Two and a half years ago, Kevin Smith created a pilot about two friends (Smith and Chappelle Show alum Donnell Rawlings, whose stand up helps influence some the dialogue) and the LA weed dispensary where they work. Nobody bit and the show sat on a shelf until Rivit TV came along with a new platform that would let the audience pre-buy future episodes after watching the pilot (here’s a link to the show’s page on Rivit), flipping the “Go” switch on the production when a certain dollar amount is hit (in this case, $5.3 million, which will greenlight six additional episodes).
It’s the kind of thing that Smith might have said no to in the past, but a near-death experience or health scare can force you to reallocate your focus and change the kinds of things you worry about. And that’s what happened to Smith, who had a massive heart attack in February just after recording a comedy special. Since then, he has shed a bunch of weight, adopted a healthier lifestyle, and an “if not now then when?” attitude when it comes to certain projects and endeavors.
Recently, we spoke with Smith about his past flirtation and subsequent rejection of crowdfunding, his decision to write a starring role for himself in Hollyweed, how this show shares certain DNA with Clerks, and how his heart attack helped lessen his fear of failure.
You gave us all a bit of a scare.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m a creature of the internet. So I know some people like it and some people don’t. I assumed there would be a lot of like, “He’s almost dead! Silent forever! Fuck him.” [But] there were a lot of people who were like, “Aw, that’s a shame. He’s a decent dude.” Or something like that. I got to kind of go to my own wake in advance. Believe me, I like being above ground as well, but it wasn’t bad. I was really dreading looking at the internet the night after the heart attack. I remember in 2005 with Too Fat To Fly, people were like, “Well why would you be on a jet, you fat ass!” So I assumed there’d be a lot of people like, “You live like a fucking pig, of course you almost died.” Instead, there was a lot of empathy, and that was nice. It made it much easier going forward. I was like, “Well, I might as well drop some weight and try to stick around a bit longer.”
With Rivit, how did this come to you? I interviewed you back in October at New York Comic-Con and you had mentioned briefly how Kickstarter wasn’t a thing you were really interested in.
Kevin Smith: Yeah, totally.
This isn’t the same thing, but I’m curious why this appealed to you.
I said to Rivit TV, “Honestly, I’ve always said that I wouldn’t do a Kickstarter or an Indiegogo.” They said, “Well that’s great, because that’s not this.” I was like, “Really? What do you mean?” They explained it, and they were like, “Look, it’s pre-buy. We’re just buying the show in advance.” Because they’re buying the show in advance, we get to make it. When you do Kickstarter or Indiegogo, yeah, everybody gets a copy and stuff like that, but then there’s an event which everyone kind of has to buy tickets for, the actual screening or something like that. They were like, “We’ll know if we have enough money to make the show in 45 days.” Then it instantly goes into the inboxes of all the people that finance it.
To me, I was like, “All right, well it’s not speculative.” It’s not like somebody’s watching a video and going, “Well, this show could be something.” In this case, they can watch the whole episode. The Rivit TV folks came to us about partnering up. They had material that they were interested in seeing if I would make and we were like, “Well, we got a pilot that we made two and a half years ago, that I’m actually in, and I love it, but nobody else likes it. We could never find any home for it.”
When we started talking to the Rivit TV people, Marcus [Wiley, Rivit’s Chief Content Officer] over there, who we had known from a long time ago as we did a project with Fox called The Fox Short-Com. He was our exec on it. He’d come over to Rivit TV, and we told him about Hollyweed. When we watched it, he dug it. He was like, “This is what we’re talking about. This would be a great model to start with.” It’s done, and you can keep going with the concept because the concept is, to be honest, if we’re kind at the very least, it’s just Clerks in a weed store.
For me, what I always loved about it is when I wrote Clerks, I wrote the part Randal to play for myself, that’s why he has all the best jokes. Then a lack of confidence killed that. Of course, when I got to production I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me? You can’t act. You can barely fucking direct. You don’t even know if you can do that, and you’re going to try to act as well? Fuck you. Don’t do that.” And I cast Jeff Anderson, and I took the Silent Bob role because I was like, “Well, if I’m going to pay for it, I at least want to be in it. I’ll be able to look back years from now and be like, ‘Look at that fucking idiot. He wasted all his money with this shit.'” So I kind of stepped back, and I regret it to this day. I love Clerks, and I love what Jeff Anderson did and stuff.
If I had played Randal… It’s probably for the best, honestly, that I didn’t wind up playing Randal, but if I had played Randal, we’d probably be on Clerks 39 right now. I would have done one of those motherfuckers a year. Because, you know, that was my life, and I enjoyed it. I love retail. It allows you to… Workplace comedy was what created my career, so I would have kept going. Maybe it’s good that I didn’t play Randal, because that couldn’t have happened. Jeff had the good sense to be like, “yeah, that’s enough.” Me, I would just keep going.
With Hollyweed, it was kind of this weird coming full circle moment, where I was like, “Okay, now’s your chance to play the other guy. Now you can be one of the two clerks in this modern day version of Clerks that takes place in a weed store, and you’re very well equipped.” Just like back in the day, I would be well-equipped to play Randal because that was my life, I’m very well equipped to do the workplace comedy about working in a weed store.
You know how they always talk about the goal of this field — not so much the business, but this art form — is to tell the stories you want to tell. You self-express. It’s about, I hate the word vision, but it’s about your point of view. It’s like that’s the only thing I have of value to offer anybody. There’s just my point of view. I can’t do other people’s points of view. I can’t take somebody’s wonderful script and turn it into its own separate movie and stuff. I can only bring my point of view to the table. This is a process where you can bring your point of view and there’s literally no “well, you should shave this off” or “this part should go away.” There’s no development process. The promise of “hey, do whatever you want” hasn’t really been fulfilled since the first movie I made.
On Clerks, everybody literally did whatever I wanted. I don’t mean we fucking did coke and we had tons of hookers, but whatever story I wanted to tell, whoever I wanted to cast, I could. It’s never happened again. Even with the films where I had the most creative freedom, sooner or later there’s compromise. In order to get something done, you have to decide to let this go or let go of this thing that you thought you really wanted. This process, as Marcus explains it… that doesn’t exist. He’s like, “We don’t have a development team. It’s all about basically finding your audience and having that audience pre-buy it to the point where we can go forward with episodes.”