Q&A: Kevin Smith


Kevin Smith is the quintessential indie filmmaker. After financing "Clerks" with his own checkbook, he went on to make movies that have inspired scores of fans -- and pushed the buttons of almost as many watchdog groups.

With "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," the Seth Rogen starrer about roommates who shoot a skin flick, Smith's latest comedy has a distinctly Judd Apatow-ian flavor. But he intends to follow it with his first drama project. We caught up with him at his Hollywood Hills home (complete with Ms. Pac-Man machine and foosball table) to see what he thinks about the state of indie film and why he doesn't resent Apatow.

The Hollywood Reporter: The movie's premise seems like a preposterous notion, but I imagine it's rooted in some reality for you?

Kevin Smith: The funny thing about the movie is when I first wrote it, it seemed pretty outrageous. But with the economy going in the direction it's headed, it now seems kind of plausible that someone would do this for the cash.

THR: "Zack" also reminds a lot of people of a Judd Apatow movie, a director you've inspired but who has had mega-boxoffice success. Does that success bother you?

Smith: I know I should be really pissed off about what Judd's movies have been able to make, but to me it just shows that there's no ceiling. When a movie like "Knocked Up" can make a few hundred million dollars, it's good for me, too.

THR: The boxoffice expectations are pretty high for "Zack." Do you buy them?

Smith: If it doesn't do better than our best movie theatrically ("Dogma," $31 million), then we've failed somehow. People that hate me -- dude, people on the Internet who are like, "I haven't liked a Kevin Smith movie since 'Clerks'" -- have been writing great reviews. So I feel like if we don't do better than $30 million, then I should quit this business because obviously I'm completely out of touch.

THR: Do you worry that, in general, the indie film is dying?

Smith: I still follow the boxoffice charts on the art house flicks, and it seems like lately they're not doing what they did 10-15 years ago. "Clerks" made $3 million, and that was very cool, and then the next year's "Brothers McMullen" did $10 million and suddenly "Clerks' " $3 million looked stupid. And then guys who did "Blair Witch" made a hundred million bucks, so all of us looked retarded.

THR: Your next movie is "Red State," which is a political movie that you're doing as an indie and not with the Weinstein Co.

Smith: It's the first flick in all the years I've worked with them that they passed on, where they're like, "There's no market for it." On one level I was like, "Good for you guys, being frugal. You're not just making everything that comes through the door." On the other hand, I was like, "Fuck, this is kind of frightening, like these dudes know I have an audience, they have figures, and they're looking at this movie and they still think there's no profit for us."

THR: Why do you think the movie is so tough?

Smith: It's decidedly uncommercial. It's a bleak movie, it's dark, everyone dies. It's political and it deals with religious issues and domestic terrorism. It's just a tough pill to swallow. The only way this movie kind of pops is if we go to Cannes and it catches on as some kind of polemic.

THR: So why are you doing it if it's so difficult?

Smith: I got into this saying I want to make films and largely I feel like I've done that. "Jay and Silent Bob" is not a film to me, it's totally a movie. "Jersey Girl" is totally a movie. "Zack and Miri" is totally a movie to me. And "Mallrats," of course. Other than that, I've made films. Right now I feel like I want to make a film. Right now I feel like I've got something to say. And "Red State" will be a true indicator of whether or not I'm truly a filmmaker. Because most days I don't feel like a filmmaker, I feel like the guy that makes the dick and fart joke movies. But if I can pull off a movie in a completely different genre where I have no net to fall into, where I can't say, "Quick, let's whip out a cock joke," then I'll feel like I'm a filmmaker. And if I can't pull it off, I'll be like, "OK, I'm a dick and fart joke guy."