In the first twelve years of Kevin Smith’s career, he has managed to piss off just about everyone. From gays, to Catholics, to Tim Burton, Smith has been no stranger to controversy. His last film, Jersey Girl, turned out to be a disappointing trip through the realm of large budgets and shining stars, inevitably crumbling under the weight of the “Bennifer” phenomenon. But after the hullabaloo that was Jersey Girl, Smith returns to his beloved “Askewniverse” for another go-around.
It was the gathering of material for the Clerks X DVD that inspired Smith to reevaluate the direction of his career and revisit two old friends that not only represent his life pre-fame, but also had helped make him who he is today. The two friends in question are Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, a couple of smart-ass register jockeys who have little else to do other than talk about Star Wars and discuss bedroom while taking the occasional break to offend a customer. But after taking a brief detour through Hollywood, how is he able to make it back to the Quick Stop? I was able to sit down with Kevin Smith on one of his press stops in Washington DC, and discuss with him how he was able to revive the spirit of the original film twelve years later. for “Following Jersey Girl I felt like there was no expectation,” Smith said. “People were like, ‘wow, that’s it: he’s done- again’. I kind of dig that.” With that, Smith began writing Clerks II.
The difficulty with sequels is that they do not often live up to the original. Making a sequel that is comparable on any level to a film like Clerks is no easy task, especially when considering the impact that Clerks has had, as well as the rabid fanbase that has continued to develop over the past twelve years. In addition, Clerks was a very personal film, and to revisit that era in his life is to go back twelve years and rummage through his life and try to make sense of it in the context of Dante and Randal. “Fucking with your first movie is something of a sacred cow. Particularly because it is a movie that, regardless of our intentions, people see as something else. But I hadn’t thought about the whole ‘oh this is potentially dangerous’, or, fucking-with-the-legacy kind of thing until about four hours before we started shooting [Clerks II].”
Smith decided that the best way to get into the mindset necessary to help him embark on shooting the sequel was to watch the original film one more time in the early hours before shooting began. This helped calm his fears and finally confirmed that it was indeed the right movie to make.
A major factor in the production was the availability of a decent budget. While Clerks was made for only $28,000, Smith and co. had $5 million at their disposal. . However, eager to distance himself from the big-budget mess and tabloid fiasco that came of Jersey Girl, Smith opted to return to his low-budget days and make the film for a measly $250,000.
“When I first pitched it to [co-producer] Scott Mosier, I said that I wanted to do a Clerks sequel for about $250,000 and he told me that if I was to do that then I was to do that on my own because he had no interest in producing a $250,000 movie. Mosier finally conceded that $5 million was a comfy budget to do it. We’d have plenty of money to do what we needed to do. We didn’t have a lot of effects shots and it wasn’t very complex, just one location, like a play.”
A low and comfortable budget has also provided a decent amount of security. While Smith was at Cannes, he spoke with a foreign sales representative from the Weinstein Company, who informed him that not only was the film completely sold overseas based solely on the reputation of the original, but also that they were in profit before a single frame of the film was even shot. According to Smith, if a filmmaker is able to consistently turn a profit, then studios are more likely to give them leeway with content. “At that $5 Million budget it’s comfy because you know there is no risk for them, and you know that they’re not going to come in and say, ‘you better cut some more J.Lo out of the picture’. And that’s when you can get away with scenes about ass-to-mouth and a donkey show without someone coming up and saying, ‘you’ve got to take that donkey show out of the picture or no one will want to see [the movie]. You can get away with more shit on a lower budget.”
An early review of Clerks II, while positive, nonetheless criticizes the film for not focusing more on wacky customers. However, this is not the point of the film. Rather than relying on the same dynamic of the first film, Clerks II provides greater insight into the relationship between Dante and Randal, and going deeper into the psyche of Randal. “The evolution of Randal to me is about the guy who throws off the cynicism and reveals that he is a human being. He’s got the penchant in the first movie, as cool as Jeff [Anderson]’s performance is, to just be the wiseass joke-machine. And it’s nice to be able to show a hidden human depth to the guy. It’s cool because he’s not just a nihilist, but he’s a nihilist who’s a closet dreamer…and there’s something kind of poignant about that.”