Five years ago, Clerks and Chasing Amy writer/director Kevin Smith visited my small college in central New Jersey. The College of New Jersey was a classic suitcase school: The campus looked like an east coast version of The Last Picture Show during the weekend. When Smith visited on that Saturday night, along with his frequent partner-in-cinematic crime Jason Mewes, the auditorium was packed. For hours, Smith casually answered questions from the giddy audience, which led to a wide array of stories. He told about his comical encounters with mega-producer Jon Peters over his script for Superman Lives, the potential perils of working with a monkey and his favorite movies of all time (which included Jaws and A Man for All Seasons).
To enjoy Smith’s self-depreciating anecdotes, you don’t have to wait for the New Jersey native to visit your local college. Now there’s the just released An Evening with Kevin Smith, a two-DVD set that showcases several of his performances at campuses throughout the country.
‘The DVD came about because I’ve been doing a lot of college gigs since roughly ’95 and usually about 10 to 12 a year,’ Smith told filmcritic.com in a recent interview. ‘Mike Stratford over at Columbia Tri-Star, who we’d done the Dogma DVD with, was in attendance at one of them. Afterwards he said, Have you ever thought about putting these on tape? I said, No.’ He said, We’d love to.’ So, he started asking about when I was hitting the next few colleges.’
Smith admits that his appearances have more of an entertainment value than anything else. ‘I don’t really have any great wisdom to impart. They’re always billed as lectures and I always tell them that I don’t know how to lecture except to say don’t fuck and smoke, so there’s really nothing to impart If they take a kernel of truth away from it and some kind of experience, some kind of education, then that’s great, but I’m the last guy in the world you want to get taught by.’
It seems that Smith has influenced some people in at least one way.
‘The first I saw it was kind of flattering,’ says Smith, referring to Silent Bob (his film alter ego) clones in the crowd. ‘I think I saw it at a convention first. Then I started seeing it more and more, and then I started wondering if maybe I just had my head up my own ass and really they weren’t dressing to look like me. I just kind of look like them. It’s not too difficult to cultivate my look and wear a beard and sometimes you wear the backwards hat.’
Ben Affleck, a frequent star in Smith’s films, noticed the phenomenon when he visited the San Diego Comic-Con to promote next year’s Daredevil. Smith says Affleck ‘came back and he was like, Do you know that there are people that look like you at these shows? I got up to speak and I saw, no lie, easily ten dudes who looked like you. There was one who was making eye contact with me and I fucking thought it was you.”
Away from the podium, Smith’s comments, he says, have yet to ‘bite me in the ass.’ A stellar, popular cast is in his next feature, Jersey Girl, which includes America’s sweethearts Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, along with Jason Biggs and Liv Tyler. Smith will also serve as an executive producer in Scary Movie 3 (though Smith admits the title is ornamental) and has a small role in Daredevil. Peripheral participation in a blockbuster is one thing, but helming one is a different story entirely, Smith says.
‘Every once in a while I would be like, Man, I would love to do something like this,’ says Smith, who peppered Daredevil director Mark Steven Johnson (Simon Birch) with questions, ‘but it just kind of seems cool in the moment because you weren’t involved when all the prep work and all the grunt work it took to get there.
‘I just don’t think I’m ambitious enough, and I know I’m too lazy to want to go into an action movie. Sometimes you’re shooting one two-minute action sequence for a week, two weeks. I like to shoot a few pages a day of dialogue, and it’s real tough to kind of go in there, for me, to warrant shooting for two weeks on something that will last two minutes because I’m not the Wachowski brothers. It’s not like I’ll take two weeks and come up with something brilliant. I’ll take two weeks and come up with a standard action two minutes.
When I tell him I would pay good money to see his version of Green Arrow or Batman, Smith, who has written for comic books, replies: ‘Read the comics, which are probably far better than the film would be if I was involved. Otherwise, my version of Batman would be like him standing around talking for two weeks and not getting anything done. The Bat-A-Rang would never leave the utility belt. It would just be chatting.’
He may not have worked with a $200 million budget, but Smith has worked with blockbuster talent before-Dogma featured Affleck, Matt Damon, Salma Hayek, and Chris Rock. In Jersey Girl, however, Smith had to handle the indomitable red carpet force known as J. Lo.
‘With her, you know she comes into the mix as a movie star, and I had nothing to do with that,’ said Smith, who worked with a pre-fame Affleck and Jason Lee in Mallrats. ‘She did that all on her own, and also you hear tons of stuff before she got there. We just heard she’s got like a 20-person entourage and she comes to the set only when she’s ready to come to the set. You hear any number of rumors and nothing turns out to be true. I can’t impart to you enough that I did not have one problem with her or Ben.’
Aside from her un-diva like behavior, Lopez turned in a great acting job. ‘At the end of the day, she was perfect for the part,’ Smith gushes. ‘She worked incredibly hard, and that’s the one thing I really fucking dig about Jen. Aside from, like, she’s really a great actress I think, but she works so hard. She’s committed and so into it. She doesn’t fuck around between takes. She’s just ready to go with the next take.
Smith says he’s unsure what his next directing/writing project will be, which is a first. He’ll spend the next two months whittling Jersey Girl down to ‘fighting weight’ Also in the future is a 10th anniversary edition of Clerks as well as writing a Clerks cartoon. Smith says he’s also thought about writing a children’s book (he and his wife Jennifer have a young daughter, Harley Quinn). The college tours will surely continue, though he admits being scared of running out of material. Connecting with audiences shouldn’t be a problem.
‘I don’t think it’s about saying anything earth-shattering It’s just kind of talking about stuff that not a lot of people talk about, or it’s easier to stomach coming from me because I look like these folks,’ Smith says about public speaking, though the same thoughts could apply to his filmmaking. ‘I’m not that different. If you threw me into the audience, I would like the audience. It’s not like Affleck gets on a stage, it looks like that dude belongs in front of a crowd… I look like a dude that belongs sitting in a crowd.
‘I think it’s easy to relate to me because it’s very easy to make that substitution in your mind where you’re
sitting in the audience going, I could be this guy.’ All I have to do is fucking apply myself or be as lucky as him.’