When 21-year-old Kevin Smith decided he wanted to be a filmmaker, his sister gave him some advice: "Don't say you want to be a filmmaker; just be one." So he did. He made his first film, Clerks, on a shoestring, shooting at the convenience store where he worked.
Smith has gone on to have a long and quirky career; his films, including Chasing Amy and Dogma, bear his unmistakable imprimatur — the black humor, the verbose slacker genius characters. But Smith, who has already garnered a huge following with his podcasts, says he is taking his ideas — and career — into "other arenas."
He explains his decision to leave directing in a new book, Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good. Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep talks to Smith about the book and about the evolution of his filmmaking career.
On leaving filmmaking behind
"You know, for me it was never about, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. ... I was just like, 'You know what, man, I've got this audience, and they like the films, but they like when I do Q&As as well. They just like whatever I do.' So the audience made me feel safe enough to step away from filmmaking. It's weird — you feel conflicted as an artist, right? You want an audience, but ideally, you don't want them to have to pay for what you do. You want to give it away. That's where the podcasting came from. I was like, this is a way we can just give it away for free. And the podcasting — I swear to you — on its worst day, the podcasts are better than our best films. Because they're more imaginative, and there's no artifice, and it's far more real."
On the possibility of becoming someone who is just famous for being famous
"I guess there's the kind of Kim Kardashian version of that, where it's just like, ugh, she's kind of known for being herself. But to be fair, one of the greatest reality shows we ever watch in this country is about the president. He leads it every day, and we seem interested in that. So he's the opposite end of the spectrum. So I feel like I fall somewhere between the president and Kim Kardashian. And that's an OK place to be, man. It's a lot further than I ever thought I'd get as a fat kid, I'll tell you that much."
On becoming a filmmaker
"I was 21, I saw Richard Linklater's film Slacker, and it moved me. I said, if this guy can tell stories about his people in Nowheresville, USA (which turned out to be Austin, Texas) ... I said, this is what I want to do. ... I think so many of us, we get the golden ticket, and we're like, we're just going to do this until we go toes up off this planet. But for me, it was like, I want to tell these stories."
On telling his own kind of story
"I'd see movies, comedies, and I loved Animal House, I loved all the John Hughes stuff, but I never saw me and my friends totally represented. Our wackiness [and] adventures weren't cinematic. You know, it wasn't like, 'We're taking on the dean!' It was more like, 'We're going to sit around and talk about Star Wars for like way too many hours, without booze or drugs.' Like, that becomes the booze and drugs. So I said, 'Let me create that.' And then I went out and made Clerks and stuff, and those movies now — throw a rock, you hit a movie like that."
On wanting a life different from his father's
"My father didn't have the luxury of going, at a certain point 20 years into his career, 'I'm going to change horses midstream.' He had one job — he worked at the U.S. Postal Service. And we were so proud of him, because he never shot anybody. You know what I'm saying? One of the few postal clerks who ever made it through the system without going postal. ... Alright, one of the many. But he hated the job. He absolutely hated it. ... I watched my father kind of wake up and not want to go to work, and I just said, 'I don't want to do that. I'll work, but that work has got to be something that I like.' With film, I did that for a while, and film was like a slot machine, if you find the right one. And boy, did we, with Miramax and Clerks and Harvey Weinstein."
On Harvey Weinstein, who bought Smith's first film and guided his career
"The relationship I had with Harvey was definitely more like that father-son relationship that you read about in literature and whatnot. I love him to death, but, yeah, I definitely had some issues along the way. ... I was an idealist. I was a young man, and I believed kind of everything I was told. And back in those days, we were told, like, 'This is indie war, man! We're taking on the studios! They're making commercial crap, and we're making art!' But you know what happens is, a good idea becomes a business, and suddenly there was a day where I was like, we're listening to marketing data that you're getting based on trailers. Not even like test-screening a movie — we're test-screening trailers and poster images. There's no more gut instinct in this."