AUSTIN DAZE: How did this film come about and why now?
KEVIN SMITH: It came about because I really wanted to tell the story about what it was like to be in my 30s. I felt like “Clerks” was about what it was like to be in my 20s so why not just use Dante and Randall again as the way into that story as my stand-ins — my proxies? Because essentially, every flick I write is more or less about me, right? So I need somebody to kind of stand in for me because I’m not that visually interesting to look at. In fact, I’m a bit grotesque. So I tend to kind of want somebody to go in there and be me or two versions of me, or two opposing sides of me – like Dante and Randall or to some degree, Jay and Silent Bob or some of the other movies like Holden and Spanky and stuff like that. It seems to be kind of a no brainer.
Coming off of “Jersey Girl”- even in the midst of making “Jersey Girl”- I was like, “Man, next movie I make I want to make very low budget and I want to make it with a cast of unknowns”. Just because working with celebrities – while I love Ben to death – a lot of baggage comes along with it. You spend two years of your life trying to tell a story and then all anyone wants to talk about is, “Did you see the big pink diamond ring and what’s it like?” Or, “How are those two and do they f**k all the time?” I’m like, “I don’t know, ask them”. It’s like I got treated like a third member of a ménage a trois in that relationship and I was just like, “Ask those people”. But I guess those people didn’t talk so I guess people would ask me a lot of questions about them. And you sit there going, “Well, s**t the back-story is overshadowing the story”. So I really wanted to do something with a cast that wouldn’t be in the pages of In Touch Weekly or Us Weekly and unless Brian and Jeff start f**king, I think we are ok. And if they do, it might be good for the movie.
AD: Why color?
KS: I felt like we rang the black and white bell. My DP, Dave Klein, and my producer, Scott Mosier, talked about it and were like, “Well, do we intentionally want to make it look bad so it could kind of match the other one?” A lot of people said that so much of the charm of “Clerks” was the way it looked. But the only reason why it looked that way is because we had no loot to begin with and this time we had loot. So we decided to go in the opposite direction and try to make it look as good as possible. But we found a happy medium between color and black and white because we did this digital intermediate process which is where you go in and saturate all these colors. Most comedies, when you look at them, are very brightly lit and very brightly colored – that’s just typically how people shoot comedy. We went in and shot it the way you normally shoot a comedy and then digitally seeped the color down – muted everything. So even though you go from black and white world to a color world when Quick Stop burns down, in a world of options open to them, it’s still kind of a muted color world. Except during the dance sequence — then we went bright, poppy color.
AD: Was it a nightmare dealing with the MPAA? I’ve heard that whole system is really strange. Can you elaborate on your experience how you feel about them?
KS: The first time we went before MPAA was for “Clerks” and they gave us an NC 17 for language – for the things people were talking about — which was kind of outrageous and we went into the appeals process. What happens is, the MPAA watches it, and their raters give you the rating. If you don’t agree with the rating and you want to appeal it, you go through the appeals process and then show the movie to a group that’s made up of people who work in the studio system who are members of the MPAA but not part of the ratings board itself and then people who are members of a group called NATO, which sounds very official but stands for the National Association of Theater Owners. They figure these are the dudes on the front lines selling tickets to the audience so they know what crosses the line or what doesn’t based on people coming up to the box office being like, “I want my money back” and s**t like that.
So we screen for them. And when we screened the first “Clerks” for them, they returned it within five minutes and gave us the R without having to make a cut. That’s the aim. You can always get the rating that you would rather have — it’s easy to get an R rating – if you are willing to cut s**t out. But we weren’t willing to cut s**t out of the movie because, first off, we didn’t believe there was anything NC 17 about the movie, second off, all those jokes are good so we don’t want to get rid of any of the jokes just to get an R rating.
So, we went through that process once with that movie and won. We went through this process again on “Jersey Girl”. They gave us an R rating on that for some strange reason and we were hoping for a PG 13. So we did the appeals thing and got that overturned without making a cut as well. On “Clerks II”, I was gearing up for the jihads of all jihads because I felt like there was no way this movie skates on an R. They are going to give us an NC 17 or slap us with an NC 17 – as the terminology goes. So I was getting ready to go in there. It’s kind of like a court room forum where you get to say your piece, the MPAA person gets to say their piece and it’s kind of like a trial – like “Inherit the Wind”. I was ready to go in there and just plead the case and site examples like, the “Godfather II” had a donkey show in it and they got an R – that kind of thing. We screened it for the MPAA and they gave us an R without us having to make an argument. And I was so f**king delighted because it meant there was a lot of work I didn’t have to do: I didn’t’ have to go argue, I didn’t have to go face the option of taking out any cuts from the movie. But then after the dust settled, I was like, “What? How the f**k did this movie get an R? What’s wrong with these people? Clearly that donkey show warrants an NC 17”. I think what it comes down to is: there is a lot of crude stuff in the movie and over the top kind of bawdy humor but even after the donkey show there is like 10 minutes of the scene where one dude is trying to tell the other dude that he loves him. So you kind of go out on a more heart warming note. It’s not like the last thing you see is some dude drilling a donkey up the ass.
