Sundance 2016 | Kevin Smith Says ‘Sorry’ to Critics With ‘Yoga Hosers’
Kevin Smith hasn’t always had the best relationship with film critics, but he’s trying to change that. But he may have picked a strange delivery system for his message: Yoga Hosers, a broad comedy starring his daughter Harley Quinn Smith, and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Depp, who use their yoga fighting skills to rescue the world’s critics from evil Nazi bratwurst monsters. (Smith calls them Bratzis.) And this is only after his film argues that criticizing art led directly to Hitler’s regime.
But anyway, at least he’s fighting to save critics from certain death. Otherwise, he really doesn’t care what anybody thinks of Yoga Hosers. (Even though, for what it’s worth, we liked it just fine.) It’s a silly comedy, or as Smith himself openly declares it, “Fucking stupid.” He made it for himself, and as an excuse to make something fun with his family.
He’s still making art for other people, like his upcoming series Hollyweed (which is basically “Clerks but set in a weed dispensary”), but he’s stopped caring about what other people think of him and he’s having the time of his life. He’s even lost weight from the sudden lack of anxiety, although cutting out all the sugar from his diet might have something to do with that as well.
I sat down with Kevin Smith at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, to find out more about Yoga Hosers, what it’s like raising a young actress and what the heck is up with his next horror-comedy Moose Jaws, which is basically Jaws but with a moose. (Smith also reveals the two young filmmakers who he thinks are going to make a big splash in the future, so keep your eyes on their upcoming work.)
Crave: Well, you have made a very silly film.
Kevin Smith: This is very silly. I’d go beyond silly. This is pretty stupid. And I’d probably go one better. This is a pretty fucking stupid movie.
Is that liberating?
Yeah, because you’re right off of your… What I love about these Canadian movies I’m doing, the True North Trilogy, it’s absurdism man. It’s like, when it hits, the people that like it, fuck it hits an amazing sweet spot and they’ll remember that movie for the rest of their life. For some people though it’s just going to be like, “I don’t get it.” Or, “I get it and I fucking hate it.” And I get that. That’s totally fine. It’s not for everybody but it’s definitely for me. I’m enjoying the shit out of it.
Your interpretation of what Canada is like…
…is very cartoony.
It’s very cartoony.
It’s very Strange Brew. It’s literally lifted from Strange Brew. That was one of my favorite movies as a kid. This is what, Yoga Hosers is essentially a girl version of Strange Brew.
So they should have been drinking more beer.
They’re girls, and they’re underage. [Laughs.] So yeah, those girls are smart enough not to drink fucking beer. They’re mostly white wine drinkers, stuff like that, or the harder liquors. Beer? [Shakes his head.]
Have you encountered people from Canada who say that’s not what they’re all about?
I mean, only in as much as like, “It’s really more ‘aboat’ than ‘aboot.’” Yeah, I get it, but it’s clearly not a representation of the True North. It’s a cartoon version of it. But no, no angry Canadians yet, and there must be some out there but I have not encountered them.
As a critic I was forced to go “Huh!” when you said that I was responsible for the Holocaust.
But as a critic, weren’t you like, “Yeah, but the heroes are coming to save me?” That’s my favorite part of the movie!
They just go, “NOOOOOOO!”
Well, to him, because he’s just like, “But these are critics,” but they want to go save the critics. That, to me, was my little… because I had a fight with critics years ago. I’m sure it’ll get misinterpreted, which is fine, but after I had a beef with critics and shit, that little piece is kind of like my, “Sorry.” Because I have my heroes save their lives. Like the villain’s going after them and then the fucking heroes are like, “We have to save the critics.”
If you were anti-critics it would have been like the ending of Jay and Silent Bob.
Jay and Silent Bob, which wasn’t about critics. That was about people on the internet. But yes, but yeah, very much so. I wondered how that would be taken. I thought that they’d get it but some people might be like, “He’s fucking bagging on critics again.” But I’m like, eh, technically no but whatever.
Have you been looking at the tweets right after the screening?
I saw some of the tweets last night, after the flick, which were very, very nice. And I know the movie’s been reviewed and some people have been like “Fuck this movie!” and not even in the hardcore way, which is funny. I’m just glad that they’re not going after the girls. I think the girls are crazy talented and I was always afraid, like, they come after me all the time. I get it. Especially in a movie where I’m like, hey, I don’t give a shit about the audience. I just do whatever I want. Of course some people are going to be like, “Fuck this movie.”
