Kevin Smith to give a "geek State of the Union" at Comic-Con

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 04: Writer/director Kevin Smith visits Midtown Comics on March 4, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Kevin Smith Stephen Lovekin

Kevin Smith visits Midtown Comics on March 4, 2011, in New York.
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For many years, writer, filmmaker and prolific podcaster Kevin Smith has taken part in San Diego Comic-Con International, better known as Comic-Con. This year he's participating in two official Comic-Con events, including moderating a panel featuring "Star Trek" captains William Shatner and Avery Brooks on Friday, July 22, in which they'll discuss Shatner's documentary, "The Captains."

On Saturday, July 23, Smith will host "An Early Evening with Kevin Smith," his annual Q&A. The description on the Comic-Con website reads, "You know Comic-Con is over for the night on Saturday when the fat man sings."

Smith talked with us Wednesday morning about Comic-Con, the end of his career as a feature film director and what's next for him. He also offers sage advice for a first-time Comic-Con attendee.

CBSNews.com: Tell me about the William Shatner documentary panel you're going to be moderating.

Kevin Smith: Apparently Shatner directed a documentary called "The Captains" that EPIX made and it's him sitting down with everybody [who played a "Star Trek" captain]. Chris Pine [Capt. Kirk from the 2009 "Star Trek"], Patrick Stewart [Capt. Picard from "Star Trek: The Next Generation"], Avery Brooks [Capt. Sisko from "Deep Space Nine"], Kate Mulgrew [Capt. Janeway from "Star Trek: Voyager"] and Scott...uh...

CBS: Bakula.

KS: Yeah, Bakula [Capt. Archer from "Star Trek: Enterprise"]. I was going to say the "Quantum leap" guy. So he sat down with anyone who's ever played a captain in the Star Trek universe. And I'm going to sit down with him and Avery Brooks. He's going to hold forth on that.

That's the thing. You sit down with a guy like Shatner - unless you're doing a career retrospective, which we're not there to do, we're there to do "The Captains" - there's so many places to go. Mercifully, we can keep it just to this. I could do an hour on "T.J. Hooker" alone. We ain't got that kinda time. It's going to be all about "The Captain" and his documentary.

Read more: Comic-Con 2011 is here
Pictures: Comic-Con 2010

CBS: How did you get hooked up with that?

KS: I did last year a special with EPIX called "Too Fat for 40" and that put me into the EPIX family and we're doing another one next month and we were in the midst of it and they were like, "Hey man, you're going to be at Comic-Con. Do you want to interview Shatner?" And I was like, "F**k yeah." So they asked and boom, I jumped on.

That's how Comic-Con works. Every year it starts with: I've got one thing to do, which is always Hall H Q&A Saturday night ["An Early Evening with Kevin Smith," beginning at 5:45 p.m.] that ends all of the activity in Hall H on Saturday night. And they push me there because I curse a lot. But I like being the last one there. That's the only thing I go for every year, an hour-and-a-half, two-hour panel that San Diego Comic-Con has been giving me for like 10 years, and I hold kind of a geek state of the union address for me and my kind of crap.

It starts with that and then it's a series of phone calls of people asking, "Do you want do this while you're there?" Oh yeah. "Do you want to do that while you're there?" So my schedule filled up quick. Thursday morning, I'm doing this thing for Zac Levi ["Chuck"]. He's got this thing called "The Nerd Machine" and he's got this off-site kind of Q&A hall called "Nerd HQ" which is in a restaurant across the street  from the convention center. And so he's holding a series of one-on-one Q&As and shows for Operation Smile, it's a charity thing. It's tough to say no, right? Boom, there's Thursday morning.

Thursday night, Etnies is throwing a launch party for the Smeaker, the SModcast sneaker [SModcast is Kevin Smith's podcast with Scott Mosier]. Me and Scott Mosier will sit there and do a live podcast, a live SMod, and then the sneakers are on display and on sale and then, I think, we're also showing the sneaker we're doing next year.

