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The Art of Money

Kevin Smith: A new kind of digital media mogul

Jeff Horwich Jul 27, 2012
The Art of Money

Kevin Smith: A new kind of digital media mogul

Jeff Horwich Jul 27, 2012

Jeff Horwich: Today marks kind of a quiet digital media milestone: A show created for the video website Hulu is making the jump — in reverse, you might say — to an actual cable network. The movie review show “Spoilers” debuts on Canada’s SPACE channel.

Spoilers was created by filmmaker Kevin Smith. He wrote and directed “Clerks,” “Mallrats,” “Dogma,” and most recently “Red State.” He also cohosts a bunch of the country’s most popular podcasts, feeds two million followers on Twitter, and travels the country doing live shows.

Kevin Smith, welcome to Marketplace.

Kevin Smith: Thanks for having me. That was a heck of an intro; always makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something even though I don’t feel accomplished. Like I feel very lazy all the time, so when you hear an intro like that, you’re just like, ‘Wow, who’s doing all that stuff?’

Horwich: That gets us to something I wanted to ask you. I’m sort of amazed, as a guy who does a job for eight hours a day, in the bright early hours of the morning — people in new media like you who really found success, they do so many different things. I mean, you are podcasting, what, three, four, five times a week. You’ve just got a zillion things going on. I’m curious how, mentally and physically, how do you gear up to make that happen?

Smith: Basically, you’ve got to love the sound of your own voice quite a bit. I mean, it’s not just doing any job. If I was spinning a bunch of plates, doing a bunch of jobs, like ‘I’m at a desk here, and I’m laying brick here, and here is my job to wake up at five in the morning,’ then no, I wouldn’t be doing all those jobs. But the jobs break down to very simple exercises and stuff that I would do regardless. And so the idea is then to figure out how to make a living off of that, so I talk as much as possible and see where it goes.

Horwich: Well to me, and maybe to a lot of people, it looks like you are just having fun and you manage to get decent pay to do it.

Smith: Yes! That’s the idea.

Horwich: It’s really that good?

Smith: I think it’s that simple. Well I mean, we work in a business, or I work in a business particularly, where it’s about avarice and greed and getting more, the scale always goes up. Even though your movies don’t get better, you still get paid more to make them. So in that world, I guess it’s tough for people to get their head around, ‘Wait man, so you do a podcast for free?’ I keep telling people that, people are like, ‘Well what do you make for it?’ I was like, you do it because you love it and you throw it out there. If you wanted to be kind of business-minded about it, or if you want to monetize it, you go like, ‘All right, everyone who listens to that free podcast, next time I show up in their neck of the woods, they’ll probably pay to see me at a live show.’

Horwich: So you’re here today ostensibly to talk about this show, “Spoilers.” It’s a movie review show, you get a bunch of people together, you go watch a movie, and then you film them talking with you about it — special guests, stuff like that. What are the elements of that project that fit the successful formula for digital success?

Smith: We all love movies, right? So we’re talking to the movie-loving audience particularly. So right away, they’re kind of, ‘Ooh, I’m interested in this sort of thing.’ It’s also a premise that involves the audience, whether or not you’re there. It’s not watching two windbags pontificate on a movie they saw — it’s watching one windbag and 40 other normal people pontificate on a movie they just saw. Same kind of thing you do in a chatroom online, whether about movies or something else. Same thing you do with your friends when you leave the movie theater, on your way out to your car in the parking lot. You don’t sit there and go like, ‘What an egregious offense this is to cinema.’ No, you sit there and go like, ‘I loved this one scene. This one scene was terrible. This was dorky. This was amazing.’ And you do it like that. It’s kind of what we do on the show, and I think since we’re holding up a mirror to the movie-loving culture, I think it’s easy for them to watch, because I would totally — I talk like this now. And so, it helps us keep our audience, the live audience, because you know, there’s nothing about it that’s work-like. It’s like come out, we’ll show you a free movie and then we’re all going to sit around and talk about it.

Horwich: But you embed that community sense in the show itself?

Smith: Totally. It’s like taking the experience of what we would have done on Twitter or Facebook or on a movie website without cameras in front of us, talking about a new movie I just saw, with a bunch of strangers. It’s like let’s just put a bunch of cameras on us and see what happens.

Horwich: When I think about people who have real command of the digital space — the biggest podcasts in the country, for example, like you, Adam Carolla — I wonder, could they have done if they weren’t famous to begin with in the mainstream world?

Smith: What a great question. We’ll never know, thank god. I’ve never had to — I’ll never know, because I started with “Clerks.” So I’ve always got that in my back pocket. But this is what I do now. I destroyed my career a couple years ago, on the stage of Sundance, on purpose. There’s a reason I stood up on stage and said, ‘I’m done with this. So long and thanks for all the fish.’ And there were people who were mad at me for a few months, because I wanted to see if I could do it again. So for me, I can’t ever say it all would have been possible without that, but I did as much as I could to burn everything down and salt the earth, just so I could stand in the next iteration of my career and be like, ‘I did it without you.’

Horwich: That’s for your own sense of internal integrity?

Smith: That’s it. But that’s what fuels everybody, isn’t it? Some sense of internal integrity?

Horwich: Well that and a paycheck rolling in.

Smith: Ah, for some people, that paycheck — internal integrity has a lot to do with it. I could make a lot more money in this business if I didn’t have internal integrity, man. But I’ve got a barometer inside that says to me like, how much money do you need, how much can you live off of, and what’s better: being more well-paid or being happier? And in a pursuit to be happier, I found out I’m getting more well-paid anyway. Now, I say this as a self-made man — I’m not one of those cats who goes around with a hat in hand and build fortunes on other people’s money. Everything I’ve done, I’ve kind of done on my own.

Horwich: But it did work out for you.

Smith: Absolutely, but my point is that it could work out for anybody, because I’m an idiot. If I can do it, if I can build one career, throw it away and then start a whole ‘nother career, anybody can do this. That’s all I’ve been saying for the last 20 years.

Horwich: Kevin Smith, podcaster, filmmaker and host of “Spoilers.” Thanks for coming in.

Smith: Thanks for having me.

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