But I was always worried that, some cats try to punch below the belt really hard. I thought they’d go through the kids, like try to attack the kids. The nice thing is even the reviews that are like “Fuck this movie” say that the girls are great, and that’s fine by me. I can take it up the ass. I’ve been doing that for years. So I just don’t think that the girls are ready to be, like, used as fucking like… “Well, they suck.” Say what you will about the movie but they’re fucking talented.
They’re great, actually. I was really taken aback by how funny Harley is. She gets funnier lines.
Yeah, I was happy about that too. And she’s leaning toward it now, like she’s into the idea of being like a comedienne, leaning more toward the funny angle.
Did it surprise you that she wanted to go into your line of work?
Very. Like she was into music. She was a bass player, so I thought she was going to be in a band her whole life. “Her whole life,” she’s only 16. But yeah, from the time she was 11 to the time we shot Tusk, it was all about the bass. We’d take her to her gigs all the time, but nothing about movies. At one point I was like, “We can put you guys and your band in a movie, in the background of something,” just to try to incorporate her. “Maybe you guys can write a song for the movie or whatever.”
But then when we shot Tusk, all of a sudden she was like, “I love this. This is what I want to do,” and I’m like, oh my god! Like, I know acting! Like, I’m not good at it but I know fucking actors and acting. Now you’re talking my language. Like, I couldn’t do anything to help her in regards to playing bass other than like, buy her a new bass or bring her to gigs and shit. But in a world where she’s like, “Oh, I want to be an actress,” I’m like, “I can totally do something about that.”
And the nice thing is like, I get a huge charge out of it. It totally reinvigorates me in terms of being a filmmaker. Like, I love filmmaking, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve got a lot of different ways to tell stories now and stuff like that, and a lot of them are way less expensive and I reach more people and stuff. Podcasting is far easier to do than, “Let’s gather all these resources to try to tell one story” and shit like that.
So I try to do the movie thing kind of sparingly now. I used to treat it like that was my career, like I’m a filmmaker for a living, and now like, I’m just filmmaking from time to time. You know, I podcast for a living. I’m on stage for a living more than anything else. So with that in mind, man… fuck, what was the question? I hit a pothole. [Laughs.]
We were talking about Harley and how good she is.
So with that in mind… wow, how did I get on myself like that? You know, how did I get to that from Harley?
You were talking about you were surprised that she wanted to get into acting, but you can help out.
Thank you. My bad. So yeah, the fact that she showed any interest in acting, like well shit, I can do something about that. So it’s been fun with her, man. It makes me want to go to work. And also, you know, look… right now, the movie being seen for the first time by a very select group of people, some cats are going to be like, “Fuck this movie” and stuff like that. There’s always the fear that you’ll be like, “Well, nobody likes the movie.”
You know, I’ve been doing this long enough to remember this is that moment, that first moment where it’s either wonderful or you’ve gotta take it up the chute and stuff. And then like a week from now it doesn’t matter, and then from a week from now until the end of time, it’s just me and the audience and the movie. Like, they rarely go back and be like, “What did somebody say about it in the moment?” So at that point you’ve got the rest of your life to like, remember why you did it. In the moment when a bunch of people attack it and shit, you’re like “Aw crap, why’d we do that?” and stuff.
But why do we do it? I’m at fucking Sundance for the fourth time as a filmmaker in 22 years. I made a movie with my kid. Like, there’s so many fucking wonderful reason for me to have made the movie. It won’t translate to the audience and that’s fucking fine. It’s just the story of my life, the story of every fucking movie. Sometimes I make shit they like, sometimes they don’t like it and shit, but at the end of the day if I get past that moment where people weigh in with their opinions or whatever, then it’s like I’ve got this wonderful little family keepsake, man.
It’s a like a scrapbook. I got to work with my kid. Like, shit like that means more than “We got four stars from a stranger.” And believe me, don’t get me wrong, I fucking LOVE four stars from a stranger, but some shit’s more important than some stranger saying whether they liked your movie or not. The fact that I made a movie with my kid, come on dude, I’ll be on my deathbed thinking about that shit. I won’t be thinking about people going like, “This movie doesn’t work.” I’ll be thinking about, “Oh my god, we were on set and the whole family was there and Lily’s family was there and it was such a good fucking time.”
