THE HIGH TIMES INTERVIEW: KEVIN SMITH
Since the award-winning Clerks was released in 1994, Kevin Smith has enjoyed a steady rise in the ranks of Hollywood directors. The hottest names in Hollywood regularly sign on to work with him. He was the creative force behind Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma. Now he's pulling out all the stops in a pot-saturated epic, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
HIGH TIMES: You were originally asked to direct Good Will Hunting, but you served as executive producer instead. In an interview you said you refused because you felt if you had directed, it would have been static. How do you feel about your abilities as a director?
Kevin Smith: Generally, I've been very simplistic, like a still camera--just shooting, not really thinking about making it visually interesting. Because I'm all about the characters. I think Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is actually really improved. I hooked up with a director of photography who really brought out the best of me.
Every movie you've made seems to have made these huge jumps in quality. The difference between Clerks and Dogma is huge.
Yeah, they really do take jumps. This one takes a quantum leap from the rest of them. Not in terms of content, but visually. The last two, Chasing Amy and Dogma, were like Bob Hope movies but with satirical ideas. The movies play off the laughs. They're not message movies by any stretch of the imagination. We attack pop culture, the pervasiveness of "the Net" and entertainment culture. They go for the funny bone.
Dogma's send-up of religion offended some people. In interviews, you seemed to treat criticism very carefully.
It was dangerous, man. There were death threats. We had almost 30,000 pieces of hate mail. At least four of those were death threats--serious death threats. It was a weird line to walk. You want to maintain what you believe, why you made the movie and how you feel about the movie, but at the same time you can't incite these people.
SILENT BOB SPEAKS UP.
Many Catholics loved the film.
There are a lot of Catholics in this country, but not that many practicing. Most people get to a certain age, then they know it's time to throw off the shackles. It helped to be Catholic if you saw Dogma. Lots of people said you needed a catechism just to follow it.
Now you're stepping strongly into the world of marijuana. Are you worried about getting "Drug Warriors" up in arms?
We've been dodging that bullet for four films now. Jay and Silent Bob are weed dealers. We always try to soften it. Now watch some conservative critic finally bring it out.
If the drug czar says Kevin Smith's films encourage pot use, how would you respond?
If the drug czar had enough free time on his hands to comment on this movie, I'd be totally shocked. I would just tell him to calm down. There have always been classic, wonderful characters throughout the history of film comedy who have imbibed--weed-smokers like Cheech and Chong, or Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Of course, the counterpoint to the argument is always: My movies are seen by American youth and youth the world over. If you glamorize weed-smoking, then you're part of the problem.
How do you feel?
Anyone could guess from the flicks, pretty accurately, that my take on weed is not very conservative at all. It's pretty liberal. While I'm not as out there for legalization as someone like Woody Harrelson, I'm certainly not one of those people who think it belongs on a banned substance list. It should be off and legalized. I think weed for most people is experimental. You hit a certain age and you get into it. Some people stay with it. It's like cigarettes or anything else. I've never encountered weed-smokers who have turned into anything horrible. I don't think it's a stepping stone to crack or heroin or anything like that. I think those who use weed and later wind up on crack or something harder have addictive personalities. It has nothing to do with weed. Some people are born addicts. But there are a lot of people like me who can smoke weed and still get a day's work done.
They're called responsible adults.
Exactly. And I've always been that way, even when I was eighteen, right after high school. I got into it. I enjoyed it as a social lubricant--great for chuckles, for getting into that zone where everything is funny.
You've successfully developed a Jay and Silent Bob comic book series. Which came first, the movies or the comic?
That came after we'd done the movies. I'd been a big comics fan, but it got started about the time we were shooting Chasing Amy. The movie deals with two comic-book creators and the comic book they had. I wanted to make the comic book in the movie--like, let's make our own product, put it out there and tie it in with the movie. And I couldn't find anyone to do it. I approached Dark Horse Comics first, and they wouldn't do it. They said, "We're not making any comic books about two drug guys like Bluntman and Chronic. How are we supposed to sell that?" But then Bob Schreck left Dark Horse and started his own company, Oni Press. He called and asked if I still wanted to do it. I went there and the first thing we did was this one-shot. It was an anthology with two stories. The first sixteen pages was just a day in the life of Jay and Bob as they go out and get stoned and get the dog stoned and the dog chases them around the park. Not much of a story, but it was fun. Then I said, let me do a Clerks one-shot, which did really well. I wanted to write a four-issue miniseries, right before Dogma came out, that took Jay and Bob from the end of Chasing Amy to the beginning of Dogma. It was kind of fun, it all worked out. Along the way, we did a Bluntman and Chronic comic as well. They're reissuing a bunch of the stuff in trade paperback form. And we're doing a graphic novel about Bluntman and Chronic.
When did you open Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash?
I think we took over in 1996. It was a small store in Red Bank, NJ in a different location than it is now. I always wanted to own a comic- book store, but I figured I'd do that after I got kicked out of the movie business. We stayed at the same location for two years, repainted, put our stuff up on the wall and it was good. We did a healthy business. But then we started to see people from out of the area come. People from New York, Pennsylvania, then people from further west--then internationally. It became this kind of destination, the store with the stuff from our movies. Now we're in a better location on Broad Street. Rat Face, our production designer on the movies, came in and designed the place as a comic-book lover's dream. That was '98, so we've been there about three years now. And our production offices are right down the street from the comic-book store.
Pretty good life?
No complaints. I just think something bad is going to happen, an embolism or an aneurysm or something, and I'm going to die young.
That's the Catholic in you.
It is. There should be more work to this. But it is work and that's the thing. It feels so great and you enjoy it so much that you don't think of it as work. I mean I think, this is what I do for a living? God, this is great. But there is a lot of work, and now that I'm married, I'm reminded more than ever. My wife says I'm never at home, that I'm constantly working. It doesn't feel like work, but I guess I do work a lot, whether it's on the flicks, the comics, whatever. And since I'm writing and directing, I'm it all the way. I can't hand it off to somebody. This is from cradle to grave. Website: viewaskew.com
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