Firday morning is "The Captains" doc. All day Friday, I'm shooting stuff for this TV thing we're doing, and then Friday night I have two shows at the House of Blues. "Hollywood Babble-on" [Smith's podcast with Ralph Garman] is at 9:00 p.m. and "Jay and Silent Bob Get Old" is at 11:00 p.m.

We podcast live all the time out here in Los Angeles up at the Jon Lovitz Podcast Theater up at Universal CityWalk. Me and Jay have been across the country with the Jay and Bob show already but this is the first time "Babble" is playing outside either SModcast or Lovitz so it's kind of exciting for us.

And that's the perfect crowd. That's the only crowd where you can rock a Commissioner Gordon joke and you're going to bring the house down. You're not going to be looked at like, "Who's Commissioner Gordon? Why is that funny, fat man?" These are our people and they speak our language.

Saturday night, I have the panel ["An Early Evening with Kevin Smith"] and then there's sundry other things that get sprinkled in there.

For anybody who's never been down, there it can get a little overwhelming for the first trip. You're seeing a sea of humanity. One-hundred thousand to 125,000 [attendees] is where they are now. And that's a lot of bodies in that convention center to move through and move around and there's so much programming.

Comic-Con International people pack it from wall to wall. You can never go to Comic-Con and go, "Meh." There's always something to be doing and sometimes you're even competing against things you want to see yourself. There was one year when I was like, "I don't want to do my Q&A. I want to go do to a panel over here." There's that risk as well.

Hall H is a good bet because it's a 6,000-seat room and if you plant yourself in that room in the morning and stay there all day long that's a great Comic-Con experience. They just file entertainment through that room and file people across that stage and put up huge movie clips and stuff.

Hall H is kind of the arena for San Diego Comic-Con, and 6,000 seats sounds like a lot but they fill up in a heartbeat, especially when you have 100,000 people competing for seats. And there's a line that remains outside Hall H most of the day. I always see that line outside and feel bad for those people, thinking, "Oh my God, they're missing out on all the cool s**t on the floor and any other shows they could go to just to see the Hall H stuff." It's a magnet for people. They love sitting there and watching the panels seeing the footage first.

My advice to first-time attendees is: If you see a line outside Hall H - and you will - plan otherwise. Don't lose a whole day waiting for some fat dude to talk or a bunch of fat dudes to talk. Go out and see stuff. Buy comics. Walk the floor. See other panels.

"Teen Wolf" is a show that was there last year and they hadn't aired and they had a smaller panel. And this year they're going back with a huge panel because it's a genre that's right up Comic-Con alley. You could look for that small, breaking show and be in on a panel where next year you won't ever be able to get in on that panel.

Like the "Twilight" kids showed up two years ago. You could just cut the musky aroma of tween lust with a knife in Hall H. When they brought those vampire boys up? All those girls [went nuts]. It was incredible.

Kevin Smith is interviewed on the "Imus in the Morning" program on the Fox Business Network in New York on Feb. 8, 2011.
AP

CBS: What are you looking forward to this year?

KS: For me, I love my Hall H Q&A. I'm not going to see anything this year because we're kind of packed. But the Hall H Q&A for me is fantastic. Some of the best memories of my professional career took place in that room. They've never let me down.

I've been going to Comic-Con for, I guess, 15 years now and they've taken me as one of their own. Whenever I jump on that stage it's the annual shot in arm of, "Yeah, you're on the right track. They still like you. This is what you do." And that's kind of neat.

So getting up there and making 6,000 people laugh, there's nothing like that. Even if you were like, "Hey, man. They're going to show 'The Dark Knight Rises' - the whole thing, not just the teaser - you could either do that or go up there and try to make 6,000 people laugh," I'd still probably choose the latter.

And I love "Dark Knight." I've been [expletive deleted*] over that "Dark Knight" teaser for the past four or five days. And there's even an intro - we're showing footage at the Hall H panel, about five minutes of "Red State," really good juicy, spoilery chunks. And at the front of it, I usually put text in front of my clips, to make people laugh before the clip begins with some jokes. And I have one of those up in front of the "Red State" clip this time as well and all it talks about is the "Dark Knight" teaser and how this [clip] is going to be far inferior to that.

