As young filmmakers, we have to start somewhere; we all have films we love and filmmakers we look up to, who also had ideas and aspirations to start something and make their films happen. It is easy to forget this when you might be struggling to get your first project off the ground. But if we take a closer look and examine the careers of some well-known filmmakers you can see that they were once just starting out too!
So, in this case study we are going to take a closer look at the career of filmmaker, actor, comedian, and author Kevin Smith. Smith is probably most well known for his breakout, 1994 film Clerks that he wrote, directed, co-produced, and acted in. Clerks was shown at Sundance in 1994 and there won the Filmmaker’s Trophy as well as awards at Cannes. The film is known for its indie-DIY feel, and as many fans of the film know, that is the exact attitude it was made with. The film is a day-in-the-life comedy following convenience store clerks and the customers they serve. Though Smith did attend some film school, he ultimately dropped out in order to make the film that launched his career!
Smith was able to make the film by selling his comic books, maxing out credit cards, casting his friends, and shooting at an actual convenience store he worked at in his hometown in New Jersey. These aspects of Smith’s approach absolutely prove the point that if you believe in your idea you can work with what you have and do whatever it takes to get it made. Smith has noted that being an amateur filmmaker and being “completely naïve” helped him follow through with making his film.
Smith has noted that being an amateur filmmaker and being “completely naïve” helped him follow through with making Clerks in hopes of gaining distribution. Even when considering the possibility that the film may not take path he had planned, Smith was already plotting his route to making his next film after paying off the credit card debts from Clerks. Smith looked at the experience of making his first film and the money he spent on it as the equivalent of one year of film school. The knowledge he gained would, no doubt, help him make a better film on his second go. That kind of attitude is really admirable, especially since Smith acknowledges the fact that making
Smith looked at the experience of making his first film and the money he spent on it as the equivalent of one year of film school. The knowledge he gained would, no doubt, help him make a better film on his second go. That kind of attitude is really admirable, especially since Smith acknowledges the fact that making Clerks in this way is what made its success possible. Making a first feature can be experience filled with
Making a first feature can be experience filled with self-doubt, and Smith acknowledges this as well, bringing up thoughts many young filmmakers have probably had at some point: “what am I going to say that hasn’t already been said in cinema?” and “you’re not from Los Angeles, you’re from New Jersey, you’re b*llsh*ts not interesting to us”, but Smith for some reason didn’t allow him self to stop have these thoughts. Instead he went through with production and eventually submitted and showed at Sundance.
Though Clerks was produced with a small budget of approximately $27,575, it ended up making about three million dollars after being picked up by Miramax. So, the film was not only a creative success but a financial success as well. Smith credits independent filmmakers like Richard Linklater (particularly his 1990 film Slacker) and Spike Lee as inspirations for his work, which just goes to show how important it is to watch and learn from films that you admire and take your inspirations and interests seriously.
Smith went on to make more films like Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), and Dogma (1999) that all gained their own independent successes. Though Chasing Amy and Dogma were commercially successful films and feature more notable actors (like Ben Affleck) Smith’s indie influences are still heavily present in his storytelling. Having these films as follow-ups to 1994’s Clerks just shows how quickly Kevin Smith’s career took off. In only a couple of years Smith went from financing his own film to showing at Sundance and directing Hollywood actors.
Smith’s career has really varied since his early films. He has directed, produced, written for, and acted in numerous movies, television shows, and specials, and has even spent time writing for established comics as well as his own books. It’s really interesting and encouraging to look at the experiences Kevin Smith has had all thanks to the risks he took to make his first film. Just look at his IMDB page and you can see not only the quantity but the variety of projects Smith has worked on which really speaks to his dedication to film and different forms of storytelling.
Kevin Smith is someone who is definitely a big fan of film and that is, for sure, something that has helped him make successful films; he sees the big picture, but keeps an indie spirit and integrity in his work and urges young filmmakers to do the same!
Marissa Caico is a recent grad in Film Studies (CUNY Queens College, 2018) and is interested in all aspects of the craft. She loves food, art, and traveling. Some of her favorite movies include Napoleon Dynamite, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Stranger Than Paradise, and Paris Is Burning.