My Day-Long 15-Minute Interview With Kevin Smith About Superman’s Beard
Kevin Smith talked to us about how Superman shaves, why he's not Kickstarting Clerks 3, and more in the longest 15-minute interview ever.
Last week, I had the immense pleasure of interviewing filmmaker Kevin Smith about his theory of how Superman shaves as part of the Gillette How Does The Man of Steel Shave? campaign. I was only supposed to talk to Kevin for 15 minutes, but ended up spending the better part of the day with him talking about Superman, filmmaking, Clerks 3, and Kickstarter.
The interview started in Smith’s hotel room at the Four Seasons where he had been doing press about the campaign all morning. My interview was scheduled to be his last at the hotel before he had to leave to do a few TV spots — also about the Man of Steel’s shaving habits. Smith likes to talk, so when my 11:45 AM interview kept getting pushed back, I wasn’t surprised. I sat in the lobby patiently drinking coffee until it was my turn.
This was the first time I had been to the Four Seasons, and I felt a little out of place in the lobby. I usually dress up a bit, but considering I was going to be talking to the permanently jersey-clad Kevin Smith about Superman, I wore a Superman hockey jersey I’ve had since high school. It seemed fitting for the situation, but I was getting disapproving looks from staff and guests as I sat in the hotel cafe.
By the time my turn came up, there were only a few minutes before Smith had to leave. The PR rep managing the interviews told us we’d have to cut our time short if he was going to get to his first television spot on time. We started the interview in the hotel, but after a few minutes Smith’s assistant pressed the issue of time.
Instead of kicking me out though, Smith asked if I wanted to ride along and finish the interview in the car. I did. I did want to ride along and finish the interview in the car. A lot.
Here’s when my 15-minute interview turned into an afternoon. When we left the hotel room — I forgot my laptop bag. I wish I was calculating enough for that to have been on purpose, because I really had a great time following Kevin around to his other interviews, but it wasn’t on purpose. I’m admittedly a big Kevin Smith fan, so the chance to interview him was exciting, but the offer to then extend that interview to a car ride was evidently enough to make me forget my laptop behind.
In the hotel we talked about the Gillette campaign to parse out how Superman shaves. If you haven’t seen the video where he explains his theory, take a look:
Smith mentions the John Byrne solution of shooting heat vision into a mirror and shaving that way, and so many of the comments on the Gillette videos are in reference to that. Gillette should have been more clear that they were asking how Superman shaves in the movie. I haven’t seen Man of Steel, but I’ve had it confirmed by people who have seen it that they don’t address the issue in the film. Man of Steel is an adaptation. It’s unrealistic to expect them to adhere to everything that’s ever happened in the comic.
Still, I had to ask Smith about it.
Glen Tickle: A lot of people in the comments were pointing out, and you called it out in the video, the laser into the mirror thing.
Kevin Smith: The John Byrne thing. Yeah. The moment I started tweeting about it, and going “How does he shave?” 98 percent of the tweets were like, “You know how he shaves, you dick! It’s John Byrne’s laser into the mirror!”
Look. I know that, and you know that, but this is for people who don’t obsess about comic books. We’re drawing a mainstream audience into a dopey conversation. Let’s embrace them instead of being like, “We all know how it works, dude! John Byrne told us how it works!”
I think you have the most plausible theory.
Thank you. This is what outraged me, dude. I watched all the videos the day they went up, and was like, “I’m the only person who took this thing seriously.” I wish there was a cash prize, because I think I’d have won it.
I know they’re having people vote on the theories, but I haven’t seen any of the results. I think you have to be in the lead.
Well Bill Nye is the landing video, so if you go to How Does He Shave? he’s the first one that comes up.
Well he’s got that curl in his hair. It makes for a good image.
Totally, but that means he gets the most watches, but I didn’t look at the votes to see how he’s doing versus me in the vote.
Plus, Bill Nye is beloved. He’s a part of people’s childhood. Blossom [Mayim Bialik] they like, and she’s on that current show [The Big Bang Theory], and The Mythbusters they really dig.
I think Bill Nye wins the popular vote hands down. I’m the Ron Paul of this thing. My ideas make sense, but they’re never going to give me the time.
“I know my ideas are right. I just can’t convince them!”
You wrote a Superman movie in the past that didn’t get produced. Did shaving come up in that one?
Somebody asked me that. “Did you write shaving into it?” I guarantee you that in one of the earlier drafts I not only wrote shaving in, but also probably fucking pooping because that’s my mindset. Then I’m sure by the second or third draft they’re like, “We don’t need this. That seems a little inside.”
Back in ’96 talking about him shaving would be inside baseball — way inside. They’d be like, “What are you trying to fucking ruin this movie? Just have nerds come to see it?”
