midnight Madness, Kevin Smith on Saturday night debuted Tusk, perhaps the most "WTF" film to come from a Hollywood filmmaker in a long time.

The horror-comedy features Justin Long as a profane podcaster whose trip to Canada takes an ugly turn when he is kidnapped in Manitoba by an eccentric (Michael Parks) who, it's slowly — and then shockingly not slowly — revealed, turns him into a walrus via horrifying medical procedures.

Meanwhile, the podcaster's girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez), his co-host (Haley Joel Osment), and — in another out-there turn from the movie — an A-lister under crazy-ridiculous makeup as a French-Canadian detective, try to track both of them down.

How crazy is this movie? Crazy enough that Long's agents told him not to do it.

"It was the one time they were so opinionated and said, 'You can't,' " recalled Long, standing next to Smith, Rodriguez and Osment during the movie's postscreening Q&A, which was, with the self-deprecating Smith at the reins, at turns wildly hilarious and insightful.

So why'd Long do it? "Mostly because I wanted to see if [Smith] could do it," he answered.

And that was basically the driving force behind the movie: to see if Smith could do it. To see if Smith could take an idea he had during one of his podcasts and turn it into a movie, to see if he could write something that would reinspire his love of film, to see if could pull off something he knew was so outrageous.

Smith said that most of his work up until now was inspired by his own life experiences. Clerks was drawn from him and his friend working in convenience and video stores, Chasing Amy from his inability to deal with a girlfriend's past, Dogma from his questions about God. But after those personal films, he began hitting walls.

"Who am I? The guy making Cop Out," he said, referring to his big-studio misfire that starred Bruce Willis. "When this happened, it captured my imagination."

Smith came across an Internet story about a man looking for a lodger. Room and board would be provided for in return for the person needing to put on a walrus suit once in a while. Smith and his podcastmate Jason Mewes then discussed what a movie version of that story would look like (a part of the podcast runs over Tusk's credits).

After the podcast the idea stuck with him and he slowly began writing. "Pushing whimsy" was his mantra as the pages slowly came out, with Smith having no idea where the story would go. And the mantra was also in effect during filmmaking, with Robert Kurtzman creating the grotesque walrus creature, and in Smith convincing backers Demarest Films and XYZ Films to plunk down the coin for most expensive part of the whole film, the song rights to Fleetwood Mac's song "Tusk."

The movie is the first part of Smith's True North trilogy, movies that are set in Canada and steeped in Canadiana — or at least Smith's version of it. The filmmaker called Tusk his valentine to Canada and recounted how he fell for the country when he was 5 and his family went on a vacation to Niagara Falls. ("You could speak American and they understood it!" he said, capturing the mind of his child self.)


One of the highlights of the film was seeing Johnny Depp playing Guy Lapointe, a Quebecois private detective on the hunt for a serial killer. Depp is hidden under ludicrous prosthetics and makeup and speaks in an even more ludicrous accent, but the scenes with him are engaging and take the movie to even more bizarre heights.

Without mentioning the actor by name and only referring to him as "Lapointe," Smith said he knew Depp from their kids attending school together. The director said of course he wanted to work with the star — but it needed to happen organically.

He knew Depp was an actor's actor, someone who loves working with actors, along with being an admirer of the work of Parks. When Parks agreed to star in Tusk, Smith emailed Depp saying as much.

" 'I love Michael Parks,' " was the reply, Smith recalled. And he knew at that moment that he had Depp.

With Smith running the show, the Q&A session lasted far longer than most, but the audience could have stayed longer despite the almost 3 a.m. hour.

Near the end, Smith doled out advice to aspiring filmmakers. He said there are more obstacles to starting out than when he began his career 20 years ago, but to him, it's the sea of negativity that has permeated society via the Internet that could be one of the biggest. Everyone has a voice, it seems, and is waiting to stomp out creativity.

"The world is waiting with tweets to say, 'F— you,' " he said. "It's really difficult to get something out."

But he encouraged people to chase their dream and to give it a shot.

Then he added, "If your dream is to hunt little children, don't listen to me, I'm not talking to you."