We’re going to be here until midnight,” warned Kevin Smith, looking youthful as he grabbed the microphone on a brutally cold night in Colorado Springs. It was the beginning of his second annual “An Evening With” at the Fine Arts Center. The audience was there to profess their fandom or ask him a myriad of questions from two microphones placed in the left and right aisles.
The questions opened with “Who’s your favorite superhero?” This was answered in the form of a 55-minute monologue about The Flash and his time on the new series. He said it was bizarre to see them do the practical and not-so-special effect of the titular hero running fast, called “zooping” in the script.
My wife patiently waited two hours to ask, “Are you watching the new Degrassi?” This spiraled into a half-hour tangent. The answer was, for those on the edge of their seats, no, but he seemed willing to revisit. A few years earlier, Smith guest starred on the show as a single and dastardly version of himself. The script had him kiss a female lead, a lead he buried when explaining to his wife the need for him to fly to Canada and film the show.
I leaned forward in my seat at a question from a young fan who was initially excited, but then seemed to be drawing in upon himself in nervousness. He wanted to know how to go from watching television and movies to making a living from creating them, a question Smith patiently eased out of the fan. “Well, if you’re reading a lot of books, you’re a bookworm…you could become a T.V. and movie worm,” Smith joked, then turned serious. “The difference between those people on screen and yourself is that they don’t ask themselves that question. You start doing it…and the worst that can happen is that people don’t like your stuff…but you still get to keep doing it.”
Regarding Hollywood, he said, “They’re not going to come to you.” He told a story within a story about how he started, inspired by a screening of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, driven by an I-Can-Do-That too spirit and ignorance, “Linklater’s a f***ing genius.”
I LEANED FORWARD IN MY SEAT AT A QUESTION FROM A YOUNG FAN WHO WAS INITIALLY EXCITED, BUT THEN SEEMED TO BE DRAWING IN UPON HIMSELF IN NERVOUSNESS. HE WANTED TO KNOW HOW TO GO FROM WATCHING TELEVISION AND MOVIES TO MAKING A LIVING FROM CREATING THEM, A QUESTION SMITH PATIENTLY EASED OUT OF THE FAN.
Smith thought he could do something similar in his hometown of Red Bank. He quit film school, “I did what I always did…” and went back to work at the convenience store of his past, but asked his bosses if he could make a movie on the site.
Smith also does various self-produced podcasts, which include nightmarish tales of ego-inflated producers when trying to make a Tim Burton directed Superman Lives starring Nicolas Cage. That concept never made it to film, but the story of its failure is interesting and he doesn’t shy from telling it. He was also interviewed about it in the great documentary, The Death of Superman Lives.
Keeping himself in check as a human and self-deprecating, Smith points out his imperfections without dispute, perhaps because he was in the trenches of pre-internet geekdom. Personally, I remember before the wave of decent superhero movies and the social media/gaming culture shift, it wasn’t easy for people with a good vocabulary and a penchant for knowing the names of creatives. Being a geek wasn’t a badge of honor that got you laid at Coachella, and if you said you read Jurassic Park when you were 11, like I did, you were derided by the meatier headed ones and their tittering tribes of brainwashed toadies.
A memory from the 90s: After junior high drudgery, my friend Adam, whom I bonded with over mutual adulation of Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Burton’s Batman, played the VHS of the movie Clerks. I loved it; every rant felt like an enhanced reality. These were the same ridiculous discussions I had in a comic book store called The Incredible Pulp, its denizens given life by a guy from New Jersey. It was complete with inappropriate (but f***ing necessary) language. Even the production company name, View Askew, suggested a literary albeit vulgar mind and I looked forward to what was next.
Since Clerks debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in the winter of 1994, Smith has heard it all. Some love his efforts and others may write him off or misunderstand him, but he doesn’t stop.
Kevin Smith gave vulgar and vitriolic voice to working class frustrations and put the unpopular in the spotlight. We all have voices, some yet to be used, and Kevin Smith champions our uniqueness: “Only you can tell your story.”
by Josh Rotunda