By Jordan Heath-Rawlings
It took a movie with no plot, no action and a lack of giant robots to finally convince Kevin Smith that he could be a filmmaker.
In 1991, Smith was working in a convenience store in New Jersey, wondering what to do with himself while trying not to impregnate his girlfriend and ruin her life, when he saw Richard Linklater’s Slacker.
“It just fucking hit me,” the 33-year-old indie director told a packed house at Roy Thomson Hall last friday. “If this counts as a movie, shit, I can make a movie.”
Thirteen years later, more than a few people would agree.
Smith walked onstage to a standing ovation Friday night at a RyeSAC-sponsored question and answer session. The slacker-film icon stepped up to the podium draped in the same style of trenchcoat worn by his movie alter-ego, Silent Bob.
But before the performance was 10 minutes old, Smith shed the coat, and the podium as well.
Wearing shorts and a basketball jersey with his website on the back (www.moviepoopshoot.com) , the scruffy, balding director struck a familiar pose, leaning back against a padded wall at the back of the stage.
“Feels like I’m back at the Kwik-Stop,” he smirked, giving a nod to Clerks, the 1993 film that made Smith into a cult hero. The night was officially underway.
Over the next four hours, Smith, who is notorious for enriching his dialogue-heavy films with references to Star Wars, obscure comic books and ‘80s television shows, got a rare chance to let his geek flag fly.
“That was a sheer delight,” the self-proclaimed writer-who-gets-to-direct-his-own-stuff said on Saturday morning, recalling the previous evening’s rowdy auditorium, packed with college kids, adoring fans and aspiring independent filmmakers. “It gave me an opportunity to geek-out for a while.”
The director of indie classics like Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma was brought onstage by members of the cast of Degrassi Junior High.
“You know you’ve made it when Joey and Snake bring you out,” said Smith, who was introduced by Pat Mastroianni and Stefan Brogren, who played the characters on the long-running Canadian television show.
Smith used the impromptu Canadians to kick-off the meandering question and answer session. Smith held court on topics ranging from his history in the film industry, his next flick, The Green Hornet, his opinion of other director’s recent films and why he likes being a writer and editor better than being behind the camera.
“Those are the times when it’s just me and the whole thing is on my shoulders,” he said, and besides, he cracked, of the director’s casting responsibilities, “when you’re [writing and editing] your friend doesn’t ask you to put his girlfriend in the movie.”
For most of the session, Smith’s persona was a cross between a storyteller and a standup comedian. He tossed out wisdom and wisecracks in equal portions, riffing on whatever topics he happened across and even coining some Canadian slang. He took several shots at other directors and the film industry in general. Several times when he “laid the podium down” – a term Smith stole from an audience member who was shouting out set direction to get a clearer view – the crowd roared their approval.
On Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ: “I figured it out. The way to make $100 million on your opening weekend is to beat the shit out of Jesus.”
On Ang Lee’s The Hulk: “It kinda blew, huh?”
On Affleck’s role in Jersey Girl, which he said he wrote for Affleck’s actual personality: “The less you need Affleck to act, the better off you are.”
But seriously, he told the crowd, he would have cast J-Lo as Affleck’s wife regardless of their relationship. Media circus aside, he said, her performance was worthy.
“It’s one of those things I just let go of because it’s all about longevity,” he said. “It’s one of those things I can look back [on] in 20 years and go, ‘She was great in that movie.’… [Affleck] really went somewhere wonderful with her.”
Knowing his audience well, Smith peppered his answers with references to his status as an “honorary Canadian.”
“I always thought it was the right thing to do. I always thought God was a Canadian,” he said of casting Alanis Morissette as God in Dogma. “I dated a Canadian. I made love to a Canadian. I should be the American ambassador to Canada.”
Nearly lost among the witticisms was a sweet moment that typified Smith’s do-it-yourself approach to his 13 years of movie making. A young woman in the balcony used her question to plead with Smith to make a film with her, telling him she was an independent filmmaker and she had a pitch ready.
“Then what the fuck do you need me for?” Smith asked her, “You’re already doing it sister… Make your own movie. Nobody else can tell your story.”