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Posts Tagged ‘Slacker’

On the heals of writing yesterday’s post about a filmmaker from Austin, Texas, I thought it was fitting to write about a filmmaker from New Jersey talking about being inspired decades ago by a filmmaker from Austin.

“I was awed by (Richard Linklater’s film) Slacker, that it existed. And Richard’s story was kind of compelling too. This guy from Austin, Texas—not from Hollywood, not from New York—had made a film that’s playing in New York and look at all these people here to see it! And he’d made it for such a low amount of money. But by the end of the film I was thinking, I could definitely do this! And oddly enough it was the reaction that Clerks would have a few years later…Anyway we’re driving back to New Jersey and I say, ‘You Know, Vincent, I think that’s what I want to do. I think I want to make a film.”
Kevin Smith
My First Movie
20 Directors Talk About Their First Film
Page 74
Edited by Stephen Lowenstein

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So after Kevin Smith was inspired by seeing Slacker, he wrote the script Clerks. After he wrote a the script he basically shot the film with a few friends who he could not afford to pay and covered the hard costs of production using basically personal credit cards.

In Smith’s mind if he was going to spend around $25,000. he wanted a feature film for his efforts rather than a film degree. (And many film schools are much more expensive than $25,000—and no feature film to show.) Smith was swinging for the fences.

After the film was shot and edited he took the film to the Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM) because he read that’s how Richard Linklater got a distribution deal for Slacker.  He knew he had made a profanity-laced film that perhaps his mother wouldn’t appreciate but was hoping to find a distributor who would help it find an audience. (His mother actually told him after seeing the film, “You spent twenty-seven thousand dollars on that piece of garbage?”)

Only about ten people showed up at IFFM Clerks screening and most of them were from the crew that worked on the film. Smith went home depressed. But one of the people at the screening was Bob Hawk of Independent Consultation for Independents who enjoyed the film and whose word of mouth created great buzz for the film early on.  But still nobody wanted the film.

Clerks made it to Sundance and only one company made an offer so Smith made a deal with Miramax. And that is what launched his career. (And paid off the credit cards.) But Smith will point out that he did not do this all on his own. One key person that he needed on his journey was producer Scott Mosier who Smith met in his brief time in film school. So even if you don’t care for his films listen to these words of wisdom:

“Maybe other cats know different, but without Mosier, I don’t think I could have done it or would have ever taken the first step. I would have dropped out of film school and gone back to the convenience store, maybe written a script that would sit on the shelf. It is finding that other person who gets you completely and knows where you are going, and knows how to make this happen with you and for you, and is on your side as you are on his.”
                                   Kevin Smith
                                  My First Movie
                                  20 Directors Talk About Their Film

                                  Edited by Stephen Lowenstein
                                  page 103

 

Scott W. Smith

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Orson Welles? Sunset Boulevard? Diablo Cody? None of those posts have done what quoting Kevin Smith has done–basically double my number of views. Maybe there are other factors at play but I’m staying on the Kevin Smith gravy train for a couple more days. I should point the way to Stephen Lowenstein’s book My First Movie; 20 Directors Talk about Their First Film as the source of the quotes I’ve pulled from Smith.

So far Kevin Smith’s magic formula starting out is:

1) Watch Slacker and decide to make movie
2) Write a script

There are basically just three major pieces of the puzzle left. Fundraising, production & editing, and distribution. So how did Smith raise the money to make Clerks? First he did a little research and learned Robert Rodriguez had done medical experimentations to raise funds for El Mariachi, and that Sam Raimi went to dentists and doctors to raise money for The Evil Dead, and that Robert Townsend had made Hollywood Shuffle using credit cards.

Smith went the credit card route and sold his comic book collection for $2,000. in credit which he in turn sold the credit to a friend which helped to make the minimum payments on his credit  cards. He also had a little cash from FEMA after a flood destroyed some old beat-up Volkeswagons he had. He was living with his parents and did have jobs at a convenience store and a video store.

“The option was to continue working at the convenience store for the rest of my life, until I got fired. And if not that convenience store, some other convenience store. And I was just no good at labour. I was just a very lazy, lazy person, and still am to a large degree. But when it came to this, I never felt lazy because it didn’t feel like work. It’s my passion; it’s what I want to do. So I guess it was a gamble and when I told my parents, I think they figured, this’ll get it out of his system. Now he’ll settle down and get a good job like his bothers. But they were very supportive.”
Kevin Smith
My First Movie
page 78

Now it’s worth pointing out that probably 99.9% of all filmmakers who make a film using credit cards never see a return on their investment and at best take years to pay it off and at worse end up filing for bankruptcy. We only hear about those who succeed going the Robert Townsend way because it makes for good press. But I imagine one could make a compelling documentary about failed movie makers who leveraged credit cards to make a movie.

Smith made Clerks in 1993 shooting film on an Arri SR camera which ended up being a large percentage of budget. Certainly these days you can find people with a digital camera, lights, an audio package and a Final Cut Pro editing system that will join you on your quest to make a film and spare you the risk of leveraging your personal credit.

The key thing to learn from Smith is it was not his credit cards that made the film it was his passion. His passion is what made him write the script. His passion is what allowed him to make a film using unpaid actors and an unpaid crew. His passion is what kept everyone going when shooting at 2 in the morning. His passion is what made him work his day jobs and edit his film at night.

Passion–that stuff is contagious.

Speaking of passion…check out a video I did a couple years ago on an aerosol artist who spray painted his version of the Sistine Chapel on a ceiling here in Iowa. This video ended up making front page news on Yahoo back in 2006. Watch the video at pacorosic.com.

And keep in mind when Paco came to America about ten years ago he was an 18-year old Bosnian who had no money and didn’t even speak English yet. Today he owns a restaurant, sells his artwork around the country, has appeared on the TV program Rachel Ray, and has a 60 piece showing coming up at an art gallery in St. Louis.

Scott W. Smith

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Yes, I am going from seven days in a row expounding about the virtues of Sunset Boulevard to quoting writer/director Kevin Smith. While he’s no stranger to controversy, raunchiness, and profanity, and you may not care for his films—but you have to at least give the guy credit for launching a career by making Clerks for $27,000. All filmed in a New Jersey convenience store where he actually worked (and edited in a video store where Smith also worked).

“I was awed by (Richard Linklater’s film) Slacker, that it existed. And Richard’s story was kind of compelling too. This guy from Austin, Texas—not from Hollywood, not from New York—had made a film that’s playing in New York and look at all these people here to see it! And he’d made it for such a low amount of money. But by the end of the film I was thinking, I could definitely do this! And oddly enough it was the reaction that Clerks would have a few years later…Anyway we’re driving back to New Jersey and I say, ‘You Know, Vincent, I think that’s what I want to do. I think I want to make a film.”
Kevin Smith
My First Movie
20 Directors Talk About Their First Film
Page 74
Edited by Stephen Lowenstein

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

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