Kevin Smith is an inspiration for any aspiring filmmaker. The New Jersey-born director/writer/actor has made six movies in less than a decade, starting with the seminal low-budget indie Clerks. Subsequent movies include Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, and now Jersey Girl. He talks in typically forthright fashion about his career to date...
Why did you become a director?
Because I wasn't much good at anything else, and oddly enough I'm not very good at this - but nobody seems to notice, so I get away with it. I'm not really a strong visual stylist and that's kind of called for in the job description, because it is all about putting visuals together, and I'm not really I interested in that. I'm more interested in character, story, and dialogue, so to that degree I could have done radio shows, but radio is not nearly as popular in my country as it is here. I imagine if I grew up in England, that's probably what I would have done.
If you weren't a filmmaker, what what you be?
If I wasn't a filmmaker I'd probably still be in that ******* convenience store - no doubt. I always assumed that one day I would have wound up owning a deli, because I can make a really good sandwich, but thankfully I haven't had to do that.
What other director would you like to see at work?
I would like to see a porn director at work, because how does one direct that? You know, is it like, "harder, faster"? I would like to see how one directs porn. But as for directors making real movies? I mean, it's kind of a monotonous process, although I would have liked to have seen Stanley Kubrick make a movie - just because Stanley Kubrick was such a weird guy, and very private. There's this documentary on The Shining DVD where, at one point, he blows up. And even at his most angry, he was still very reserved. So I think he would have been quite interesting to watch.
What was the last movie that you paid to see?
Last movie I paid to see was Kill Bill: Volume 2. Loved it, thought it was great. Definitely the best movie of the year so far.
What was the last movie you walked out of?
Last movie I walked out of... um... I might have to reach very far back for this and say The Flintstones. I got through about 20 minutes of that and I couldn't take it any more. And I'm a huge John Goodman fan, so that's saying a lot.
Do you believe in God?
Yeah, very much so. Proof of God is that I have a career.
What's your favourite movie quote?
Um, oh my goodness, I'm trying to think of the one that I use the most. You know, I guess that would be "Doctor Rosenrosen" - that's from Fletch. He goes "I'm Doctor Rosenrosen", and then he goes through a couple of variations of Rosen - I think he says "Rosenpenis" at one point. I use that quite a bit.
Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?
The most famous person would have to be either [Ben] Affleck, or Jennifer Lopez at this point, right? Because they became known throughout the galaxy because of that ******* relationship of theirs, haven't they?
Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?
Hold on, I'm thinking... It's just that I'm always thinking how some directors are so overrated - so who would be underrated? Cameron Crowe. I don't think he's rated as highly as he deserves.
And which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?
Easy, I mean how do you whittle that list down? Do you have an hour? Um, overrated? Me. I'll take the bullet on that one. Me, I'm the most overrated director.
What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?
Oh, the dumbest I've ever been asked was - and still stands, as, "Why would you cast Ben and Jen in a movie after Gigli?" And the answer to that is: Gigli wasn't Gigli when we cast them. So now, if somebody said, "Would you have cast them in your movie after Gigli, knowing what Gigli was?" No, of course, no. But most people ask under the assumption that I saw Gigli and thought that it would be a really good idea to put those two in another movie together. Silly.
Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?
The biggest pain in the arse I ever worked with... Linda Fiorentino. When we were making Dogma, the cast was working in a favoured nations type of affair where everyone was getting paid the same - scale, which is the minimum wage for the movie business. And we were all trapped out in Pittsburgh shooting this movie, which is the middle of nowhere, so whenever people had a few days off they would ask if they could go to New York, or back to Los Angeles, or elsewhere. I always said "sure", because why would I want to make anybody sit in Pittsburgh if they've got something else to do?
Linda, on the other hand, had to work every day on the movie because she was in every scene, so she really never got to leave and she got irritated when cast members would go elsewhere. She got really angry about that and asked me to do something about it. And I said, "What am I supposed to do? I mean, they want to go away and they're not working, so that's fine." And one day she stopped talking to me for a whole day, because she was so irritated by the fact that other people got to leave the set. That was kind of weird. The weirdest experience I had making a movie.
Do you believe in test screenings?
