Between a Waffle and a Hard Place: An Outsider’s Take On Kevin Smith

20 years ago, a chubby guy from New Jersey went from an aspiring, foul-mouthed filmmaker to one of the most polarizing and talked about  writer/director’s working today – almost over night. More surprising is how Kevin Smith was able to become this media mammoth without making anything more than a mediocre film. How does one go from a random New Jersey clerk to such a loved and loathed figure? The answer is, Kevin Smith is one of the best self promoters working in the entertainment business. He works cross-platforms, knows his audience and had no problem marketing the hell out of himself or his products.

His methods and openness have opened up much debate and venom as of late. Most recently with the Sundance 2011 shenanigans of his Red State World Premiere. There have been plenty of articles on this, read the below article first if you don’t know the full story.

Kevin Smith Buys His Own Film At Sundance Auction, Swears Off Distributors, and Announces Full Details for Self-Distribution (Slashfilm)

It’s hard not to talk about Kevin Smith without seemingly contradicting myself. So, I’m going to try to lay it all out here, and I hope it makes sense.

My history with Kevin Smith:

The first Kevin Smith movie I saw was Mallrats. A punk rock buddy of mine (with the most memorable name ever, Zarrie Solum) introduced me to this flick. Even though Mallrats was a commercial failure, we loved the dialogue, Jason Lee and the audacity of the humor. Jay & Silent Bob became continuously referenced characters in our daily lives.

I then caught up on Clerks. While a different movie and sensibility than Mallrats, I still dug the dialog and the irreverent humor of Kevin Smith. It was a breath of fresh air and these two movies remain my favorite Kevin Smith films.

As the years went on, I continued to follow Smith’s career and films. Chasing Amy was a change of pace and I respected what Smith had done. He successfully blended his irreverent humor with a sophisticated drama that had valid cultural points to make. It’s my least re-watched Kevin Smith film, but his strongest film to date.

Dogma and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back are mixed bags and I never got too excited with those flicks. Dogma was a missed opportunity for satirizing the modern religious institution. It had a few brilliant stabs at satire, but dumb dick and fart jokes got in the way. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back is a mediocre road comedy with a few genuine laughs.

I skipped out on Jersey Girl (based on critical reviews, but need to check it out), was with Clerks 2 up to the “Donkey Show,” and thought that Zack & Miri Make A Porno was a mediocre raunchy romantic comedy with a few genuine laughs and a couple brilliant dramatic/thematic choices and some heart. I skipped Cop Out and have no desire to see it.

So, there you have it. I was an enthusiastic fan of Kevin Smith. Even though I didn’t like all his movies, I appreciated his personality on his podcasts and his Q & A DVDs. Then it all came to a screeching halt when “Old Man Kevin Smith” surfaced by way of SouthWest Airlines and critical reaction to Cop Out.

I was pissed at Kevin Smith for a while. I even sold all my Kevin Smith movies in a (regrettable) reactionary act after he personally insulted a couple of critics I respect. Thus begins my conundrum. Do I direct my vitriol toward the filmmaker? Or do I respect the films and the filmmakers ideas on the film industry while being indifferent to the filmmaker?

What I like about Kevin Smith:

  1. I genuinely like most of Kevin Smith’s movies. They’re not high art, but they make me laugh and occasionally think, which is something you can’t say about most comedies.
  2. Kevin Smith’s honesty. He’s not out to make friends, and that’s OK. He’s always speaking his mind and in Hollywood, that’s a rare thing. You have to admire the brass balls.
  3. Kevin Smith is a “multi-platform” artist. From comics to television to film, he’s always working. For a self-proclaimed pot-head, that’s admirable.
  4. The dude can talk. It’s both his power and his kryptonite. His appearance on the Slashfilmcast’s review of The Dark Knight is my favorite episode of the Slashfilmcast. His Q&As are fun and full of wit and humor. Most recently he was interviewed by Marc Maron for the WTF Podcast and is one of my favorite interviews he’s ever given. The dude has charisma, you can’t manufacture that.
  5. Out-of-the-box thinking. With his Smodcast empire, Smith’s attempt at self-distributing his movie is admirable. He has a rabidly devout following and knows they can help pay for the cost of making his film. By the time his new film Red State hits theaters, he’ll be debt free and will reap the profit. Bucking the system is always a healthy thing, in my opinion.
  6. Trying new things. I respect for Kevin Smith attempting to try new things even if they fail. Zach and Miri was outside the “ViewAskew-universe” and was a hard sell, Cop Out was his attempt to make a “Studio Movie,” and now with Red State, Smith is attempting something more dark and dramatic.

