What was supposed to be a 15-minute interview with Kevin Smith turned into a far-reaching conversation that lasted over an hour (yes, we even discussed the talk of a possible Boba Fett movie). Smith is promoting 'Red State,' a film he does not want to be promoting and, in turn, he makes it clear that he doesn't really want to be talking to the likes of me. Up to this point, Smith has self-distributed 'Red State' -- taking his horror film, and himself, on a tour of theaters nationwide. But now, 'Red State' is being released onto video on demand this weekend and his new distributor would like him to talk to the press about the film. So here we are!
'Red State' is the story of a Fred Phelps–type pastor (Michael Parks) who takes it upon himself to administer punishments, based on biblical scripture, onto local residents. In this first part of a two-part interview, Smith explains why he made 'Red State,' defends his auction of 'Red State' at Sundance (in which Smith irked several movie writers by never actually auctioning the film, instead purchasing it himself), and why he came after the critics so ferociously who panned his Bruce Willis comedy, 'Cop Out.' Oh yeah, Bruce Willis -- Smith talks about him, too.
(For the first five minutes of our conversation, Smith proceeded to question me about a plethora of upcoming films that I've recently seen like 'Drive,' 'The Ides of March' and '50/50.' When this interview picks up below, the conversation shifts to 'Red State' and Smith himself.)
Moviefone: We should probably talk about 'Red State' at some point ...
Kevin Smith: I could quiz you all day, "What else is coming?" Compared to going to the f*cking Internet, dude. You're way less opinionated. You're like, basically, "Here it is." And then when I'm like, "Did you like it?" You're like, "yeah." Not f*cking like, "If you don't like this, you're a f*cking idiot who should burn like Hitler!" Or, "If you do like this, you're an idiot who should burn like Hitler!"
Right, I always try to use at least one Hitler reference in every post. Those go over really well.
[Laughs] One per review!
Is 'Red State' a horror movie? It's suspenseful, but do we call it a horror film?
I called it horror because, honestly, and I stand by this: What else do I call it? The things that happen in it, to me, are horrifying. So I'm like, "That's a horror movie." And that's the easiest way to sum it up before anybody saw it. But it's more of a genre mash-up. I put in a little horror; I tried to do action-thriller; I put in dark satire. Basically, I love "Kevin Smith Movies," don't get me wrong. But I could make a "Kevin Smith Movie" in my sleep – and I've been accused of doing so. So, for me, it was kind of important to see if I could make another type of movie. As much as I love Kevin Smith -- and I am the biggest Kevin Smith fan; both in spirit and in size – I know that I can make a "Kevin Smith Movie." The movies I dream about making aren't my own; I dream about making Quentin Tarantino movies and Coen Brothers movies. Those are the movies I watch and go, "that's my porn."
I like how you openly admit that there is a such thing as "Kevin Smith Movies." Some directors don't like that.
I mean, come on. Who would not be proud of having their own f*cking genre? At the end of the day, whether you love him or hate him, Tim Burton movies are recognizable. You take his name off of it, you're like, "That's a Tim Burton movie." You take a name off of a "Kevin Smith Movie" and, generally speaking, it's pretty recognizable – as long as you can hear the volume. For me, 'Red State' is important to do because, if you strip the credits off, you would not ever think "Kevin Smith."
So, without your name on this movie, you don't think anyone would be able to guess that it was from you?
Never. Not even my f*cking mother. Honestly, maybe some people who worked on the movie would be like, "Kevin Smith. Only because I saw him there." Even half the cast wouldn't be able to tell you. You don't direct a cast like that. I know that's another thing you're not supposed to say as a f*cking filmmaker. It's true: you don't direct Michael Parks. How much direction do you think I gave Michael Parks? Do you think I sauntered up to Michael Parks and said, "Here's how I would do it based on my years of experience as f*cking Silent Bob." You just let a dude like that go.
When do you get disappointed in an actor? I have no idea if the rumors that Bruce Willis and you did not get along on the set of 'Cop Out' are true or not, but that didn't seem to turn out the way you wanted.
When you show up and you're delivering -- all you have to do is execute -- I have no complaints. If you elevate, I'll love you for life and cast you a thousand times over. But, sh*t, if you're getting paid? Execute. If you don't even come in and execute, dude... If you can't be bothered to execute so much so that everyone else has to do double the work, just so we can say that we filled the production day, then I got no use for you. Some movies you don't take a huge paycheck. 'Red State,' I didn't get paid at all to do because it was a passion project. Same with 'Clerks 2.' 'Cop Out' is an example of a movie where I literally made that movie because I wanted to work with an actor. So I took an 86 percent pay cut from my previous flick – and, believe me, it aint like I got peanuts – but it was a far cry from my price. And I did it to work with that guy and that actor turned out to be not who I was kind of hoping he was. And, two days into the movie, it's like, "Oh my God, I've just committed myself to a whole flick." By the second day... it was weird. It's one of those weird moments where I was like, "If this is the movie biz, I don't need the movie business." But this has nothing to do with the whole, "I'm getting out."
So, you're saying that you were disappointed in someone's performance in 'Cop Out.' But when critics didn't like the movie, why did you go after the critics instead of saying, "That actor should have done a better job for me."
