Monday, January 24, 2011

Kevin Smith and George Lucas: Bad Decisions and Power in Hollywood

(Due to the greater extent of the work needed on a real life project this past weekend, review delayed till late this week. Instead, enjoy the following)

Tell me if this sounds familiar: a filmmaker bursts onto the Hollywood scene, and is hailed with accolades, and proceeds to build himself an empire of loyal fans with whom he can rely on to spend money on his products. As time goes by, his actual interest in the making of films seems to wane, and he spends his time on other ventures. During this empire building, he seems to surround himself with an increasing number of yes men who merely reinforce his ideas about how to operate in filmmaking. When he does make a film, and both critics and audiences are critical, he lashes out at them, and knows that his loyal fan base will stick with him. And more than anything else, this filmmaker seems obsessed with filmmaker rights to the point that the audience is almost entirely ignored.

If you think I am describing George Lucas, you would be right. Except these days that narrative applies not just to Lucas, but also to one of his biggest fans: Kevin Smith.

Ok, the two on the surface seem hardly comparable. Lucas created Star Wars, the seemingly billion dollar a year generator for Lucas’ empire, while Smith created the series of Jay and Silent Bob films that play to a much, much smaller crowed. Lucas’ grasp extends to toys, games, films and television, while Smith dominates his little section of the Internet, Q and A sessions, and the occasional book. Yet put aside the scale of their empires (for now, at least), and their paths seem to run fairly parallel to one another.

Consider the past year for Kevin Smith since the release of, and negative reaction to, Cop Out. Since that time, Smith has pretty much stated he does not need to listen to critics, increasingly plays (and listens only) to his base, and now seems intent on burning as many bridges as possible with the Hollywood system following the premier of his latest film Red State with his auction stunt.

Oh, and he announced he is pretty much quitting filmmaking (or at least writing and directing) after his next film Hit Somebody.

Right. Sure Kevin. We will see when Clerks 3: Midlife Crisis is released, followed by Mallrats: The Reboot and Jay and Silent Bob Time Travel to 2011, wherein the duo attempt to stop Kevin Smith from making the biggest error in his career.

Here is the thing: as much as Smith might have a loyal fan base that loves to hear him talk, and as much as Smith may hate the Hollywood system, in large part Smith’s appeal as a personality steams from his tales that result from his interactions with the system. It is not just how Smith talks, but what he talks about, like that great Prince story. Or his seemingly volatile “relationship” with Tim Burton. Or the hell that was dealing with ABC during the production of Clerks: the Animated Series. Smith’s life is nothing less than a real life version of Charlie Murphy’s “True Hollywood Stories” from Chappelle's Show.

To keep those stories fresh, Smith needs to keep making films. More to the point, he needs to keep dealing with Hollywood and the people that become the basis for his tales and his appeal. Without keeping this stock of stories fresh, that hardcore fan base will gradually dissolve. This is why the idea of Smith retiring is ludicrous. Besides which, Smith has made similar declarations in the past that have never held up, like the idea that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was the final film set in Smith’s “Jersey-verse.”

Still, Smith seems intent on burning his bridges with the industry. Which brings us back to George Lucas.

As I noted, Smith and Lucas at this point are rather similar except in terms of the scale of their operation. And while Smith seems intent on following every error made by Lucas when it comes to his films and the filmmaking process on his smaller scale, he needs to remember that the scale of George Lucas’s empire means he holds a great deal of power. If Lucas did what Smith has done, or even went as far as to punch a studio executive in the nose, moon every distributor personally, and even kicked a puppy for the hell of it, he would still be welcomed back with open arms if he announced new Star Wars projects.

Smith, do you really think Jay and Silent Bob have that kind of pull if you ever want, or more likely need to go back into the world of filmmaking?

As a film fan, I am the first to admit that most of the practices of the Hollywood industry are annoying, backwards, and destructive. And I would be lying if I did not admit that Smith’s self distribution approach of road showing a film is not something that I thought (or more accurately, daydreamed) about myself. Developing a reliable niche audience in this economy makes perfect sense. And it is always fascinating to hear filmmakers talk about their problems with the system.

But even the most vocal critics will admit you need to play the politics of the system to a point. Even George Lucas has done so, regardless of how poor his films may have turned out.

Keep it in mind Smith. It is in your best interests.


  1. You're not necessarily right that Smith will run out of things to talk about publicly if he abandons filmmaking. I've listened to my share of SModcasts, and I will say that I think that most of the least entertaining stuff is about the filmmaking - most of the good stuff is just his personal life, stories from his youth, riffing on whatever with his friends. If anything, doing stuff like SMod is much more in his wheelhouse than filmmaking, and I fully support him abandoning the latter. I don't think he's made a good movie since Jersey Girl (which, I know, nobody likes, but that's kind of the point - it's actually a sincere movie with some heart, a fair bit of schmaltz, and a smattering of Smith's crude humour, but not enough to bury what's at the core of the piece, which is more than anybody can say for anything he's made since).

    I haven't been listening to a lot of his podcasts lately, because I listen to a lot of other podcasts and Smith's stuff is usually fairly low on my list of pod-priority. But I know that I'm still a lot more likely to enjoy an hour of audio from the guy than an hour and a half of narrative filmmaking.

  2. As far as his podcast is concerned, you are correct: his personal stories from his youth and riffing are excellent.

    However, when it comes to is live show Q and As, it is no mistake that he tends to get asked much of the time about his experiences in the film industry. Not to mention the controversy that attracts people to find out about him when, for example, when he starts bad mouthing Bruce Willis in public about what went on behind the scenes of COP OUT.

  3. I'm not all that familiar with Smith's SModcast's or his Q&As but that's mainly because I've actively avoided them because I think they would probably turn me off on all his films.

    I more or less enjoy all his films, even the really shitty ones like Jersey Girl and Cop Out, but (like a lot of people) I think his talent has always laid more in writing than directing. His 'retirement' smacks of a publicity stunt.

    Good article!

  4. His Smodcasts are a blast to listen to, as are his Q and As, though I will be interested to see if the tone of them shifts in the future.

  5. I just listened to his interview on the WTF Podcast, and he's become unbecomingly bitter. I'm sure he still has it in him to be funny, but I'll think he'll be better off when he stops talking about showbiz altogether, because it just makes him angry and angry Smith ain't funny.

  6. I wonder how many movies you've made, or how much your involved in the movie making process. I don't think you understand ANYTHING about "Hollywood".


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