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Q & A with Jersey Girl director Kevin Smith

Affleck's on the left... No, your left.
by Scott Weinberg

Bottom line: if you're someone who reads movie reviews online, you're most likely a big fan of Kevin Smith. Though none of his five films could be called a Blockbuster Smash, each one has become the stuff of cultish admiration and fanboy followings. Many see the guy as one of those "GREAT writer/so-so director" combos, but there's something fiercely independent about Smith's movies that one can't help but be a little impressed by the guy. Smith's sixth movie, entitled Jersey Girl, had many of its scenes filmed in the lovely city of Philadelphia. So it wasn't a big surprise to see Kevin crossing the Betsy Ross Bridge to entertain a preview audience with his own patented brand of Q & A. Let's have a listen...

....Thanks for coming to tonight's screening of The Passion of the Christ. As you can see we took a different approach with the picture. We didn't flog and beat and kill him at the end. We gave him a little kid...cuz kids are a little more marketable.

Now, it's important to understand one thing about the way Kevin Smith speaks in front of a group of moviegoers. The 80% packed house laughed at Kevin's intro, though it's important that when you read the words, you have an idea of his tone as he speaks:

The guy's a joker.

That's not to say that Smith doesn't take his work (and his movies) very seriously. It's obvious that the guy holds 50 tons of affection for the movies he's made and the people he's worked with, but he's never the sort of guy who'd be accused of Stuffed Shirt-ism. Kevin Smith is profane and periodically acidic; he's jovial and self-deprecating; he'll get defensive and he'll poke fun at stuff in a way that some people might consider "in poor taste". Obviously I and my readers are not those kinds of people, so let's move on.

The first question came from a teeange boy, one who is clearly interested in the world of film:

"Hey, where'd ya get that shirt??" [Smith was wearing a bowling-type shirt that had some Clerks lingo on it.]

"Where'd I get the shirt? That's how you wanna start the evening?"

"Yeah, I like it."

"Well, OK. As you know, the movie was based here in Philly, which is why it's called...Jersey Girl. There's an awesome store here called "Tory's Big & Tall"...excellent store if you're a fat guy. They make 'em for me there."

It's at this point that other hands begin to raise. Since we're 0 for 1 so far, I quietly hope that the next Philadelphian to ask Kevin a question isn't a gigantic moron. Instead we get another goofball teenboy looking to steal some attention:

"Two questions... One, what's with the kids taking their pants off? It was like, every five minutes a kid was dropping their drawers..." [The film features one sequence in which two 7-year-olds play "doctor" and another in which a little girl is seen post-pee pee. Nothing nasty here, folks.]

"Huh. Did that bug you?"

"A little."

"Why? Why were you uncomfortable with that? Cuz, y'know. Kids take their pants off in real life. You don't take your pants off, dude? What about when you take a shower?"

"Well obviously my pants are off then."

"Then what the fuck are you complainin' about?"

It's at this point that the audience semi-exploded with laughter...not because it was all that funny, but because the room seemed really pissed that some dirty-minded 15-year-old would raise his hand, ask such an overtly offensive question, and then try to hold Smith to an answer. As if the guy made a movie that lingers on half-naked kids or something. Frankly I was impressed with the way Kevin handled this kid. I'd have simply told the kid that he was obviously too immature to see children the way a parent might, and that he's got some disturbing issues of his own to deal with. And to fuck off too.

But not only did Kevin handle this kid well, he even let him follow up with his second question! The idiot started out with a fairly legitimate question:

"What that the real score for the film? The real music?" [I assume he was asking if the movie was using a temp track or not.]

"Yeah. That's final. Don't like it?"

"Not particularly."

"Not a fan? What were you looking for? A little more Justin Timberlake or something?"

"I dunno. Something that wasn't as corny..."

"So give me an example of what's not as corny."

"I dunno. I'm not a director."

"Well dude, then shut the fuck up!"

It's at this point that people just lost it with the laughing and the applause. It's not that Smith can't handle fair criticisms, but this kid was an annoying snot just looking to bait the filmmaker into an argument. It was fun to watch.

As the ruckus died down, Smith smiled and yelled "Welcome to Philly!" which showed the kid there was no hard feelings. Say what you will about Kevin Smith, but the guy can sure work a crowd. A middle-aged woman popped up and started with:

"I'd like to say that I really liked the music and I liked the movie..."

