Don’t expect Kevin Smith to be all lofty and serious when he talks about movies next week after the screening of his latest effort, “Yoga Hosers.”
Smith doesn’t have “the art of filmmaking” in mind when he stands in front of an audience.
He’s a storyteller at heart, with a desire to entertain, he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles.
So be ready for some kicked-back fun when the guy who made “Clerks,” “Mallrats,” “Chasing Amy” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” starts taking questions Thursday evening at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.
“Yoga Hosers” is the second in his planned True North trilogy, which he launched with the 2014 horror-comedy “Tusk.” The new film again features his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, and Lily-Rose Melody Depp, the daughter of Johnny Depp — who also appears in the movie. Other cast members include Justin Long, Jason Mewes, Adam Brody and comic book icon Stan Lee.
The story, Smith said, is about “two tween girls who fight little one-foot-tall Nazi sausages called Brat-Zis.”
It’s a comedy-thriller made with teenagers in mind, and a reflection of “the experimental part of my career I skipped earlier,” he said. “My early work was essentially documentaries. Now I make movies that are in no way about my own life.”
Smith, 45, stays very busy, though movies have not been a priority in the last few years. He can be heard on “SModcast,” a weekly podcast his long-time producing partner, Scott Mosier. He has his own AMC reality series, “Comic Book Men,” which is set at the comic book store he owns in Red Bank, N.J. And he recently directed an episode of “The Flash” on The CW Network.
The screening and Q&A session in Ponte Vedra Beach are part of a seven-city tour he’s making to promote “Yoga Hosers” before it opens nationally at the end of July.
Here’s more of the conversation with Smith:
The screening/Q&A is something you’ve done for a long time. Do you remember the very first one?
It was the second screening of “Clerks” of Sundance [in 1994]. There was time for a Q&A afterwards. I’ve loved comedians my whole life, listened to comedy albums like crazy. I didn’t want to get up there and speak as a filmmaker, like, “Let me tell you the art of filmmaking.” I was such an amateur. I don’t even know if I can tell you about the art of filmmaking now. I always felt like, “Be entertaining” — like, it was fun to make that movie, share the stories of making that movie. So thankfully, in those days, I had Scott Mosier, my producer, standing next to me. So I wasn’t up there by myself. Scott would stand there silently until I was like, “What was the budget?” and he would answer the question. So basically, after the second screening of “Clerks,” it had gone well, and I felt like, “OK, go up and be entertaining.”
The Hollywood Reporter referred to you as a “nerd icon” when “Yoga Hosers” played at Sundance. What do you think — is that a bad thing?
In the ’50s it was a bad thing, right? Like on “Happy Days,” whenever they called Potsie a nerd, it was a put-down. “Revenge of the Nerds” kind of took the term back, or at least said, “Hey, nerds are people too,” back in the ’80s. But now, dude, we live in nerd-world. That’s the only reason my career is still going. I made “Mallrats” in ’95, and it looks like the present — like, it’s a world when Stan Lee makes cameos in movies, and everybody knows everything about Marvel characters. In “Mallrats” it was a subculture. Now it is the culture. So because of that, because I liked this stuff early on, it gives me life even when I’m not making a movie.
There was a brief conflict over the rating of “Yoga Hosers.”
Intitially, the MPAA gave us an “R” rating, which was [crazy] ... We were making a movie with two teenage girls at the epicenter, I was like, all right, let’s play clean. That’s part of the fun. I’ve never made a kids’ movie like this before. So when the MPAA gave us an “R,” I was flabbergasted. And the reason, they said, was a moment in the movie when Johnny’s character holds up a book that he is the author of, and it’s in the library in the kids’ school. And someone has graffitied a set of [testicles] on his chin. And it’s clearly, like they’re blue and drawn with DayGlo markers, and it’s not even like, “Look at this realistic rendering ...” And so I was dumbfounded. I guess we’ll cut it out. And then I remembered, “you know, it’s not R-rated material.” So I’m going to fight it. And I’ve done that before with the MPAA three other times, I went up against them and had ratings turned from “R” to “PG-13” or from “NC-17” to “R,” so this one to me was going to be an easy lay-up. I was ready to go toe-to-toe, and I figured we’d win without having to make a cut. ... Then I got a phone call from our distributor. The MPAA called and said that they’ve rewatched the movie and reconsidered, it’s now a PG-13. And they apologized for initially giving it an “R.” So I didn’t have to do anything. I was a little disappointed.
Will some people be surprised that you can make a PG-13 movie?
Yeah, absolutely. By the time they see it, I think they’ll notice, hey, Jason Mewes is in it, so Kevin Smith must have something to do with it. But it’s surprisingly easy for a 45-year-old vulgarian to get inside the head of teenage girls. The sense of humor isn’t that far apart. The girls were very helpful as well. Having two actual teenagers playing actual teenagers, that was kind of fun, and also I could draw from them. I was like, “What would you say?”
Did you have to Google “Yoga Hosers” to make sure it wasn’t already taken as a movie title?
It came up on our podcast. I was there the moment the phrase was coined by Scott Mosier. We did this episode of SModcast called “Yoga Hoser,” and we were telling the story about this yogi in Edmonton who had a run-in with the cops over a piece of artwork that maybe shouldn’t have been his. But the guy in print read so wonderfully. He sounded very peaceful, very yoga, but with a Canadian edge, and so Scott Mosier called me “yoga hoser,” and right away I was just dying. And then I guess it was a couple of months later, I was looking for a title. “Hero Girl Clerks of the Canadian Wilderness” was the original title. But “Yoga Hoser,” when Scott said that on the podcast, it stuck in my head. I was like, if I put these girls into yoga, then I can call them yoga hosers, and bang. Yeah, I had to make sure it wasn’t a term prior. We were able to buy that website pretty easily. There was no competition.
You’re committed to independent filmmaking. If you had the chance to direct a big-budget superhero film, would you do it?
When you do a comic book feature, it’s all about spectacle. That’s what they sell the movie on in the trailer. You’ve only got two hours. You get way more time in TV. I recently directed an episode of “The Flash,” and most people, across the board, were saying, “This is the best thing you’ve ever done, including your early good films.” And so I fit in very well. And you also get to pull the taffy. You get to do more characterization. Because of that, even if they were like, “Here, take the big movie,” I’d probably shy away from doing the big movie, because I don’t think I could bring anything to it. I’m not good at spectacle. ... I feel like my indie film training makes me perfect for TV right now, episodic and digital and stuff, because you get more time. As a storyteller, it’s more appealing to be able to tell something over the course of 10 hours than it is two hours. The writer in me is like, oh, that means you get everything out there. I don’t think I would do the movie. I’d leave that to the people who are brilliant at visual spectacle.