An Interview with Kevin Smith
Before Kevin Smith made the groundbreaking Clerks (1994), he attended film school and made a short documentary about a transsexual in Vancouver. Smith is currently on the road with his latest film Yoga Hosers, the second film of his Canadian trilogy. Yoga Hosers is being released on July 29 by Invincible Pictures, who are sponsoring the tour in select cities including Houston.
It seems the Great White North has been a constant in Smith’s career. “I went to film school in 1992. Scott Mosier [Smith’s producer on many of his films] and I did a documentary called Mae Day. She agreed to do a documentary with us about her experience as she made her transition. We were one of four documentaries that year chosen in our class at Vancouver Film School out of twenty student projects. We shot her performances at a place called Doll & Pennys, which I don’t think exists anymore. When it came time to do the on camera interview stuff she flaked on us. We had no subject, we were going to get a failing grade,” says Smith in a phone interview with Free Press Houston.
“We made a last minute change and made a documentary about how our documentary fell apart.” The ten-minute short subject can be found on the Tenth Anniversary Clerks DVD. They used to show it to incoming classes as an example of filmmaking. “I think they have since had a far more successful and famous graduate than I at the Vancouver Film School,” says Smith modestly. “Neil Blomkamp who did District 9 came out of that school as well. That was us, me and Mosier in 1992 trying to accomplish something and failing miserably.”
Smith cracks wise about his influence on indie filmmaking but there is little doubt that Clerks spawned multitudes of do-it-yourself filmmakers to seize the day. We joke that Canada keeps calling Smith back. Yoga Hosers (2016), along with Tusk (2014) and the upcoming Moose Jaws, form his Canadian trilogy. Because of budgeting, the first film Tusk was shot in North Carolina.
“I fell in love with Canada when my parents took us to Niagara Falls, I was five-years-old. My parents had honeymooned there. Years later I was able to figure out – at one point they sent me, my brother and sister up in a helicopter over Niagara Falls. I’m convinced to this day and age that my father was like ‘Let’s go fuck in the public bathroom,’” says Smith. “They were on their Honeymoon Reunion Tour.”
Smith admits that the Canadian films are his masturbatory films because he likes them but nobody else does. Yet I think Smith has entered into a much more refined, satirical and mature part of his career starting with Red State (2011) and Tusk and now the zany spoof Yoga Hosers.
“These are like the movies that I grew up watching. Tusk was my From Beyond or Re-Animator. Yoga Hosers is like a kind of full moon movie. I used to say Clueless meets Gremlins but it’s probably not Gremlins so much as Ghoulies.”
“There’s one more movie in the trilogy called Moose Jaws,” says Smith. “It’s just Jaws but with a moose instead of a shark. That will bring me full circle. The first film I ever saw was Jaws. One of the nice things about this trilogy is you never have to worry that there’s a competing version. Like ‘Oh man, somebody made another movie with one-foot tall Nazis made of bratwurst.’ Hey it’s not Batman vs. Superman, which isn’t necessarily a compliment.”
Tusk follows the trail of a misanthropic podcast host (Justin Long) who travels to Manitoba in search of weird subject material. Long gets his comeuppance when the subject of his interview (Michael Parks) takes him prisoner and turns him, with the aid of surgery, into a walrus. Perhaps the biggest surprise is a French Canadian detective, Guy LaPointe, hired by Long’s friends to find him. Johnny Depp plays LaPointe but you don’t recognize him until the end credits because he’s disguised to such an extent as to make him unrecognizable. Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose play femme clerks in Tusk and also reunite as the stars of Yoga Hosers.
About Tusk Smith says: “That movie is so beyond bizarre, it shouldn’t exists, it came off of a podcast. It was an I-think-I-can-little-engine of a story. I literally knew that nobody else would make a film about a guy who turns someone into a walrus. I just wanted to see this movie. That’s how Clerks came into being. I just wanted to see Clerks; I didn’t want to make it I just wanted it to exist. Let me make a creepy kind of Hammer horror film that I would’ve watched when I first got cable TV in 1981 or something.
