Tusk: Kevin Smith on Launching 10,000 Podcasts

Kevin Smith Tusk Michael Parks

Kevin Smith was ready to abandon filmmaking when his podcasting empire took off. At the Sundance premiere of Red State he announced his next film would be his last. Then Hit Somebody became a miniseries and Clerks 3 would suddenly be his last film. Tusk is neither of those films. Tusk was an idea that started on SModcast about a guy turning someone into a walrus. He asked Twitter to hashtag #WalrusYes if they thought he should make the movie. The #WalrusYeses far outweighed the #WalrusNos, and now we have a movie about Justin Long as a podcaster getting turned into a walrus by Howard Howe (Walter Parks). It also inspired Smith to make two more films, Yoga Hosers and Moose Jaws

Tusk opens September 19. 

Related: The Best Movie Ever: Kevin Smith

CraveOnline: So the incident that incites this whole story is a spoof of The Star Wars Kid. You just can’t take the Star Wars out of Kevin Smith, can you?

Kevin Smith: It’s true, it’s true. That one I’ve got to give credit though to Justin. The original incarnation of Wallace’s podcast in the first draft of the script, he was more of a sexual tourist. So he would go around having sex with swingers, come back and tell his friend about it.

Why didn’t you make that movie?

Well, I’ll tell you exactly why. Justin told me not to. In our movie, there’s a scene right now where he talks to his girlfriend. She’s like, “Don’t go to Canada and make fun of this kid.” It was the same scene except she was like, “Please don’t go to Canada to fuck somebody for a podcast.” And he’s like, “You knew my job when I started it. This is what I do.” So Justin was like, “Dude, I’m already scared about being the walrus.” Like, his agent was like, “Don’t do this. You’re already the Apple guy. Do you really want to be known as the walrus guy as well?” 

So he already had fear about doing it but he was like, “You have to let people like me before I get turned into a walrus. Otherwise they won’t give a fuck whether it happens or not. They’ve got to root for me a little bit and it’s indefensible to be a boyfriend standing in front of a girlfriend being like, ‘I have to go fuck someone in Canada for a podcast.’ Every woman in the audience will hate me.” I’m like, “Ooh, date movie, opportunity, I never thought about that.” So I was like, “All right, man, I understand. It’s gamey. Let’s figure out something else.” 

He was like, “I feel like we’re so close already to saying something about losing your humanity and finding it by not being human.” I said that’s the gist of the piece. He goes, “What about these people online?” He’d just read an article about a years later look in on The Star Wars Kid. He’s going, “We all love that video but this kid was fucking haunted by it. It’s the worst thing that ever happened to him. I feel like the podcast should be that, one of these guys that go after him.” Suddenly Wallace took on this new dimension. After we sat there, talked and smoked one night for two hours, I was like, “I got it. I’m going to go into another draft.” And it became what it is now. He helped shape it. He was my co-pilot and I knew that going in.

Parks, the Howard Howe role, is written within an inch of its life. He breathes wonderful life into it but all those words were on the page because I couldn’t wait to watch Michael Parks say every one of them. But the Wallace character I just kind of underwrote. It was very sketchy because he was just the guy Howe talked to who would later become a walrus. By bringing in Justin, that means that I could bring in a guy who could write on his feet. He’s as clever a writer, if not more clever than me so he’ll shoot my script and six other versions of his scenes that will incorporate nicely into the movie. So I knew I was getting a cowriter when I was bringing him on and he didn’t disappoint.

But do we like Wallace, or isn’t this the story of his comeuppance?

I think it’s both. That’s what I like about the movie is it takes two characters who you should feel one thing and another thing for, and slowly over the course of the show flips it. There are points where you’re like, “I hope they make him a fucking walrus. What a prick?” And then there are points where you’re like, “This Howe guy is evil as hell.” Then we flip the script where at a certain point you’re like, “Oh, I understand why Howe’s doing this now and it’s very sad.” Then with him you’re like, “Well, I did want to see him as the walrus but look how sad he is.” You feel for him, then don’t feel for him, feel for him again. That’s part of the fun of the movie is the flip flopping of emotions towards those two characters particularly.

Wouldn’t it be easier for Howard Howe to kidnap an actual walrus?