"Right on. Teach this kid a thing or two. Miss, I'm sorry, I'll come back to you."

Kevin turns back to the anti-music teen.

"Wait, tell me. What didn't you like? What song particularly bugged you that you thought was corny?"

" was the one in the montage where he wanders around, he visits the graveyard..."

"Landslide? By fuckin' Fleetwood Mac?? How old are you?"


"Dude, you know what? In ten years you'll love that song. Cuz when you get old and fat like me, you get soft and Fleetwood Mac becomes IT. What would you have put there in place of the Fleetwood Mac song?"

With a shrug: "It's not my job to make suggestions, man."

"No, no. It's just your job to speak up like a jackass."

Again, you should picture a room full of people who are laughing. Smith's laughing, I'm laughing, the kid himself is laughing...although he knows he's been stung. Kevin politely returns his attention back to the middle-aged woman:

"I heard that some wedding scenes were cut out. Can you tell us about that?"

"There's a wedding shot that was cut out. It wasn't a scene. A scene to me is something that has lots of dialogue in it. This is a shot, 12 seconds, starts at the top of the church, came down, brought Ben and Jen out, people whipped rice at 'em, and then they kissed. And once those two didn't get married I was just like 'Well, I better pull this out of the movie'.

The audience found that especially amusing. He continued:

"Because then people are sitting there watching it going 'Oh wait. Those two didn't get married in real life. Ew.' And suddenly they're pulled out of the flick, and that's something you never wanna do as a filmmaker. You want everyone inside that black box to get transported to another place and time, a place where Fleetwood Mac hopefully doesn't inundate the soundtrack."

More laughter, particularly from me. God I sound like a massive dork on a tape recorder.

"So it just felt weird after they didn't get married so I just pulled it out. The story's easily told without the shot, so fuck it. But I do have the only set of pictures where she's wearing a wedding gown and he's wearing a tux, so as soon as the movie comes out I'll be puttin' those on eBay."

More solid laughter from the crowd. The next guy asked "Did you like filming in Philadelphia?" as if the guy's gonna say NO surrounded by Philly folks.

"I loved filming in Philly, and I'm not just saying it cuz I'm here. Nice people here, with the exception of this cocksucker. [Smith points to the anti-music teen as we all enjoy another chuckle.] City of Brotherly Love? Totally true. I thought that was all hype and whatnot. Really good people."

The next question came from a kid who professed an admiration for Smith's NJ comic book shop before asking about the Kramer vs. Kramer and The Graduate references he saw in Jersey Girl.

"Yeah, that wasn't a Graduate grab, but I can see where you'd make that connection. But Kramer vs. Kramer is totally a flick I love, so if you see a bit of it in there, I'd say that's appropriate. But that scene of Ben running? That was my homage to Armageddon, really. But wait, he didn't run in that movie. He stood proud. 'I love you, Harry!' Y'know."

The next lady noted that Jersey Girl was indeed a departure for Smith, and wondered what inspired such a turn of events.

"I had a kid, so of course I became a little mushy about it. Generally I'm not a very creative person, not very inventive. I just kinda crib from my own life, so each movie winds up a little snapshot of what's goin' on in my life at that time. Like during Dogma, I spent time running away from a rubber poop monster..."

Half the audience laughed; the other laughed looked at one another, visibly confused. Smith continues:

"Also, it was a period where I kinda had it up to here with Jason Mewes, who's my compatriot in the Jay & Bob pictures. He was just knee-deep in heroin and oxycontin at that point, and I just couldn't do it anymore. [Note: "It" being the movies, not the drugs.] For the past seven years, he'd been pretty deep in it, so there's the process of gettin' him clean, keepin' him clean, sittin' on him during the movie... And then as soon as we wrapped and I would go edit the movie, he would descend back into the Hell that was drugs. And it got to a point where every rehab counselor I talked to said 'Hey, gotta let him go. Cut him loose. Tough love.' and I was like 'I can't do that. That's my boy.' They said 'You have to let him hit rock bottom or he's never gonna change his mind, he'll never get clean for himself.' But what if rock-bottom's the fucking grave? So, for a year I tried tough love, but he really only got worse, so then tough love became a smack. I kinda smacked him around when he got busted for heroin and he wound up doing six months in a court-mandated rehab. And he came out clean and as of April 6th, he's gonna be one year, which is right up there with the moon turning as sack-cloth and the Four Horsemen riding... Cuz Mewes being clean for a year is just truly one of the signs of the Apocalypse. So I told him we'd throw him a big party and I'll get him a rum cake..."

