Kevin Smith and His Ambitious Creation of “Clerks”

As I impatiently sat in a cramped venue with no air conditioning, I joined the other guests in making subtle attempts to cover up our grotesque sweating. I desperately watched the empty stage hoping for him to appear before the venue flooded.

I couldn’t help but realize the only reason we were all waiting in this uncomfortable hole we bought admission into, was to watch one man speak.

Kevin Smith.

The filmmaker from New Jersey who became a cult icon, he may not be as well known as Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese, but in the inspirational department of my life, he holds all the trophies.

The reason behind the inspiration is the fact that Smith’s lucky strike at success was a scrappy one that required extreme determination. The lucky strike was his first feature film titled “Clerks”.

Clerks was released in 1994. The film followed the day in the dead end lives of two convenience store clerks. Shot in black and white and primarily in one location, it earns your attention through its quirky characters and clever but filthy dialogue.

The film is offensively charming, but the road to its fruition is paved with credit card debt, bloodshot nights, and limitless ambition.

The budget for Clerks was around $20,000, a shoestring budget for a film that eventually will come to earn $3 million in theatres. He raised money for the film from selling some of his prized comic books, maxing out credit cards with $2,000 limits, swindled a portion of his college funds and also used insurance money he coincidentally received when his car was ruined in a flood.

He enlisted his friends to jump in and play different roles in the film. Only one out of the two lead actors in the film was a trained actor, the other, Jeff Anderson, was a friend who ended up snagging the role because he naturally bested every real actor that auditioned.

The convenience store the film was shot in was Quick-Stop, a real convenience store that Smith actually worked at. His endless and boring shifts is what served the inspiration to the film.

The manager allowed Smith to film there, but only after closing time. This resulted in the crew and actors filming from the late night to early morning hours, only to attend their real jobs straight after.

When the film was done shooting, Smith and his producer/friend Scott Mosier, squeezed in the backroom of a video rental store they worked at and spent countless hours splicing the film.

Without any promise of success, Smith set out to make a film because he had an earnest desire to. Clerks made it to the Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Miramax Films, also tying with the film “Fresh” for the “Filmmakers Trophy.”

Miramax’s representative, Harvey Weinstein, scribbled the contract on a piece of paper across the street from where the screening took place. In one flash of a moment, Smith’s career was lifted up, and his debt taken down.

Smith’s independent offensive black and white movie infiltrated the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, earning Award of the Youth and the Mercedes-Benz Award.

It also was nominated for three independent spirit awards for Best Feature, Best Screenplay, and Best Debut Performance for Jeff Anderson.

The source of this film, and what essentially should be dipped into for inspiration is Kevin Smith. He lacked formal training; he attended a small film school only to drop out halfway through. With no degree and a minimum wage job, many people gave up on him; he was essentially on the road to nowhere. Although we should not strive to be on a road to nowhere, the fact he was inspired to make a film and ignored the naysayers is what we could all take into our own lives.

A letter exists from his ex-girlfriend’s mother that stated, “Kevin Smith will never be a famous writer because he lacks drive. But I wish him well anyway…if I’m wrong, find me and I’ll eat this.”

When Smith took the stage, he made the uncomfortable sweating with my peers worth it. He offered sage advice, raunchy one-liners, and behind the scenes tales of his own films. After the show, I raced up to him with the swagger of a giddy boy band fangirl.

He signed my copy of his book “Tough Sh*t.” A funny and insightful read, but one of the quotes from his book that we can all take away from is this…

“Take as much time it requires to will your goals into existence. Don’t wait for God or Zeus to move you around the chessboard. God is busy and Zeus is doing movies now, so take control of the game yourself.”

 

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