Watch CBSN Live

Kevin Smith: Follow the whimsy

Kevin Smith at Comic-Con 2010, July 24, 2010, in San Diego. getty

(CBS) Last week talked to filmmaker and prolific podcaster Kevin Smith about what he'd be doing at Comic-Con 2011. He also filled us in on what else is happening in his world at the moment, from "Red State" to quitting movies to Internet radio.

Here's the second half of that conversation. Smith talks more about how he got into podcasting and radio and how he's built another facet of his career around, as he put it, following the whimsy.

Pictures: Scenes from Comic-Con 2011
Pictures: Stars light up Comic-Con 2011
Read more: Kevin Smith to give a "geek State of the Union" at Comic-Con

Kevin Smith:  For the last two, three years I've been doing this thing and that thing is follow the whimsy. That's what got me [into making movies] in the first place. I was a dude living at my parents' house working in a convenience store and I had this whimsy about wouldn't it be cool to make a movie? And I just kept following it and it happened and it turned into all this.

And somewhere along the way you get afraid that you're going to lose what you've got. You're afraid to get kicked out of the party. And you start managing your career as much as you start producing your art.

For me, that was always kind of can't be the movie business. It's always got to be movies. I understand it's a business but I know far too much about the movie business. More than I ever wanted to know. Sick, stupid s**t that means nothing to storytelling. S**t about numbers. S**t about quadrants. S**t that has nothing to do with reaching in and touching somebody, entertaining them, hitting them on a level they identify with.

It goes beyond the dopey illusion of two people you don't know pretending to live a life they'll never lead and you buying into it. It's a real sleight of hand that goes on. And you're not thinking about just the sleight of hand, the illusion, if you're thinking about "How are we going to get the women to come in this time? We need women 18 to 35, how do we get 'em?" That ain't good art, man.

Shakespeare didn't sit around and think "How are we going to get the women to come in and see 'Hamlet'?" You just do what you do. You'll find your audience. Water always finds its level.

One thing I've learned in nearly 20 years of doing this is: If you're patient enough, everything outs. All the s**t you want or want to accomplish, it'll happen. You just have to be patient. You can't do it all in the first year.

"Mallrats" [the movie Smith made after "Clerks"] opens in 1995, dies. Made two million bucks. Movie cost $6 million, made $2 million. And in that moment I thought, "I've never made a flop movie in my life. Oh my God, we're dead. They're going to ask for their money back."

And then it's like years later. I'm the only one who remembers "Mallrats" didn't make money. Now it's made money because it became a cult hit and audiences to that movie never saw it where it was intended to be seen in a movie theater. They all saw it on video. Right. I saw it on DVD.

KS: And you do that a few times you got a "Mallrats" under your belt, a "Jersey Girl" under your belt, a "Cop Out" under your belt, three movies that people will tell you, "You failed." But I didn't because the people who saw it on home video eat it up with spoon. Right.

KS: And you realize if you're patient enough the movie will always find itself. I always thought - and this goes with doing what you're doing now, doing what you want to do and not letting studios get involved...

KS: Oh, believe me, they're not bad. I've worked with them for years but there's too much money. You do something long enough, you become a smarter businessman. I hope I'm a smarter businessman. And you sit there going, "I don't think we need to spend that money."

And nobody wants to be told how to do their job. They're like, "We don't come in and tell you how to do your job." But they do, They give you notes like crazy. I was just giving back notes, saying, "I think there's a way to do this without spending money." But nobody wants to hear that because that's the standard. That's the M.O. Don't upset the apple cart. Like, there's a system that works, don't [expletive deleted*] with it.

But for me, I was like, if we just step to the right a little bit and close the checkbook it'll be more creative, more fun for the audience. Anything that feels garage band or underdog is always going to be  more cool than something that feels mass marketed or billboarded.

Seth Rogen, right, and Kevin Smith present the best fantasy movie awards at the Scream Awards on Saturday Oct. 18, 2008, in Los Angeles. AP That's true. When you're watching the "Mallrats" DVD and there's the commentary track with everybody on the commentary track...

KS: Yes! ...which I think is one of the most fun things you guys ever did.

KS: That's where all the podcasts came from, literally, just those commentary tracks. Tell me about making the decision to do that. I remember five or six years ago I think you did a radio show for about a week, testing out radio. Is that right?

KS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I remember at the time you were like, 'Yeah we did it. I don't know, it was cool but it wasn't quite right.' So what made you think, OK. SModcast [Smith's podcast with producer and friend Scott Mosier] is the way to go now?

KS: Honestly, because the first time, again, if I remember the one I'm talking about, the L.A. radio show we tried? Uh-huh.

KS: Again, that's us trying to work into a system. There was a station that existed and they were like, "Hey, you're funny, let's try it here." And we tried out this show and these cats were just like, "Um, we don't know if talk radio is going to work at night or if anybody wants to talk about this stuff or wants to be talking about entertainment."