This anecdote was juicy news indeed to many of the audience members. Those of us who follow the movie news know all about Jay Mewes and his struggles with drug addiction. Although it might not seem so as you read Smith's words transcribed, the man clearly has a deep love and devotion for Jay, and obviously we all wish Mewes the best of luck in staying clean.

"So anyway at that point I was just like 'I can't do it anymore. I can't think about making another movie where I gotta spend almost a year getting Jason clean only to watch him fall off the wagon again.' So it helped to distract myself while working on this. Now that he's watch. Jay & Silent Bob in Space, coming soon. Or Jay & Silent Bob in Rehab, which would be more appropriate."

The next question came from a guy who wanted to know something vague about the video store setting used in Jersey Girl. First he was asking about why there was no View Askew section, and then he finished up by wondering aloud why Smith didn't use the same video store that he used in Clerks. Sounds like someone's a fan.

"We didn't shoot there because this isn't supposed to be set in Leonardo. It's set in a little town called Highland that I grew up in. Plus, have you ever been to that video store? It's the size of a bathroom. It's really tiny and we needed a little more space to cover Affleck's massive head."

The next fella wanted to know if Jersey Girl represented Smith's new career direction.

"Totally. I'm only gonna make soft pictures now. That's it. Next time I'm gonna make a movie about a puppy. [Big laughs.] Nah, this was sort of a one-off for me. I just really wanted to see if I could pull off something like this. After making five movies that were interconnected, where each one references back to the other movies for kind of an easy laugh and whatnot, and that Jay & Bob were always there as my kind of safety net, I wanted to see if I could make a movie without a safety net. One that stood on its own, because it occured to me that with the exception of Clerks, which was the first one, every movie kind of leaned a little bit on the ones that had gone before it. So I wanted to see if I could make something that just kinda...stood by itself. Every once in a while you gotta try a little growth spurt. So that's fine. I've grown enough. And then we're gonna regress after this picture and make a comic book movie."

Logically someone yells out "Which comic book?"

"Green Hornet. That's the next one. The Green Hornet for Miramax. Starring...Ben Affleck."

More giggles from the crowd. The next participant praises Smith for what he considers an improvement in "the visual end".

"Thanks, but that's Vilmos Zsigmond, the DP. I can't even take the credit. He's like the Master Academy Award Winning Cinematographer. I should keep working with him, right?"

The next questioneer spent like 6 minutes circling around the point, but the essence of his query dealt with Smith's relationship with his father.

"Yeah, I mean obviously I couldn't have made this movie without having a father."

Smith lets the joke hang in the air for about 7 seconds. Nobody seems to get it. I thought it was pretty clever actually.

"Yeah, my father actually was a pretty big influence on the movie. There's a lot of him in [George Carlin's character] Bart. So as I was writing it and when I got done I was like 'Wow. It's not just about one guy being a father; it's also about that guy being the child of his own father as well'. So you have the two kind of relationships in one."

"And, yeah, it's very much informed by my relationship with my father, who I got along with really, really well. I don't have any horrible childhood stories. My old man was a really good guy. He used to take me out of school on Wednesdays and Fridays to go see a matinee, so he kinda encouraged my love for film. Although back that it wasn't 'love for film'. It was 'Hey let's go to the movies!' So he's very responsible for where I am today. Once you become a Dad, you suddenly start to look back on the person who was your father, and you realize there's a bar that's been set. I always appreciated what a great Dad my father was, but at the same time you can't fully appreciate it until you're forced into that role yourself. Cuz suddenly you're like 'Holy shit, I gotta live up to that. If I can be half as good as him, then that'd be very sweet."

"And then, y'know, he died nine months ago, right here in Philly so I blame all you motherfuckers..."

More solid laughter from the crowd. A few poignant moments about his father, then the sad news about his death, followed by a quick and profane punchline that was highly appreciated. If this guy had gone into stand-up comedy, I suspect he'd have done pretty well.

"We were at the big comics show here, the Wizard Con... It was actually nice. In terms of, like, losing your father, this was the best way to do it, short of him falling off a cliff and you made $10 million off the insurance. That's probably the best way to lose your Dad."

Smith's gallows humor goes over only somewhat well with this crowd. Ah well, I thought it was funny.