If only they knew that that was the audience that they’re be courting in 10, 15 years. But that’s the boobie prize, dude. When you write a Superman movie that they don’t make, one day they come to you and say like, “We’ll let you talk about him shaving.”
Then you’re like, “Thanks, man.”
You were also pretty quick to dismiss the kryptonite razor.
Kryptonite razor I don’t go with anything remotely like that. I’d lean more towards like a Red K theory.
That would be my theory.
That makes sense, but then again, try explaining Red K to a mainstream audience.
It’d be a much longer video to explain it.
“Ma, there are many kinds of kryptonite, and the red kind makes him a little weaker.” If I was doing this in the world of just comics my answer would be completely different, because I’d probably reference Sandman. People give you points for obscure references in the world of comics.
Let’s say for this campaign by Gillette I said, “How does he shave? He tricks Mr. Mxyzptlk into like fifth-dimensioning his beard away.” Then people are like, “Who’s Mr. Mxyzptlk?” You’ve got to keep it simple for these mainstreamers who are taking their baby steps into our world.
I’m just happy they’re interested or curious at all. Ten years ago, nobody’s fucking asking [how Superman shaves]. My mother was asking. She said, “I saw you on TV.”
I said, “What for?”
She said, “You were talking about Superman’s beard.”
I said, “Right on.”
And she said, “Now how does he shave?”
Then I’m like, “Fuck. They’re right dude. It’s now in the mainstream.”
My mother, even when I was a kid would be like, “Comic books!” would never ask a fucking off-the-page question, but here she is late in life — 67 years old — asking her 42-year-old son, “It never occurred to me. How does Superman shave?”
It seems like a question not a lot of people would think to ask, but once it’s pointed out it’s like, “Oh yeah…”
It’s that Man of Steel trailer, dude. It’s because mainstream America, or maybe even the world audience, is not used to seeing any sort of bearded Superman. If you like comics you’ve seen him have a beard in the past, but all those movies he never really had a beard. The closest they got was when in Superman III when he had the bad kryptonite and he started getting shitty, and he had five o’clock shadow. That was it.
They’ve never been presented with the notion of like, “Hey, Superman with a beard!” Just something little like that captures people’s imagination. Then all you have to do is twist it a little further and be like, “How does he get rid of that beard?”
Do they address it in the movie? Have you seen it?
They don’t! I asked them. I was like, “Did they do it in the movie?”
They said, “No. That’s why we’re doing the campaign.”
Just to try and figure it out?
I think he goes into the Fortress of Solitude, learns some shit about himself, and then comes out — no beard. Meanwhile, I guarantee you a lot of people in the audience will be like, “What happened?”
We’d all like to see that scene. Yes we want to see him punch Zod, but just take like 30 seconds and be like… [Smith mimes scraping something — presumably a piece of Superman’s ship — across his face.] Just that.
This is where Kevin’s assistant cut in to say it was time to leave. They could have just dismissed me, but everyone involved was nice enough to let me ride along and finish the interview.
In the elevator down to the car we talked some more about superhero shaving habits.
Didn’t you run into problems when you were writing Batman because you wanted to have him with stubble?
Walter [Flanagan] drew him in Widening Gyre. He drew Batman with stubble as if they’d been on a case for a few days, but it got kicked back. They were like, “Batman can’t have stubble.” Then we saw him in another book like three days later with stubble.
So are you surprised they’re getting away with showing Superman with a beard in this movie?
No. Not at all. They can do anything. They took his panties off in the movie, and they changed it in the comics because of it. He used to have the trunks, but then Zack’s [Snyder] like, “I ain’t doing that.” Then the comics are like, “Yeah, we ain’t doing that either.”
Moving through the lobby from the elevator to the car, the same staff members and guests who were looking disapprovingly at my Superman jersey looked at Kevin’s custom Smodcastle one. Enough of them seemed to recognize him that he was getting more of a pass about it than I was.
At this point I was out of questions about Superman’s beard. At convention panels and in Q & A’s I’ve seen Smith take 45 minutes or more to answer a single question. Expecting to only have fifteen minutes, I assumed I’d only actually be asking one or two questions. The guy can talk.
Like Smith, I grew up in New Jersey wanting to make movies. I had plenty to ask him about. We had met once before at Wizard World Philadelphia where I somewhat regrettably tried to hand him a copy of the movie I made in college. He was polite enough to take it, but I’m sure he didn’t watch it. Not that I blame him. I wanted to ask him about it, but instead I asked about Clerks 3 as we got into the car.
I just read somewhere that you were talking about using Kickstarter for Clerks 3 and you shot the idea down.
Yeah. We almost did it. We almost Kickstarted Red State before there was a Kickstarter. We had this website called Red State Green that we were going to launch, and then crowdsource finance the budget for Red State. Some blogger called me a beggar, because I talked about how I was going to do it. Some guy read that story and the blogger was like, “Kevin Smith is begging for money for his next film.”
That scared me so I was like, “Alright let’s not do it,” and that was before Kickstarter and Indiegogo existed.
Zach Braff ran into a little bit of that with his Kickstarter.
Yeah, no shit. Big time. When we didn’t wind up doing it with Red State and then a couple months later Kickstarter began, and I was like, “Oh, shit. There’s a website that does it now.”
So I thought, “Alright, we’ll get back into it.”
We almost did it with Clerks 3 in November. We almost launched the Kickstater campaign and site to crowdsource finance the budget, but then Jeff Anderson was like, “Before we start talking about Clerks 3 can we make sure we get paid for Clerks 2?”
We were in the middle of an audit at the Weinstein Company, so we put the brakes on and didn’t launch our campaign. In that time then Rob [Thomas] went and launched the Veronica Mars campaign, which worked out well, and then Zach went, and I tweeted them both up and stuff and was like, “Yeah man, donate to both of their campaigns!”
But in the time that we had down, I was able to kind of be like, well maybe it’s a bad idea if I do it, and here’s why: I don’t judge anybody else for doing it. It makes sense, and I understand the model. I understand it isn’t begging. It’s pre-buying a DVD or a T-shirt and actually helping to finance the making of the art by buying something you were going to buy later on anyway. Or buying something cool like being in the movie or something.
I kind of feel like I had my moment. I came up the traditional route with the Cinderella story back in the day. Miramax bought the flick and overnight I went from a guy who wanted to be a filmmaker to like, “He is a filmmaker now!” Even though it took me years to learn my craft. So I had my moment, and it was great. In terms of how people got in the business back in the day that was a million-in-one shot, and it just feels greedy for me to go, “Well now I’m going to go indie again, and do something that all the young kids are doing.”
That’s what draws me to it. It’s just such a young great idea, but what draws me to it is the thing that leaves me out of the equation, at least in my head. If I jump out there and say “Clerks 3” it would probably soak up, based off what Rob and Zach soaked up, I think I could probably soak up five to seven million bucks, man. If I do that, then there’s some kid like me who wants to make his first flick, and Indiegogo or Kickstarter are the only way they’re able to do it, and now suddenly there’s way less money out there that could potentially go to their project. Because somebody’s like, “Oh, I fucking paid $15,000 to be an extra in Clerks 3,” or, “I put $20 to get a free T-shirt,” or something like that.
Then that kid who could have been me twenty years ago, can’t find the fucking money. I’ve met so many of these kids because we go out and do the live podcast, and right now we’re touring with Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie and part of the story there is that movie only cost us $69,000 to make. We go out there every night and proudly talk about how we make a cartoon for 69 grand, and then you meet kids who are like, “Oh I made a zombie epic for $1,400.”
You’re like, “Oh, that’s cute.”
Then they show you a clip and it’s like “You ain’t lying, dude. You did make a zombie epic for $1,400.”
The costs to make their statement now — the cost to be able to express oneself has come down considerably if you’re trying to express yourself through film. If you’re trying to express yourself through podcasting it’ll cost you nothing.
That being said, the technology’s become so readily available and democratized. It’s all cheap and inexpensive. You’re rental equipment ain’t your problem anymore. Stock ain’t your problem anymore, because there is no such thing as film stock anymore. Really, it’s just time. It boggles my mind that everyone hasn’t tried making a movie at this point, just because you can. It’s easy.
So for me to jump out and go like, “Alright, I’m going to go do Clerks 3 off of your backs,” and not in a shitty way. These are all willing participants. It just means that’s a bunch of money that’s not going to go to somebody else, and I got money now. I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I know a motherfucker or two with a wallet. Who I feel like, “Hey, Argo fuck you! Help me pay for something. I helped you once.”
So if needs be, I’ll go to those cats, man. People I know have some loot to them. I don’t want to turn to the audience. I’m gonna need the audience later on when I’m like, “Dude, I need your $10. Go see the movie when it’s in the theater,” because that’s all anybody gives a shit about in the business world.
If that’s the only thing that equates, that’s what I need the audience for — to support the movie in the theater when it comes out. Not like, “Hey, pay to have it made.” Then, “Hey, pay to go see it later on.”
That’s not me going, “And that’s what Zach Braff does, and that’s what Rob Thomas does!” No. I think they were smart for doing what they did, and I’m glad they did it. When it comes to me I just can’t. The time to do that would have been when I was doing my first film, but I did it a different way.
Now in a world where I do have access to money, and I know people — I mean shit, even Jason Mewes at this point I could turn to and be like, “Why don’t you put some money into it? After all the years I’ve put money into your pocket.”