First, we were on Leo Quinones' show. He talks about movies out here in L.A., or did. And from there, they were like, "Why don't you try this show at CBS Radio?" And it was like, "OK." We tried it out and we liked it and it was fun. I like talking, but again you're constricted by: Can't curse. Can't do this. And I don't live to curse. But you want to be you. You don't want to be a sanitized version of you.

So it took a couple of years, right? And we did that radio thing and it was fun and then we went into making another movie or something. And then I remember talking to Mosier one day, because I'd heard about this Ricky Gervais podcast and I'd never heard it. But people were saying, "Have you heard the Ricky Gervais podcast?" And so after a week of hearing of that, I said, "What's a podcast?"

And they said it's on iTunes. The best way to describe it is like a radio show you can download. Or they said it's kind of like your commentary track on a movie but without a movie.

And then I got it. I was like, "Holy s**t, we could talk. I could do that." And I hit up Mosier and said, "We don't really hang out and have the goofy conversations anymore we used to have back in the day. I think we should really, if we sat down and recorded one of these podcasts together and had one of those conversations and then made the podcast public, that would force us to keep doing it." I know me and Mosier. If it wasn't public, if we just kept doing it and putting it on the shelf, we'd have be done by the fifth one.

The aspect of making us accountable by throwing it out there and saying this'll be out there every Sunday or whatever, it was just enough responsibility to something that was completely irresponsible.

It's three-pronged fun. It's fun in the room doing it. You laugh harder than you've laughed at anything during the week. Then I have a second good time smoking up and cutting the episode. I get to listen to it again, make sure it flows smoothly. I love editing. I've been editing film for a while. This actually helped me edit, podcasting. I was editing sound, editing what was extraneous or boring or too much. It's good training. And then the third bite of the apple, the thing that makes it fun, is people reacting to it.

And you're not charging for it. More people are listening to it and giving you a shot. And then we realized the formula is: free. You give it away and find some other way to earn.

So I was sitting there and thinking, me and Mosier were sitting there thinking: We're not going to make this a business. We won't earn from it. We're going to do it for fun. But after three or four years, it became a business. It was unavoidable. This is what I want to do. I like talking. I'd rather do this than film.

Boom, we started doing that. And later on, we figured out how to monetize it with the ads and do other s**t to kind of turn it into a business and get paid to do what you love so it never feels like work. Right now, we're there and it's neat. We go out and talk on stage and everybody gets to hear it. And if you're not there you can still listen to it for free online.

And putting it up for free online, it's just like the radio. For years you listen to s**t on the radio, when they come to town you say, "I'm totally going to go see them." Same thing here. They listen to you for free every day. And now we do hit them every [expletive deleted*]ing day. We broadcast four hours every morning. At this point we're a radio station. If you hit them every day for free and then you show up in their town to do a show one night, they're gonna sell you out. In a heartbeat.

That's how comedians are filling seats now. They're giving away the podcasts and they're showing up and seeing their shows get full. [Comedian and actor] Jay Mohr jumped onto our network with a podcast and took off. Huge. Did great. He's very, very funny. And I said, "There's a monetization model. This is your first episode and you'll probably have to wait until episode five." And he said, "I don't care about ads. This is all about walking into a comedy club and seeing it full. I've been to shows of some cats who have podcasts and their shows are full and mine are not." And he said this is all about that. And he's got his head on his shoulders. That's what it is.

Kevin Smith poses with his wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, and daughter, Harley Smith, at the premiere of "Jersey Girl" in London, June 2, 2004. AP When did you start doing the five bucks a month or the $35 a year?

KS: SModcost. People bitched do these podcasts for nothing and you put advertisements on them. We started getting people bitching about, "There's too many ads on the podcast. I don't want to hear an Adam & Eve ad. I don't want to hear about Fleshlight one more time to listen to your free show." People are outrageous, dude. You give them something free and they bitch about not being able to fast forward.

[We both laugh.]

KS: You just want to tell them, "There's a button to the right." So someone suggested on Twitter, "I would pay for ad-free versions of these podcasts." So...we started putting together the idea of SModcost. [Comedian] Marc Maron has a pay wall, everyone's doing a pay wall. I want to leave my entire library for free forever. I don't want be like, the first 30 are free, the next 30 you have to pay for.

Everything we do we put up for free. But you want to listen to a CD-quality version of it with no ads and maybe see some extras we didn't put online, things I cut out of the podcast or videos we shoot all the time, then you can jump behind the pay wall at SModcost. And you do something for free for four years, people buy SModcost just to say thanks. Some of them are like, "I don't care about the ads. I love the ads. But I'll give you guys three bucks a month, I'm into it." It's kind of neat. If you work for the audience, you'll never work for anybody else for the rest of your life. Let them pay you and that's it. You still have the free podcast...

