Interview with Yoga Hosers' Kevin Smith and Harley Quinn Smith
Writer/director/podcaster Kevin Smith and his daughter Harley Quinn Smith were in Edinburgh to discuss their film Yoga Hosers.
Undoubtedly, the star of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival was Kevin Smith. The writer/director, here with his new film Yoga Hosers, was an amiable presence at a number of events during his time in the city and was always more than happy to take the time to chat with fans about any number of topics. His penchant for chatting actually became a feature of the festival as every event where he was due to speak ran wildly overtime, with his 90-minute In Person event turning into a three-hour-long epic.
He also brought his family with him, including his daughter Harley Quinn Smith who co-stars in Yoga Hosers. I was lucky enough to attend a round table interview with both Kevin and Harley and as ever, the Clerks and Mallrats director had plenty to say. Considering this was an interview, there weren’t many questions asked as Kevin took every topic and ran with it, so below are some of the highlights from both Kevin and Harley.
Kevin on his early movies…
Tusk and Yoga Hosers are very masturbatory films and I’ll admit that right off the top. Sounds weird to say in front of my teenage kid, including the fact she’s in it, sounds even worse. But there are movies where I’m just trying to please myself. That’s what I tried to do with Clerks, I didn’t think about this, like people will want to talk about this or people will buy tickets, I just wanted to make that movie to see it. That’s why it exists at all. So it started my career and at a certain point once Clerks was made and got picked up by Miramax and absorbed into the Disney tree, suddenly I went from “I just want to see this movie” to “don’t make anything ‘til they pay you. We pay you to make pretend now, you won the lottery of life so don’t create unless you’re getting paid”. So that’s what it became, like this is the script, let’s get money for it, let’s make that and when it’s done we’ll start this process again.
Harley on having Kevin Smith for a dad…
He takes the opportunity to teach me a lesson. This morning I texted him – very first world problem – but my makeup artist isn’t here and my mom was asleep, and my mom always knows the answer so I was like I guess I’ll ask my dad. So he sent me a bushel of texts, like “this is an opportunity for you to learn self-reliance”. Like oh my god, I can’t even ask a simple question! So yeah, I feel like instead of punishing me – like I’ve never been grounded – instead I’m more taught a life lesson.
Kevin on podcasting….
The notion of podcasting, which I’ve been doing for ten years now, reintroduced the joy of creation for the sake of creation. You’re not sitting there going “How do I get paid?” or “This is how I earn, this is my nut, this is how I pay all my bills so I have to go to work and make a film”. Suddenly you’re making art, you’re making self-expression – I hate the term art, it’s so fucking alienating to people, it’s not art it’s self-expression. So I found a very inexpensive, very easy, very fast way to self-express that wasn’t ridiculous. Filmmaking – I love it to death and it’s given me everything in life – but filmmaking is one of the most ridiculous art forms on the planet. If I was a painter I would take a blank wall or a canvas and put some colour on it, you’d know exactly how I felt inside. If I was a singer, I’d open up my voice, belt out a fucking tune and you’d know exactly how I felt inside. But as a filmmaker, you say ridiculous shit like, “I need to self-express, give me $20 million and Ben Affleck”.
Shit like that is ridiculous, whereas podcasting, you just sit down and start talking. That’s primal, that takes you back to the fireside where it’s just like the hunting story of the day. Having to do that for ten years suddenly reteaches you the craft and it also teaches you, since podcasting is a free medium, that there is no reward. There’s no monetary incentive to this creation, it’s just play, it’s just make pretend, it’s what you wanted in the first place. So when I got back to that I was like yeah, let me figure out how to do this.
Kevin on stepping away from filmmaking…
I stepped away from filmmaking for three years so it allowed me to get that heroin of paid fun out of my system, ‘cause that’s what it’s like. When someone says “Hey, here’s money to make pretend”, that’s like getting addicted to heroin. Like holy shit, what’s better than this? One day the heroin dries up, you can’t do that anymore, you have to withdraw and get it out of your system. So after Red State, I didn’t make a film for three years, I did podcasting, live podcasting, we toured, did TV shows like Comic Book Men, and suddenly I learned to pay for my family, my house and shit by doing things other than prostituting my art. That always bugged me, man. Filmmaking brought me to the world, it gave me everything, introduced me to places – I was never going to get to Scotland, my family’s too poor, we were never going to Europe or anything like that. Filmmaking brought me there man, but what did I do? Soon as that film got picked up, I put it to work like a prostitute.