However, if they were like, "Hey man, we'll let you watch the whole ['The Dark Knight Rises'] but you have to skip the Hall H panel," I would be like, "I'll wait until next year to see the movie."

CBS: Really?

KS: Nothing compares - I'm a huge stoner. I smoke about an acre of weed every day and that feels very, very good. But nothing feels better than standing on a stage, saying something amusing and making 6,000 people laugh. Like, that's the highest high there is one the planet.

CBS: Let me ask you about something else. I saw an interview with you from three or four months ago and you said you were done directing movies.

KS: Yeah, yeah. I've got one more movie in me, "Hit Somebody," and then I'm going to stop directing flicks, at least the way everyone perceives those flicks now.

I feel like the theatrical marketing campaign of movies has kind of deadened the art of it all. In a world where it's going to cost you sometimes twice, if not four times your budget to sell the movie than it was to even make the movie, it's just sickening to me. The art is lost and it's all about business.

I live in the magic box now. Most of my power, if I was a superhero, my green lantern is a f**king laptop. That's the world I live in. That's where all the podcasts are. That's where all my Twitter followers are.

So for me, I got this "Hit Somebody" movie that I want to make, which is going to be awesome for me because it's kind of like a thesis film for me. It kind of sums up the last 20 years of what I've been doing as a director. So when I'm done with that, if I ever want to direct again, there's theater. There's always a TV pilot. But it's just kind of time to stop. I've been doing it for nearly 20 years. By the time I'm done it'll be 20 years.

This August will the 20th anniversary of the moment I sat down and watched [Richard Linklater's] "Slacker," and said, "Oh my God. This is what I want to do for a living."

If you're lucky in the arts, you do something, people see it and you get paid for it. That's awesome. If you're really lucky, you get the choice to push back from the table yourself rather than someone telling you, "You're done." No artist wants to face that moment when sooner or later someone says, "I don't know. Maybe something else. Another story."

Sooner or later, it all goes back to youth. I was one of them once, too. I was one of the youths that took some older f**ker's job in film because someone thought, "Hey, this 'Mallrats' sounds like a good idea."

So it's cyclical. It happens to all of us. Very few legends, great legends, make film into their 70s and 80s or their 60s and 70s like your Scorseses and Spielbergs and Clint Eastwoods. For somebody like me, who's not a born filmmaker, someone who's not like, "If I don't make film I don't know who I am," I'm more, first and foremost, an entertainer. Directing is just one aspect of what I do and it kicked open the doors for everything else for me.

I'm not that guy who was going to be doing it until the day he died, anyway. Visual storytelling is not my strongest suit, so why lead with that for the rest of my life? In a world where visual storytelling opened the doors to so many other things, I'm like, I've done this for 20 years and I know how good and how bad I can be at that job or that art form, let me spin another plate or another art form and see if I can do that for a few years.

You know, I watched my dad work at the post office his whole life. He never had the luxury of choice, the opportunity to say, "I don't want to do this anymore. I want to do something else." But I do. And you feel responsible to some degree to your old man who didn't have the choice to switch jobs to do it yourself.

He raised a kid and infused him with enough to get him going in the industry he chose. Mine was entertainment. And luckily that entertainment industry affords you a bunch of different platforms to entertain people. You can make a movie. You can make a TV show. You can stand on a stage and make them laugh.

For me, I've done the directing thing and this is awesome. But it's diminishing returns after a certain point. For me, "Hit Somebody" will be the best I could ever be. And after that, what's the point? You kind of have your best game and hang up the skates, so to speak. There's something nice about closure. There's something nice about knowing this is it.

Kevin Smith, left, performs a mock auction of his film "Red State" with producer Jonathan Gordon, right, at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan. 23, 2011.
AP

I was talking to Scott Niedermayer, he was a legendary New Jersey Devil and Anaheim Duck. He's got like [four] Stanley Cups and insane records to his name. He retired about two years ago. He told me the year before he retired he was flirting with it. It happens to every hockey player. You get older. You're like, "I can't skate that fast anymore. The hits are harder. Everything's harder."

