Posted: 10/21/2008


Kevin Smith Makes a Porno

by Paul Fischer

Exclusive Interview

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Only iconic director Kevin Smith could get away with making a fromantic comedy of sorts with the title Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but that is precisely what ended up in the creative mind of one of America’s most original auteurs. On this film, Smith wrote, directed and edited the quirky comedy about two friends who live together, and whose lives reach desperation point that they decide to make an amateur porno to make quick money. In the process, Zack and Miri discover some home truths about love, friendship and yeah, porn. The film premiered at this year’s recent Toronto Film Festival, which is where Paul Fischer sat down with the always-affable director, for this exclusive interview.

Paul Fischer: When you decided to make a film with this title, what was the initial reaction from the perspective financiers?

Kevin Smith: Well, when I pitched it to Harvey, we were at this meeting about some Clerks II stuff. And I’m pretty sure we were in pre. Yeah, we were in pre, because we were talking about who to cast as the female lead. And he was like, “What do you want to do after this?” And I’m like, “Dude, can we get through this, before we think about what’s after?” He’s like, “Well, you have anything?” I was like, “There is this movie I’m thinking about doing, and it’s a comedy. It’s called Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” And he goes, “Done. Green-lit.” And I was like, “You don’t want to know what it’s about?” And he’s like, “Doesn’t that title say it all?” I was just like, “Wow. I hope not, but kinda, at the same time.” So Harvey was all for it from the jump. When we were about two weeks into production, I got a phone call from Bob Weinstein, the other half of the Weinstein equation. And Bob was just like, “You know, Kevin, I’ve been thinking about it. We should change the title of that movie.” And I said, “Why? What, are you afraid, like, it’s going to keep people away from going to see it?” And he’s like, “Well, there’s that. But I also just think it reveals way too much.” He’s like, “I think we should go with this title: Zack and Miri Make a Movie.” And I was like, “Bob, that’s so fucking bland. And also, it’s misleading. What if some people get into that movie going, ‘Oh, Zack and Miri are going to make a movie.’ And we start throwing fucking sex at them, and tits, and fucking anal sex and shit.” And he was just like, “Well, I guess you got a point there.” So there was never really a problem. And then, like, a week after that phone call from Bob, USA Today ran a piece where they quoted a dude from Exhibitor Relations who said, “That title is one of the best titles of the year.” And suddenly Bob said, “I don’t know what I was thinking, it was a brain fart. It’s a great title. Never mind.”

PF: How did the script evolve?

KS: It evolved, really, literally, over about 11 years, because I started thinking about not this exact movie, but a movie very much like it, while we were doing Chasing Amy. And I wanted to do it with Ben and Joey and Jason. And then we wound up doing Dogma next, and then Dogma led to Jay and Bob, and everything just kind of got off track. And then Ben got very fucking famous, and everyone got busy, so I never got back to it. And then when I saw 40- Year-Old Virgin, and saw Seth, and fell in love with Seth, I was just like—“Oh my God, I have it. I have it, cuz this is the guy.” Like, it was like finding the main character before there was a script. Like, that guy just represented it to me. He sounded like one of my characters. And I hadn’t seen 40 Year-Old Virgin in the theaters, because we were making Clerks II at the time that it was out. So I caught it on DVD. And I watched it on DVD, and I swear to God, I kept rewinding every scene that dude was in. Just like, “This—this dude is amazing.” Like, I’d known him from Freaks & Geeks, and from Undeclared. But this was the Seth Rogen we would all come to know and love. And he just blew me away. And, you know, Steve Carell is real great in the film. But I was just like, “Oh my God, this movie belongs to this fucking dude. He’s amazing.” So it was really seeing that performance that kind of crystallized it. And suddenly everything kind of clicked into place.

PF: Obviously there’s a lot of raw sexuality and language. All of that. But there’s a lot of heart to this movie. And I was wondering whether or not you could have done that ten years ago, as a writer.

