For Mature Audiences Only
How did Kevin Smith prep to make a movie about two kids making a porn? Years of research.
Kevin Smith's new film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, is exactly what it sounds like. It's raunchy, sexy, funny, and profane enough to make your grandmother explode at 20 paces if she gets within 20 paces of the theatre marquee, never mind what might happen should she accidentally wander into a screening unawares. It's also one of Smith's sweetest, most emotionally honest films to date, and coming from the director who made Clerks., Chasing Amy, and Dogma, that's saying a lot. Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen play best friends from childhood who, desperate for rent money, embark on the titular filmmaking only to discover that sex between lifelong friends can be more complicated than mere lighting and camera issues. The Austin Chronicle spoke to Smith while he was in Austin last month about Zack and Miri, why pornography isn't necessarily a bad thing, and why he used to take showers with all his clothes on after gym. (Note: This interview is suggested for mature readers only.)
Austin Chronicle: So Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Where and when did that idea originate? It's a perfect scenario for examining the charged or changing nature of friendship when sex enters the equation.
Kevin Smith: In one way or another, it's been something I've been working on since Chasing Amy. After I was done with that, I wanted to do another film with Joey [Lauren Adams], Jason [Lee], and Ben [Affleck], and I had an idea for a story that was set kind of on the periphery of the porn industry. But then Dogma happened, and the project fell by the wayside, until finally I saw Seth [Rogen] in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and I realized I wanted to do Zack and Miri. It has a lot to do with him. Seeing his performance made me want to write for him. And I wanted to write for him when he was a supporting actor. I thought, I'm going to write him a lead; he'll get really famous; he'll owe me for life; he'll be like Affleck Version 2. I finished the script, like, two weeks before Knocked Up came out, and suddenly I'm seeing Seth Rogen's face on billboard's everywhere I go. I thought I was going to break him, but he was already broken by the time I got there.
AC: Were you a Freaks and Geeks fan?
KS: That and Undeclared, yeah, but I watched them on DVD after they aired. But the difference between Seth in those shows and Seth in The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a huge, deep chasm. I sent him an e-mail saying I had written the script with him in mind for the lead and asked him if he wanted to read it, and he sent me a reply literally within five minutes. He said: "No bullshit, when I came to Los Angeles, an agent asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, 'I want to be in a Kevin Smith movie.' Please send the script; I'd be honored." And I was like, "Yesss!" That was nice because I didn't write it for "movie star Seth Rogen." I wrote it for that dude that I thought was funny in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
AC: It's good to see Jason Mewes on the straight and narrow and alive. I almost didn't recognize him with his trademark locks cut.
KS: Yeah, six years completely sober. It's kind of astounding considering for seven years he was almost lost.
AC: Do you remember your first porn film?
KS: Yeah, but I can't remember the title. I do remember the situation. I was at a family friend's house. She was a teacher at my school, and my parents were friendly with her because my brother and sister, who were grades above me, had had her. So they go out to pick up pizza and leave me with the dog –
AC: That sounds like a porn scenario right there.
KS: Totally, right? I go through the drawer under her TV looking for something to watch, and I came across one videotape in a blank sleeve, grabbed it, popped it in, and sure enough, it was a porn, the first one I ever saw. I was 12½ or 13 years old, and the biggest impression that it left was the fact that the entire score for the fuck scenes was done by kazoo.
AC: No way. Seriously?
KS: Yes. No lie, dude. I remember they fucked in a pool, too. The dude pulled out and came, and the cum floated down to the bottom of the pool. It was insane. But the kazoo thing really stuck with me. That was before I'd ever had sex, so naturally, the first time I have sex there's a kazoo soundtrack playing in my head. That's what sex sounds like to me: silly.
AC: And then 30 midget clowns emerge from under the bed.
KS: Pretty much.
AC: Porn has always been a hot-button issue, and there's been a lot of play in the media in the past few years linking the so-called "porning of America," as in those sexy American Apparel ads, the hookers in Grand Theft Auto, and horny teens with webcams, to the seriously warped sex-and-torture videos from Abu Ghraib. What's your position, no pun intended, on that line of thinking?