So I know your wife has been in most of your movies since you got together…
She’s been in a few.
I said “most” because I couldn’t quite remember if she was in all of them.
Yeah, she wasn’t in a few of them. Cop Out.
So is there a part for Harley in everything from now on?
Probably. You know, at a certain point, I can already tell… like, she goes out on auditions for other things, for like TV shows and stuff…
So she’ll be too big for you one day?
It’s not even “big.” Like, she wants that because the kid has a heart of fucking gold. Like, she is unbelievably sweet, but I don’t think she’s going to think any of this is real until she’s hired by somebody else, who’s not me. So I think there will be a time when I’m priced out of her, both her and Lily-Rose, that’s for sure.
I was thinking about this movie, and when I first saw Clerks. I was like, “Hey! A movie where people talk like I talk!” That was great. Now I’m looking at this and I’m like, “I don’t know how these kids talk.” I don’t understand half the words that are coming out of their mouths. What’s it like writing that? Did you have to go to the kids…?
I did. Oddly enough my maturity level kind of matches that of a 15-year-old girl’s, so I was able to get into the mindset pretty good but then they put a veneer over it as well, of their own patois. It was interesting. It was a very sweet, collaborative effort. Because I couldn’t direct them either. It’s like, how do you fucking tell a 15-year-old girl how to act like a 15-year-old girl, when you’re a 45-year-old man? Who’s going to know more about being a 15-year-old girl than a 15-year-old girl?
So you kind of defer to their expertise in a lot of places, and really I’m just there to shape tone, or like, “End the sentence here.” But they kind of deliver the way they sound, and for older people maybe there are a lot of stuff that’s like [shrugs], but for their age group and below, it’s kind of like their language.
It took me a while for me to realize that “basic” was an insult. I was like, “‘Basic’ means ‘simple.’ That’s nice! That’s a nice thi… oh, it’s bad…”
I’m telling you, the weirdest thing about the movie is that it’s a kids movie. It’s PG-13 at max, like at most.
Is it… is it? I guess it really is, isn’t it? I guess I hadn’t thought about it…
It’s not an R.
It feels so violent but it’s not.
I think most people expect me to like, especially coming off Tusk, to be earn that “R” but this movie has nothing. Nobody says “fuck,” not a single use of the word “fuck” and all the violence is sauerkraut-related. And the boys, there’s no blood anywhere in the whole thing. I learned that from The Dark Knight. I learned that from Chris Nolan.
If anybody’s like “Fuck Yoga Hosers,” blame Chris Nolan, because I sat there going like, “Wow, you can make a movie where a guy cuts another dude’s fucking face open and not get an R-rating.” As long as you don’t show blood you’re good.
So, Moose Jaws…
That will be next.
Can you just do that? Can you just add “moose” to another movie and it’s fine?
It’s parody. Satire. What about all those fucking… there’s a movie coming out with one of the Wayans brothers called Fifty Shades of Black. They just changed a word. Yeah, we’re protected by the Constitution, I believe.
But can they do Black Fifty Shades of Grey? I wonder if that’s a different thing. Like, could you just do Moose Searching for Bobby Fischer?
That would be amazing. But Moose Jaw is a town, so Moose Jaws is a play on that.
So you’re fine.
I think but let me tell you, it would be amazing if Universal came after us. I mean, I’d need no marketing budget after that.
Are you going to have that shot of the antlers over the reeds?
It comes over the grain. It’s one of my favorite scripts I’ve ever written.
Why is that?
It’s so stupid. It’s so batshit crazy. Oftentimes I sit down and write a script, I’m too busy thinking about you, or them, or fucking the people who are eventually going to pay to see the movie. You’re thinking about three-act structure, you’re thinking about how to deliver something that they want to see. These movies, Tusk and Yoga Hosers, they’re like mine. I keep the budgets way low because I’m like, this is what I want to see and if people don’t like it, I get it, it’s a real fucking weird bridge to walk, but like this is the weird bridge I want to create.