AD: I’ve heard that they have a harder time with showing boobs, say, than foul language.
KS: I’ve found that it is the reverse. You can get away with nudity and get an R but the moment you start talking about sexual situations, that’s where you tend to get more in trouble. You can show a pair of boobs but if you talk about f**king a pair of boobs you’re looking at NC 17. When we went through the screening process for “Clerks”, I talked to the dudes that run the theaters and they were like look, “We were glad to turn it over but harsh language, the f-word, the f-bomb, is the thing that gets most people on their feet and back out to the box office looking for a refund”. He’s like, “You can show movies where people get f**king killed and raped and horrible things can happen to people. You can show a lot of nudity and a lot of sex. But the moment people start saying f**k too much, that makes people over a certain age get up and ask for their money back”. It’s strange, weird thinking.
AD: Was this “Clerks” easier to make than the first? What has changed?
KS: For me, my job doesn’t really change from movie to movie. I write the script, I rehearse the actors, and then when we are on the set, I try to make sure they give as good of an on camera performance as I heard in my head when I was writing it, if not something better. So whether I’ve got ten bucks or ten million bucks, my job remains relatively the same.
Scott Mosier, my producer, on the other hand, his job becomes more difficult the lower the budget is because it’s tough to pull off things at a cheaper rate. We found though that a five million dollar budget was very comfortable. It would be nuts to spend twenty million making this movie because the moment you have an ass to mouth conversation in a movie you’re putting a ceiling on the audience. Not everyone wants to go see that, you know? So you have to be kind of responsible with the budget you are going to spend to make a movie like that. So five million wound up being a pretty comfortable place for Scott to make the movie and my job was relatively the same as it was back in “Clerks”.
In terms of ease, both movies had their relative ease to pulling them off. Like for “Clerks”, we were shooting after hours in the convenient store that I worked in from 10:30 at night to 6 in the morning. Nobody was there. You didn’t have to get location approvals or go through contracts because nobody knew the movie would ever get picked up. We were just f**king around making a movie in a convenient store after hours. When you go to make a movie with a budget, like in the case of “Clerks II”, we had to find a closed down Burger King that we can revamp and turn into a movie set. So you have to secure that location. It’s tough finding a closed down f**king fast food joint in this country. That’s the business to be in. F**ck the movie business, the real money is in fast food. Those places never f**king go out of business. We would find a Burger King that was closed somewhere and we’d go to make an offer to rent it out for two months and boom, Wendy’s would slip in and “Biggie size” the place. They would buy it and take it over and s**t. So it’s tough to find an empty location. We didn’t want to build movies sets from scratch because it’s cost prohibitive. We just wanted to find a closed down Burger King and kind of paint it up and convert it a little bit just on the surface. So it was problematic finding the location but once we found it — we found it in this beautiful place in Buena Park in California that was off the beaten path and nobody knew we were there so we didn’t have a bunch of looky – loos — it was a cake walk. It was really, really nice.
AD: This film seems to be a testament to what our age group is facing. The facts may be different but the meaning is the same. What do you want folks to take with them from your film?
KS: I kind of started writing “Clerks II” as an examination of what it takes to become an adult. Because it is different than it was for say our parents’ generation. Basically, you got married; you got a job; you stayed in that job for 30 years to support your family. You didn’t sit there going, “Well this job isn’t fulfilling to me”. They didn’t think like that back in those days. Our generation isn’t the first to come up with this idea but we’re certainly the most vocal about it in terms of looking for fulfillment in the things we do. So people tend to go out of their way to make their own breaks and create something. It’s like, yes, it’s a job but I enjoy it so much it doesn’t feel like a job. Based on that, based on the fact that I kind of work in an industry that affords you a prolonged adolescence, where I don’t lay bricks for a living — it’s not back breaking labor, I make pretend and somebody pays me for it — you’re never quite sure if you’ve hit that moment when you become a true adult. I’ve gotten married and I have a kid and I’m still there going, “When did I become an adult?”
I kind of realized for me when I became an adult, it was the moment that I decided that I wanted to make “Clerks” — that I wanted to be a filmmaker. For me, the moment you cross the threshold is that moment when you see the reigns of your own destiny and you make that decision to do something that changes the course of your life that you wouldn’t have done two minutes before, two years before, ten years before. And I wanted to afford my characters that same opportunity. Dante and Randall are kind of stuck in limbo at the end of “Clerks”. Me, because of “Clerks”, that’s the moment I grew up. I wanted Dante and Randall to have that same kind of moment – that moment where they too can grow up. It’s weird, they are fictional characters, but I felt like I owe those guys something. And not the actors that play them, but the actual characters themselves because without them I wouldn’t be here today.