"My whole family was out here. They came out for the Wizard Con and I was doing a Q & A and whatnot. We were all gonna be in the same place at the same time. We all went to the Con, they got to see me do Q & A, we hung out. We all went down to a great dinner at Morton's Steakhouse. It was a great night. My wife was there, my sister's husband was there, me and my Mom, my Dad, my brother. We all sat around talking and laughing and shit, having a good time. Next morning I get a call at six o'clock. My dad had been rushed to the hospital on Market Street. My brother said he'd had a massive heart attack. I ran over and by the time I got there, which was five minutes after the phone call... He had already died by the time I got the call. So suddenly there are parts in this movie that always played very poignant to me...which now I can't even watch. I can't watch that scene at the end anymore, when Ben and George have that little conversation. It's just kinda gut-wrenching to me."

At the point the audience is obviously quite sober and respectful. Though he's not being maudlin or dramatic, Smith's story has brought the room down a little bit. Quick fix:

"At the funeral though, you know how you have to try and find the humor in a situation? At the funeral there's this big bouquet of flowers from Morton's? As if to say 'Dude, we didn't kill your Dad!' [Huge laughs here.] Cuz y'know...he had a pretty big piece of cheesecake that night..."

The next lady who chimed up was proud of the fact that she was from 'Paulsboro, New Jersey, home of Kevin Smith Way, and where most of the movie was really filmed'.

"Ah yes, they named a street after me! I should say, we were based out of Philly. We did shoot a lot in Philly, but Paulsboro is the town that doubles for Highland, with the exception of two shots...which are actually the town of Highland. Which is in North Jersey. Well, we call it Central Jersey but it's really North. I loved the town of Paulsboro. They were so sweet to us, man. They just let us come in and take over. The mayor is a tremendous dude. He got a shot in the movie. I know how to do that payola thing."

More laughs from the Paulsboro faithful as the same woman poses an interesting question: Given that Smith's daughter was but an infant when he wrote the film, how did he go about creating the character as a 7-year-old?

"Thanks for the 96-part question. [Chuckles.] There was a lot of extrapolation, a lot of projecting. When I first wrote the script, the kid was still at that age where all she did was look around, move her arms and shit and eat. And that didn't really make for a great movie. I wanted the kid to be interactive, so I wrote her as a 7-year-old. I tried to remember what it was like to be young and stuff like that, so I grafted some of my interests as a child on to her. Like I was a really big Sweeney Todd fan when I was nine years old, because my brother and sister were in some drama group, and they went to the city to see that play. They came home and said 'We just saw the best fuckin' musical of all time.' And I was like 'There's no such thing as the best musical.' And I felt kinda bad. I was raised on fuckin'...The Sound of Music...every year because my mother's a huge Julie Andrews fan. So every year I had to watch the "Doe...a deer!"

"But they were like 'No, this muscial's about a dude who cuts people's throats and sends 'em through the floor to this crazy lady who cooks 'em up into pot pies.' And I was like '...WHAT??' Theater just came alive to me! I never got to see it until I was 18, but still, as a 9-year-old it really captured my imagination. So I just kinda grafted that on to Gertie's character, and tried to remember what it was like being around kids when I was a kid. To me it was just kinda like, this is a little girl who was raised by two guys, right? So she's gonna have these soft edges, but at the same time she can be a hard-ass. And most of the credit goes to [actress] Raquel, because she was the 7-year-old. Thankfully I didn't have to temper much of the dialogue for her, cuz she was able to do it, and come off naturally. Not too cloying or movie-cute, because that's the key, right? To get a kid who wasn't all dimpled up and shit like that. You find somebody who's kinda real."

"Most 7-year-olds I've met after the movie, now that my kid's in school, are kind of like... They're not rebelling, they're not teenagers yet, they're not like "Fleetood Mac songs suck!' They're not there... But they're at the stage of the game where they're like 'You're as full of shit as anybody.' They understand that all adults do is lie. From Santa on down to...'You're my kid.' [The laughs continue.] It's like they've been to the circus too many times. They don't like the fuckin' clowns anymore; they don't believe in that shit, so they're just a little bit incredulous. And I think it was kinda cool, because she did play it like that, where she's not too smart for her own good... But she did it very well."

The woman then mentioned how cute one of the film's 'pageant kids' was.

