Kevin Patrick Smith (born August 2, 1970) is an American screenwriter, actor, film producer, and director, as well as a popular comic book writer, author, comedian/raconteur, and internet radio personality best recognized by viewers as Silent Bob. Although primarily known for the View Askew film series, Smith also wrote, directed and produced films such as the buddy cop action comedy Cop Out, as well as the horror film Red State. His first several films were mostly set in his home state of New Jersey, and while not strictly sequential, they frequently feature crossover plot elements, character references, and a shared canon in what is known by fans as the “View Askewniverse”, named after his production company View Askew Productions, which he co-founded with Scott Mosier.
His first film, Clerks, was shot for the sum total of $27,575 in the convenience store where Smith worked. It went to the Sundance Film Festival in 1994, where it won the Filmmaker’s Trophy and was picked up by Miramax before the festival’s end. In May 1994, it went to the Cannes International Film Festival where it won both the Prix de la Jeunesse and the International Critics’ Week Prize. Released in November 1994 in two cities, the film went on to play in 50 markets, never playing on more than fifty screens at any given time. Despite the limited release, it was a critical and financial success, earning $3.1 million. Initially, the film received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, solely for the graphic language. Miramax hired Alan Dershowitz to defend the film, and at an appeals screening, a jury consisting of members of the National Association of Theater Owners reversed the MPAA’s decision, and the film was given an R rating instead.
Smith’s second film, Mallrats, did not fare as well as expected after the remarkable success of Clerks. It received a critical drubbing and earned merely $2.2 million at the box office, despite playing on more than 500 screens. The film marked Jason Lee’s debut as a leading man. Despite failing at the box office during its theatrical run, Mallrats proved more successful in the home video market.
Widely hailed as Smith’s best film, Chasing Amy marked what Quentin Tarantino called “a quantum leap forward” for Smith. Starring Mallrats alumni Jason Lee, Joey Lauren Adams and Ben Affleck, the $250,000 film earned $12 million at the box office and wound up on a number of critics’ year-end best lists, and won two Independent Spirit Awards (screenplay and supporting actor for Lee).
In 1996, Smith worked on a script for a Superman movie. He did a couple of drafts but his script was dropped when Tim Burton was hired to direct. Burton brought his own people to work on the project. Smith still sees the whole experience on working on the Superman project as a positive one however; he has said that he was well paid and it was a lot of fun. (In April, 2009, Smith discussed his Superman experiences at Clark University—a YouTube video critic A.O. Scott of the New York Times called “extraordinary.”) In the end, neither Smith’s nor Burton’s vision for Superman was filmed. In the 2007 Direct-to-DVD animation release of Superman: Doomsday, Smith has a cameo as an onlooker in a crowd. After Superman defeats The Toyman’s giant mechanical robot, Smith scoffs, “Yeah, like we really needed him to defeat that giant spider. Heh. Lame!” This was a reference to a giant spider that producer Jon Peters wanted Smith to put in the Superman movie when he was attached, that was later put into the 1999 feature film flop Wild Wild West, which Peters also produced.
In 1997, Smith was hired by New Line to rewrite Overnight Delivery, which was expected to be a blockbuster teen movie. Smith’s then-girlfriend Joey Lauren Adams almost took the role of Ivy in the movie, instead of the female lead in Chasing Amy. Eventually she lost out to Reese Witherspoon, and Overnight Delivery was quietly released directly to video in April 1998. Kevin Smith’s involvement with the film was revealed on-line, but he remains uncredited. He has said that the only scene which really used his dialogue was the opening scene, which includes a reference to long-time Smith friend Bryan Johnson.
Smith’s fourth film, Dogma, featured an all-star cast and found itself mired in controversy. The religious-themed 1999 comedy, which starred a post-Good Will Hunting Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, as well as Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, George Carlin, Alan Rickman, Linda Fiorentino, and Smith regulars Jason Lee and Jason Mewes, raised criticism by the Catholic League.
The film debuted at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, out of competition. Released on 800 screens in November 1999, the $10 million film earned $30 million.
Smith then focused the spotlight on two characters who had appeared in supporting roles in his previous four films, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back featured an all-star cast, with many familiar faces returning from Smith’s first four films. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon appear as themselves filming a mock sequel to Good Will Hunting. The $20 million film earned $30 million at the box office and received mixed reviews from the critics.
In 2004, Smith wrote a screenplay for a new film version of The Green Hornet, and announced prematurely that he had originally intended to direct as well. The project, however died after the film was placed into turn around following the poor box office of Jersey Girl. Smith’s screenplay was turned into a Green Hornet comic book miniseries.
Jersey Girl with Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin and Raquel Castro, his first outside of the View Askewniverse, was meant to mark a new direction in Smith’s career. However, the film took a critical beating as it was seen as, in Smith’s own words, “Gigli 2“, due to the fact that it co-starred Affleck and his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez. Despite Smith heavily re-editing the film to reduce Lopez’s role to just a few scenes, the film did poorly at the box office. Budgeted at $35 million, it earned only $36 million.