Then remove all that. Remove turning to other people. I live in the answer to the question, man. I got a nice big house that I would love to risk on a movie. Like, I wouldn’t risk it on Cop Out, but I’d definitely risk my house on Clerks 3. Knowing what I know now I wouldn’t risk it on Cop Out. On Clerks 3 I would have no problem risking the house because I know it’ll pan out and stuff.
That’s how I started. I started by paying for the movie myself ostensibly on credit cards. That debt was mine, so I had to pay for it.
[Editor’s note: I told you Smith could talk.]
Would you have Kickstarted the first Clerks?
Fuck yeah. If that existed back then? Absolutely, but that wasn’t an option to us. Dude, I think it was on the third episode of Smodcast me and [Scott Mosier] were sitting around, this was seven years ago and we were talking about Twitter. I was getting a bunch of followers, and me and Mosier had this conversation on episode three where I was like, “Could you imagine if we could just get one dollar out of everyone who follows me. I could probably make a movie off of that.”
I had a film professor in college who said the same thing. He said, “If you can get everyone you know to give you $5” —
Then you’re there! Yeah.
Plus you now have the whole of the Internet, but I graduated before it was an option. I had to go around asking everyone I know for $5 which takes a lot more time.
See, I didn’t even have the confidence to do it, man. To kind of go out to people and be like, “Hey, can you give me five bucks?” That’s why the credit card thing made sense to me. I don’t have to ask anybody, and if I fail then I fail. Like, I wouldn’t know how to deal with like — and I learned how later on — how to deal with like, “You gave me a bunch of money, and I lost it.” Or something like that.
So, for me it’s like, “Fuck it. I’ve got credit cards anyway.” I didn’t use them. I just got them in a contest with my friend to see who could get the most useless credit. They were sitting there in a drawer, and I’d heard Robert Townsend many times talk about when he was making Hollywood Shuffle he financed it on credit cards. A friend of mine, a Spanish teacher in high school, he told me he bought a house on credit cards. Repaired it. Flipped it and shit. That was when that started happening. So it was like, “Wow these credit cards, man. They could be good for a lot of things. Maybe I could fucking make a movie on it.”
That was the way that was open to me, man, but like had Kickstarter existed? Absolutely, I would have went there, but I don’t think I would have gotten anything. It’s easy to go, “Hey, man, it’s Clerks!” now, but back then it would have been like, “It’s 164 pages of dick jokes set in a convenient store with no stars — and it’s in black and white.”
Now with passion alone you could sell your movie in terms of getting people to invest in it. Those videos are some of the most entertaining and inspiring fucking pieces of media that you’ll ever see. It’s not so much what they’re trying to make, but what they put out there to be like, “Help me make it.” The call to arms — the action video. That’s the shit that turns my crank. It’s like that’s when you see the artist come out.
Some friends of mine did a really successful Kickstarter for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Robotic Edition where they replaced Jim with a robot. That’s idea’s real quick, and they made an entertaining video.
And they hit it instantly. That’s awesome. It’s an age of fun ideas in as much as you can really get anybody to try. We all have to opportunity to try to get people behind whimsical dopey ideas.
…I just realized I left my bag back in your room.
Okay, we’ll be going back in a little bit.
I followed Kevin around to his other interviews, but didn’t want to constantly harangue him with questions. We talked more about comics, movies, and about how tiring having children can be. The whole time Kevin, his assistant Meghan Quinlan, and the PR rep handing the interviews were nothing but great to me, and frankly everyone we encountered.
Smith stopped to take pictures with anyone who asked. Offered to share his pretzels with everyone in the car, and repeatedly held the door open for me and the rest of the group.
In the course of talking about the Gillette campaign and the Internet in general Smith told me, “People don’t like me, dude. There are enough people to be like, ‘Fuck him! Even if his theory will save us, fuck Kevin Smith.'”
I’d say I don’t understand that sentiment, but I do. As someone who spends his whole professional life on the Internet I can relate to that feeling. If you read the comments section long enough, you feel like nobody likes you, but Smith couldn’t have been a nicer guy during the whole process. I read the comments section of his Gillette video, and since it’s a YouTube comment section there’s bound to be a fair amount of venom. That said, Smith’s whole career at this point is based around there being enough people who love him that he can keep making movies and podcasts.
Since talking to Kevin I’ve had the chance to speak with both Bill Nye and Mayim Bialik about their theories for the Gillette campaign, and I’ll be talking to the Mythbusters later this week. We’ll have posts about their contributions to the shaving debate all this week leading up to the release of Man of Steel. Unfortunately, those are phone interviews, so I won’t have the chance to forget anything in Bill Nye’s hotel room.