"That last little cat? Aww, that's my kid. Yeah, I know. I snuck her in the picture. Totally. That's one for the wife. She was also Baby Silent Bob in Strike Back, and it was the most painful day of shooting I've ever had in my life! All she had to do was sit there, wear a hat, and not say anything. And she wouldn't wear the hat, she kept screaming and crying. I'm like 'You're Silent Bob! Silent!' But kids don't understand motivation, y'know, at two years old... So I didn't want to put her in this one, but I found a little out-of-the-way place where she could be onscreen and we'd get a little snapshot of her at that age. And it made the wife happy, and that's the key, because then you get laid. [Big laughs from the wives in the audience.] So we got her in there a little bit, and now she talks to me every movie. She says 'What's my role in the next one?' I'm like 'You get to play The Green Hornet.' She says 'Excellent!'

The next woman went on to comment about the striking resemblance between Jennifer Lopez and Raquel Castro - the little girl who plays her daughter.

"Yeah that was intentional. It's weird because I'm not a very 'visual thinker'...which is why I became a...filmmaker. [Laughs from the crowd.] When I was writing it, it never occured to me to cast a child who looks like one of the onscreen parents...and then when we were in auditions, Avy Kaufman, this great casting director out of New York who finds kids for movies... She found that little boy in Searching for Bobby Fischer and the kid in The Sixth Sense, stuff like that. She brought in about eighty girls and we saw Raquel's headshot; we thought 'Gee, that's creepy. She kinda looks like Jennifer.' And I turned to Scott Mosier, my longtime producer, and I was just like 'Wouldn't it be great if we hired a kid that looked like, y'know, either Ben or Jen?' And he was like 'What are you, fucking retarded? We have to do it that way!' [Huge laughs from the crowd here. Smith knows how to sell a punchline.] And I was just like 'It never occured to me!' He's like 'Thank God I'm here.' So we put her headshot next to Ben and Jen's and we were like 'Wow, it looks like the If They Made It kinda thing.'

"So she came in and read and she just had a real natural read so I was like 'Ooh, this is the kid.' And since, y'know, Jen was gonna drop out so early it was nice to have somebody around who reminded you of her for the rest of the movie, particularly for Ben, for his character."

The next woman stood up and called the movie "very charming and poignant" before stopping to praise the contribution that George Carlin brought to the movie.

"Yeah, Carlin was pretty good wasn't he? He was actually quite excellent. George has always wanted to act, he said. He got into radio and then standup cuz he said he wanted to be in movies. People have always used him comedically in movies; I did twice before in Dogma and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. Hanging out with George, off-camera, is where you really get who he is, and he's not one of these comedians that's always 'on' and trying to make you laugh. When you're hanging out with him, you're just one of the guys. He's thought-provoking and he's talkative, but he's not like this dude who's always 'You ever notice...?' He has this gravitas to him, like this worldliness... The dude's lived a long life and this face has experience written all over it. So he was leaving Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, cuz he only worked the one day... We were driving back to the location at base camp and I said "Uh, George? I'm gonna write you a really big role in the next movie.' And he's like 'Oh do me a favor. Write me my dream role.' And I was like 'What is it?' And he goes 'I wanna play a clergyman who strangles six children.' [Audience chucklings.] And I was like 'Well, you play a grandfather... Is that good enough?' He says "It's a start. Do I get to strangle the kid?' I said 'No.'

"So I gave him the script and he liked it, he dug the chance to stretch a little bit, show people he could, y'know, emote. So I'm kinda proud of that. He came off well. And at the beginning when I first cast him, I was like 'Is anybody gonna look at him and look at Ben and think - clearly these two are not related. But I think it plays. I think it works. It's not like short people never had a giant son before. Cuz Ben's just a little taller than George. But we never see George's wife, so for all we know she was a fuckin' Amazonian. [Audience dug this laugh.] But I think it plays."

The next man made a comment about Peter Biskind's latest book, and complimented Kevin for the comments he contributed.

