Kevin Smith is the guy you want to keep making movies, particularly the ones that involve porn. Read on.
AUSTIN DAZE: We loved this film. Did you have to struggle this time with the MPAA?
KEVIN SMITH: I don’t think they ever fully came around on the movie. Ever since they got involved it was one problem after another. First they gave the movie an NC 17, then we went to the appeals screening and flipped it without having to cut anything, so that was good, we got the R. But then, maybe because of that or maybe just in general, they were very stringent when it came to the marketing. We submitted trailers and they kicked them all back. We submitted Red Ban and Green Ban and they had issues with them—tiny issues too. There was this one shot where Craig Robinson was sitting on the bed and behind him is a poster, and you have to be looking ridiculously hard to see the poster, and it has a drawing of two little kids, a boy and a girl holding their diapers out and looking down into their diapers. It’s a play and it’s called, “Girl Parts for Boys”. So tame–it’s got clip art—nothing offensive. And they kicked that back in the trailer saying, “It depicts children looking at their genitalia.” I’m like, “What are you talking about? Yes, that’s what they are doing, but it’s hardly offensive.” They kicked all the posters back. Because we had the word “Porno” in the title, they definitely paid a lot more attention to the movie than they would if it was called anything else. It eventually led to the poster that we have now which is just two stick figures and a camera. We finally made a joke of it, it was out of frustration more than anything else, that we came up with a poster that was like, “The movie is so titillating this is all we can show you.” It’s been problematic.
AD: Do you think they have you marked?
KS: I don’t know if it is me specifically that they are giving a hard time but I have had run-ins with them twice before so maybe they are just used to it. I know having “porno” in the title really fucked us this time around because it made them pay more attention to it. I couldn’t even put up the little online trailers like I normally do because it has to be rated–even though it had no footage from the movie in it. We had a bunch of behind the scenes footage for Clerks II we called Train Wreck and we are doing another round for this movie called Money Shots and they said they had to approve all these things. So I don’t think it’s me specifically, I think more than anything else it had to do with the title this time.
AD: Is the back and forth generally pleasant with them?
KS: They are very polite. It’s never an adversarial relationship. It’s not like, “You are a fucking bitch.” And she’s like, “You’re a fucking immature baby.” It’s very cordial but at the same time they are doing their job. I don’t think they are evil but it’s like, “You guys have to lighten up. Watch the movie; it’s not that dirty.” When we did the screening the woman from the MPAA was very up front. She was like, “Look, nobody is saying the movie isn’t funny and nobody is saying the movie isn’t sweet. We are just saying that nobody under 18 should see this movie.”
AD: I bet there is a great script in you about the MPAA.
KS: I don’t think anybody would be interested in that flick. I think there would be an audience of 1 for that movie.
AD: Where did the story come from?
KS: It’s been kind of kicking around since Chasing Amy. There were various permutations of a porn story that I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I saw Seth in the 40 Year Old Virgin that I was like, “I want this dude to be the lead.” Everything trickled down from there.
AD: Is this story based on a personal romance?
KS: No. But if you scrape away the porno trappings it’s the story of how we made Clerks. It’s the story of people making their first film and not knowing what they are doing. I used our whole Clerks experience as the model and porn-ed it up.
AD: How did you get Tracy Lords involved?
KS: I think she was the last of the main characters cast. We were trying to figure out who could play Bubbles and we decided to go the Cougar route with it. So we thought, OK, who are the chicks we love in the 80s? Like the chick from Weird Science, Kelly LeBrock. There was a book that our production designer had given me, and it was all porn stars photographed in non porn settings. Like Katie Morgan was in the book as well. We went through the whole book and noticed that Tracy was noticeably absent. Suddenly we started talking about how Tracy would be perfect. Dave Klein, our DP, had shot a movie with her once and said, “She ain’t going to do it, dude. You know she don’t want to have anything top do with her porn past. You can’t even talk about porn with her. We had a love scene in our movie and she would not take any of her gear off. She’s not that person.” I thought, Maybe that works in our favor. It’s a comedy and we kind of poke fun at that world. So we called her agent and her agent said, “I don’t know with that title, I doubt she is going to do it.” And then I guess she heard about it from him and she likes me or something I had done in the past and she likes Seth so she agreed to come over and read it. So she came to my house and I sat there talking to her for 3 hours about that and everything in general. And she was like, “I always try to keep the porn stuff at arm’s length because I haven’t made a porn film in 20 years but still that’s what people identify me with. Maybe it’s time to embrace it and make fun of it.”
AD: What is she doing now?
KS: She was on a TV show called Profiler that was on for awhile. There is another TV show she had a recurring role on. She does a ton of movies and worked consistently for the past 20 years. It was a weird meeting because she’s a lovely human being—very adult, very mature—but the whole time I’m sitting there going, “If I could go back in time and tell the 16 year old version of me that we are sitting around in our house talking to Tracy Lords, the 16 year old version of me would be like, ‘Did we fuck her?’ But naturally that doesn’t happen. Let’s be honest, she’s a pop icon. There’s Stan Lee, Johnny Rotten, you. It’s a name that instantly calls to mind some sort of massive pop culture moment or movement. It was kind of cool to have her in the cast for that reason alone. And she’s a good actress—really concentrates on her stuff and takes it really seriously.