KS: I mean, I guess we came kind of close in Chasing Amy. But this movie’s far raunchier than Chasing Amy was. And Chasing Amy was more of a film, and this is more of a movie to me. But I don’t know. We certainly wouldn’t have gotten away with the title ten years ago. Thank God Apatow kind of busted the—what I always consider to be a $30 million ceiling on raunch and sentimental movies. Because we’ve been doing that since ’94, and we’d never got higher than that. And so I was always resolved to the fact that, like, if you’re going to mix these two elements, you’re never going to reach the mainstream. This is always going to be indie or cult territory. And then 40 Year-Old Virgin, and subsequently Knocked Up, Superbad, burst through that. Shattered that glass ceiling. And it made it commercial. Suddenly those movies that I enjoyed making, that people were like, “They’ll do fine in theaters. They’ll make back all the money on DVD and stuff, or home video,” were financially and commercially viable in movieplexes and whatnot. So, I think ten years ago, this title doesn’t play. Today, this movie—the title actually gets to work because of the stuff that Judd has done.

PF: How important was it for you to find somebody to work opposite Seth, to where the chemistry would seem extremely—and the emotional heart of this movie is really Elizabeth’s character.

KS: I mean, initially I had written it for Seth and Rosaria Dawson. Because, you know, we had done Clerks II together, and she was wonderful in Clerks II. And then when I was done with the script, she had taken a role in Eagle Eye, which kept her busy until mid-February or March, and we wanted to go in January. So we had to kind of let go of the notion of using Rosario. Which excited Seth, because—not like he didn’t like Rosario. But he was just like, “Oh my God, I’ve seen so many actresses over the last two years.” Because I guess Judd and co-audition everybody. He’s like, “There’s plenty of chicks out there that we can find that’ll be awesome.” So we went through a list of who was going to be available from this January to March corridor, and found six actresses who might warm to the material. Because, you know, you’re not going to get every actress wanting to do this movie. And Banks was at the top of the list, alphabetically. So Rogen comes over to the house to talk about a bunch of stuff, and then I give him the list. I was like, “These are the potential Miris. What do you think?” And he’s like, “Banks.” He’s like, “Oh my God, I fucking love Banks. She was awesome when we worked on 40 Year-Old Virgin. She made it really far in the Knocked Up auditions. She was almost in Knocked Up as the female lead.” He’s going, “This chick is not only a great actress, but she’s a really great comedienne. You should totally have her read the script, meet her, talk to her.” So she came over to the house, read the script. And we just sat on my deck for, like, two hours talking, and I fell in love with her and whatnot. And immediately said, “Well, the role is yours if you want it.” And her only question was like, “How naked am I going to have to be?” And I was like, “Honestly, we’ll figure that out when we get there. But you’re only going to ever be as naked as you want to be.” I don’t think it really calls—the script doesn’t really call for, like, “We must see Miri’s tits, ass, pussy, whatever.” And when we got to that point where we were shooting their love scene, that was the last week of shooting. We moved it to the end, just so I could let them hang out together the whole movie before we had to get to the down and dirty with them. And I’d been cutting the movie every night after we wrapped, so the movie was taking shape. And I felt the tone, I felt the feel, and the pace. So by the time we got to their sex scene that morning, I went to both their trailers. And I was like, “So, basically I’m going to shoot it like this, and you guys are going to wear your clothes.” And they were like, “You’re fucking kidding me.” Like, we’d been sweating taking our gear off the whole movie. You’re telling us we don’t have to take it off?” I was like, “I don’t think it’s going to help. I think it’s actually going to pull people out of the scene, if like—we see Seth’s ass, which will make people laugh. Or we see your tits, which is going to just make people be like, ‘We’ve finally seen Elizabeth Banks’ tits.’” So I said, “Let’s just kind of keep it right here.” And thank God, because it really works.

PF: And it gives the film an emotional center, doesn’t it?

KS: Totally. Very much so. But all props to her. She is hands-down the best actress I’ve ever worked with. That chick gives you so many choices while doing the exact same material over and over again. And she really made that scene totally soar. Because most of that scene plays on her expression. And it’s wonderful. You know, and I’m sure a lot of people will be like, “Well, of course, it’s a fat guy’s fantasy, the awesome-looking chick would enjoy having sex with a heavy dude.” I live that fantasy every day. So, like, it’s a plausible fantasy.

PF: How much research did you do in the whole amateur porn industry to get a flavor?