"Thank you. I think Matt Damon comes off better. I read Matt's shit and I was like 'Ugh, I sounded like an idiot! I gotta clean up my language!' The book...I thought it was a sour little tome. It's the kind of book you finish reading and you're like 'What the fuck have I been doing for the last ten years of my life? If none of these movies really matter?' When I got involved with it, I knew Biskind was writing a book, pitched as something about indie film, chronicling the whole movement. I wasn't pitched as like it was gonna be this gossipy little hatchet-job, where we're gonna take down two people who mean the world to you. Harvey Weinstein and... Dude, I've never met Redford, but without him...I'm not standing up here talking to you, because his festival's where my career got launched. So, y'know, these two guys that he beats the shit out of... It just failed to capture the joy of indie film or the kind of, like, discovery... Being in that theater, seeing a movie that you probably wouldn't have seen anyplace else but Sundance, or you wouldn't have seen it if Miramax hadn't picked it up. So it's kinda missing out on the luster, the wonder, of cinema. And it's just really more gossipy and 'inside baseball' kinda stories."

"Y'know, I'm sure a lot of people outside the business haven't heard all these Harvey Weinstein stories, the 'bad behavior' tales, but I've heard them all. So it was just kinda like Oh. Yeah. Of course. I've heard them and they're colorful and sometimes you're like 'Gosh, rein it in...' - but at the same time the book fails to capture everything the dude's done in the last ten, fifteen years, in terms of opening up the landscape of independent and American cinema in general. So, yeah, it's nice to be in the book and shit... I like that Peter Biskind called me a Miramaxologist. I'm just kinda proud of that, but at the same time I just wish that somebody... I wish that Peter had written a better book, a book that was more even-handed, that wasn't so 'Oooh! Did you hear this story...? Isn't this shitty? The dude did this...' Cuz at the end of the day it's a business. Movies are a business to some people. And at least to Harvey Weinstein, they're not a business. I mean, partly a business, obviously. He wants to make money off it, but at the same time, having worked in and out of the studio system, at other places and writing gigs, and also I made the second movie at a studio... I've never met anybody as passionate about film, within the studio system... it's all a fuckin' job to them. It's all like punching a clock, waitin' till they get shitcanned so they can pull the cord on the golden parachute. And with's a way of life. He built the company himself, with his brother, and he lives and breathes these movies. It's all about passion. The dude's a whore for Oscars, right? Always likes to win Oscars...because he likes to make good cinema."

"And up until the point when Harvey, kind of, y'know, changed the face of the business. Like, Oscar winners didn't make a lot of money. He actually found a way to make Oscar-winning movies that actually break through. So I respect a dude with passion like that. And I also respect the fact that he's given me a fuckin' job for the last ten that book...I didn't really dig too much. There's a much better book about independent cinema called Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes that John Pierson wrote, a far better book, and when you close that book, you wanna go out and make a movie. When you close Biskind's book, you don't even want to go see a movie. It's just like 'Ugh, it's so fucking disgusting...' - so I go for the one that makes you feel kinda good."

The next woman rambled on for a good three minutes, but the essence of her question was basically 'What parts of the filmmaking process do you enjoy the most?' Not a bad question, but what an airbag she was!

"My two favorites are the ones when I'm in a room by myself, and that's when I'm writing and when I'm editing, cuz those are the moments where it's really all about me, and I'm the only one who could fuck it up or make it better. The moment you let people into the process, there's always a chance that shit can go awry... It kinda becomes everybody's movie, which is what it's about, we all make the film together, but those quiet moments where it's just me writing or me sitting in an editing room, cuttin' it up myself, those are my favorite parts of the movie. I am the only guy; I am in charge. The process of making the movie? Everybody makes it. We all worked on it collectively, but those moments when I'm by myself are the most gratifying."

The rambly-ass girl then kicked in again, talking about how she's a graphic designer and that she also likes being alone and "thinking"...particularly in the shower. She jawed for a good 2 minutes before petering out. Smith got a laugh from the audience by admitting...

"Oh, sorry. I was just sitting here picturing you in the shower."

Then the next guy popped up and asked Kevin about the status of his long-discussed Fletch Won project.

"I was gonna do Fletch next, and then Green Hornet kinda popped up, so I had to put Fletch to the side to do that, cuz Green Hornet's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime shot."

Question guy followed up with a question about Jason Lee in the title role...

"Well, Miramax didn't want us to cast Jason Lee. They kinda cock-blocked us on Lee and wanted us to use somebody else, so I'm kinda hoping, like, Green Hornet is a pretty big success and then I can be like 'Look dudes, it's Lee or nothin'.' So there's still a chance, but also Lee got to a point in his life where he's just like 'Dude, I don't even really want to do it. I wanna go make a movie.' He just wrote this wonderful script called 'Seymour Sycamore and Margot Orange', this really great little indie film about two kids, and it's very unique, really bizarre but really very distinctly Jason Lee. So I think he's going to spend the next year, year and a half, working on that. But hopefully by the time I'm done with Hornet, and Fletch Won rolls around, it would be nice to go back to it."

