Kevin Smith Comic Book Men 3

Kevin Smith (continued): So for me, I said “If I could get this up and running and show people like ‘Hey, man, it’s, this is how you take a dopey idea that you sat around with your friends and made up'” and then take it all the way to execution. They all know the story of Clerks, but they don’t really know the beginning story. They weren’t there for me going, “Hey, I’ve got an idea for this movie and blah, blah, blah.” They were there for the beginning of Tusk, the very moment when, I was sitting there going with Scott going “Oh, wouldn’t this be weird if this was a movie?” So they heard the moment of inspiration and I was like if “We could take it all the way through production, release,” like show them that you sit around with your friend, he’s talking about something stupid and you shape it, treat it seriously and shoot it like it’s as earnest as Argo. Even though it’s a dopey movie about a guy turned into a walrus, you come up with something special.

I never really went to film school. I dropped out pretty quickly and stuff. I only did four or five months at the Vancouver Film School. So as a young filmmaker back in the day, I never had an experimental period. Clerks was my experimental film and started my career. So I never got to do the movies that I loved to watch growing up. Like Clerks wasn’t the type of movie I grew up watching. That’s the only movie I could make. But the movies I grew up watching, man, were like From Beyond, Re-Animator, rubber movies. When I was a kid, when I was about 13 we started getting cable in our neck of the woods. And suddenly you were seeing all these movies that you didn’t even have access to because the video store didn’t exist yet at this point. So in the early ’80s, man, I was  – it sounds weird to say it –  but I was a rubber freak, man. Like I loved prosthetics, I loved effects. Before I ever wanted to be a filmmaker, I wanted to be a makeup artist. Had myself some nose putty, had a kit full of fake blood I made of karo syrup and was always doing half knives in people. Be like “Don’t this look real?” So that world, that’s like I desperately wanted Grand Illusion, the book that, the makeup book that was by what’s his name? You know, the makeup horror…

[Looks it up] Tom Savini.

Yeah, the dude who was in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. In any event, that book, Grand Illusion, I wanted it so badly when I was a kid because it was a book that would show you exactly how Tom Savini did all those effects. So I could never find it. We had no Internet. They didn’t carry that book at the library. And there ends my special effects makeup career. Because of access to information. We live in the information age where I could put up a podcast and people could hear an idea for a movie being born. And then I could kind of take them through production all the way through the rest of social media with the “Walrus Yes” hashtag. So at that point you’re collaborative. And you’re going so fast that you can’t be like “No, this has to be exactly the way I see it.” You have to be willing to compromise. And one of the compromises we made on this film is what made all the difference.

I always saw it as a 1:85 movie in my head, right? Not wide. This is a dopey little exploitation movie. But James Laxton was the D.P. that we hired. And we only hired James like because Dave Klein, my D.P. from Red State and Clerks and all those movies, he was off shooting Homeland. So we were going fast and I was like “I gotta get a new D.P.” I looked at a movie that James had done and he had one shot in a music video that was underwater. And I was like “Oh we have to shoot underwater in this movie. Let me bring him on as the D.P.” So the other thing that was in his favor is he shot a movie called For a Good Time, Call… and I was in it and I vaguely remember him on set. I was like “Hey, man, can you put one of those thin lenses on the camera?” And he was like “Oh it’s already there.” And so you remember somebody who’s kind of funny. So I said, “Let’s hire this guy.”

Tusk Image 4

So me and James are sitting around talking before the movie starts and he goes, “How do you wanna shoot?” So I’m thinking 1:85. He goes yeah? I was thinking 2:33. I was like “Really?” He’s like “I don’t know.” He’s going “It’s a haunted house movie, it feels like we could kind of go in that direction.” And I was like “All right.. And suddenly it went from this handheld Punk Rock movie that I had in my head to this kind of more lyrical thriller. I don’t even know what you call it. I mean some people are like “It ain’t a horror movie.” I’m like “You’re right, it ain’t a horror movie. I don’t know what the fuck it is.” Actually I’d call it a 4:30 movie ’cause that’s what I used to watch when I was a kid. And they ran this thing called the 4:30 movie where they’d have Godzilla week or monster gone awry week or Apes week for all the Planet of the Apes movies. So this movie reminds me very much of that kind of movie. But the look of it was kind of established by James going “Let’s shoot 2:33” and me going “Yeah, all right.” ‘Cause suddenly I was like “Well I guess we won’t do this handheld.”

The other thing that really kind of defined our look was Philip was our dolly grip. The dolly grip, just in case, is the guy that pushes the dolly around so you get some nice, smooth shots on rails and whatnot. Camera movement. Sometimes, if it’s up in somebody’s face, that could be a Steadicam. But back in the day, it was all rails and stuff. So Philip was so good, butter smooth at the job, that suddenly we eliminated all of our Steadicam work, because he could kind of do it. Even if we set a weird track, he was able to keep it so smooth. You know how good you gotta be at that job in order for the Director to be like “That guy’s a magician?” ‘Cause of that, we changed how we were gonna shoot the movie again and suddenly we were shooting 2:33 and everything was on rails, slowly moving shots as people speak and whatnot.

And it’s not that different from what I used to do, except I just actually move the camera now. I used to just set the camera up and let shit happen. Same thing, but now the camera’s on rails, so there’s this kind of tense movement. And it’s one of those things too that like, I’ve been doing this 20 years, I should learn how to do it better. Malcolm Gladwell says 10 thousand hours of practice make you kind of good at something. And I’ve been doing this for a while. So suddenly my age has caught up with my ability to visually tell a story. Which is thrilling for a guy who for years, they’re like “You can’t shoot for shit.” It’s nice to be able to shoot for shit. Now they’ve changed it from you can’t shoot for shit to your movies are fucking weird and stupid.

Check back later this week for part two of our Kevin Smith Tusk Interview.

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