The rise and fall and rise of Kevin Smith's Mallrats
In the mid-1990s, writer and director Kevin Smith was on the rise. His indie debut, 1994's Clerks, was made for less than $ 30,000, but after winning awards at both Sundance and Cannes, he made over 100 times as much at the box office. Smith himself has been hailed as a major new voice in the movie thanks to his dirty, hilarious, star-free portrayal of the daily life in a New Jersey supermarket. And then? And then came Mallrats.
Smith's second film hit many of the same beats and pop culture-obsessed comedic tones as its predecessor. This time around, however, the film had a cast of "real" actors, including Jason London, Jason Lee, Shannen Doherty, Ben Affleck, Claire Forlani and Michael Rooker, and Jason Mewes and Smith, who played their Clerks roles from Jay and Stiller Bob. Mallrats, which was published in October 1995, was devastated by critics - Roger Ebert declared it "sad" - and made barely $ 2 million, less than the far cheaper employees. Smith would make many more films, from Chasing Amy from 1997 to Jay and Silent Bob Reboot from last year, but he still remembers receiving the film with a shudder. "The film comes out in 1995," he says. "Critic s --- on it. It died at the box office and disappeared within a week. I was the whipping boy, the second break-in of the year. All that stuff. So I jokingly referred to Mallrats for years and jokingly apologized for it." "
Smith no longer apologizes for this. The film is as popular among the director's fans as anyone, while the movie's obsession with comic book culture seems downright prescient at a time when the box office is dominated by superhero films. A limited two-disc Blu-ray set from Arrow Video is released this week marking the 25th anniversary of Smith's defiantly un-PC comedy. "Arrow made a beautiful Blu-ray of it, man, I feel so relevant," says Smith, who is preparing a sequel to Mallrats, Twilight of the Mallrats. "It has beautiful artwork, a documentary that I sat down and did new interviews for. They restored it so it actually looks better than the movie in the film. It's full man, it's full. Arrow sent me three copies and I'm not giving any away! "
Below, Smith recalls the rise and fall and rise of the Mallrats.
KEVIN SMITH: I spent a lot of time in the mall as a kid. As a Jersey boy, we only have malls. So I'm at Sundance, 1994. The staff had just won the Filmmakers Trophy at the awards show, and John Pierson (a producer's rep and Smith mentor) introduces me to Jim Jacks (Mallrats producer), whom I didn't know, but I did knew his name. It was on Tombstone, it was on Dazed and Confused. Raising Arizona. He was already there. He said, "It's a shame Miramax bought employees because I wanted to buy it for Universal." I said, "Oh, that would have been great." He said, "Yeah, I would have let you keep 75 percent of the movie." And I said "75?" And he said, "Nobody is dead in a universal movie." And I said, "fair enough." So he says, "What are you doing next?" And I said, "We're thinking about doing a movie called Mallrats." And he said, "What is that?" And I said, "Employees, but in a mall." He says, "You're going to come to Hollywood because Disney is going to blow you out, that's what they do. And if you go out to meet up with all of the Disney studios make sure you have a little time, come on." to Universal and throw this movie on with me and my partner Sean (Daniel) "- they had a company called Alphaville -" come and put it on at Universal. "So I saved the idea for her and with Jim Jacks worked on it, and then we put it in the Black Tower. I think it was May 1994. And then suddenly we were gone and running.
KS: Shannen was the green light. They told us: "You get Shannen Doherty, you have the green light." Shannen was the most famous person in our line-up, having just left 90210. So it was a coup to get it. She came and read and it was like, "Oh my god, she's the person." Universal was waiting for someone who was famous. Because I said, "I want to hire this person, I want to hire this person," and they said, "You don't hire someone who is famous." Because we've seen all of young Hollywood. Reese Witherspoon came in to fuck Mallrats. So, for me, Shannen, I will always love because she literally made this movie.
Our casting director was the great Don Phillips. Don was famous in town for casting Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He had discovered Sean Penn. For us he discovered Jason Lee. Jason Lee was a professional skateboarder who had never really played. So Don Phillips says, "I have a kid today who has never played before and he's a professional skateboarder." I didn't know much about the game of skate. He comes in and it's green as hell. He never really acted. We talk and I said, "So I understand that you're a skateboarder." And he says, "Well, I just retired." And he looked like he was 23 years old. So I think, "You retired?" He says, "I've been at the professional level for ten years, yes. I want to put it aside now and focus on another discipline." He was so organized. I loved his delivery. It was so unpolished and so real and rough and fun. All the boys came in to read for TS (who would ultimately be played by Jason London), all the girls who came in read for Brandi (who would be played by Claire Forlani). When Jason finished his audition, Don Phillips said, "Do you want him to come back?" And me and Scott Mosier (Smith's regular producer) said, "Well, he's a really good guy, I don't think he's right for the role, but bring him back because he's fun to talk to." We kept bringing him back because we didn't know anyone in Los Angeles and we just thought he was a nice guy. After all, he was better than anyone else. I said, "Look, I think we found out, we want you to play Brodie." And I will never forget that he ate and looked up for a brief second and said, "Yes?" and he eats his sandwich again and looks down again. The food was more exciting than being cast in his very first film at the time. But he came out and was totally down, man, and he was a joy.