AD: The cast is amazing.
KS: Everyone brought an A-game to it. It was nice. You just fall in love with not just the main characters but the whack pack that surrounds them.
AD: I noticed that Silent Bob didn’t make an appearance. Why?
KS: I felt like after Clerks II it was time to get out of that universe. I like that movie so much I don’t want to touch it again—at least for awhile. I always leave the option open, that if I’m in my mid to late 40s and I want to make a movie about how I feel about being in my mid to late 40s, I would think about Dante and Randal again. But it felt like it was time to put that aside. We haven’t done that since Jersey Girl—that was completely outside of that interlock series of movies–and we got beat the shit out of. This one was so much outside that we moved it to Pittsburgh.
AD: Pittsburgh was the perfect setting.
KS: It just worked. I liked it so much because it seemed like the last place in the world anyone would want to make a porn movie. It’s so cold. It just lends itself to bundling up.
AD: There’s nothing sexy about Pittsburgh.
KS: Not at all. The city itself closes down at 6 O’clock. When I say closes down, it’s a financial district and everyone goes home from work. You can walk the streets of Pittsburgh at seven or eight O’clock at night, in the middle of the city, and by yourself. There aren’t even homeless people. It’s a ghost town as of 6 o’clock.
AD: Tell us about Seth Rogen.
KS: I hadn’t seen 40 Year Old Virgin in theaters because we were filming and then I finally caught it on DVD and I was like, this kid sounds like one of my characters. He would be awesome to work with. I started thinking about writing the script for him right about then. By the time we got around to making the movie he went from being a supporting actor to a movie star and suddenly we got real lucky because we had the comedy guy of the moment in the cast. It’s a reputation he has earned because that dude is funny. He’s an insanely consummate professional while being laid back and very funny. He’s always thinking about the movie as a whole–not just his part–and ways to improve it and ways to push it further. Even the marketing stuff, I’ve never met another actor who stayed as involved in the marketing. He’s the goods. He’s the real deal.
AD: Judd Apatow’s world is based on a world that you created awhile ago.
KS: Yeah, it was actually nice. When I first saw 40 Year Old Virgin, it was like, Wow, somebody made a movie that I would make. Because for a while I would see comedies but they were never of the same genre. And he kept doing it and it was nice not to be alone out there. Not only did they do it, but they took it into the stratosphere and turned it into blockbuster material which I was floored by because we’ve been doing it since ’94 and we never made more than 30 million on any given movie. I always thought if you are going to mix raunchy and sentimentality you are only going to get this many people to go see it. Judd’s shit took it into the mainstream. So for me it was wow, the kind of thing that I do is now commercially viable. And who knows what will happen with Zack and Miri but it looks like it’s going to do some business. I know the guy that financed it is very happy about that. I’m just glad people like it. It was so nice to take it to Toronto and screen it and people just went nuts for it. That was cool. It could have gone either way. Some people could have been like, “Ugh, it’s not Judd Apatow.”
AD: There wouldn’t be a Judd Apatow if you weren’t around.
KS: That’s kind. Really what it is, when you get into the nitty gritty of the Judd Apatow stuff, Seth seems to be the engine for the raunch factor in those movies. I’ve read an interview where he said that Steve Carrel just wanted to do a PG 13 film and Seth was the one that was like, “No, let’s go for the R. Let’s get out there and curse and shit like they do in Clerks.” That was kind of cool. I got to work with a guy who was inspired by the shit I used to do and now he’s in the shit we are doing now. It’s weird—kind of a snake eating its tail, kind of thing.
AD: He seems like he should have always been there.
KS: Yeah, I know. Sitting there watching him, I’m like, “Where the fuck has he been?”
AD: Will you work together again?
KS: I hope so. That kid’s schedule gets crazy.
AD: What’s next?
KS: I’m going to do this little horror movie called, Red State. It’s a bleak little political horror movie. It’s the opposite of everything we have done so far. There is no levity to it; it’s just straight out creepy thriller. I’m not quite sure what to call it: it’s not a standard cut and slash kind of thing but to me the content is truly horrific.
AD: What’s it about?
KS: It’s about fundamentalism gone awry. It’s set in Middle America and uses the Fred Phelps Westboro Baptist church—God hates Fags people—as a focal point. A fictionalized version of that. And it’s just kind of very dark and there is nobody to route for and everybody dies. Most days I don’t feel like a filmmaker—I feel like I’m a writer who directs his own stuff. So I felt like maybe if I stepped out of my comfort zone and did a movie that was different than anything I had ever done, maybe I would feel like a filmmaker when it was all said and done. If it works, I can say, “Wow I’m a filmmaker.” If it doesn’t, I can say, “Alright I get it, I’m a dick-and-fart joke guy and I’ll just stick to that.”
AD: What does being a filmmaker mean?
KS: I don’t know. I think some people are just born with it in their genes; they are born to make film. I don’t feel like that guy, I feel like I just kind of backed into it by virtue of the fact that I wanted to write a flick and make an independent flick. Like Rick Linklater, he is a born filmmaker; he came out of the womb ready to make a film and lives, breathes and eats cinema. I enjoy doing it, I think it’s fun, but I’m not as hard-wired into it as he is.