Kevin Smith: What's the Catch?
Overnight success Kevin Smith, the 24-year-old writer-director of Clerks, questions whether he's Hollywood's hottest new filmmaker or just another "one-hit wonder."
DANNY PEARY: Do you still, as it's been reported in the press, work occasional shifts at the New Jersey Quick Stop convenience store featured so prominently in your first film, Clerks?
KEVIN SMITH: Very rarely. I'm too busy now with new projects. But I keep myself grounded just by staying in New Jersey, hanging out with the same friends.
Q: When did you first go out to Hollywood to pitch ideas?
A: Last March, two months after Clerks had played at Sundance and been bought by Miramax. Scott [Mosicr, producer of Clerks] and I had never flown first class before and when the stewardess saw how we were dressed, she came over to see if we were in the right seats.
Q: What is it with the way you dress, anyway? You always have that same long coat on.
A: People assume I'm now dressing like my character in Clerks, but I've worn a long coat, all year long, since I was 16. I basically have one outfit underneath and just wash it all the time.
Q: Did anyone suggest you dress up for Hollywood meetings?
A: In Hollywood, I've found you can dress any way you want--as long as you have a foot in the door. If I were making films in the Merchant-Ivory tradition, I might rethink my image and buy a nice pair of pants.
Q: So, Kevin, how Hollywood is Hollywood? Did you meet people who praised Clerks though they hadn't actually seen it?
A: Yes, there were people who didn't see it but were impressed by the awards it won at Sundance and Cannes, the reviews and all the media attention. And people at one studio did ask me for something Clerks-like, yet when I turned in the script, they said, "But this has no plot." I said, "Yeah?"
Q: How do you plan to keep from "going Hollywood"?
A: I will keep control of my career by insisting I direct only my own scripts.
Q: What deals do you have in the works?
A: I'll direct Mall Rats for Universal, and Dogma for Miramax, and I'll write Busing for Hollywood Pictures.
Q: Ever find yourself thinking, "Gee, it's awfully easy to get a movie deal"?
A: It seemed so. But maybe it's not-- I had one of the few independent films last year that didn't simply disappear.
Q: Since you never had the time to be a struggling filmmaker, are you afraid, at age 24, that everything that's happened to you is all "too much, too soon"?
A: No, it's so much, so soon--what's the catch? Who do I owe for the unexpected windfall from Clerks, which I had only hoped would get me outside financing on a second film? Who's calling in the marker soon? I really fear the doom factor is at work.
Q: Do you worry about your next film?
A: Yeah, with Clerks, which was made with credit cards by a first-time director, people let things slide, but Mall Rats, which is a $5.8 million studio film, will be watched through a microscope. If Mall Rats doesn't live up to expectations, they'll say, "Smith was a one-hit wonder." I'm curious about what autonomy I'll have when I direct in a studio situation. I could have directed Clerks in the nude, but if you're spending other people's money, they may say, "Hey, put on some clothes!"
Q: Would you prefer to now work only within the studio system?
A: I like Clerks, but it's obvious that I don't know how to make a movie. I think there's tons to learn from working with more experienced people. Like John Sayles, I want to move back and forth between making studio films and independent films. Like Hal Hartley and Spike Lee, I'd like a repertory company that will include my Clerks cast--and maybe some other Jersey actors who have been sending me head shots.
Q: What about New Jersey's famous topless dancers? Have they besieged you with acting requests now that you're famous?
A: I wish I was besieged by topless dancers, especially physically. That would be the best, not being able to fight them off.
Danny Peary is the author of several volumes of "Cult Movies" books. This is his first article for Movieline.