“The weirdest thing about it is that Johnny Depp is in it. Every minute you watch it you can’t believe it’s happening, it’s very improbable, I can’t believe this movie exists. Holy crap he did turn him into a walrus. Yoga Hosers is one-hundred-eighty degrees from that in the sense that you’re watching cable and you switched from Showtime to The Movie Channel,” says Smith.
“My daughter is in it, and it’s age appropriate. She’s sixteen and she plays a sixteen-year-old. We showed it to some of her friends and some of her friends are like ‘I’ve never seen a movie like that.’ Are you kidding me? They made thousands of these movies in the ‘80s.”
There’s a line in Tusk spoken by Parks: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
“That was a Hemingway quote I found online when I was writing Tusk. And then it opens this weird narrative thread where the Parks’ character says he met Hemingway, and you don’t know it he’s telling the truth or not based on where the movie keeps going,” says Smith.
“What I like about Tusk is that it’s a movie about the dangers of storytelling. I mentioned Jaws was the first film I saw. My favorite part about that film, that has a large rubber monster shark, the thing that captured my imagination the most was a scene where nothing happens but an old man [Robert Shaw] sits at a table and tells a story about the USS Indianapolis. There’s no flashback. They don’t cut to a young Shaw on the water with sharks taking people out. It’s literally just a guy telling a story. It’s the same-old, same-old that we’ve been experiencing as storytellers from the dawn of time. Somebody telling you something that happened. Sure you can have all these great images. At the end of the day ultimately it comes down to tell me a story. Nobody’s a better filmmaker than your own brain. You tell somebody a story and they build it in their head. And that’s Tusk, it takes the weight off me as a filmmaker and makes the audience part of the equation.
“J.J. Abrams saw Jaws and became J.J. Abrams. I saw Jaws and became Kevin Smith. I don’t know how that happened.”
Smith recalled his first time in Houston when he and Mosier presented Clerks at the 1994 edition of Worldfest Houston. “It’s where I found my voice,” claims Smith. The two had been presenting Clerks before film festival audiences from the start of that year beginning with the ’94 Sundance Film Festival. “We would do Q&As after the first few screenings but it was in Houston that I really felt comfortable with my rapport with the audience.” Worldfest at that time took place at the now defunct Greenway 3 Theatres.
Smith describes how he and Mosier bolted after the Q&A to go smoke cigarettes. They were behind a partition and overheard a couple talking as they left the auditorium. One of them asked the other what they thought. “I thought the movie sucked but I really liked the fat guy talking at the end.”
Smith admits that he’s “into a weird different film making phase of my career. I like weird. When I was a kid I loved Buckaroo Banzai because it was so weird but nobody else got it.” Smith is also currently developing a television series reboot of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension for MGM.
“This is my dream of being a filmmaker. You make your art and you schlep it to the people. I got lucky. First thing Clerks got picked up and someone else was paying the bills to take it to festivals. With Red State we had to take it on tour to make the money back. That was just combining two things I already do: make movies and go on stage and talk. Let me put the two together, here’s my new movie and afterwards we talk about it,” says Smith.
“Red State only had twenty screenings in the US, not including Sundance. I was at every screening of that movie. I watched the audience react to every twist and turn. It’s a weird collective experience and then you get up and start talking about the movie, and more importantly try to get the audience to make their own statement. Their own self-expression. It’s the way I felt when I watched Richard Linklater’s Slacker. This guy made a film that wasn’t in New York, that wasn’t in LA. No fucking stars, there wasn’t even a main character. This thing goes all over the place. This guy can sing his song in Texas and I’m going to sing my song in New Jersey,” says Smith.
At the 1997 SXSW, Smith joined an incredible line-up on a director’s panel that included George Huang, Mike Judge, Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino. Smith quipped to the audience: “If a bomb goes off here today Henry Jaglom is the new king of independent filmmaking.”
Kevin Smith will present Yoga Hosers at the Houston Improv (7620 Katy Fwy #455, next to the Edwards Marq’e Theater) on Monday, June 6. The show is 18 & over with tickets priced at $37.
— Michael Bergeron