Kevin Smith made his mark in the film community with a series of films full of vulgar dialogue about sex and other bodily functions. Despite a couple of slight excursions, the critically acclaimed Chasing Amy and the critically ridiculed Jersey Girl, Smith’s movies have been pretty similar in tone and content from his ultra-low budget debut Clerks to 2008′s Zack and Miri Make a Porno. But now, partially due the disappointing response to Zack and Miri, Smith is doing things a little different. His new film, Cop Out, is his first studio film (since Mallrats in 1995), and it’s also his first time directing a script written by someone else.
I recently had a chance to talk to Smith in a roundtable setting, and he proved to be just as outspoken and candid as his reputation would suggest. “What do you want to talk about?” he asked almost immediately, “We can talk about the making of [the movie]. We can talk about the theoretical. We can talk about me selling out.” Smith is referring to his switch to Warner Bros. for Cop Out after making every previous film with Weinstein Brothers (with the exception of 1995′s Universal comedy Mallrats), either at the now defunct Miramax or The Weinstein Company. “I had a huge emotional breakdown when Zack and Miri came out, because I was expecting Zack and Miri to do closer to Forgetting Sarah Marshal business… We didn’t do Sarah Marshall business, we wound up doing Kevin Smith business.” The response to Zack and Miri appears to have had a huge effect on the future course of Smith’s career. His point of view immediately following its release was “I’m spinning my wheels here. I’m telling the same stories, apparently. Nobody cares anymore … and I went and shut myself up in the library and started smoking lots of weed.”
But Smith appears confident that this departure has lead to some satisfying experiences. He sounds genuinely enthusiastic about his new project, despite the tepid response most of his diehard fans have shown to the advertising materials. In discussing how he approached the new movie, he says “I’m gonna go back to my youth and all the buddy cop movies I watched, growing up (those were my serials, so to speak, because, during the 80’s, that’s all they made), and I’m going to try to make that now.” Being the candid fellow that he is, Smith didn’t shy away from talking about the initial trailer that elicited endless scoffing from the film blogosphere. “[Warner Bros.] led, oddly enough, with a trailer that I didn’t agree with. They put out a trailer for Cop Out that I was like ‘You’re kidding? This is the trailer? There is way fucking funnier stuff in the movie, why aren’t you leading with that! Where’s all our edgy shit?’ These cats [Warner Bros.] were like ‘Kevin, what are you worried about? You are the edgy shit. All these edgy people that you want us to market to: they’re going, because you made it. We’re going after your mother, bitch.”
Indeed, the marketing was a sticking point between Smith and the Weinstein’s, his former financiers. “I stand here with three and a half weeks until [Cop Out] hits theatres. There is more awareness for this movie now then there was for Zack and Miri the day we opened.” Part of the reason he agreed to let the studio change the title from its original A Couple of Dicks to the self-aware but compromised title Cop Out was because of the problems encountered with the contentious use of the word “porno” in the title of his previous film. “Old Kevin Smith, 23-year-old Kevin Smith, would have been like ‘Fuck them! I’m gonna die with Dicks in my hand!’ But 38-year-old Kevin Smith who watched Zack and Miri not reach as far as it could have because the title hamstrung it, because networks wouldn’t run ads, because all of a sudden they just started running TV spots that just simply said ‘Zack and Miri’ (but not ‘Make a Porno’), because it was such a fucking confusing campaign with no faces on the posters, just little stick figures…If I hadn’t gone through Zack and Miri, I would have been like ‘Fuck them, it’s Dicks or nothing.’”
Smith also has another diversion in the works in the form of a “political horror movie” called Red State. This will be after Hit Somebody, a hockey dramedy that he’s planning on starting this year, but it will also be a major change for Smith. “It’s so fucking vicious and nasty and mean and stark and it’s not funny.” He’s been trying to make this film since before Zack and Miri Make a Porno was released, but he’s had trouble finding the financing. “It’s this weird fucking dark little seventies horror movie…that nobody wants to make.”
However, Smith has found a new possible revenue source for a movie that can’t seem to attract any commercial investors. “I think an interesting thing that may happen with it is—I was on Twitter and people are asking about Red State, and then a dude tweeted ‘hey man, what if we pay for it?’ And all of a sudden, a bunch of people were like ‘Seriously, why not?’” This wouldn’t be the first time that someone raised money for a project by soliciting it over the internet, but it would be the first time a filmmaker as prominent as Smith has done so. “We’re kind of creating this website. We’re seeing if it works to set up and collect donations. It becomes a weird tax nightmare, though…It sounded like such an easy thing online…but now there’s lots of checks and balances to make sure we can do it, but if that’s the case, I would be into it, and I’ll match it. Whatever you raise on line, like fuck it, you put it up, I’ll put it up.” Smith has always been a gracious personality towards his fans and it shows in his words as well as his demeanor. “We’re gonna make it. It’s gonna happen. First up is that hockey movie, though, because that’s where I am right now. Right after that, though, by hook or by crook, with my pennies or the pennies of the audience. God bless them. Motherfuckers want to see the movie so badly that they’re willing to pay for it with their own money? Absolutely, put their name in the credits and that movie will be a reality.”
So, over 15 years after Smith began making movies with his parent’s credit cards, he’s finally expanding his range, and he sounds like he’s just fine with that. “For 15 years, I’ve been playing with the WHA, this is my first NHL game. It’s much faster game. It’s much different. It’s the same game ostensibly, but it’s the big leagues.” Smith seems optimistic about his future, and he seems optimistic about Cop Out, which has drawn quite a bit of criticism from his fans before even being released. But whatever the end result turns out to be in Cop Out, Smith is moving on with his life, and his career.
Cop Out will be released in Toronto on February 26, 2010.