[Laughs.] Yeah, I think so and that would be a movie in and of itself too. I’d watch that movie. The opposite of Free Willy if you will. Chain Up Willy. But for me, there was only one way to go about this and that’s it had to be a movie about a guy who wanted to turn another guy into a walrus. That’s what stops people. They’re like, “Walrus, eh?” Because it makes you think. You’re like, “How would you do that? I guess you cut off the legs and the arms.” By that point, I’ve already got you. You’re 10 seconds into thinking about it so all the marketing’s done because you’re like, “Well, fuck it, I’ve got to see what that looks like.”

A24 were so good at the beginning. They got involved in this movie week one, they said, “Never show anybody this fucking walrus.” I was like, “Why? I want to put this up on Instagram. You know how many hits this will get?” They’re like, “Fuck your hits on Instagram. This is why everyone’s gonna go. If you never see that walrus, there are a bunch of people who are like, ‘Fuck you, I’ve got to see what the walrus looks like.’” They were like, “Look, you don’t disappoint. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Like that movie or not, you’re like, ‘That was fucked up.’” So that moment along, they were like that’s worth the price of admission.

At Comic-Con you said this was your first movie where you were just making up a story like your colleagues do and not drawing on super personal experiences. But it is still about a podcaster and the internet so are there always going to be elements of Kevin Smith’s life?

There would have to and for me, that was a little self-serving, I’ll be honest with you. Making the main character a podcaster not only is a shoutout to where the movie came from but I run a podcasting business. It’s a free business. We give away free product and based on people listening to those podcasts, we go to their hometowns, put on a live show and hopefully they come sell us out. So if I’ve got a movie out there where people are saying, “Oh, the main character’s a podcaster” or “The movie was based on a podcast,” then a few more people come check out our wares. 

The good news is, if we get this deep enough out into the world, there are a bunch of cats who may hear the term podcast who’ve never heard it before. Then all of a sudden they go, “What is that?” Maybe they sample my shit, maybe they don’t but eventually they come to this conclusion: “You’re kidding. That’s a podcast? I would like to do a podcast because I sit around and talk about shit with my friends all the time.” Then boom, we’ve got another podcast. 

Clerks was a movie that launched 1,000 other movies. A bunch of people saw that movie and were like, “Oh my God, I want to do that.” I hope that Tusk is the movie that launches 10,000 podcasts. Some people are like, “It’s too crowded.” That’s bullshit. That’s the beauty of that medium. There will never be too many podcasts. You can introduce 1000 new ones a day and they will find their audience. They’re like nanobots in a comic book, right into the bloodstream, taking control of their host.

That’s a perfect opportunity for a Clerks 3 question. Will it be back at the Quik Stop, in black and white, and is Rosario Dawson in it?

Yes to all three things to minor degrees. Clerks 3 is quite beautiful. The way that Clerks was about retail, I can’t really talk about the retail experience anymore because now I’m a shopper. I’m not a guy behind the counter. So it kind of instead tells the story of middle age to death, realizing that it all ends, buddy. You don’t get to sit there and watch movies and crack on customers for the rest of your life. There’s Quik Stop, there is Rosario, there is some black and white but not 100% throughout the whole movie. Everyone gets everything they want but mixed up in a different way.

What is a yoga hoser? Should I know what that means?

No, Scott Mosier coined the term on an episode of SModcast. We were sitting around telling a story about this yoga. They found him with some stolen art that he didn’t steel but blah blah blah. He was into yoga, very meditatey, new agey and stuff. Since it was in Canada, we were doing our sketches as we do during the show. Scott was playing a cop that showed up at this guy’s door looking for the museum piece. He was like, “Open up, you God damn yoga hoser!” And I instantly died. I was like, “Oh my God, nobody’s ever put those two words together in this history of human kind. That’s awesome.” So I used it as the title of our thing and also as the next movie. Justin plays a version of the character we created.

So are the girls the Yoga Hosers?

They are the yoga hosers, good question.

When you were at Sundance in 1994 and 2000, did you see any great movies that didn’t come out after the festival?

Not that didn’t come out. They maybe didn’t come out as wide, but I remember Clean, Shaven by Lodge Kerrigan, a great movie but it didn’t get a massive release. It was very specific.

I’m looking for that missing Sundance movie that no one knows about.

River of Grass. Kelly Reichardt’s working a lot now. Now I see her name pop up a lot. blessing, Paul Zehrer directed that movie. That was Sundance ’94. What Happened Was… won the Grand Jury Prize and people don’t really talk about that flick anymore, but Tom Noonan won the award that year and then did a followup as well. I was always fascinated, the same year I entered this business, I was like, “The bad guy from Manhunter won the main prize! Who knew that he was a filmmaker?” And he’s a really good one too.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.