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The Globe and Mail

Director Kevin Smith’s five top tips for success

Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail

Kevin Smith had a meteoric rise in the early nineties – from convenience store clerk to celebrated indie director of Clerks. Since then he has experienced both the highs and lows of Hollywood-level fame – these days he would rather record a podcast than direct a billion-dollar blockbuster. Here, the host of Spoilers shares some of the secrets to his success

Be the change you want to see in the world (of movie commentary)

I sat around crying about film criticism a couple of years ago, and then I realized that that is the Internet way of dealing with things – to bitch and complain. You can't just sit there and say, "I'm mad," and tell other people how they're doing it wrong. You have to be the change. That where the idea for Spoilers came from – I wanted to make a show about loving movies. Forget thumbs up and thumbs down and all of that discussion that is so erudite. I wanted to talk about movies the way people talk about them when they come out of the theatre with their friends: Oh, I like this part. This looked so cool. This part was so dumb. Let's go eat.

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You don't need Ben Affleck to make a movie

The organic part of moviemaking goes away when it becomes your career. You consider yourself an artist, but really you have a job just like everybody else. Realizing all of this is part of why I stepped away for a few years. I needed to reload creatively and I needed to kick the Hollywood version of heroin, which is money. When I came back I had proven to myself that I could survive without filmmaking so the pressure wasn't there any more. One day on my podcast, a bunch of us were sitting around talking about this crazy guy in England who was offering a free room to anyone who would dress as a walrus. I started joking that it was like a horror movie – you're going to show up at this hotel and someone is going to sew you into a walrus suit. We just kept talking about it for like 20 minutes. You can hear the idea taking shape. It's stupid, but so are a lot of movie ideas. I wrote a script in 20 days. Four months after the conversation I was sitting on the set. You don't need $20-million and Ben Affleck to make a movie.

Don't discount the dumb ideas

A lot of great ideas seem really dumb at first. I have developed a technique that I call "pushing whimsy," which basically means following a crazy idea down the rabbit hole to see where it goes. It's a way of looking at things where you think, if this works out, great! And if it doesn't work out, well, it was never supposed to work out. It's an idea about a man dressing another man in a walrus suit. It's a way of being invested without being too invested and to let creativity lead the process rather than thinking about what a movie should or shouldn't be. At this point in my career, I feel like there are a lot of talented directors out there. I don't want to make movies that any of those people can do. I want to make Kevin Smith movies.

It's possible to be high and high-functioning

I started smoking weed on a regular basis at age 38. I had lived a whole life, built a career, got married, had a kid before I decided, you know what, maybe I'll become a stoner. It was thanks to good old Seth Rogen whom I met while we were making Zack and Miri Make A Porno. I was so impressed by him. He was one of the most talented human beings I'd ever met, he was multitasking like crazy. He was the first functioning stoner that I had ever met. The first time we smoked together we sat around watching the movie, we talked about the shoot. I liked how laid-back and chill everything was. I wasn't paranoid. I wasn't wondering about my place in the business or whether Seth liked me more than Judd Apatow. After that I made a deal with myself. If I was going to spark up I had to be doing something creative – writing or editing or recording a podcast, anything. If you look at my productivity over the last five years – it's through the roof!

The real universal language isn't love

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I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker at age 21. At 23, I was in Cannes! There I was talking to these French journalists who were asking me, 'How is that you feel? Are Jay and Silent Bob not R2D2 and C3PO?' This was before people were talking about Star Wars again. It was before Lucas got reinterested. They were just old movies from the seventies and it was this real bonding moment with people from across the world. You like Star Wars? I like Star Wars! That experience reminded me that the international language is not love, but cinema. Everyone can talk movies. Not everyone can talk sex, particularly the very young and the very married.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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