It's a game that's meant for children. That's the beauty of this and sports or entertainment and any show type stuff. You get lucky because you're paid to get to do stuff only kids get to do.

Like, when we're young we all do fun stuff like make pretend or play games or play organized sports like hockey. But most of us, most normal people put aside those childish things and go out and get real jobs as they get older and don't do that stuff as much anymore. And some of us are kind of blessed or stupid or lucky or whatever it is or we refuse to grow up and think, "If I do this and get paid for it, this could be a job."

You suddenly start to shape your universe into that. And I got lucky. I took something I was passionate about into my career. If you're not working, it's not work. If you love it, you don't feel like it's work. I haven't worked in 20 years. The only time I ever worked in the last 20 years was maybe for a couple hours on "Cop Out" when Bruce Willis was a little difficult. Other than that, I haven't really had to work in 20 years because you love it so much and it's so much fun.

But when you pour yourself into it all the time, eventually you're going to empty the tank. You give everything you have to something, sooner or later you don't have anything else to give. It comes to that point.

CBS: Let me ask you about that. The thing with "Red State," when you did Sundance, you sold the movie to yourself and took it to a bunch of cities on your own. How was that process for you? Was that more liberating?

KS: Oh my God. For a big, fat control freak like myself, having the movie to control was a dream, dude. Previously, when you're involved in your art as I am - you write it; you direct it; you edit it; you go out there, I'm always the frontman marketing it, I've had huge movie stars in my movies and it always comes down to: "Kevin, go out and sell it."

So for me, I've done it a bunch of times. The thing different about this was I didn't let someone else call the marketing shots. I could always control the movie up until the point I turned it over to the studio or the distributor and then they went to work. Second half of any movie in terms of releasing it to the public is the marketing of it all.

Watching people turn in posters that you hated or trailers that didn't match the tone of the film because they were going to a different audience thanyour audience. It was more important for them to not reach the people that come all the time but the people that never come to your movie, I didn't appreciate that. I didn't dig that.

After years and years of that, I was like, you know what, man? I bet you if I play this game straight with real math and not that bulls**t Hollywood math, I could put this movie into profit without spending a dime.

And I'd never had that chance before and I'd never have that chance again. I knew "Hit Somebody" [would cost] about $15 or $20 million and I knew it was the last movie. The only time I'm going to have to see if I can do this is "Red State" [a horror thriller starring Michael Parks, Melissa Leo and John Goodman], because it was so inexpensive. And I sat down with the investors, me and my producer, Jon Gordon, and showed them the realities and the vagaries of studio math.

[I said], "Let's say someone picks up the movie for $5 million at Sundance. That is the absolute last $5 million you're ever going to see because this is what gets added on later."

And they were like, "This is ridiculous."

I was like, "I know. Marketing is stupid, especially for a movie like this which is very specialized." This movie is not going to appeal to everybody. It's like a mid-'90s indie flick.

With this I know the audience exists for this because they told me they wanted to see it because I told them four years ago I was going to make it. So I know if I go right to those cats without spending any money and go right to them via my Twitter account and SModcast.com because I have all the podcasts, I know I could get them to show up at the theaters without spending any money [for marketing].

And we did. We were able to make close to a million bucks with 15 shows without spending a dime. So much so that people who were like, "He's a crackpot" at Sundance, I now get patted on the back.

I saw a journalist last night who wrote some [expletive deleted*] about me at Sundance. Something akin to, "If he's not careful, he's going to become the very evil empire he hates." Number one, I don't hate anybody. I just don't want to spend money to release this movie particularly. Number two, this makes no sense. How hard are you trying to tie into a "Star Wars" reference that you're writing that?

And I saw him last night at the "Captain America" premiere. Anthony Breznican. Nice guy. And he came over and starting talking about "Red State" and telling me how it cool it was and the tour was great and you-did-it-your-way and how much he respected it.

But meanwhile at Sundance, he wrote one of the pieces that was like: This is insanity, this dude is out of his mind, arrogant, egocentric and whatnot. But it wasn't that. It was arrogance or ego.