Jersey Girl is an example of somebody going “What works in the world, because I’m out of the ideas that I had and my shit obviously doesn’t mainstream it, so what would be mainstream?”. Zach and Miri Make a Porno, I love that movie, but it’s an example of “Judd Apatow is doing well telling the types of stories that I used to tell, so maybe I’m going to dive back in”. This is all strategy; this is all thinking too hard about art. This is not just thinking about what you’re trying to build but also the life it’s going to have until the day you die and how it’s going to have to support you and yours. How you’re going to have to get people their money back if they’ve invested. Suddenly the notion of just making pretend, having fun and shit like we did in the beginning goes away, so you’ve got one or two things you can do. You can keep that shit really low budget or you can kind of force yourself to do it for fun again and get rid of that notion of “Only if I’m paid!”.
Kevin on Tusk and Yoga Hosers…
Used to be film was the only way I could tell a story but the world brought me to a thousand stories a week on podcasts and shit like that, so maybe I should save film for shit that really matters to me and, oddly enough, this is the shit that really matters to me! A lot of people are going “How!? This makes no sense!”, but these are the movies I grew up watching. That’s all you really need to understand to understand Tusk and Yoga Hosers, they’re not some guy trying to trick the world, these movies come from a place where I first experienced movies, the temple of my home watching cable TV when it first came in, in the early 80s. Then the advent of the Betamax or the VCR where we could watch all the video nasties we wanted.
When I grew up as a child, it wasn’t movies like Clerks or Mallrats, those movies didn’t exist, I liked movies like Reanimator, From Beyond, Nightmare on Elm Street, American Werewolf in London, Halloween…these movies were my religion. When I became a filmmaker it wasn’t, oddly enough, because I watched those movies and thought I could do that because those movies seemed like they required talent.
I saw Richard Linklater’s Slacker and that movie seemed doable to me, and I’ve been a fan of film my whole life at this point but on my 21st Birthday I go see Slacker and I say “Jesus, this guy’s singing his song in the middle of nowhere”. He ain’t in New York or Los Angeles where movies are predominantly made, he’s in Bumblefuck, Texas…turns out to be Austin, the capital of Texas but I didn’t know that. But he sang his song in the middle of nowhere, he was brave enough to tell this story that didn’t look like any other movie I ever saw. No three act structure, no movie stars, no car chases, no fucking plot. I thought if this counts as a movie, I would like to try to make a movie, so I sat amongst that audience and I loved that movie. It was my faith, it was my religion, it changed my life.
Harley on her passions…
I love working with animals, I volunteer at a rabbit shelter and I love building relationships with animals, particularly ones that have had hard past lives. But besides animals and stuff, I love to write, I love to act, I love taking pictures. I have the largest gigabyte phone but it’s completely full because I have 20,000 pictures.
Kevin funding his films…
The only money I think about when I’m making movies at this point is how to get the investors their money back. That’s my only responsibility. When an audience member buys a ticket, they take their chances but let’s be honest, most of my art is watched on the internet for free anyway so at the end of the day who I have to be responsible for is the financiers. So I keep my budgets very low, you know Yoga Hosers was a $4 million movie, with foreign sales and shit like that then they’re going to be fine. They’re not going to be rich but nobody expects to be rich off this movie. When you invest in indie film, it’s kind of like buying a scratch off ticket where you’re going “This could be huge!” or it could be fucking nothing, but at the end of the day at least that’s satisfied my urge to see something come to life.
Yoga Hosers was made in the same kind of spirit that Tusk was made. Demarest made that movie and when the guy who headed up Demarest came to speak to me about making the movie, I was going to finance it myself and he was like “Did you write this script?”. I said “It depends, am I in trouble?” and he said “No, don’t worry, I want to finance this movie”. So I said “You want to put money into this movie about a guy getting turned into a fucking walrus? That makes me suspect about being in business with you to be honest”. But the dude had the greatest answer I ever heard in my life: “I just want to see if you can do it. This is the stupidest fucking thing I ever heard in my life, but if we get this right it’ll be amazing. If we get it wrong, we’ll have stories to tell for the rest of our lives, but imagine if we got it right!”