At this point our moderators inform the crowd that there's only time enough for one more question. Kevin protests, insisting that he's in no hurry and will gladly stick around longer. Logically, some schmo asks a question that has already been answered: comment on the 'improving look' of your successive films.

"That's all Vilmos. We were just shocked that he was interested in doing it at all. Cuz y'know, Vilmos shot Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Deer Hunter... He's one of those pie-in-the-sky legends that we never thought we'd have a chance of getting, but he responded to the script. It's later on when you get to know him and talk to him that you realize why. And it's because Vilmos doesn't like to shoot movies with violence in them. And I thought that was really interesting. Cuz I was like 'Dude, you work a lot, but you don't really work as much as you probably could on a lot of big-budget studio stuff, and he's just like 'Everything's got guns in 'em. I don't want to make a movie that has guns in it.'"

"He and Laszlo Kovacs were friends in their home country who escaped...Prague, I believe... I should know this, right? Especially at a Q & A! But these two guys had to leave a country in political disarray, and now he doesn't get involved in something that kinda puts violence up on the screen. So he's into quieter stories, so he just responded to this script and we were lucky to grab him. But yeah, he's a master shooter. The dude knows how to light...anything. It's amazing; he's a fantastic lighter. First day of dailies, Affleck was just like 'I can't believe how fuckin' good-lookin' I look in one of your movies! Usually in your pictures I look like I got hit in the fuckin' face with a shovel. Here I look gorgeous, dude!' I said 'Yeah, it's Vilmos...' He says 'Yeah, I know it's not you!'

Big laughs from the audience. I guess most of this crowd sees Affleck as some sort of stuffy-duff matinee idol, but those who know Ben from Kevin's movies (and the hilarious DVD commentaries) see him as a big self-deprecating goofball. Back to the DP...

"The cast loved Vilmos, cuz he really lit them quite well, and he's a really creative... You'll tell him 'Uh, I'm thinking about doing this for a shot,' and he'll say 'Great, let's shoot that, but then afterwards maybe we could try...this.' And his idea is like a thousand times better than what you thought of or could ever think of, so you're like 'Yyyeah, all right! We could try that too...' He's forgotten more about cinematography than I'll ever know, to use a very trite cliche, but very true in this case. Great guy."

The last question came from a woman who wanted to know how Smith feels about working with bigger budgets as his career progresses.

"Well, even then, back on Clerks, it was still everybody's movie, but 'everybody' was about three of us. And the cast as well. Really, my job hasn't changed between the first one and this one. My job is always the same: I write the script, I rehearse the actors, and then I make sure they give an on-camera performance that's as close to the one I saw in my head when I was writing...if not better. So it doesn't matter what the budget is; I could make the movie for a nickel, I could make it for 500 million bucks. My job really doesn't change. The budget hasn't really affected or concerned me; it just means there's even more time to make the movie, a more leisurely schedule... In the case of this picture, people were getting paid more. Ben Affleck walked away with 10 million bucks; Jennifer got 4, which is probably the most amount of money anyone's been paid for twelve minutes of screen time. Whatever. It's all kinda relative, y'know? But also in terms of him being a big movie star, I had the boy when he was fuckin' nobody, so that's how I get him to come back all the time. If he's just like "Dude, I dunno. I just wanna run around the rooftops in tights...'" [Big, big laughs from the crowd.] I'll be like 'Dude! Put ya on the map...' And he's like 'Fuck! All right, let's go do one of your talky pictures.'

And since the theater we were in had a movie scheduled to begin in three minutes, that was it for the questions. Kevin was still asking folks their opinion on The Passion of the Christ as we all shuffled out. Clearly Smith's passion for movies is upstaged only by his enthusiasm for talking about them. Plus he's a damn funny guy.

Jersey Girl hits theaters on March 26th. Fans of Smith's Askewniverse should prepare themselves for something much lighter and considerably more cuddly. It's a sweet and funny and heartfelt little comedy that hits its mark more often than not. So consider giving it a whirl come opening weekend.

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originally posted: 03/05/04 16:42:19
last updated: 04/19/04 14:54:37
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