Correction to This Article
A July 13 Style article incorrectly said that the movie "Clerks II" opens July 14. It opens next Friday, July 21.

What Makes the Director Click?

Web-obsessed filmmaker Kevin Smith:
Web-obsessed filmmaker Kevin Smith: "Interacting with the fan base is constant validation." (Bill O'Leary - The Washington Post)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2006

It may seem odd that "Clerks II," which opens tomorrow and features graphic sexual banter and even an act of bestiality, is going to set its audience abuzz with warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia.

But then, most of filmmaker Kevin Smith's fans know this territory well, having seen and loved the characters from the original "Clerks," the 1994 cult movie that pushed taboo as far as it could go this side of an NC-17 rating.

And if anyone understands his fan base, it's Smith, 35, who lives, breathes and blogs for his devotees. He has already experienced their enthusiasm for "Clerks II" at a recent sneak preview at Vulgarthon, his annual film fest for his message-board posse, held in his home town of Red Bank, N.J. And he has spent much of his time, as he always does, reading and responding to Internet postings on such Smith Web sites as http://viewaskew.com/ and http://silentbobspeaks.com/ . No other filmmaker has made it his business to nurture, kibitz with, heckle and engage his fans on such an intimate, day-to-day basis.

Where does this obsessive attention come from?

"I think it comes from growing up fat and looking for constant validation," says Smith, sitting at a Mexican eatery and working his way through an order of tortillas, refried beans, rice and a side order of hot cheese. "You just want somebody to be, like, 'It's all right that you don't look like us, you're fine.' And interacting with the fan base is constant validation."

The validation began with the seminal independent movie "Clerks," which fans treated with the same life-defining reverence others have felt in previous eras for "Rebel Without a Cause," "Easy Rider," "Star Wars" and "Taxi Driver."

The movie, for which Smith begged, borrowed and credit-carded $27,000, follows the travails of Dante and Randal, clerks at a New Jersey convenience store called Quick Stop, whose lives consist of graphic conversations about women, lengthy riffs about pop culture, and a little hockey on the roof.

"Clerks II" takes up with the characters 12 years later, all of them still heading nowhere. And in a sense, what Smith has made is not so much a movie as a tacit signal that he's older, but hasn't forgotten his youthful roots, or his fans.

For fans of the original "Clerks," the film defined their generation -- the one raised on McJobs, junk food and "Star Wars." That a shoestring flick about real life could be picked up by Miramax and launch the career for a college dropout was deeply inspiring.

"This was a movie that talked like the people I know talk," says Mike Cecconi, from Upstate New York, who saw "Clerks" when he was 17. "It was a revelation to see a film that had really smart people cussing and dealing with actual life." Later, Cecconi changed his college major from newspaper journalism to film and, after graduation, moved to Los Angeles. He now works for Smith as a production assistant.

It was during the afterglow of "Clerks" that Smith discovered the Internet, a then-new phenomenon that promised to bring him even greater accessibility to his fans. Alerted in 1995 to a Web site dedicated to "Clerks," Smith went to an Internet cafe in Red Bank and checked it out. He was so enchanted, he immediately hired its creator, Ming Chen, to do something similar for him.

When Chen suggested putting up a message board, Smith recalls his reaction: "I was, like, 'So at 2 in the morning, if I wake up and I'm, like, I suck, and I'm alone in the world, I can jump on there and have somebody be, like, I like what you do, and sleep better?' I was so dialed in to that notion."


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