What I don’t like about Kevin Smith:

  1. Kevin Smith on Twitter. Do I really need to know when the dude masturbates or if his wife let him have sex with her from behind? No. Ick. I don’t need that in my Twitter feed. Also, Twitter is not a place for lengthy tirades against airlines or critics. Blog that shit.
  2. Bait & Switch tactics. I’m torn here, as I don’t have all the facts. While I was glad to hear Kevin Smith is going with a DIY distribution model, he didn’t have to fake an auction (according to Smith via his Twitter feed, he never stated it would be a full on auction). If he had publicized it as a straight auction, I agree that is was a slap in the face to some of the people who were just doing there job. Although with my punk background, I do admire the willingness to shake up the status quo and give the finger to “the man.”
  3. Critic battles. Ignore your detractors and they’ll shut up. Give them attention and they will tar & feather you. While I think it has gone to far on both sides, I strongly believe that the best way to shut either side up is to ignore it at this point. All our opinions are out, let’s move on.
  4. Kevin Smith loves himself. A lot. Recently, Smith stated that if a critic doesn’t have more followers than him on Twitter, they aren’t worth his time. (I’m paraphrasing) He also stated that he’s a “Kevin Smith fan.” While it’s good to be confident, sometimes it comes accross as extremely egotistical. Humility goes a lot farther.

With all that out in the air, I confuse even myself. I don’t know Kevin Smith. I don’t know his daily frustrations or what goes on in his private life. All I see is a semi-talented story-teller who runs his mouth (or tweets) more than he should. As a person, in the past couple of years Kevin Smith has become incredibly off-putting. However, I think as a film maker he’s finally challenging himself, so I’m interested in seeing his craft mature. Therefore, I do plan on seeing Red State and Hit Somebody and am interested in his DIY model of distribution.

Kevin Smith’s DIY method for Red State

I genuinely think that Smith’s DIY model of distribution of his newest film Red State is interesting and exciting. First, he’s going to take the movie around in a Road Show format and show the movie along with a Q&A session. So, it will be like combining “An Evening With Kevin Smith” and a showing of Red State. He’s charging anywhere from $60 to $100 for this experience. At first, I had some issues with this. But his fans pay that already for his Q&A sessions, so this isn’t an unfair price since he already charges that. Red State will be (according to Smith) in theaters on October 19th.

It’s not going to be a huge theatrical run, but will be a similar model recently seen with films like Paranormal Activity. Red State will open on a handful of screens and slowly expand. This is how most movies were brought to the screen before the 1980s.

So, Kevin Smith will be able to let his fans see Red State first (for the most part). I have no problems with this. Red State is Kevin Smith’s movie. He financed it and made it. He can have total control over who sees it first. He’s built up this fan base for 20 years, he deserves to give the diehards exclusivity. This is what the film press is having such a hard time with. Frankly, get over it. You’ll see it when the majority of the mainstream populace will see it. Write your reviews then and stop your whining.

I may have issues with Kevin Smith as a person, but this film distribution model is really interesting and allows for a film to naturally grow legs. If Red State fails, it fails. But it will fail on Kevin Smith’s terms, and that’s respectable.

Final Thoughts

Yes, the Kevin Smith of late has come across as a bit of an egotistical asshole. But, I don’t know what he’s gone through to get to that place. Have any of you been criticized and scrutinized by thousands of people? I’m impressed that he’s pushing the envelope of the film distribution model and he’s attempting to stretch his legs as a storyteller.

It’s hard to separate Kevin Smith from his own movies. He doesn’t make it easy. However, you can’t ignore the waves he’s making both good and bad. And now that he’s going 100% independent, he now has no one else to blame for his failure and/or his success than himself. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years, but I can send respect Kevin Smith’s way and wish him all the best.

One thought on “Between a Waffle and a Hard Place: An Outsider’s Take On Kevin Smith

  1. sleestakk

    Thoughtful article, Sean. I’m sure you feel a lot better getting that off your chest. I’ve managed to stay out of your ongoing KS convo b/c I was never certain where you stood; one day you’re selling all your DVDs, the next day you’re praising Smith. Kinda confusing. But at least you touched on that here. And your position is much clearer now.

    I haven’t formed an opinion yet. Just sidelining until we see more chips fall. It’s interesting that Smith gave up providing free speaking gigs (college tours, comic conventions, etc) when he realized he could charge $50 a ticket and still sell out. Figured it wouldn’t take too long before he starting milking that cash cow but I miss seeing him speak at the Cons.

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