Kevin on his old movies vs. his new movies…
As much as I’d like to say this is a whole different direction for me and everybody is so fond of saying it’s a big different direction but I look up there and see the same shit I did in the beginning because they share the same spirit. Even though you couldn’t find two more different movies than Clerks and Tusk and Clerks and Yoga Hosers, even though they share a setting but the spirit with which they were made? The intent? That’s the same. The idea that I just want to see it, and if I can keep the budget low enough that everybody’s covered then it doesn’t matter if people don’t see it today. They’ll see it later. I’ve been around long enough to know that if they don’t see it today, just hang around a minute. Mallrats, nobody saw Mallrats. It cost $5 million to make and we made $2 million when it opened up. It died and went straight to video, but that movie’s got such a long tail we’re making a series out of it. So you never know what it is, like in the moment I’ve lived long enough where I don’t get mad at people.
Kevin on making personal movies…
I used to get mad at critics when they’d attack the flicks because the flicks used to be pulled from my life. In Clerks, I worked at that store, that was me. I was Dante, my friend Brian was Randall. Mallrats, I hung out at that mall. Chasing Amy, I dated that girl. That was my life story, so when critics went after that it felt like they were attacking me personally. That’s the only way I knew how to do it back in the day: steal from my own life and put it up on the screen. Now I don’t steal from my own life anymore because my own life is fucking boring, I just make movies so if I was to make movies about making movies, that’s very masturbatory.
So now I’m just in this place where I’m like let’s just make shit up. My favourite filmmakers when I was a kid, Lucas, Spielberg, Cronenberg, David Lynch…David Lynch didn’t go “You know why I made Elephant Man? Because that happened to me in high school”. David Cronenberg didn’t go “The Fly? That shit happened to me and my ex-girlfriend”. These guys just made some shit up, so now I’m at a stage in my career where I’m just making shit up. That’s how other people do this job and in doing so, I can make the movies that I grew up loving and watching. I love Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, that’s what made my career but that’s what I could do. I couldn’t make these movies yet, and a lot of critics will tell you I shouldn’t have ever made them but that’s like saying I should’ve never made Clerks.
Harley on being directed by her dad…
It’s not that much different because he always directs me in real life too, as I explained moments ago! It’s awesome, we both luckily love the same things and have the same passions so it’s really cool to connect with your parents on that level. Like a lot of my friends don’t have strong relationships with their parents and I do have strong relationships with my parents but on top of that, I’m able to work with them and do what I love with them. That just helps me understand them on a whole other level, which is cool.
Kevin on writing comics…
When I first got into the business, I used film to get into comics, because I loved comics and I wanted to write them but I didn’t think I would ever just get a job writing comics because most of the best comic book writers were British and I wasn’t, so I was fucked! So films seemed easier to get into and film was and because of film, one of the first things I did was get a tour of DC Comics. I pulled aside the editor of Green Arrow at the time and that book had fallen way deep in sales at the time and I said “Dude, I honestly think if you give me the chance, I can put that book in the top twenty”. He’s like “Yeah, but you make movies”, but I would love to write comic books, even if they don’t pay. If you see it you can be it, that’s what they tell us right? I saw a dude, Jeph Loeb, and Jeph runs Marvel’s TV division now, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. So he comes from comics but prior to comics, when I was a boy, he comes from movies. He wrote Commando and he wrote Teen Wolf and I remember his name, and this guy writes films. Then I saw his name on a comic book and he was the first person I ever saw who came from film and went to comics. A lot of people go from comics to film but not a lot of people go from film to comics but no-one from film is ever going to comics, fucking ‘children’s medium’ or some shit, but I saw that dude do it and thought if I could ever get a chance, that’s what I would fucking do.
So when my films got picked up and suddenly I had a foot in the door, the first thing I did was do that. I was like “Hey, I make movies, can I write comics too? I’m legit over here so I can bring these people in”, because I had to come with an offer. It wasn’t like “I’m a great writer”, it was like “I can bring an audience”. If you can tell people “I can bring an audience”, they’ll listen but if you tell people “I’m going to do this and I don’t know who’ll be there”, they won’t. So I thought I could bring my audience from my movies over to this and it’s not a big audience, it’s only indie films but nobody’s reading comics right now. So it’s because of Jeph Loeb that I became a guy who did that.