KS: There's nothing wrong with porn. It's up to the individual. I've got a little kid, and I'd never let her wear a fucking thong, at least until she was in her teens, at which point I'd be like, Jen [Smith's wife], you deal with it. Obviously, I have no problem with porn. I'm totally liberal, and I could care less, but I can see how some people might freeze up or clam up around not only the subject of porn but also of sex in general. To me, though, it could never be a bad thing, because, you know, I would much rather think of a dude in a hotel room watching an in-room porn instead of him roaming the streets getting up to God knows what. There's a time and place for everything, and certainly you don't watch it around your kids, or your parents, but I've never had an issue with it. I can't see it as anything but a good thing. Although, like everything in life, sometimes it can be used improperly or people corrupt it or you maybe have too much of a good thing on your hands –
AC: Or in your hands.
KS: Absolutely. But, you know, I'm a guy, so naturally I have a great relationship with porn.
AC: Do you have a favorite porn film to recommend?
KS: Not really, because for the last 10 years, I haven't watched a full-length porn film. It's all been 15-minute MPEG clips, right? The whole concept of going out and renting a real porn film just doesn't exist for me anymore. And even back in the day, you'd only last for 10 minutes. And then after that you're always doing it in 10-minute increments. If you're lucky. To get back to your question, though, no, I can't think of a specific title to recommend. You?
AC: New Wave Hookers 2. Gregory Dark directed it in 1992 before going on to do videos for Britney Spears and Mandy Moore.
KS: I remember that one! A lot of neon, DayGlo colors, lots of pink boots and stuff, right?
AC: Dude, you so nailed it. It was back when porn directors had pretensions toward the Fellini-esque, with masks, midgets, and pseudo-Freudian plotlines.
KS: They've kind of gotten back to that recently. I saw a clip of something they're calling "art porn," I guess, and it was basically just a white room, a couch, and dynamic film compositions. It's not about the fucking, although eventually there is fucking going on. But it's very artistic, with a lot of techno music. I'm thinking the reasoning behind it is that they've realized that there's 50 percent of a potential audience out there – women – who don't want to watch chicks getting degraded or choked or spit on like some of that Rocco Siffredi-type porn.
AC: "Gonzo porn" they call it.
KS: Right. A few years ago there was Candida Royalle, which was porn for chicks by chicks. Now, this art-porn thing seems to be some sort of happy medium where it's less about degrading acts and more about sexuality.
AC: Kind of like Suicide Girls.
KS: Right. I'm all for average people taking their clothes off on camera. That's my favorite thing to look at in the wide world of online porn. I've kind of lost interest in well-lit, overly designed shots. My favorite thing now is the "see my girlfriend"-type porn, where it's basically just this insanely candid footage shot on a camera phone or a home video and then uploaded, usually but not always on purpose, to the Web. I dig it because it's so insanely voyeuristic, but then I don't dig it because, you know, there's no way all these girls signed off on this. And that kind of makes me uncomfortable, because I realize that one day my kid is going [to be] this age. I've just got to make sure I raise her to not let anybody take pictures. That's the one thing you want to impress on kids. I'm not saying "don't fuck" – I've been fucking from age 13 on – because teenagers are going to fuck regardless. That's what they do. I'm just telling my daughter, you know, make sure you don't fuck any idiots; don't give it up to a dude who's popular just because he's popular; don't let homeboy talk you in to some fucking shit that you're going to regret later. Because no matter how much you think you're in love, when you break [up], this dude can take all those pictures and throw 'em up on the fucking Internet. And as a parent, that's tough, because you can't monitor that kind of thing, and you don't want to infringe on her freedoms. Mercifully, my daughter's 9, so hopefully I've got at least five years before I have to start worrying about this stuff. But I really don't want to be cruising porn sites some night and go, "God, is that my kid?!" That would be horrible.
AC: We all know Zack and Miri are making a porno, but the real question is have Kevin and Jen ever made one?
KS: No. Fuck no. Dude, I would never want to see myself fucking. Because you're talking about angles that my wife, midcoitus, has never seen. Plus, I draw all the curtains, all the lights are off, I'm wearing a shirt, so it's not like I'm ever fully exposed anyway. It's rooted in complete body-shame issues. Even in high school, I didn't shower after gym unless I was wearing all my clothes. And then the other guys in the shower would look at you all weird, and I'm like: "You guys are all fucking naked. You're the weird ones."
See review, Oct. 31.