Because at the end of the day, he didn't direct the movie. I did. And you can only play with the elements you have to work with. I felt like I played that game the best that I could, considering that we were missing the thimble and 400 dollars in multi-colored cash. For me, that movie, I had a nice distance from. I was looking forward to 'Cop Out' because (A) I was never going to have to do press on it – oh, it has Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan in it! – and (B) if somebody attacks the movie, I'll be like, "Yeah, I get it. I didn't write it." This will be the first movie I put out where I'm kind of, internally, critic proof. Where it won't bother me. If they go after my filmmaking, it's like, they've done that for years. I'm used to that. If they go after the script, I'm not accountable for the script.
But you did very publically react to the criticism.
What bugged me about that wasn't so much that they went after the movie, it didn't hurt my feelings. It was just the way the critics went about it. It was kind of gross. It wasn't like the movie was called 'Schindler's Cop Out.' But, for some reason, it was held to a higher standard because I was involved? It was no longer film criticism, it was "lets see who can be more clever." That's when I was just like, "It was gross." I was brought into this business to believe that they will make or break you. Kiss ass, be super nice to these cats because they're your conduit to the audience. And, on 'Clerks,' it was absolutely true -- Janet Maslin writes a billion dollar review. That's a career making review in The New York Times.
At this point in my career, I gotta get rid of all the f*cking fear. I gotta cut ties. I knew I was making 'Red State' next and in order to make 'Red State,' as an artist – and this sounds goofy – but in order to make 'Red State' I couldn't care what anybody was going to think. Even when Joel Siegel stood up in the middle of 'Clerks 2' – that was weird. That was a weird situation. I felt like I got punished for f*cking attacking him – like cosmically or karmically punished: The poor man died a few months later. And this was a dude I grew up watching on television. And there I am, years later, getting into a fight with him. It's gross in a moment like that. But my relationship with critics has always been a little more personal. So I pushed back and I was like, "I don't think you're f*cking good at your jobs." And, holy sh*t – I know I'm supposed to be oversensitive when I get criticized. Trust me: try criticizing a f*cking critic.
You mentioned 'Clerks.' Are people more invested in your career because of the way the original 'Clerks' panned out? That critics feel overly invested in your potential?
I kind of made 'Red State' a spiritual sequel to 'Clerks.' You look at that movie, it showed a lot of promise across the board. You find somebody that says, "Nah, f*cking 'Clerks' is stupid." Even the critics back then, "This movie shows a sh*t-ton of promise. Oh, he could be good one day. He could do some cool sh*t." That's what 'Red State' is. To me, it's the answer to that promise. It's me delivering on that promise.
Looking back to Sundance, do you regret at all the way the 'Red State' auction played out? People felt tricked.
Who felt tricked? You tell me who felt tricked and I'll tell you if they were.
The movie writers-journalists covering the festival. They thought they were going to actually see an auction instead of you purchasing the movie yourself.
Which is fine, but what do they care? They weren't invested. They weren't going to buy it nor were they going to sell it. So what do they care if they got tricked at an auction? They're still going to see that movie anyway. And we didn't even have a press screening, so we weren't like, "Press, come waste your time." So, to me, they weren't tricked. And, also, what journalist goes, "You tricked me into seeing a movie at a film festival!" Like, dude, come on.
But if you've been told you're going to see a real auction and you don't see a real auction, that's where the goodwill is lost.
But don't you think that's kind of petty? That's not a review of the movie, that's a review of the man.
I'm not saying the review of the movie. I'm talking about the review of the event itself...
Which tainted their reviews of the movie. That was one of the fun parts for me with 'Red State': Exposing hypocrisy. The first review that came out of 'Red State' was posted 15 minutes after that movie ended. Not after the Q&A, 15 minutes after the movie ended. You've seen 'Red State,' can you write a review 15 minutes after that movie ended. A really thoughtful review.
I can't write anything that quickly, no. But that's just me.
Come on. Who can? But there you go. There it was. And the review might as well have been a sh*t sandwich. But, it didn't matter. Go look at Rotten Tomatoes, 33 percent score, dude. But, we sell out wherever we f*cking go. That was my point on 'Red State,' I don't need you guys. I don't need the critical community. I don't need the press. If you don't want to help and you didn't in the past, that's fine; I'll go off and do this by myself. Go read some of the reviews, you know which ones I'm talking about. The really psychotic ones? Like the one dude who maintained that he made a better version of this movie than me. Come on, dude. You know what I'm saying? I felt bad for that guy. I feel bad for anybody who writes on film who ever succumbs to, "I make movies and they're better!" Like, come on. You've just lost.
If you don't need the press, why are we talking?
I have no idea. Honestly. Trust me. I mean, I put it off yesterday when I'm like, "Why am I doing press?" I have a partner now: Lions Gate is distributing the movie on VOD, so we have a distributer. They paid a pretty f*cking penny for the VOD and the DVD; really nice big fat chunk of change. So, in a world where somebody gives you a lot of money, if they're like, "Hey, can you do press for us?" I then can't stand on my very principled, "Hey, man, this is my world and I do exactly as I please."
Tomorrow, the conversation continues with Kevin Smith's thoughts on 'Star Wars,' a possible Boba Fett film, 'Green Lantern,' Smith's two-part 'Hit Somebody' hockey film, retirement, and smoking pot with Seth Rogen.
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