Caution: contains adult material. See standard disclaimer at the side.
Mary, myself and one of my colleagues from the 'paper had the great pleasure of attending a Kevin Smith Q&A on Saturday evening at the Bushnell in Hartford.
Mary and I love Smith's films – we thought "Jersey Girl" was just fine, too – and he is a pretty singular person in the American film scene.
Smith is among the show business people I call "working class." If he's not working on a film, he's working a comics script or blogging or lecturing or acting in someone else's production. Like other "working class" celebs, which includes people such as Bruce Campbell and Kathy Griffin, Smith seems honestly happy at the position he now has, but understands how he got there. And he is willing to do what it takes to keep it.
So while other directors speak to E News, he talks directly to his fans. He is just being a Jersey boy who still revels in his ability to make a movie, something he clearly loves doing.
The Smith lectures – actually lengthy interviews by his audiences – are not just popular as a live attraction, but have now been the subject of three collections on DVD.
Now while any subject is fair game at these events and while some people would sniff that John Ford or Orson Welles or even Roger Corman would do something like this, much less would speak of the size of his johnson, it's not the lewdness that attracts the audiences. It's the honesty and accessibility. Personally I would have loved to have been in a room with the three aforementioned directors and been able to ask oddball questions – "Ford, why did you think bullying an actor would result in a better performance?" "Welles, did your career suffer because you believed your own publicity?" "Corman, did you ever get guilty of exploiting cheap labor?"
But I digress.
Smith's nearly three-hour performance in Hartford was hugely entertaining. He plays with his fans as much as they try to outrage him or stump him or perhaps even shock him.
I stood in the question line as I was on a mission. When I told my pal Steve Bissette I was going I suggested that he ask the students at the Center for Cartoon Studies – the school at which he teaches – to put together a care package for Smith of their work and I would do my level best to get it to him. Steve responded with a 20 pound package – if felt that heavy – and in the interest of self promotion I slipped in a copy of my book "Escape!"
I was the 12th person to approach the mic, right after a women who collects lip prints. She takes an unopened tube of lipstick, paints your lips, have you kiss a post it note and then sign it. Smith said yes to her request and spend a good part of the evening trying to wipe it off.
This wasn't my first time seeing Smith. I got an autograph in 1997 when I was covering the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) in Las Vegas. I told Smith I showed "Clerks" in my film class at Western New England College and he seemed to be pleased.
So when it my turn I asked him a question and told him I had an obligation to fulfill. As he had mentioned his next project "Red State," I asked how critical the grosses were on his previous project when he was seeking funding for a new one. I whipped out my handy MP3 recorder and flipped it on.
Smith explained the theatrical box office is never that great, but because his film are low-budget, they usually make money. "On video though that's where we fucking shine. We kill and that's what people look at."
Since "Red State" is not being financed by the Weinstein brothers, he said they are looking at outside investors and one of the things they did to prepare was to compile a list of his films and their theatrical and home video grosses.
"Say what you will about the flicks I've made, but apparently I have an audience that is good for 24 to 30 million bucks. And they will follow me wherever I go," he said.
He added that he has been criticized for having a loyal fan base, which perplexes him as isn't building an audience something everyone in show business wants.
"I find my business life reflects my personal life as nobody has ever said, 'Oh my God, you're so fucking attractive, so hot, so thin, so cut. You're so the perfect embodiment of male-dom. But people have said, 'Hey, made me come.' And that's what I think about my box-office. I've never made 100 million bucks...people keep coming back to me. And they do and that's all right with me," he said.
"So I don't have the sexy thing going for me, but I've got the reliable thing going for me. I'm reliable."
Smith appreciates the concept of longevity as he noted he has been making movies for 16 years and "I'm not talented...i just want to do it [make films] until I die and based on how I eat it might be any minute."
Making films, he said is like "being paid to be a kid."
Well I then gave him his bag of booty from the students – and me – which he seemed genuinely pleased to accept.
The only other director which I wish to would do a similar kind of event is John Waters, Both of these men are much more interesting to me than many mainstream directors who shepherd $100 million projects into the theaters because what they do is so personal and, yet unlike so many other indie types, are without pretense.
God bless 'em.
© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs