Kevin Smith on Red State | Interview
The polarizing director screens his new film, Red State, a horror flick inspired by Fred Phelps.
If Kevin Smith elicits polarized reactions, the loved/hated filmmaker himself embodies polarities. The poster boy for the aging slacker generation has made films both indie (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma) and decidedly less so (Jersey Girl, Cop Out). He speaks of himself both humbly (“I don’t think this movie’s good enough to spend a lot of marketing money on it,” he says of his self-distributed new film, Red State) and decidedly less so (Red State represents “a quantum leap forward”). The loquacious director-podcaster called from L.A. to promote his horror film inspired by Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps. As part of Red State’s national screening tour in advance of its October release, Smith will present the film at the Harris Theater Tuesday 8.
How did Phelps inspire Red State?
My friend Malcolm Ingram directed a documentary called Small Town Gay Bar, and he interviews Fred Phelps. Malcolm sent me all the uncut footage, and it was chilling, man. What comes out of [Phelps’s] mouth sounds like Hitler. I was like, man, you could build a horror-movie concept from him ’cause the dude’s scary.
Does it look like Phelps and his clan will picket your screenings?
They already did. They announced they were going to protest [at Sundance in January], and I was delighted. I said, “Photo op!” A bunch of kids from high school, it was sweet, came out holding up signs, said stuff like god hates homework and crap like that. My friend Malcolm is a big old bear of a man, gay as the day is long—looks like me, loves dick. He’s holding up a sign that says dick tastes yummy.
Phelps’s protests are great publicity for you.
You can’t imagine, and also it’s a hell of a preshow.
You were raised Catholic. Between Red State and Dogma, what does your mom make of your takes on organized religion?
Mom goes to church every day of the week, not just Sunday. My mother’s favorite movie of mine is Jersey Girl—she likes it when people don’t curse in the movies. My mother wouldn’t even say “hell.” She would be like, “Oh, h–e–double hockey sticks.”
You announced you’d auction off the distribution rights for Red State at Sundance. Then you purchased the film yourself for 20 bucks. Nice publicity stunt there.
Bread and circuses, bread and circuses. A movie begins long before people get to the screening, and it continues long after they’re gone.
You’ve also said this traveling show of screenings is a way of marketing the film without spending millions on publicity.
Truly. [Sundance was] ten months from when the movie is gonna come out, so we were like, how do you keep the hype alive? We don’t have a studio to pay for a word-of-mouth tour. Like Clerks—Miramax sent us out to promote the movie city to city. I never really had to be independent again. They’re always “independent filmmaker Kevin Smith,” and I’m, like, um, I flew here in first class.
Your next film, the hockey comedy Hit Somebody, will be your last directing gig. Why give it up?
Filmmaking, directing especially, was always an uncomfortable fit at best. I’m not a visually oriented person at all. And when you look at anything they’ve ever written about my stuff, it’s always the writing. There are some people who are like, “I don’t like Jersey Girl, I don’t like Cop Out,” and some people are like, “I haven’t liked this fat motherfucker since Clerks”—and for every one of those, ten people will tell them they’re wrong. But I’m out of things to say cinematically in terms of writing a screenplay.
It’s no secret you don’t have a lot of love for film critics.
That’s not true, actually. Now, post–Cop Out, yeah, I reacted poorly to reviews that were ridiculously harsh.
Writing a nasty review of that film, you tweeted, was “akin to bullying a retarded kid.”
Yeah, unnecessary, dude. It’s a dopey comedy. I get held to a pretty high standard ’cause I made Clerks. Just like Red State—some of the reviews of Red State out of Sundance, dude, they’re reviewing my weight, not the movie.
But the reviews I saw were specific about why they didn’t like the film, saying it was stylistically scattered.
Totally, oh sure, and some were glowing. That’s when, 17 years doing this, you realize [Whispers] it doesn’t matter. The blood sport of film criticism is just not anything you need to take seriously. I used to take the critics so fucking seriously, dude.
Will you carry through on your threat to no longer let critics into your screenings for free?
I’m not sure, man. I have told them, “Dude, you guys are right, I’m not a good filmmaker,” and they still go after you. I engender that type of passion.
See Red State and a Q&A with Smith at the Harris Theater Tuesday 8 at 8pm.