Kevin Smith is often described as an influential filmmaker for his early slacker comedy work like Clerks. Influenced by directors like Richard Linklater, now creating Oscar buzz for every new film he creates, Smith was initially on the same path, Clerks hitting Cannes like a wrecking ball. In 2015, Smith finds himself an outcast in the land of Hollywood though. Without the backing of long time backers Miramax and the Weinstein’s and not able to open a movie to anything but mild reviews and disappointing money. In 2012 Smith was done with filmmaking, he announced he would complete his View Askewniverse with Clerks 3 and then look to other pursuits such as his growing podcast network and TV shows like Spoilers and Comic Book Men. But now in 2015, he spent Comic Con battling back questions about how many new movies he has in the works and is keeping IMDB staff on their toes with constant news on new and exciting projects for the director to tackle. Why the massive turnaround? Is this the renaissance of Kevin Smith?
Firstly it may be important to fill in how Smith went from a director in demand to a man that couldn’t open a letter in Hollywood’s eyes. Those familiar with Smith will know his past well, but here is an edited down version as a refresher. After Smith wrote, directed, edited and featured in his debut film Clerks, made for a dollar and a critical festival hit, he was groomed to make a big budget Hollywood. The slacker film Mallrats was a box office flop despite reasonable star power and forced Smith back to a smaller financial outlay for his next feature Chasing Amy which again generated critical acclaim. That success lead him to Dogma, using the name drawer of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to push a controversial religious comedy to a reasonable box office. A feat he would reproduce with Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, a film held together by characters he had created in Clerks and grown through his other films. Jersey Girl would be his downfall though, another collaboration with Ben Affleck, the film was a big budget romantic comedy but the script fell flat as did the box office, leading Smith to return to his roots with Clerks 2. Clerks 2 had a budget seven times smaller than Jersey Girl and was a success for Smith once again. This would be the last time Smith saw traditional success.
His follow up to Clerks 2 is technically his highest grossing film, but fell well short of expectation. Zach And Miri Make A Porno was a financial flop considering the star power Seth Rogen was believed to have and promotional issues caused additional tension between Smith and the Weinsteins. Cop Out in 2010 saw Smith as a director for hire, his fractured experience and the financial failure of the film lead to him self financing his next feature Red State. Red State was a major tonal shift for Smith who would start a horror movie phase with both Red State and Tusk littered with laughs but mainly scares and horror elements. Red State was self distributed and while it was an interesting way to distribute the film one city at a time, it would once again lead to a financial failure. As would Tusk, distributed by A24 on a smaller scale than Smith had historically enjoyed.
Smith now has four films in the works. Their specific distribution styles, dates and even cast are still in the planning stages, but the sheer fact that Smith is so motivated must be attributed to something. There are many possible reasons for Smith’s return to creativity. His daughter Harley is coming of age where she is able to take over from her father in the films. After a cameo in Tusk, Harley will play a starring role in Yoga Hosers with more roles expected to follow. At Comicon Smith specifically discussed how privileged he felt to be able to work with his daughter and was excited by the idea of being able to perhaps reach a new audience with new sorts of stories (the idea of Smith cashing in on tween sci-fi seems unlikely but we never thought he would do horror either). Smith has also figured out his audience. He is no longer expected to open a film at $50 million, people understand his narrow appeal will consistently result in modest returns for non-commercial or commercial film. As a result he is sticking to concepts he knows he can make for chicken feed and make peanuts in return. He isn’t interested in making other people’s films, his worst outings are easily Cop Out and Jersey Girl because neither film felt like it was his voice, they are films that could have been directed by anybody without many changes.
Smith knows his audience and his audience knows him. His Smodcast podcast network, years of Hall H panels at Comic Con and dozens of world stand up tours have given his fans unfiltered access to the man and his thoughts. While this has drawn ire from Hollywood as he constantly lets lose the truth about the inner workings of big business and drawn headlines wherever he has gone, he is seen as a straight shooter in the film and nerd world. He constantly pops up as a talking head commenting on comic books, film and even airline policy. he was trusted to write a Batman series, unfortunately the last part of which is still in the works and looking less likely the more films Smith commits too. Smith knows he has an audience that will flock to his films on opening night, buy the digital copy when it’s released as well as the limited edition collectible blu-ray too. The numbers won’t set the box office aflame but it’s enough to ensure he can budget for a bare minimum every time he picks up a camera.
There is no guarantee that his future films will find an audience and similarly as he delves into a new part of his career it may be possible that his cult status can translate into serious box office, only time will tell. Maybe he will be offered a deal by Netflix like other comedy powerhouses Adam Sandler and Woody Allen. The only thing you can guarantee is that after a rocky relationship with Hollywood, Smith will continue forward on his own terms, looking to embrace new media, making his opinion heard and taking his legion of dedicated fans with him. No doubt we will continue to see headlines weekly about new films in the works. Personally I will be clamoring for any new information and will pre-order my ticket to any Smith film that shows near me, guaranteed that i will enjoy what it on the screen as long as long as his creativity is driving it.