Kevin on representation…
If you can see it you can be it, representation is important. It’s weird to be a middle-aged white man talking about representation, but 22 years ago when I wasn’t a middle-aged white man, I was just a dopey comics kid, I didn’t see representation. I didn’t see my world reflected. Every once in a while you’d see a comic book pop up, like on Roseanne, the characters read comics and I was like, “Holy shit, legitimacy!”. So for me, I didn’t have representation when I was younger. I’d go to the movies and never see me up there. I wanted to put me and my friends up there – not us specifically – but the things we enjoyed. It’s important to see representation, it’s important to see it so we can be it. Now we’re at a time, 22 years later, this is her (Harley) time to see it and be it. When we talk about representation, this is what we’re talking about, not someone who wants to make a movie with guys in it, we get a lot of those. But it began with me going “There’s a hole and I want to fill it” – sounds dirtier than I meant it – but rather than cursing the darkness and be like “There’s some shit that doesn’t exist and I wish it existed!”, just make it.
For years she watched iCarly on Nickelodeon and I was like “Look, I’m glad you dig this and it’s fun to watch iCarly but it is way more fucking fun to write iCarly”. So if you want to have fun, build your world and if you want to do that, you have to be able to write. It’s not enough to be like “I want to be an actor or an actress”, because then you’re at the behest of others but if you can write your world, like Ben (Affleck) and Matt (Damon) did, then you can write a ticket elsewhere. If you can do one more thing, add directing to that, then you’ll never have to go to anybody for a job again. They’ll come to you if you’re free, but you can keep yourself busy from now until the end of time and you can tell stories that you want to see, not just the same shit.
Yoga Hosers came from taking her to see Iron Man, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man when she was a kid and I love these fucking movies because I’m a man. She doesn’t give a fuck about this, she can’t relate to Tony fucking Stark at all. So rather than sit around for the rest of my life thinking they should make movies for her, I thought I used to be a filmmaker, let’s see if I can make one of these myself.
Kevin on directing for TV…
I like doing The Flash, the TV show, because they do a lot of heavy lifting before you get there. There’s two fucking seasons of that show before you jump on an episode, so you don’t have to tell people who the characters are, none of that shit man. You just have to tell the present story you’re working on and that’s it. So I like going into that world and I fit in that world because it’s all about character and plot development, like at Flash they’ve got three things they write on the board in the writers’ room: heart, humour and spectacle. They insist that each one of their scripts have that before they’re allowed to be made. Heart and humour, I can do very well because my three things are heart, humour and dick jokes, but spectacle has never been my thing. Any kind of movie that has to drag you out of your couch and make you go to the multiplex is spectacle, heart and humour, and Marvel does a great job at blending the three. But spectacle is what they’ve got to put in the trailer to make you leave your fucking house.
TV is a different beast altogether. You’re there, you’re in the house, they just have to get you to turn over to that channel and how they do it is not by going, “Look at the fucking spectacle!”, how they do it is like “I wonder what Barry’s doing? I like the relationship between these people, I like these characters, I like the villain”. At the end of the day, it’s a show about a boy who solves problems by running fast so there has to be some spectacle to it but that’s not what tunes us in. What tunes is in is the soap opera, you tune in to watch the ongoing story. In movies, soap opera won’t get you off the couch.
Nobody tunes in to a trailer with two people talking and thinks fuck, I’ve got to see that. It’s things blowing up and a fucking robot coming from the sky or shit popping out of the earth or the undead. Those are the things that make people want to leave the house but I could never give you an image like that. I can write scenes where you’re like, “Oh my god, I remember one time they talked about Star Wars and Lord of the Rings”. I can write things that people say to each other, but I could never show you a visual that’ll make you want to leave your house, unless it’s on TV and you think I can’t look at this, I’m getting out of here! But I can tell you a story that can resonate, I can pull your heart strings but I can’t make you go fucking “Wow!” with an image, so I shouldn’t be making superhero movies.