So in doing that it’s kind of like, Moose Jaws… it’s not me going “Point A leads to Point B, Point B leads to Point C.” “Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Environment, Man vs. Nature” or whatever the fuck. I just get to fuck around. I just get to write jokes and movie jokes, pop culture-related humor. Whole thing is one big fat pop culture joke, from start to finish. So as that, I fucking love it. It’s so fun to write, so fun to read and shit like that. I don’t know if it will be fun to watch but it’s a movie that pretty much is Jaws beat-for-beat, not shot-for-shot, but beat-for-beat Jaws. And then at the end you can tell the filmmaker got really fucking bored because I just start making other movies instead. It becomes Godzilla and Destroy All Monsters and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and then Return of the Jedi, and it ends like that.
So you know, it’s a movie that’s more about the content of my heart than head, in terms of like when you work with your head you try to make something satisfying for everybody else. This is just like, “Aaagh! All the things I love!”
Do you even want to go back to working with your head?
Yeah, we just did this pilot Hollyweed, which is exactly what everybody expects from me. In a world where you diversify your portfolio as much as I do, you can’t do something like Yoga Hosers and hang your hat solely on that. Think about it. I’d be fucked right now. But Yoga Hosers, I quote the great KRS-One: “This is just one style, out of many. Like a piggy bank, this is one penny.”
So I just came up, before we came to Sundance we just shot Hollyweed, which is essentially a show that looks exactly like Clerks but set in a weed dispensary, but plays as Chasing Amy, my current version of Chasing Amy. So that’s the thing that everyone’s like, “Do that thing that you do!” That’s great, and I’ll give that to them. There. But when I make a movie dude, at least for the next one, particularly Moose Jaws, right now I’m in this mode. I’m in experimental, like, “This Is Fun For Me” mode. And, I get it if some people are like, “I’m not into this at all.” They might be into the shit that comes out of this later on.
Sometimes you’ve got to exorcise the crap out of your system. I’m having a blast man, like honestly, and to be honest it fucking translates physically. I look better than I’ve looked since I started my fucking career.
You do look good, I have to tell you.
Do you know why? Because I don’t fucking think about, “God, how do we make money on this?” Not at all. I just keep the budget low and go, “Let’s fucking have fun!” That’s youth and that’s vitality, dude. When you’re not stressed and worried about the business. I make sure all my investors are taken care of. Everybody gets their money back and stuff, and everybody knows what they’re getting into. They read that script and shit. So once you keep your budget low you just have fun, dude. And sugar. I lost sugar. I took all the sugar out of my life. That fucking helped a big deal. No sugar whatsoever.
So it’s doing this. It’s not like doing work for somebody else. It’s like, I’m going to be masturbatory for a while. I’m going to make movies that please me, and then other places I’ll please the audience that wants what they normally get from me in other ways. I can service the customer, as they say, in a bunch of different ways. Hollyweed will take care of people going, “What the fuck happened to you?” I go, “There you go. You’ll enjoy this. This is the exact same thing that you’ve always liked.” But over here I just want to be creative, man.
Like fuck, all I ever hear is people going “How come movies are so dumb and unoriginal, with fucking sequels and remakes?” And I make something that is wholly fucking original, wholly original dude. Tusk and fucking Yoga Hosers. Point to the other Bratzi movie in the world. And right away some people are like, “Nah, not that.” So you know, you’ll never win either way so you’ve just got to be true to yourself.
I remember seeing Clerks, again. Here’s this new guy who’s awesome. Who do you see who excites you as a filmmaker or a fan?
I love Matt Johnson, who did The Dirties two years ago, and now in this festival he’s got [Operation] Avalanche, which is in the Next section. That dude is the fucking truth. Like, absolute fucking dyed in the wool, born to fucking do this filmmaker. I’m a carpetbagger. I was not born to be a filmmaker. Filmmaking is just something, that’s how I got into this in the first place. There are some people put on this world to make film. Matt Johnson is definitely one of them.
Frankie Shaw, I just saw. She had a short in the festival last year called SMILF, which won the top prize here at Sundance. She came back this year with a short called Too Legit, which is one of the most eviscerating pieces of satire I’ve ever fucking seen in my life. She made a comedy about rape. You know what a tight wire act that is to walk? And it’s not offensive, and it’s fucking… it’s blistering. A BLISTERING fucking attack. After I saw it I pulled her aside, I was like, “Look, your shorts are amazing but you need to go do a feature right now. You have SUCH a fucking distinct voice, and you’re working in an arena that NOBODY else can, man. You need to push this to the next level and tell a fucking 90-minute story instead.”
So those are the two filmmakers that thrill me right now.
Top Photo: George Pimentel Getty Images North America
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.