For many, Kevin Smith is a filmmaker who once upon a time made great movies while others have stuck by his side through thick and thin. With the well-reviewed Clerks III wrapping up the story 30 years in the making, it is time we take a look back at one of the most iconic careers in independent film history and we find out just WTF Happened to Kevin Smith.
But as always we must begin at the beginning and the beginning began for Kevin Smith on August 2, 1970 in Red Bank, New Jersey. Smith has said that seeing his father struggle with his job working at the post office made him vow to never work a job that he hated, but never really thought there was a future for someone like him in the film industry despite his love for movies. Smith would make friends with people such as future Comic Book Men Bryan Johnson and Walt Flanagan in high school and the three of them would work together at the local youth center where Johnson and Flanagan would tell Smith about this kid who would come into the center, perform fake sexual acts on all of the equipment before sitting down to read a comic book. At first Smith was jealous of this new person, as he felt he was the funny one in the group and didn’t like this person encroaching on his territory. One day this person, not realizing that Smith was friends with Johnson and Flanagan and not him, showed up at his house unannounced and asked “what are we doing today?” Smith tried to tell him that they weren’t friends, but this person didn’t really get it and continued to ask what they were going to do. And thus began the lifelong, and lucrative, friendship of Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes or as most people better know them: Jay and Silent Bob.
A great movie can change lives and for Kevin Patrick Smith, that movie happened to be Richard Linklater’s seminal cult classic Slacker. Smith said it was this film that showed him that movies could be made anywhere, not just on Hollywood sound stages. He credits it with lighting the fuse in him to be a filmmaker, something he had always wanted to do but never thought possible. He would enroll at the Vancouver Film School where he would meet Scott Mosier.
But Smith wasn’t really happy at the school, he felt spending all of that money to learn how to make films could be better spent on actually making films. So after just a few short months, Smith decided to leave the school and head back to New Jersey. Before leaving, he and Mosier made a pact: whoever writes a script first, the other one must drop everything to go help them get it made. Well, it just so happens that when Smith moved back to Jersey, he took his old job working at a local convenience store and he would use the exploits of working in that store as the basis for his first feature length script titled Inconvenience, or as it would later be retitled: Clerks.
The story of Clerks is one of the most revered stories in all of independent cinema. Smith, an avid comic book collector, sold his entire collection to help fund his debut while also maxing out every credit card he owned. This would result in a budget of $27,575. In todays world, you could definitely shoot a movie like Clerks for way under that budget by utilizing digital technology, but back in the early 90’s, if you wanted to make a movie, you needed to purchase film stock, and film stock aint cheap! Smith would save money by hiring a cast and crew of his friends and would film the movie in the middle of the night after he had worked a full days shift in the store. The result would be one of the biggest and most respected independent films ever released.
With the success of Clerks, Smith was courted by the major studios leading him to make his highly anticipated follow up Mallrats at Universal Studios with a budget over $5 million. Despite the movie being absolutely hilarious, it seemed like regular audiences just weren’t ready for the humor of Kevin Smith as it only managed $2.1 million in total at the box office. Once Mallrats hit home video though, it exploded, developing a cult following as it was one of the earlier roles of Ben Affleck and was a Cinematic Universe before that was even a thing as the events in Mallrats would directly reference those from Clerks.
The failure of Mallrats hit Smith pretty hard and for his next film he went back to his indie roots where he would secure a budget of just $500,000 to film Chasing Amy which would reunite his Mallrats stars Jason Lee, Ben Affleck and Smith’s former girlfriend Joey Lauren Adams. It would seem smaller budgets is where Smith truly shines as Chasing Amy would gross over $12 million at the box office while it would be critically lauded with Smith winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay. And of course he was hired to right that infamous Nic Cage Superman film that never happened…
By this point Smith had gotten into producing movies, mainly just helping his friends get their work made. This included his now good friend Ben Affleck who had written a script with his pal Matt Damon that would win them and Oscar. Yep, Kevin Smith was vital to getting Good Will Hunting made! Of course Smith would capitalize on their friendship and cast Damon and Affleck in his next film, Dogma about two fallen angels who employ a loophole to get back into heaven. This would be Smith’s first brush with the craziness that is people protesting one of his movies because they don’t understand, well, anything, as the film received heavy picketing by members of the Catholic church who called the film blasphemous. Those same members who are so righteous would also send Smith death threats. The film would gross nearly $50 million off a $10 million budget and would return Smith to the Independent Spirit Awards where he was nominated for Best Screenplay.
