Two years ago Kevin Smith was working in a convenience store. Today he's a mini-mogul--with the emphasis on mini --running his own production company.
Smith, who enterprisingly went $27,000 into debt to make "Clerks," last year's little comedy that could, has now moved on to more lucrative pastures, like the recently released $6-million "Mallrats," which stars Shannen Doherty.
But he hasn't gone Hollywood. He hasn't even strayed far afield from Red Bank, N.J. And he hasn't forgotten his friends. In fact, he's currently producing two low-budget films created by pals.
"There's not much to do with the money I make," Smith says. "So I decided it's time to give my friends a leg up. Once you get in this position, how can you not?"
Through his company, View Askew, headquartered in Red Bank, Smith has allotted $30,000 for each film, the first of which just wrapped. He describes the as-yet-untitled project, directed and written by Vincent Pereira, as "a teen angst film with a homoerotic edge."
Pereira once worked alongside Smith at the convenience store and was the person who encouraged the former short-story writer to expand his horizons to writing and directing movies.
The second film, "Drawing Flies," is described as a "twentysomething comedy about the quest for Bigfoot" and is now shooting in Vancouver, Canada. It is being directed by journalist Malcolm Ingram, who co-wrote the script with Matt Gissing.
Ingram and Smith struck up a friendship when the Toronto-based reporter visited the "Mallrats" set for a day and wound up staying for the whole shoot. Ingram had been intending to apply to the Film Board of Canada for assistance when Smith persuaded him to direct "Drawing Flies" guerrilla-style.
"It's a very, very funny script that is very specifically Canadian," Smith says. It will feature several "Mallrats" principals, including Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Renee Humphrey and Joey Adams.
Both projects "are movies that should be made and you don't need more than $30,000 to make them," says Smith, who plans to go the festival route with both films--perhaps starting with Sundance in January--before seeking distribution deals. Should the films then find an audience, his company will reap the benefits.
After that he will jump into what for him is the big leagues, financing two costlier projects that he says require some special effects. With budgets still "well under $100,000," Smith will produce a romantic fable called "Seymour Sycamore and Margaret Orange," created by actor Lee, and "Vulgar," by another Jersey boy, Bryan Johnson. Smith describes the latter as "way more out there," saying only that it has something to do with View Askew's company logo, "a clown wearing garter belts and clothespins on his nipples."
After this initial "trial-and-error" period, he says, "we'll see if the experiment works and if we can afford to spend more money." If all goes well, Smith says, he plans to finance every worthwhile low-budget project that comes his way.
The same broad ambitions on a modest outlay will apply to his own directing career, he says. He hopes to keep his budgets at $10 million or less, including his next installment in the Jersey trilogy, "Chasing Amy."
Then he moves on to "Dogma," "which I've been anxious to make since I got into the business--it's kind of my adult film."
"Low [financial] risk, high yield is where I feel safe," he says, "because then you can take more creative risks and maintain more of your voice and quirky essence."