I remember Jim Jacks, the producer, said, "There's a guy walking in today and I don't want him on the movie." I said, "Who is it?" And he says, "Ben Affleck. He was dazed and confused and has a real potty mouth." He says, "There were already a lot of 'f --- s' and curses in that script and then Ben threw in like hundreds more." So I said, "Well, our script has a lot of curses in it." He says, "Yeah, and when you bring this guy in he'll keep adding more and more curses so I don't want him in the movie, he has a small mouth." I said, "Okay." So Ben came in and the day he auditioned was the day the sale of Good Will Hunting to Castle Rock was announced. I said, "Why are you auditioning for this movie, man?" And he says: "I still want to act!" I said, "Okay man, let's see what you have." He was big. Ben is a big guy. He read for TS, just like everyone else, but I immediately thought I know he played a bully in Dazed and Confused, but he would be great as Shannon. And then Jacks said, "Come on, man! He's gonna finish the movie!" I said, "Too late Jim," and Ben joined our party.
KS: We were in Eden Prairie, Minn. That's where we got the discount so we shot there after looking for malls everywhere. I thought we were shooting in New Jersey. That was my first lesson in the film business that you will go where it is cheapest. So we found the Eden Prairie mall, which was less than 50 percent busy at the time because they had just opened the Mall of America. I remember the location fee was $ 10,000 which wasn't bad. I mean, I didn't have to pay an employee site fee at all. I want to: what, pay for a location? The mall itself worked like a soundstage in a studio because we shot the film outside and around the mall, but also all of the fake stores in the mall were our production offices. So you would just go to the mall and live there all day. It was lucky for production because you just went to the mall, parked all your trucks and rarely moved.
On the first day we shoot, when we're done, the first ad is, "Okay, that's wrap." When the crew started picking up all the equipment and s, I also picked up cables and then Ben - who had been in the business for a lot longer - came up to me and said, "You're not getting dressed." do not do that. You have people doing that. You're not in the union. Hang that up. "He gave me my earliest tutorial on how to behave on a film set and what the director does and what he doesn't.
We'd spotted Jason Mewes at Clerks and taken him away, even though Universal didn't want him in the cast. Universal wanted either Seth Green or Breckin Meyer as Jay. I said, "Yeah, but Jay's part is based on this guy Jay and he played Jay in clerks." They said, "Well, that's not really acting." I remember Breckin and Seth being uncomfortable auditioning for Jay's part because they said, "He's really funny in this Clerks movie, I don't want that part." Ultimately, Jay had to come to prove himself and act out several times. Universal said, "On the first day of the daily, you have to fire him and then hire either Seth or Breckin if we don't like his performance." I said, "Okay." Fortunately, on Jay's first day, we picked a pretty low impact day for him, and Universal unsubscribed from their daily newspapers and we got to keep him. Until day two of the film, we didn't know if Jay Jay would be in the film.
I remember that Shannen had a German shepherd dog that responded to German orders. So like "Schnell" and s --- so. It was a paparazzi dream, wasn't it? She was Brenda in 90210. They tried to follow Shannen everywhere so she had this dog to hold up in front of people who came in there trying to take their picture and s ---. She would walk the dog around the mall and people in the mall would say, "Only Brenda can get away with it."
It was like being in the camp because the entire cast was from out of town, we were all kids and we lived in a hotel. We had a mix of raw kids who had never done a lot and people who had TV experience. Everyone met at the bar after the day was over and relaxed. We had a kick-off party and a midway party with a lot of dancing. It was really good times. You must remember that this was the first time I made a movie with others. The staff were just me and my friends and no one to tell you if you were doing right or wrong. The first time we did a movie on a budget, that was Mallrats, we learned what the rest of our lives would be like. I didn't know how to do the job. Some critics would argue that I still don't know how to do the job.
KS: When the movie came out, Jim Jacks called on Saturday morning with the box office results. I said, "How did we do it?" He says, "We made $ 400,000." I said, "What screen?" He says, "That was all the screens across the country." I said "what happens now?" He says, "It's over."
I remember being so sad and then he says, "Hey, don't worry. We weren't wrong, we were just early." I go: "What does that mean?" He says, "You'll see, this movie is funny, we were just a little early with it."
THE COMING BACK
KS: He was absolutely right. Ten years later, I thought, oh my god, Jim did it, we were just a little early with the movie. I noticed that the way people felt about Mallrats when it came out - or at least the critics of Mallrats when it came out - wasn't the way the world seemed to feel about it. In 1995 it painted a portrait of a world where everyone knew something about Marvel Comics and who Stan Lee was. And in 1995 my world looked like this, but the world didn't look like it. And then, years later, the world looked a lot more like my world and the movie aged incredibly well. Thanks to the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Stan Lee cameo became a thing and suddenly we had one of the first of these. In 1995, Brodie had to explain that Jay was imitating Wolverine and his Adamantium Talons. You wouldn't even have to do that these days.
It eventually found its audience and it gave me and my career wings long after the fact. If it had been as successful as I hoped it would be in 1995, I don't think it would have been as leggy as it is today. It had a cool stamp of approval because only some people knew it.
Sometimes when you get through the door first man you take a lot of bullets.
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