KS: Honestly, not much. I mean, I do look at porn almost every morning when I wake up. And not, like, to jerk off, or fucking be titillated. But more just because I’m always hoping that one day I’ll see somebody I know, because it just seems like—every time I click on a porn, like, there are hundreds—thousands of pictures of girls. Different pictures of different girls. And you’re just like, “What a massive world this must be.” Because you feel like everybody who’s ever wanted to take their clothes off in front of a camera has already done it, based on the volume of images there are. And I figure based on process of elimination, sooner or later I gotta see someone I went to school with. But only if I look at MILF porn. Because I’m 38. And so all my classmates would be around the same age. So I look every morning for that. And the stuff that I enjoy most is the kind of amateur stuff. Like, the DIY—Do-It-Yourself kind of porn. So, I mean, I would hesitate to say that I was ever looking at it as research. It’s just something I enjoy kind of perusing every once in a while, to keep up to date. But really, the true research for the movie was making Clerks. Because the movie’s just a veiled dressed up version of how we made our first movie. It’s just about porn, as opposed to a little gritty independent film.

PF: Are you surprised at your own evolution as a filmmaker?

KS: You know, it’s a fucking good question, because I was thinking about it last night, because I was watching the movie with the audience, and it fucking killed the place—through the roof. And I’m watching the flick, and I’m just going, like, “Wow, this is better than the last one, and it’s better than the one before that. But I betcha the next time we try comedy it’ll be even better.” Because you just grow, and learn, and shit. Like, I felt like this one was the most tightly-edited film I’ve put together yet. It’s just like [snaps finger]—no scene feels like it overstays its welcome, at least to me. So, I don’t know. The evolution thing is kind of surprising. Because at a certain point, you feel like, “I’ve learned everything I could possibly learn, and this is what I do.” And then you surprise yourself every once in a while, where you’re like, “Oh. I could step it up.” Like, the sequence where they’re making love, or the sequence at the party, where he winds up going off with Stacy, are sequences that I never would have done ten years ago, because I would have done all dialogue. And those are two just visually-oriented sequences. And that only—I mean, I’m sure it comes natural to some filmmakers, who are born filmmakers. But for somebody like me, who is kind of more of a writer than a director—it was kind of a breakthrough of sorts. Where I was like, “Oh, you can tell a story with images. This is film.” And I’m not used to that. I’m used to telling stories with people’s lips flapping all the time.

PF: What do you hope to do next, do you have any idea?

KS: This is right after I wrote Zack and Miri while we were waiting for Seth to finish up his long, summer-long press tours for Pineapple Express and Superbad, where the dude went everywhere—I had time. So I started writing this movie, Red State, this little horror movie that I wanted to do. So that’s, I think, where we’re going next.

PF: Is it going to be a hard core horror movie?

KS: Yeah, yeah. It’s not comedic at all. It’s kind of creepy and unsettling. It’s not—you know, a slasher movie. There’s not a shit ton of gore. It’s just more disturbing than anything else. If we can pull it off. And I’m kind of interested in doing it, because I’ve done comedy, comedy, comedy. And it’d be nice to try a different genre, just to see if I’m truly a filmmaker. Like, if I could pull it off, I could finally feel like, “Ooh, maybe I am a filmmaker.” Otherwise I’m like, “Oh, I’m just the guy that makes the dick and fart jokes movies.” Which I’d be fine with as well.

PF: But you don’t just make the dick and fart joke movies.

KS: [laughs] That’s true. But I don’t know, sometimes that’s the way I feel. I guess when you’re told that enough, you just believe it. Like, I read it in press all the time. I’m like, “All right. I am the dick and fart joke movie guy.”

PF: Do you think you’ll work with Ben again?

KS: Absolutely, man. We tried to find something for him to do in this flick, but he was working on something else at the same time. And also, it felt like popping him in here would have been a total, like, stunt, more than anything else. But he was one of the first people I showed the flick to when I was done. Because he didn’t read the script, didn’t know anything about it. So he was clean, fresh eyes. And I was kind of dreading his reaction, because I felt like it’d be tainted with the whole, like, “Well, where the fuck am I in this movie? Why wasn’t I Zack?” But he loved it. He was just like, “Honestly, dude, I think this may be the best movie you’ve made yet.” And I was like, “Jesus Christ. What about Chasing Amy?” He said, “Well, it’s close.” [laughs]

Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.

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