After doing an uncredited rewrite of the 2000 film Coyote Ugly in which only one of his lines made it into the final cut, with Jay and Silent Bob having a cameo in Scream 3, and the short lived Clerks The Animated Series, Smith would bring the iconic supporting characters he created to the forefront with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) which would work as a capper to his View Askewniverse, with an after credits screen literally closing the book on it. The film would be given a hefty $22 million budget but could only secure around $34 million in worldwide receipts. Despite the film being the culmination of his work up to that point, Smith says that it was one of the hardest movies he ever made as at the time his hetero life mate Jason Mewes was in the severest clutches of addiction with Mewes having mood swings and bouts of severe anger. Smith said that once filming wrapped, he told Mewes that he needed to get sober or he would never speak to him again, to which Mewes did! He has had a few bumps in the road along the way, but nothing like his addictions back during the making of the film and as of today Mewes has celebrated over 12 years of sobriety.
After scoring a cameo in his buddy Ben Affleck’s Daredevil movie, Smith would bring the power couple of Affleck and Jennifer Lopez together on the big screen for his first PG13 rated directorial effort titled Jersey Girl. Despite the film featuring two of the biggest stars on the planet whose relationship was splashed across every tabloid newspaper, the movie would suffer from being released not long after the couples disastrous pairing in Gigli. The movie is actually a very sweet tale of a father who suffered a horrific loss and has to pick up the pieces not just for himself but for his daughter as well and I think it just got lost in the shuffle of the Affleck/ J Lo media frenzy. Smith has teased an extended cut of the film saying he hopes to release it one day, and that its one I would like to see as I think it was unfairly maligned when it was released.
2006 would be a pretty big year for Smith as he would appear in Richard Kelly’s infamous bomb Southland Tales and opposite Jennifer Garner in Catch and Release, but the biggest Smith release of 2006 would be his first sequel, Clerks II. Not only is it absolutely hilarious with the same type of biting dialog you’d expect from a Clerks sequel, but it also successfully hits you in the heart towards the end of the film which is quite the feat considering the horrendously grotesques shit that goes down in this flick! Clerks II would receive some pre-release headlines when it both received an 8 minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival and received some rough criticism from critic Joel Siegel who reportedly walked out of a press screening for the film in a very rude and obtrusive way so that everyone could see him while proclaiming in his 30 years of reviewing movies he had never walked out of a film. Smith would call him out for his behavior online and in person when he appeared on the Opie and Anthony show in which Siegel did apologize for his behavior and called Smith a fine filmmaker while standing by his criticism of the film. Clerks II, which originally carried the title The Passion of the Clerks, cost $5 million to make, or roughly 165 times the cost of the original film, was a decent box office hit pulling in nearly $27 million worldwide.
At this point, despite Smith becoming a legend in the R rated movie field, it would seem a new breed of R rated comedy was becoming popular. The types of films helmed by Judd Apatow such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. So Smith decided to write a film that was still distinctively his, while trying to incorporate some of that Apatow style. The result was 2008’s Zack & Miri Make a Porno starring Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks. This was the film Smith thought would bring him to that first place opening and a $100 million total gross. But after a bumpy marketing campaign that saw many of the main channels refuse to advertise a movie with the word Porno in the title, the film opened in second place with just $10.7 million on its way to a $42.8 million worldwide gross. For Smith, the failure of this movie severely depressed him, not only did it fail to make an impact with mainstream audiences, he felt like he had ruined Seth Rogan’s career. But even more, Smith felt that producer Harvey Weinstein, who had stood behind Smith for all of his film sup to that point, had turned his back on Smith and the film and it soured his relationship with the movie mogul. I guess in hindsight that really wasn’t such a bad thing to have some distance from Harvey Weinstein!
Smith would then do something he never thought he’d do: direct a film he didn’t write for a major studio. After having a cameo in the Bruce Willis lead Live Free or Die Hard, Smith and Willis would reunite for a script titled A Couple of Dicks that would ultimately be retitled Cop Out after Smith thought it was a Cop Out to change the original title. Sadly this was a case of never work with your idols as Smith has recounted in many an interview how much he absolutely hated working with Bruce Willis saying that Willis just did not want to be there. There were counter claims made that at the time Smith was smoking too much weed and wasn’t as involved as a director should be, to which Smith countered saying that when he smokes that is when he actually works much harder. The duo would ultimately bury the hatchet years and years later, but not before Cop Out would sputter at the box office with just $55.4 million against a budget of $30 million before marketing costs. It was at this moment Smith realized that his movies just were never meant to be huge moneymakers. He has his audience and those are the people who will pay to see a Kevin Smith movie.
