Dear So-and-So: Kevin Smith
Dear Kevin Smith,
In light of your shenanigans at last weekend's Sundance event (aka The Decision 2.0), I felt it necessary to write you in the hopes of understanding how it came to this. My aim is to retrace your career, remind you of your roots, and go over some strategy as for how to win back that once beloved fan community you've written off and flipped the bird to. After all, we used to be on the same side; you were once a proud fanboy (and a jolly one at that). Let's see if we can pinpoint where and why Silent Bob became Angry Kevin...
Rewind to 1993, when you really were a "fat, masturbating stoner" like the rest of us. A lover and self-taught student of all things film, living in small-town Jersey, a man of only 23 years but already possessing substantial intelligence and drive. You channeled all those qualities and a few thousand hard-earned bucks into the classic CLERKS, and once the film industry caught wind and distributed it into the world (remember that part for later) the legend of Kevin Smith was born. You fast became an inspiration, a beacon of hope to all us aspiring filmmakers who dream of someday making it big in Hollywood.
You followed Clerks up with MALLRATS. It opened with a bit less critical acclaim, but became an immediate cult favorite. Next came your greatest critical success, CHASING AMY, and with it your defined style emerged. Your films- each punctuated by raunchy comedy, witty dialogue, simple camerawork, and featuring the topics of love and angst amongst the slacker generation- were easily relatable to a growing fan base. This was all exacerbated by the fact that your stage presence and notoriety as a wordsmith (no pun intended) could win any audience over. You wisely embraced the growing online film community (who embraced you equally), and with Hollywood flooding in offers for you to write big-screen comic book films and more, the sky was the limit. Your dream had come true.
The comic book stuff didn't seem to be working out. You just didn't mesh with the Producers' unauthentic vision, and there's something very respectable about that. You decided to branch out a bit with your next film, taking on theology (in your traditionally light-hearted, monologue-heavy style) with the slightly controversial DOGMA. It was a favorite amongst the View Askewniverse and achieved some audience success as well. But the less-than-perfect critical response seemed to irk you, and, perhaps, awakened a sense of angst we hadn't previously seen. In your next few films (JAY AND SILENT BOB, JERSEY GIRL, CLERKS II) you tried to return more to your roots, but seemed less and less satisfied with the public feedback that resulted. This, one might infer, was what led to your increased proclivity toward acting and public speaking, the latter platform you started using to bash critics, other filmmakers and several industry bigwigs you hadn't seen eye to eye with.
2007 took your public speaking to new levels with the founding of SModcast, a brilliant start to what would become a popular Podcast empire. You enhanced your deep connection with fans of cinema and pop culture by, as always, promising that you were one of us. But that chip on your shoulder was growing and getting harder to ignore.
Your directorial skills had always been suspect, and perhaps you took that as a challenge when it was announced that you would not be writing your next directorial effort, COP OUT. I'm not going to labor on about how that film was universally received (Rotten Tomatoes will tell you everything you need to know), but not long after the film's release, the Kevin Smith defensive front was unleashed over the interwebs full-bore. No longer restricted to trashing film critics or Hollywood suits, your new distaste for the online film community came as a great shock and a deep wound to many of us. Jokes were replaced by jabs. The notorious Southwest Airlines incident, coupled with a growing and needless Me-and-the-SModcasters-vs-the-world mentality, hinted at your inner turmoil. However, it wasn't apparent just how deeply you'd been affected by your detractors until last Sunday's Sundance publicity stunt.
How sad it was to see you take the stage to harshly dismiss and disrespect the studios and distributors that funded and released your films all these years, then take merciless potshots at the ad industry employees who create the trailers and posters we film geeks salivate for and gush over. Kevin, we LOVE promotionals! We watch the best trailers over and over (and over). We proudly hang our favorite posters on our walls, even though it may sometimes prevent us from getting laid.
Until Sunday night, I had long been a fan of the View Askewniverse; but I liked OTHER films too. Indie films. Art films. Studio films. Big-budget films. Even the [very] occasional remake. To see you indirectly disparage them all, it made me feel like I had to choose a side: you or them. It wasn't a difficult choice to make, but it still hurt. And yet, the biggest gut-punch was still to come...
Amidst your overlong monologue of self-gratification, you mentioned that instead of having the studios pay to release your film, you were going to have us, the audience, pay you out of our pockets to fund it. Then, in passing, you quickly alluded to a crucial financial figure; for this 'privilege' of seeing your flick, we'd each have to pay "six, seven, ten times the price of a normal movie ticket". (Pre-sale pricing released today confirms ticketing starts at $68.25 for nosebleeds, up to $142.70) You then defended this by adding that you'd follow the screening with a Q&A. What fanboy should (or could) drop that kind of coin to see a film? And now the question that must be asked...would Dante or Randal be able to afford that?
I wont get into any more of the politics of your release method, because at the end of your 26 minute self-congratulatory rant, one thing had become painfully clear: this was no longer about filmmaking, it was about Smith-making. The talented, humble, young Anakin we met 17 years ago had finally and unfortunately metamorphosed into Darth Vader. Even if he still wore Jedi robes.
The solution to your problems ain't so simple, because you say you're happy sharing your work only with your Askewniverse (and also because you've burned nearly every other bridge in town). I do genuinely believe that the day will come, like it did for Darth, when you realize that your internal rage and self-pride poisoned you to the extent that you lost sight of what was important. On that day, hopefully you'll wish to make amends, at least to us fanboys and fangirls. I feel that the way to do that, while bold for sure, is relatively simple...
You've got boatloads of cash. You told us as much on Sunday. And since you champion the fact that you made your latest film for almost nothing...put your money where your mouth is. Take your film on the road, to packed houses of SModcast followers and horror enthusiasts just like you've been planning...but screen it for FREE. Afterward, ask for donations to support your indie cause. If you have to, take a page from George Lucas and make your money back selling merch. If you believe so passionately in your fanbase, and in the medium of "TRUE independent film", then make this about THE FILM. Not about the Q&A afterward, and certainly not about maximizing personal profits. Independent film has never been about the money. That's what studio pictures are about. Fund your flicks through SMod-fan donations, and you will become a true Jedi knight.
Now, if your current method ends up working, more power to you. But regardless, and in closing, I'd like to remind you about a point you once stressed; that filmmaking is not about the hard work and perseverance of one man. Filmmaking is and always has been the result of a collaboration between hundreds, sometimes thousands- coming together as one- with the worthy intent of entertaining millions. CLERKS likely wouldn't have reached the world and found its massive fanbase without a little help from some studio friends and a bit of advertising.
We, the moviegoing audience, show up for just one reason: those 90+ minutes of cine-magic in the dark. Owning a pair of SModcast Sneakers or a Wayne Gretzky hockey stick is entirely beside the point. We simply want to immerse ourselves in a damn good flick.
If you can deliver that, great. But if you can't, or simply don't care to any longer, kindly get off the stage. You're standing in front of the screen.
Aaron the H
|Extra Tidbit:||The amount of cash Smith anticipates he'll make at the very first screening of RED STATE dwarfs the entire budget of CLERKS ($27,575).|