Only inasmuch as it's great to watch the movie with an audience. I don't believe in the process of filling out the cards and doing the focus group where they ask the very pointed questions about "what did you like?" and "what didn't you like?" and "what could we change?" S*** like that. But I do like sitting there and watching with an audience, because you get a feel for what works and what doesn't work, particularly if you're working with a comedy - so much so that you don't really need the cards. The cards muck up the process, and when they start breaking it down into percentages and whatnot, that's when the movie starts to suffer.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
"Be a filmmaker", which is what my sister said to me when I told her I wanted to be a filmmaker. She said, "So be a filmmaker" And I said, "Yeah. That's what I'm talking about." And she says, "well, just go out and be a filmmaker." And I said, "Yeah. That's what I want to do." And she says, "No. In your head, be a filmmaker. Like from this point on, you're a filmmaker. You're just a filmmaker who hasn't made a film yet." At first I thought, "What the **** is she talking about?" But actually it worked, it made sense. Suddenly, from that point onwards, I was like, "I am a filmmaker. I just happen not to have made a film yet."
And the worst?
Worst piece of advice was, um, "Dude, cast my girlfriend in the movie. She'll be awesome." I'm kidding! They [Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez] were not boyfriend and girlfriend at the time. You know, that's what a lot of people assume - that I cast them and knew they were dating. But they weren't. He called me up and was like, "I was thinking who would be good to play Gertrude: Jennifer Lopez." And I was like, "But you guys were just in a movie together." Because they had just done Gigli - wrapped it shortly before. And he said, "Well, yeah, we got along great and she's great in the movie, and I talked to her about this movie and she said she'd be way into it." And I was like, "All right!"
So we put it into motion and got Jennifer Lopez, and it was quite the coup. But he didn't express an interest in her romantically, or anything. He was just supportive of her as an actor, and then he showed up to the set a month before we start shooting, and they were dating. And I was like, "Ohhhh... no wonder he was so supportive. No wonder he wanted her to play his wife!" Suddenly it all made sense.
How seriously do you take reviews?
You know, unfortunately I tend to believe the bad reviews more than the good reviews. I should probably regard them both the same, which is... Whatever. It's one person's opinion. The problem with most reviews is that they're written in this authoritative voice that never states that it's an opinion. You're supposed to take for granted that it's an opinion, but they're always written as fact, or as mass opinion. I find that really irksome.
I know it might be taking up too much space to have them write "in my opinion" after every sentence, but you might want to throw it in there somewhere, because they come across as if they're speaking for the whole public. And they're really, really not. It's subjective, you know? For every guy who doesn't like the movie, I have another guy who does like the movie. Unfortunately the guy who does like the movie doesn't write for the newspaper.
What's your biggest regret?
You know, I don't have one yet. I still don't really have a regret. I mean, I regret the ****storm that surrounded our poor little movie because of their relationship, but I don't regret their relationship because they were quite a cute couple together, and really into one another. And I don't regret casting either one of them, because them being in the movie made the movie what it is. But I do regret the ****storm that surrounded their relationship and Gigli did wind up affecting us.
There are five minutes left till the end of the world - what do you do?
Get laid. Five times.
Which performer would you love to work with?
You know, I don't really have a wish list. I mean, I've been real happy with the people I've worked with, but if I could work with anyone, it would be Robert Shaw. But he's dead. The guy who played Quint in Jaws - I thought he was awesome.
What film makes you want to spit?
I've come to this conclusion now that I'll be a lot less angry about terrible movies if I just don't go to see them, you know? I don't know if a movie ever offended me on a personal level. There hasn't been a movie in a while that I saw and thought, "Oh, **** this! This is goddamn awful." There isn't one that leaps to mind.
What are your three favourite films and why?
A Man For All Seasons is my all-time favourite movie because it's like pornography for people who love language. It's just so chock-a-block with wonderful dialogue. The Last Temptation Of Christ because it's one of the only movies that examine Christ through a mortal scale, which I thought was really interesting and well done - and actually humanised a religious icon. JFK just because it's just so insanely well made, edited and shot. Jaws because it's so utterly watchable, over and over again. It's a movie that really made pluses of its deficits, because I mean the shark didn't work and they couldn't show it a lot, and it's a better movie because they couldn't show it. And Do The Right Thing because it's so well made from end to end, and it makes you laugh, and it makes you think.
What do you think of Norman Wisdom?