That same year, 2010, Smith would turn his gift for gab, something he had perfected over the years with his sold out live Q&A’s, into one of the most successful Podcast empire’s when he launch a new weekly podcast titled SMODcast alongside his good pal Scott Mosier. Not only would that weekly chit chat spawn one of the biggest Podcast networks around, spawning several successful weekly shows, but it would also bring forth new movie ideas.
In 2011, Smith would return to Sundance to sell his newest project. A film that returned him to his humble low budget roots, but one that was a complete left turn for smith. It was a horror film loosely based on the once headline grabbing Westboro Baptist Church titled Red State. The film, and Smith himself, would garner a lot of headlines and the ire of the studios when he pretended to hold an auction after its Sundance screening for potential studios to bid on the film. Smith, standing in front of the theater bought the film for $1 for his newly formed Smodco Productions. Many film buyers did not appreciate the ruse Smith had done, saying that he had wasted their time knowing he had no intention of selling the movie and that the speech he gave came off as very self righteous and almost like he had forgotten his what had made him the independent king all this years ago. For his part, Smith took the film on a roadshow where he would do a live Q&A after screening the film for fans. This was a direct result of his disillusionment with studios. He figured instead of spending double a films budget on marketing, he could just market to his fans and recoup any minuscule budget he had. And it worked! These roadshow’s were able to pay back all financing for the film and then some.
After writing Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie, Smith would continue with his off beat films with a story of a Podcaster who gets turned into a walrus. The film was a direct result of his SMODcast where he and Mosier discussed an article where someone offered a free place to live as long as the owner could dress then like a walrus. Tusk, featuring an unrecognizable performance by Johnny Depp, would premiere at the Toronto Film Festival where it would win runner up Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award and has gained a cult following in the years since its release with Smith recently saying he is ready to roll cameras on a sequel. Tusk would introduce two convenience store workers played by his daughter Harley Quinn and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily Rose. Smith, wanting to give his daughter her own feature film would write Yoga Hosers about the duo. This one would feature everything from a young Austin Butler to something called Bratzi’s, which as you expect were little Nazi Bratwursts that were played by Smith himself! For critics and Smith’s long time loyal fans, the movie represented a step too far with little to no redeeming value. Rather than becoming a cult classic, it has largely been forgotten.
Smith would take some time off from making movies to focus on his podcasts and live shows. On the evening of February 25, 2018, Smith was recording two shows for EPIX when in between the shows Smith laid down on the ground as he wasn’t feeling well. After being rushed to the hospital it was reported, by Smith himself the very next day, that he had suffered a massive heart attack that kills 90% of people who have them. From that day forward, Smith would join his daughter as a Vegan and he would begin chronicling his hikes in Runyan Canyon. If you look at pictures of Smith from when he first came on the scene to how he looks today, he is a completely different person. And it would seem that Smith would begin to reassess his life. He missed making movies, so he would begin writing a new film in his View Askewniverse, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot would release in 2019 and parody the recent craze of rebooting and sequalizing old properties. He would again take the film on the road, marketing directly to his fans and that plan worked as the film would secure the second highest per screen average of 2019. Of course he would follow that up with a movie called Killroy Was Here that I don’t know a single person who has seen it because for some insane reason it was released strictly as an NFT, the first feature length film to ever be released that way.
But the biggest effect the heart attack had on his professional career was: Smith had written a script for Clerks III a few years back, one that he says he is thankful they never made because it didn’t feel like a Clerks movie. I guess that is why Jeff Anderson refused to make the film. After his heart attack, Smith completely rewrote the script to focus on how having a heart attack changes a person. That was enough to get Jeff Anderson, who plays Randall, to sign on and in 2022 we were gifted Clerks III. The film worked as a send off of a beloved character
while again giving us that great dialog that comes with a Clerks film. Of course for some, new school Smith movies just couldn’t match up to their older counter parts, but for many film fans out there, Clerks III was an excellent capper to a series of films that have been very close to many of us over the years because of what they represent, and that is the fact that if you have a dream and you work hard towards that dream, you can turn your hard work and money into a lifetime of great memories, a filmography that is cherished by many and a legion of loyal fans whose lives he has changed by simply being himself. Kevin Smith is not just the guy who made Clerks or even the guy who made Yoga Hosers, he is the guy who tells his fans that they can achieve anything they set their minds and hearts to. Smith may have slowed his output in recent years, but he hasn’t slowed down. You can still catch him at live shows around the country where he tells great stories about his over 30 year career in the entertainment industry, including finally seeing his version of Nicolas Cage’s Superman up on the big screen! And that is why no one should give a F what happened to Kevin Smith because Kevin Smith is doing just fine!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/wtf-happened-to-kevin-smith/