As a rule of thumb, anytime an usher greets you with the the phrase, "This will be a four hour show with no intermission," I feel it is entirely pertinent to respond with, "No thank you," and hightail it out of the theater.
Unless the person you came to see is pop culture icon Kevin Smith, who has planned a live taping of his next televised special, Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell, in which his adoring fans get to ask Smith the questions they've been dying to ask their #1 celebrity hero. Questions like: "What's the best way a female fan has ever hit on you?" and "Do you need someone to challenge you in a weed smoke-off?" Y'know, the really hardhitting questions. (And answers: His wife is the only one that ever did hit on him, and, no, he's doing great in finding smoking buddies.)
True to his good-natured, always-for-the-fans philosophy, Smith takes all of the audience's questions in stride and expertly steers the conversation into the territory of personal reflection about his upringing, his work philosophies and his relationship to the movie industry. As an insider that still feels like an outsider, Smith is the lucky everynerd who saw what was going on at the slumber party and now gets to report back to his buddies at the treehouse.
Austin is now one of Smith's favorite treehouses, having been shown overwhelming support from the indie-loving nerds of this city. Smith points to Richard Linklater's Slacker as the film that planted the seed for Clerks twenty years ago. "I realized that if this guy in Bumblefuck, Texas could make a movie about nothing, I sure as hell could do that in New Jersey," he laughs. He shares that it was at a SXSW film panel in 1997, sitting with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh and Linklater himself when Smith realized just how far he'd come since watching that movie as a kid in Red Bank, New Jersey.
As an insider that still feels like an outsider, Smith is the lucky everynerd who saw what was going on at the slumber party and now gets to report back to his buddies at the treehouse.
The Paramount was packed with Smith's diehard fans, mostly white middle-aged dudes whose ursine forms also do not fit into Hollywood's standards (or in those tiny historic Paramount seats, quite frankly). To these fans that followed Smith even through the rough (Cop Out) patches, Smith is living their movie/comic book/podcast dreams on their behalf. So every word that springs from his hilariously foul mouth is like gospel to them. Every movie reference erupted in applause, every joke hit its mark. Its a tad sycophantic, but it's also beautiful to see religion at work.
There were particular audience questions that led to some profundity on Smith's part. The second question of the night asked if he was truly retiring from filmmaking. In a response that lasted an impressive 45 minutes and included a rallying anecdote comparing movie making to making love in a Denny's bathroom, Smith explained that the controversial Red State is his penultimate film. His next movie, a hockey movie he has tentative titled Hit Something, will indeed be his last.
As Smith explains it, his movie making career took a dip once he started making movies for the studios. As he put it, he "ran out of shit to say after Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." After that, he admits that the lack of his own stories to tell led to his series of less-appreciated, more commercial studio films and his subsequent battle with movie critics. Whether it was his epic battles with the MPAA over movie poster design or the Twitter battles pitting him against movie critics, hearing Smith's impassioned version of the story in a room with 3,000 of his closest friends makes you truly root for the underdog filmmaker.
As Smith explains it, his movie making career took a dip once he started making movies for the studios. As he put it, he "ran out of shit to say after Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back."
By alienating all movie critics, Smith was able to move forward with a newfound freedom in his filmmaking. By already assuming the worst from the critics, he was no longer dictated by the fears that once possessed him. He calls Red State the spiritual twin of Clerks since it's built from the same creative wellspring of fearlessness. "But I've only got one or two of these amazing movies in me. Everything else for the last twenty years was getting me to this point," he tells his audience.
Ultimately, Smith contends that the filmmaking chapter of his career is coming to a close, making way for other era of greatness. He's already done a run on DC Comics' Batman and shot episodes for television like Reaper and Degrassi: The Next Generation. Now he's moving from visual storytelling to more traditional storytelling via stage shows, podcasts and interviews. "Being the white noise in people's lives is thrilling," he says. "I feel the way about podcasting how I did about filmmaking, but I can do this so much faster and cheaper. I just talk, and you come up with all the images, which is way better than anything I could have ever made in a movie."
If you missed Smith's Q&A session at The Paramount, you will be able to catch the recorded version on EPIX, the new online HD movie and television site, in early 2012. In the meanwhile, you can always hear Smith on Scott Mosier's weekly podcast known as SModcast. Or, y'know, when he comes back to Austin again. Because, after all, this is his favorite treehouse and he's got plenty more stories to tell.