KS: Oh yeah. ...a couple weeks ago was the first time I caught it, the podcast you do with your wife.

KS: "Plus One." I laugh my a** off at that.

KS: Thank you! That's the one that built the network. Without her, I don't think I ever would have gone to SIR, SModcast Internet Radio. We were just forever and we just housed podcasts there. But I started doing "Plus One" with [Smith's wife] Jen [Schwalbach] and it was kind of the same thing [I did] with Mosier. Let's sit down every week and bulls**t. And let's leave it for our kid. When we're dead, our kid will have all these recordings of us sitting down and talking about our relationship.

We kicked it off and did it for, like, 20 episodes. And people took to it like a fish to water. It was amazing. Because when I sit down with her, other than like the thousands of other people I sit down with and talk, she knows all my bulls**t and she's the person who can say, [expletive deleted*] you, you're wrong and get away with it. She could shut me down and she's funny in her weird, non-Kevin way.

And people liked that relationship on the podcast. And I said to her...She'd never done it. She's from your world. She worked for USA Today and I seduced her away to the dark side. She had journalistic integrity and I said "Come marry Silent Bob." In a way I felt bad because she had a cool career and my cool career got in the way. And I always felt like, "You are clever, you're cute and you should be front and center." And that's where "Plus One" came from and people reacted the same way. People dug her.

After doing it about two months, I said to her, "Look, I've been doing this long enough to know I've got a tiger by the tail and we should take advantage of it." I said, "You can talk once a week, yes. Could you talk every day?"

And she said, "What do you mean?"

I said, "Could you do two hours of conversation with me every morning, because we could go daily radio at that point."

And she said, "What radio station?"


And I said I thought about it a long time. I always wanted to do radio. But if I do radio in town or locally I'm just hitting that little area and I have to be clean and I can't be me. But meanwhile, I've got his magic box here. I could go on the radio and be in a British dude's house and a German dude's house and a guy from Iowa could listen to me. Why work local when we could work regionally and globally?

The idea of jumping into online radio, anyone who's got a computer can listen to you, so your audience is potentially the world. And I don't have the world, but I have nice small pockets across the world. If I can aggregate them all together in one place at the same time every day, not only can I sit there and disseminate all the information I need to about what we're up to and where you can see us, we can just sit around, do what people like me to do best: Bulls**t. They just like hearing me talk about s**t.

I tweeted about having black box theater to do podcasts in. By the end of that day, SModcastle was born. It became a reality. I mused about, "We should do online radio," and we've been doing it for two months. If you muse about something stupid and unimportant that's kind of dreamy and fun and do it and keep that up, the audience will hang out with you just because you make s**t happen.

And they look at me and I'm no different from them. I'm fatter, maybe, and I wear stupid clothes but I'm no different. I'm an audience member and I like the geeky s**t. But I just tip my passions and rather than just sharing them with my friends I share them with the world and try to get paid for it as well and that's been working out kind of nice.

When you live like that example people say, "I want to do that." It was always flattering when people said they want to be a director like me but there are lots of directors, dude. There's nothing more flattering in this life than when somebody says, "I want your life." That's cool. They don't want your job. They want everything about you. They want to be you because you're doing it the way they would. That's the high compliment you get from the fans. And that makes me feel good. That's what I'm trying to do, suck the marrow out of this s**t. What do you think of the whole Marvel movies ["Thor," "Captain America," for example], them tying all the movies together?

KS: I'm all for it. There's always going to be the danger of "tell one story, not six." These cats are smart. For years they've been sitting on the sidelines, watching the DC movies take off. They couldn't get it together in the '80s and '90s. Marvel couldn't make a movie off a character. Well, not Marvel. They weren't making the movies. Other people couldn't make a Marvel movie to save their lives.

Now they're like, "We're the stewards of our characters." We know how to do this. What they're doing is not all that different from what I do but they're spending billions of dollars doing it. They're managing their brand. They're going, "Who knows better how to do this stuff than we do? Instead of licensing a character to a studio and watch them [expletive deleted*] it up, we'll hold onto it ourselves and we're going to interconnect them." And that's smart. That's what that audience wants. There's no one watching those comic book superhero movies that doesn't go, like, "I wish Spider-Man would show up and beat the s**t out of this guy."

To see a different character in the same movie, we love the crossover. I saw "Captain America" [last week], wonderful movie. At the end of it, there's a teaser in the credits for the "Avengers" movie. That's smart. They're letting the audience know if they like this story there's more coming. It's not that different from what happened at the end of a James Bond movie when it said, "James Bond will return in 'Octopussy.'" But now they put footage out there. It's smart. You have to keep audience engaged because there's so much competition for audience attention.

I think they're doing a great job over there. Like I said, there's the danger should make one movie, not six at once so that each movie feels like its own experience, but I think they're doing a good job.

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