Saturday, February 22, 2014

Clerks: The Most Important Indie Movie

Clerks may be the most important indie movie ever made. Independent movies otherwise known as indies have been made for nearly as long as Hollywood has been around. In many of them, a budget, or lack of, have made them stand out visually compared to their big budget counterparts. Low cost set, actors working for free, and film quality have been tell tale signs.

Unfortunately many times, this also meant that the movie's storyline has suffered. Until the '90's many people wouldn't even bother to spend the time to watch an indie. Then a liquor store clerk from New Jersey changed the genre like no other indie movie maker.

Deciding to change his life, a young Kevin Smith went to Vancouver to attend film school to learn how to make movies. His classes he took explained the theory of movie making compared to giving students a more hands on experience. He worked on a short "mockumentary", but otherwise felt he didn't gain much by the classes other than meeting future movie making partner Scott Mosier.

In doing some research about the money he used towards his film school tuition, Smith found out that if he dropped out before the half way point of completing his classes, he would be refunded a prorated amount of money. He decided to take that money and put it towards making his own movie.

He went back to his hometown and finalized a script that showcased his strong writing skills that would carry his future movies. The budget would be small (approximately $29,000) and Smith and Mossier had to find ways to keep the costs down. He would hire friends and family to play a large portion of the parts (e.g. his mother played the milk lady). Smith used his own store that he worked at as the main set of the film, where he would shoot at night and work there in the day.

As suggested to him, to keep from exposing the fact that the movie was shot during the night, he wrote into the script that the shutter door covering the window was closed and shot the movie in black and white. In doing so, the viewer can't tell if the lighting is artificial or organic.

Even with all the cuts, he still didn't have the full amount it would take to fund the movie. He had the money from film school, money from a natural disaster to reimburse him for his broken down car, and then funded the rest of the movie with credit cards. He maxed out his cards and to this day can't get an American Express Card, but he raised just enough to cover the cost.

After making the movie, he won various awards at film festivals, picked up a distribution deal, and made a deal with the Weinsteins to make more movies. His film reached a generation of fans that connected to his writing and characters he developed. All this was enough to start his career, but another factor launched a movement.

Smith became more accessible than most people in Hollywood are. He performed a mass amount of Q&A's, was an early adopter in using the internet to connect with fans, and formed a whole Podcast network, where he talked about everything from comics, movie making, and his life experiences in general. Through this, Smith made what he did seem easy to do. He often makes this very point himself.

Smith's words gave motivation to those who watched his movies and thought, "I think I could do that too." With the cost of movie making lowering, digital dominating over film, and the ability to edit and print via a personal computer, a new generation of filmmakers rose.

All of this sprang from an indie movie made in New Jersey, shot in black and white, and even had a scene with a cat pooping in a box. Moviemakers watched Clerks and it occurred to them that they could make a great movie with a small budget, without special effects, and no big name actors. Because of this, many movies that had no chance of ever being made, now have a chance. Great scripts have a chance. Undiscovered actors have a chance. Whether or not every new indie filmmaker had seen the movie or not, they could walk through the doors that Kevin Smith opened for them.

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