In the 2006 sequel, Clerks II, Smith revisited the Dante and Randal characters from his first film for what was his final visit to the View Askewniverse. Roundly criticized before its release, the film went on to win favorable reviews as well as two awards (the Audience Award at the Edinburgh Film Festival and the Orbit Dirtiest Mouth Award at the MTV Movie Awards). It marked Smith’s third trip to the Cannes International Film Festival, where Clerks II received an eight minute standing ovation. The $5 million film, starring Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Halloran, Rosario Dawson, Jason Mewes, Jennifer Schwalbach and Smith himself – reprising his role as Silent Bob – earned $25 million.
That same year, Smith was featured in This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a 2006 documentary about the Motion Picture Association of America process of rating films. Smith’s interview was in reference to Jersey Girl receiving an R rating, and Clerks originally receiving an NC-17 rating.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno was originally announced in March 2006 as Smith’s second non-Askewniverse comedy. The film, which began shooting on January 18, 2008 in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, and wrapped on March 15, 2008, stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as the title characters who decide to make a low-budget pornographic film to solve their money problems. The film, which was released on October 31, 2008, ran into many conflicts getting an “R” rating, with Rogen stating:
“It’s a really filthy movie. I hear they are having some problems getting an R rating from an NC-17 rating, which is never good… They [fight against] sex stuff. Isn’t that weird? It’s really crazy to me that Hostel is fine, with people gouging their eyes out and shit like that, but you can’t show two people having sex – that’s too much.”
Smith took the film through the MPAA’s appeals process and received the R rating, without having to make any further edits. Zack and Miri Make a Porno was considered a box office “flop” in part because of “tepid media advertising for a movie with the title PORNO”, and, in the aftermath of the film’s “flaccid” performance, the business relationship between Smith and producer Harvey Weinstein became “frayed”.
It was announced in 2009 that Smith had signed on to direct a buddy-cop comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan called A Couple of Dicks and written by the Cullen Brothers. Due to controversy surrounding the original title, it was changed to A Couple of Cops, before reverting back its original title, A Couple of Dicks, due to negative reaction, before finally settling on the title Cop Out. The film, which was shot between June and August 2009, involved a pair of veteran cops tracking down a stolen vintage baseball card, and was released on February 26, 2010 to poor reviews; it was the first film that Smith has directed but not written. With a worldwide domestic gross of $55,583,804, Cop Out is Smith’s highest grossing film to date.
In September 2010, Smith started work on Red State, an independently-financed horror film inspired by the Westboro Baptist Church and their Pastor Fred Phelps. In February 2010, he talked about his project with Cinssu, Film producers and moguls Bob and Harvey Weinstein who had thus far been involved in the distribution of most of Smith’s films, with the exception of Mallrats and Cop Out, declined to support Red State. The film stars Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Stephen Root. Smith had indicated that he would auction off rights to the $4 million film at a controversial event following the debut screening of the film at Sundance but instead, kept the rights to the film himself with plans to self-distribute the picture “under the Smodcast Pictures” banner. The film was released via Video on Demand on September 1, 2011 through Lionsgate, will be released in select theaters again for a special one-night only engagement on September 25, 2011 (via Smodcast Pictures), and was released on home video October 18, 2011. Kevin Smith listed Mel Gibson as a role-model he looked up to, and his inspiration, for how he planned to distribute this movie, citing Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ as an example of a successfully self-distributed movie. He further explained his decision as a way to return to an era when marketing a film did not cost four times as much as the film itself, a situation he has described as “both decadent and deadening”. The film was released in January 2011. The premiere drew protests from a half-dozen members of the church, along with many more who counter-protested Westboro members.
Smith will direct a hockey drama-comedy based on the song “Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song)” by Warren Zevon. The song, which is about a hockey player famous for fighting in the rink, was co-written by Tuesdays With Morrie author Mitch Albom, who is working with Smith on the film.
Although Smith had previously mentioned other projects he had planned,he announced at the Sundance premiere of Red State that Hit Somebody will be the last movie he ever directs, and that he will continue to tell stories in other media. In August Hit Somebody was announced as a two part film titled Hit Somebody: Home and Hit Somebody: Away with part one being PG-13 and part 2 being Rated R.
Smith further explained his retirement from directing, citing distribution politics, and the manner in which making films like Zack and Miri “adulterated” his own identity as a filmmaker, saying, “I don’t have the same passion for it I used to. I don’t have any stories left to tell.” Smith further emphasized that he sees himself as a writer rather than a director, and that Harvey Weinstein developed his career as a celebrity auteur because “my films were never strong enough to stand up on their own.” Daily Beast writer Chris Lee reported in September 2011 that those close to Smith cite the failure of Zack and Miri, and Smith’s constant marijuana consumption as a contributing factor to his categorization of those around him into “friendly or enemy camps”, his tendency to sequester himself from those he perceives as being against him, and his retirement from the film industry. Smith states that he is merely reinventing himself as an artist, which he refers to as “Kevin Smith 2.0”, and cites his 70 lb. weight loss, his deals for a book and two television pilots, and his starting an online radio station.
First Published: Mar 1, 2012 – Last Updated: Jan 27, 2013