AD: I have to ask you about the title. When I first heard it I couldn’t believe it- I like it but I didn’t think of you as a part 2 filmmaker. Were there any other titles and since the trilogy debate came up, will there be a “Clerks 3”?
KS: Originally I was calling it “The Passion of the Clerks”. When we announced it online a lot of people said, “Oh that’s great, another Dante and Randall movie”. Other people said, “F**k Kevin Smith, he’s a hack”. But both parties agreed on one thing: the title sucked. Everybody said that title was a one joke title and in one year’s time it’s going to be an old played out joke. And I was like, “Man, you guys don’t get it. I know it’s a one joke title but it’s oddly appropriate. The movie is about the passion of the clerks”. But you know, after a long time I was just like, the title is going to kill us. The title is holding us back. And then I realized that it sets up a movie that doesn’t exist. That sounds like a parody film and then you get in there and it’s very much not that. So I was trying to think of what the title should be and I was like, “You know what, go for the under sell. Just put a 2 at the end of the first title”. It doesn’t promise any more than it is – it’s just like, “Clerks” part 2.
Will there be a “Clerks 3”? If I was to hit my mid-40s and I felt like I had a story to tell about being in my mid-40s I would definitely think of Dante and Randall first and foremost. But I don’t know, right now I can’t see it. If the movie opened up next week and in some bizarre twisted universe the movie made five hundred million bucks and Harvey Weinstein called me up and said, “You have to start shooting “Clerks 3″ like now” I couldn’t do it because I just don’t have any ideas for it.
AD: What was it like to make a movie with your immediate family?
KS: It’s always nice. Basically, from the first one all the way up until now I’ve been making movies with my friends – I’ve cast everybody I know. Like in “Clerks”, I put my mom and my sister in it. You’ve got a bunch of roles to fill and some people speak and some don’t. Why go cast strangers when you can cast people you know in the flick? Like in the case of my kid: I’ve cast Harley in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” and she had a little role in “Jersey Girl” and now she has a little role in this movie. I get to watch her grow up on film. In a weird way, it’s cheaper than taking her to Sears for a portrait sitting. It’s just like a little family album of sorts. Working with the family is a very cool thing. In the case of my wife, I cast all my friends in my movies, why wouldn’t I cast my best friend?
AD: Does “Clerks II” take place in the same reality as your other films such as “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”? Is there continuity with respect to time?
KS: In terms of continuity, absolutely. The Jay and Silent Bob in “Clerks II” have met God in “Dogma”. They are also the same guys that had a movie made about them. In the earlier cut of the film there is a reference to “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” when Jay and Silent Bob tell him they would lend him the money to reopen Quick Stop. Dante and Randall are initially like, “Where’d you get money from?” And Jay says, “Doesn’t anyone remember that they made a movie about me and Silent Bob once?” I wound up cutting the reference out just because I was trying to cut time. So it definitely takes place in the same reality as those flicks.
AD: Between writing, directing and staring in films, what is your favorite thing to do?
KS: I like writing first and foremost and best of all. Editing would be next, more so than directing. Acting is kind of a pain in the ass and I never really think of myself as an actor. I don’t think of it as acting I just think of it as being in the movie. And you know, having your picture taken when you look like me, never a f**king cool thing. I love writing. I love sitting alone in a room and coming up with stuff. And editing is more of the same – it’s like getting a second bite of the apple because you get to shape the story even a little further. So I like writing and editing best. Directing, I just see as a necessary evil to get the material to edit.
AD: So we have to ask, what do you think about Austin and what do you do for fun while you are here?
KS: I dig Austin. It’s a very cool community; a very artistic community. I mean I support any town that supports film the way that this community does. Not every big city or let alone, small city has a film society. And I have a deep debt of gratitude to Austin because if it wasn’t for Austin we wouldn’t have Richard Linklater and if we didn’t have Richard Linkater we wouldn’t have “Slacker” and if we didn’t have “Slacker” I would never have thought about being a filmmaker myself. So when I come here it’s always kind of like visiting Mecca to some degree because without Austin film, without Richard, I never would have thought that filmmaking was something that I could take a shot at as well.
What do I do when I come here? Normally when I come here I do stuff like this-I do press-so I don’t really get to go out a lot. Any time I come I tend to do an Austin Film Society thing. Last time I was here was a couple of months ago. John Pierson teaches a class at UT and I did a sit down and did like a 100 person class – a Q & A type lecture sort of thing. But I don’t really get to go out all that much although I do go out to eat and the food here is tremendous.
AD: The last time we saw you, was at the Alamo.
KS: Yeah. While I was here for Pierson’s class he said, “Hey the Alamo said they will show anything you want to show”. And I said, “S**t, let me see their library”. And they had “House Party” and I had never seen “House Party” on the big screen so it was like, “Can we have a House Party screening?”
It was fun; it was so tremendous to do. You don’t get stuff like that in many other places, man. Reparatory cinema just doesn’t exist in other cities anymore and here it is still alive and well and going strong. ***