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Video Fave Kevin Smith Gets DVD of His Own

30 Nov, 2002 By: Jessica Wolf

For a man whose most famous onscreen persona is notorious for remaining pointedly mute throughout a film (until a pivotal, epiphany-producing speech is called for, that is), writer/director/producer Kevin Smith has always had a lot to say about filmmaking, about himself and his pals, and about his artfully skewed universe of comedies -- Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Smith's fans are many, especially among the college-student demographic and those in the video industry where his films quite often are synonymous with high return on investment. And now, with the recent Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment release of An Evening With Kevin Smith, his legions of fans have another reason to hit the video store: Silent Bob speaks.

The idea for a DVD following Smith through visits to five colleges across the country came from a friend in the home entertainment biz -- Michael Stradford, Columbia TriStar's VP of DVD programming and content.

“I've been doing these college gigs for a long time. The college kids are really my bread and butter,” Smith said in a phone interview with Video Store Magazine. “Mike went to one of my college gigs and said, ‘Would you ever want to put this on a DVD?' ”

It all started when Miramax sent Smith out to speak at film festivals doing publicity for his 1994 major film debut, Clerks, Smith said. From there it snowballed, with colleges inviting the increasingly popular director to speak to film students.

“Then it went beyond the film classes,” Smith said. “People figured out I never really came with a lecture prepared, so the Q&A format was born.”

Smith has never shied away from Q&A sessions, taking the time to appear even at the height of his fame at conventions like San Diego's Comic-Con and his own Vulgarthon, held regularly through his company View Askew Productions. It's gratifying to interact with fans on that level, he said.

“I remember at one festival where we were showing Chasing Amy, a guy came up to me after it was all over and said, ‘The movie's fine, but the Q&A is brilliant.' ”

Smith said he has no qualms or reservations about opening up to an unscripted audience. He speaks to auditoriums populated by anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 college kids. “The format's very laid back,” Smith said. “It's about as familiar as you can get in an auditorium with 2,000 people.”

One thing the director hopes Evening (due Dec. 17 at $27.95 on DVD only) will do is to provide fans with that familiarity and fun, while easing the director's speaking-tour schedule. “In the early days, I had nothing else to do, but now I have a wife and kid, and it's harder to get on that plane and be gone for three days,” Smith said.

Smith definitely has a soft spot for the home entertainment industry. “The first time I spoke to a bunch of video store retailers was post-Chasing Amy -- it had only been out for a few weeks. The studio flew me to Las Vegas for [a VSDA convention], and when I got there I was given this welcome like I'd cured cancer. The dudes were telling me, ‘Clerks, man, that was like the No. 2 ROI of all time.'

“I also get video people telling me ‘your movie is the one that gets stolen the most,' which I guess is also a compliment in a way,” he added. “Largely we've built our following off the video releases. I'm fond of the video dudes, plus I used to work in a video store, so there's a sense of camaraderie there.”

The 32-year-old filmmaker has an easy, familiar and refreshingly honest way of speaking about his projects, his life and his ideas, and he seems to be genuinely pleased when people respond to his work. (See Evening review in VSM, Nov. 10-17). “I've never really had a bad audience,” he said. “They're always really receptive, and it's never difficult to talk about yourself. And the fact that people are genuinely interested and genuinely enthusiastic about you and your stupid little world is amazing.

“It's therapeutic as hell, too,” he added.

So what does the audience want from these gatherings? “Generally, people just want to come and hear some funny shit. Sometimes I get someone asking me stuff like, ‘how do I sell a script,' which I don't know because I've never done it, and people always ask what it's like to work with Jason Mewes.” Mewes plays Jay, the other half of Smith's recognizable onscreen duo, as notorious for his character's irreverent motor mouth as his offscreen antics. But he's a buddy from the early days, like skater-turned-actor Jason Lee, current Hollywood darling Matt Damon and People magazine's recently dubbed “Sexiest Man Alive,” Ben Affleck. Smith is in the process of cutting and posting Jersey Girl, his newest comedy set in his home state and starring the real-life Hollywood couple a few movie fans may recognize -- Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. “It looks good, but I don't want to talk about it too much right now,” Smith said. “I don't think we're going to have any problems with publicity with those two.”

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