"I was working in a convenience store, and I made a movie about working at a convenience store, and then suddenly I never had to work in a convenience store ever again," says writer-director Kevin Smith about Clerks, the 1994 indie hit that launched his career. "They paid me to make pretend for a living and life changed. It was amazing."
Twenty years later, Smith is an indie icon and prolific podcaster who is staying true to his indie roots with his new movie Tusk, a kooky and probably cultish horror comedy with a plot line that reads like a punchline: a podcaster in search of a story falls into the clutches of a mysterious seafarer who wants to turn him into a walrus. Um, doesn't exactly sound like box office gold, but then again neither did Clerks and Smith has a lot to say about that. . .
Bio and our partners at Beyond Cinema caught up with the down-to-earth dude auteur at the Toronto Film Festival where he spewed an awesome stream of consciousness about the making of his new movie, the power of the hashtag and why he likes doing it the hard way. Here's what the self-described "fat asshole" (his words, not ours!) had to say. . .
On the Birth of a Walrus Horror Movie
"We did this podcast episode of SModcast called, "The Walrus and the Carpenter," Episode 259. We read the story online at [the classifieds] website GumTree.uk. There was a guy offering a room for rent and in exchange all you had to do was dress up like a walrus for, like, two hours a day. You couldn't talk like a human. You throw fish and crabs and stuff. It captured my imagination, me and Scott Mosier, the guy I do Smodcast with. So we started building this dopey little horror movie, not intending to make it. . .You can listen [to the podcast]. It's about a half-hour long discussion where you can hear me just fall deeper and deeper in love with the idea of a movie about a guy who turns another guy into a walrus."
On Making a Movie No One Else Would
"[In “The Walrus and the Carpenter” podcast] I also get sad because nobody's ever gonna make the movie. You can hear me getting incensed, like, 'Why won't somebody make this?' This is just as stupid as 'The Birds.' 'The Birds' worked. Why wouldn't this work? And then, I remembered I was a filmmaker. I said, ‘Maybe, I'll try it myself.’ So, I put it out to the podcast audience: 'If you think this sounds like a cool thing, hashtag on Twitter, #WalrusYes. If you think it's stupid, #WalrusNo and I'll drop it here. The next day, there were thousands of #WalrusYes’s, and there was only one #WalrusNo. And the #WalrusNo guy was like, ‘I feel like, I should say 'No' for the democratic process.’ So there was a lot of support for it, which doesn't really mean much on the Internet. They'll support any stupid ass thing. Particularly, if I'm, like, 'I wanna make a movie about a guy who turns a guy into a walrus.' They're like, 'Do it. Because if it works, great, and if it fails, we get to watch.' So, there was enough sentiment of, ‘Yeah, give it a shot.’ And that was just the boost I needed."
On Making YOUR Miracle Happen
"The other thing that really got to me was that people listened to that podcast. And there are some cats who are trying to make their miracle happen, right? They don't understand how to take the journey, let alone the single step. They talk about the journey of a million miles begins with a single step. But they never tell you,‘The first step is the most impossible f*#king step you'll ever take in your life'. . .there are a lot of people who stop right there. I saw reaction to that podcast, and this is what really captured my heart. There were three people who essentially said, ‘Is that how it's done?,’ because they just heard us sit there and make up stuff. . .It was a window into a process that some people don't have."
On Self-Deprecating Reinvention
"I've been doing this for 20 years, man. You've gotta reinvent the job periodically. Make yourself interesting. That aspect of it was interesting to me, where I could open source the movie and show them how it's all done. So that way someone else sitting out there [can say], ‘If this fat asshole can make a movie about a guy who turns a guy into a walrus, and he's got no talent whatsoever, I can chase my dream as well.’"
On How “Tusk” Is Like “Clerks”
“Clerks was a moment in my life where I was like, ‘I wanna see a movie about me and my friends.’ I never see our lives or style represented in the cinema. I was like, ‘Why won't someone make a movie about me and my friends.’ And then I realized: ‘Dude, nobody gives a sh*t about you and your friends. Nobody's ever going to make a movie about you and your friends, unless you do it.' And so, one day, I did it. And it changed my life. [With Tusk] just like the Clerks moment I was like, 'Dude, nobody gives a f*#k about this walrus movie.' Nobody's ever going to make a movie about a guy who turns another guy into a walrus, unless you do it. . . and that took me right back to Clerks. Suddenly, the end was the beginning again.”
On the Horror Comedy Genre & Who Does It Best
"Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's Shaun of the Dead is one of the greatest films ever made about a relationship. You know, it's all about how you have to kill off your best friend and your mother in order to have a normal relationship with somebody. So they did it in the context of a recognizable horror movie, but it actually f*#king works. They call it the zom-com or whatever, but that movie for me is a real benchmark in terms of blending the styles. But going even further back, it's got to be [John] Landis and American Werewolf in London. When I was a kid, I would see that movie and it was horrifying, but periodically, there was a stop and some jokes. Even the dead guy picked up a Mickey Mouse doll. Stuff like that played for me and let out the tension."
On the Benefits of Swimming Upstream
"For a while, I just started doing what other people did. Or what's popular? What's marketable? You know. . .let's do what everyone else is doing. And that's not how I got here. I got here by swimming upstream. Clerks was a big swim upstream, and it got me into the pond. So I think I have to continue always swimming upstream. That's what I'm meant to do. I'm not meant to take the easy path. The path of least resistance is just not for me. It's always gotta be something that's a little more interesting. Because if it's interesting for me, then it'll translate in the work. But if it's not interesting, if it's easy for me, it's never gonna translate in the work."