Kevin Smith on going indie, podcasting, and "saving his career"

On CNN, Doug Gross has a good account of Kevin Smith's SXSW presentation on how he became a podcaster and weaned himself off the "heroin" of movie studio money, going direct to his fans instead for advertising, merch sales and sold-out houses when he toured. This being CNN, they've got a lot of [expletive] marks where Smith is saying "fuck" in his charmingly innocent way.

Smith said he decided to take advantage of his access to celebrities and gift of gab to launch a new project. And he deployed a technique he said has always served him well: do what you love and what you're good at, then figure out how to make money doing it.

And that led to "SModcast," a weekly podcast that he and friend/co-producer Scott Mosier launched in 2007 and do to this day.

It was free. But as its online audience grew, the opportunities to make money arose.

"People would tweet left and right: 'You put out so many free podcasts; how can I pay it back?' " said Smith, who has more than 2 million followers on Twitter. "I was like, 'Go buy a T-shirt' and they were like, 'Cool.' " ,p> Then came paid advertising. (The first sponsor notoriously being adult product Fleshlight). Then a paid version of the podcast, "SModcost," which contains bonus features but no ads.

Filmmaker Kevin Smith: Podcasting saved my career

(Image: Kevin Smith in Vancouver, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from shaynekaye's photostream)


  1. “Kevin Smith: Too Fat For 40” is currently available for streaming on Netflix and is a great example of his wildly popular Q&A shows.

  2. i think it’s a tad misleading to describe kevin smith as “weaning himself” from hollywood money. his last few movies have been mediocre at best, and generally commercial flops. hollywood made him go cold turkey is more like it.

    1. He does a lot of writing gigs, and generally those aren’t credited in Hollywood (when you just write or rewrite a scene or a character, etc).  You’ve probably seen his work without knowing it, and at this point he’s made far more money off those kinds of jobs than any of his own films.  Speaking of his films though, Red State was a pretty unqualified success actually…the fact that he didn’t have to pay studio/distribution money made a massive difference.  The roadshow, theatrical run, and video sales are extremely high profit margin compared to a traditionally distributed modern film.  It’s actually a great example for up and coming independent filmmakers as to how you might sidestep the system entirely.

    2. I haven’t really been a fan of his work for a bit, but you’re mistaken if you think he’s been making flops.  He’s been making modest successes.  As Smith himself has often said: people keep giving him money because he doesn’t make movies that lose money.  They may often not make huge numbers, but they generate modest returns.

      “Cop Out” only made $55 million…but it only cost $38 million.  “Zak and Miri” only made $36 million…but only cost $24 million to make.  Clerks 2 only made $26 million, but only cost $5 million to make.  Notice the pattern: low cost movie, decent returns.  And those don’t factor DVD sales, a place where he sometimes DOUBLES a movie’s take.  Cop Out sold $14 million, Zak and Miri made an additional $24 milion and Clerks 2 made $26 million, which was more than it took in during it’s theatrical run.
      In other words: like him or hate him, Smith has never had a problem generating returns on the movies he’s helmed: therefore he’s never had to worry about getting work.  The Weinsteins wouldn’t keep throwing him money if he didn’t.

      Red State is a difficult thing to gauge, but we now it had a budget of $4 million dollars and took in about $1 million….from about 5 theaters, which is kind of astounding.  Presumably it will be successful on sales of DVDs, iTunes, Netflix  and video distribution rights.

  3. I thought you were never suppose to edit a direct quote in journalism. This [expletive] is [expletive].

  4. Kevin Smith seems like an OK guy, but his films make me cringe. I didn’t even like Clerks; I remember laughing once  during that film. I hate that Jay guy, Dialogue-driven-pop-culture-references,

    1. I love his movies (well except Jersey Girl) but I’d never hold them up as high art or something and neither does he, it’s understandable why most people might dislike them.  However his dialogue writing (evidenced in numerous other movies) is pretty great I think.  He does a lot more than just that “comic book manbaby nerd” thing, that’s just the idiom/trope that he’s most known for.

      I’m not arguing with you at all, just adding more information.  Kevin Smith kind of reminds me of Will Smith sometimes…sure there are all the countless “aw hell naw” roles but then you also remember that was him in Six Degrees Of Separation and it blows your mind a little bit. ;)

      1.  I getcha! Yeah  I have friends that love his work, but for me it’s like garlic to a vampire!  Part of my problem(with him) is he kind of represents a scene that I’m kind of into, but not totally. This was more prevalent in 90’s, I’m pretty much  done with mainstream sci-fi.

        I had the same  probelm with R.U. Sirius the computer/hippy guy just drove me up the wall!     

    1.  I was watching “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” the other night and I found the editing and cinematography to be downright embarrassing. The callbacks were more telegraphed than an 80s-era pro wrestling punch.

  5. Smith is a great story teller. I saw one of his live talks. He was already an hour over his allotted time, and I had to leave because I had an hour drive and work ahead of me. But we were engrossed with his funny, often weird stories.

    R. Lee Ermy tells a good tale as well.

  6. We’re going to make them eat our expletive deleted, and then expletive deleted our expletive deleted, and then eat THEIR expletive deleted, which is made up of OUR expletive deleted.

  7. If you haven’t watched the AMC show Comic Book Men you should check it out. It is basically a reality show about the guys who work at Kevin’s comic book shop in NJ, two of whom have been friend with Kevin since long before Clerks. Kevin has some truly funny people in his life and you can see how his wit might have been honed by association with these guys.

    Particularly funny is longtime friend Bryan Johnson (Steve-Dave in the Jersey movies), who is just about the most quick-witted sardonic bastard ever. 

  8. Enjoyed Clerks but pretty much tuned out after that.. I’ve never understood why he’s such a divisive figure amongst fanboys/geeks..he seems like a pretty mellow and smart self-depricating guy. I liked Red State a lot, apart from the silly and unnecessary monologue by Goodman’s character at the end. I then checked out Smith’s podcasts…in particular the stoned fun of his own ‘smodcast’ and the ‘tell ’em steve dave’ (comic book men) are a real hoot. I guess i’ve become a fan again

  9. I’m a fan of Kevin Smith and used to be a regular listener of Smodcast.  I like his sense of humor, and find him to be a generally engaging guy.

    He’s been trumping up the whole “I’ve gone indie” thing for a long time and what I have always felt he glosses over is the fact that the only reason he can have success with his current model is because he FIRST got success from the “heroin” model.  Yeah, he can go straight to his fans and not take money from big studios…because he HAS a huge fan base and HAS a fortune saved, both of which he garnered by making movies for the studios.

    Yeah, it’s awesome that he’s managed to parlay that early success into working for himself and not keeping himself permanently sucking from the studio teat.  But there’s an implication that his way is the better way to do things, that people should avoid going the studio rout at all, which is a bit disingenuous since he wouldn’t be where his is now if it weren’t for the studios.

    It’s hard to argue with the fact that the industry is currently too heavily weighted toward the studio system, but that doesn’t mean that the studio system doesn’t have its place or that there’s some easy end-around the studio system.  I mean, Smith likes to tout that he’s doing great things by funding independent projects and letting them have free reign.  But even if he’s not directly giving input into their scripts, he’s still making editorial decisions as to which projects to fund (no one can fund everyone, decisions have to be made).  No business deal can ever be 100% egalitarian.  

    Okay, now I think I’m rambling, lost my overall point.  Which is that I don’t think he’s quite blazed the trail he thinks he has.

  10. Having a show on AMC  is considered ‘weaning’.  Walt, Don and the zombies will be pleased to learn this.

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