[Note: Breznican wrote, in a Jan. 24, 2011, piece, "[W]ould [Smith's] becoming a successful distributor actually make him just another part of Hollywood?

To put it in one of Smith's beloved geek-friendly 'Star Wars' metaphors, is he defying the Darth Vader of studios -- or simply joining them to help rule the indie movie galaxy?"]

Arrogance or ego to me is spending $20 million in marketing on my $4 million movie. Ego is not like I'm going to take this out myself because I don't believe you can market past how difficult this movie is. I don't think you could put together a marketing campaign that's going to make anyone else come see this movie than the people this movie is intended for.

At that point it felt like the right thing to do. Then when we did it, it was the right thing to do for another reason. Number one, we made all the money and made the movie more valuable and made people respect the movie in a way they didn't after Sundance. We kind of proved them all wrong and that was fun.

But the best thing to come out of it was that every night was like a f**king rock concert. I'd get up and intro the movie and it was hugely interactive, people cheering at the screen while people die [in the movie] one by one. Then at the end you get up and started talking about why.

That's the thing with me. Most directors, they make a film, they're done. They let the movie speak for itself. That's a true artist. I'm a different kind of artist. I can't let the movie speak for itself. It's impossible for me to do so. I'm the only director I know who comes out right after the movie's done and says, "Wait, let me tell you what happened. Bruce Willis got in a fight with me. And I got thrown off a plane."

Writer and director Kevin Smith poses in Provincetown, Mass., as he is honored as the 2010 Filmmaker On The Edge at the Provincetown Film Festival on June 19, 2010.
AP

And I start listing all the things that happened as well. For me, the movie doesn't begin and end when the lights come down and you see the story. For me the movie begins long before you get into the theater. I'm still trying to get you. And I'm still trying to build the story that you're involved with. Not so much the movie's story, but the story of how it got made.

And when the movie's there, you're there. And then I try to keep you long after the movie's done or online or with the Q&A or with extra material. I like to keep people interactive and on this I was able to keep it as interactive as I possibly could and control every aspect of showing that movie. I got to sit down and watch it with the audience it was intended for at every city. And at the end of the night I felt like [Mick] Jagger in the '60s or '70s at the height. It was fantastic. What a battery charger it was to go into the last movie.

[Anyway,] I didn't finish about Scott Niedermeyer. He told me when he was going to retire and said he hated practices. Nobody likes going to practices. But he [said], that's when I enjoyed practice the most. Couldn't wait to go to practice. Everything that before was just something I had to do, I know I have a ticking clock now. I know at this point this is going to be one of my last 50 practices ever in the NHL.

He's going: At that point, everything is heightened. Everything tastes sweeter. You have a good time. He had more fun at practices than he had playing the game.

When you give yourself a deadline, everything does taste sweeter. You are going to try harder. For years, I've been making movies thinking there's a next one coming. I was making one and preparing for the next because that's how you do it so they don't forget you [or ask] what have you done for us lately? Or if the movie works or doesn't work you're set up for the next one.

So much of the process is spent thinking about the next movie while you're making the current movie and I always thought that was a shame. But that's the name of the game. That's how you have to continue working.

Now, since I'm like, "This is the last movie," all I think about, and I did it on "Red State," too, all I think about is the flick. I don't give a f**k what happens in the future. That makes you a dangerous, fun artist because you've got nothing to lose and no career to look after. If you don't have a future to manage, you start pulling all the stops out and doing all the s**t that is dangerous and not safe and that's where the good work comes from.

The guy who made "Clerks" was not trying to plot his career and make "Jersey Girl" or any of that stuff. He was a guy who was like, "This is maybe the only movie I'm going to make. I'm going to unload. I'm going to empty the tank. If I don't get 'em with this, it ain't going to be because I didn't try."

Same philosophy here. Suddenly I'm like, "I don't care about the future anymore. I not thinking about what the next movie is. This is all that matters, man, and I'm going t f**king put on a show because this is the last skate."

Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Kevin Smith, coming soon.

(*Please see either Smith's movie "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" or the Nixon tapes.)

  • David Riedel

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