Everyone's a critic. It's a well-worn phrase, and thanks to the advent of comment sections, message boards, and movie reviews in 140 characters or less, it's never been truer. While many professional critics have come to loathe the assertion that anyone could do our jobs, the Internet certainly provides myriad outlets for fans to express their opinions -- and is that really such a bad thing?
Kevin Smith doesn't think so. The director of indie classics such as "Clerks," "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma," and critically derided offerings such as (the unfairly maligned) "Jersey Girl" and (the less-unfairly maligned) "Cop Out," Smith has had a tumultuous relationship with movie reviewers, oscillating between crediting them with helping launch his career and questioning their legitimacy. Back when "Cop Out" was released, Smith took to Twitter for an impassioned tirade against critics, and whatever else you might say about the auteur, he's not afraid to put his money where his mouth is:
From now on, any flick I'm ever involved with, I conduct critics screenings thusly: you wanna see it early to review it? Fine: pay like you would if you saw it next week. Like, why am I giving an arbitrary 500 people power over what I do at all, let alone for free? Next flick, I'd rather pick 500 randoms from Twitter feed & let THEM see it for free in advance, then post THEIR opinions, good AND bad. Same difference. Why's their opinion more valid? It's a backwards system.
Two years later, Smith has made good on that promise with "Spoilers," a new movie review show on Hulu. The format allows Smith to take 50 film fans -- randomly selected from those who apply for tickets online -- to see some of the summer's most anticipated new releases, attending a regular screening like the rest of the moviegoing public before heading back to the "Spoilers" studio to dissect what they've seen in an unpretentious, conversational setting.
It's a disarmingly refreshing model, and after tagging along with Smith and his cohorts to see "Magic Mike," this reporter can attest that the format not only makes for entertaining viewing but also seems to empower film fans in a way that commenting on the web just can't match. Even better, unlike certain movie promos that record and then filter audiences' post-screening reactions to present only the positive opinions, Smith encourages honesty among his participants.
"There’s not one of them sitting there going, 'if I say this shit, I ain’t going to get cast, or I’m not going to get hired for this movie, or nobody’s going to put me onto this job.' They got nothing to lose, so these cats were just being honest as fuck, and I’m retiring, so I got nothing to lose either, so we can all be honest together," the director said during our post-show interview.
Professional critics may know the difference between a dissolve and a jump cut, but the fates of today's big-budget features are decided by everyday moviegoers. They vote with their dollars and their feet, so why shouldn't they have an outlet to truly express their opinions?
"I like the audience more than I like the people that do this job," Smith admitted. "I like some cats who get in the chair, but actors and directors and famous people aren’t nearly as interesting as the motherfucker who works for a living, because those of us who get to play for a living freeze at some point. You’re not interesting because you live in this amazing little play world.'"
Still, while half of "Spoilers" is dedicated to Smith facilitating conversation between film fans, he also invites the aforementioned actors, directors and famous people into "the chair," which is actually an elaborate golden throne carved with the likenesses of Jay and Silent Bob (two of Smith's most iconic characters). Previous "Spoilers" guests have included Carrie Fisher, Jason Lee, Damon Lindelof, Robert Rodriguez and this week's guest, fellow writer-actor-director Jon Favreau. While the banter between Smith and the fans is engaging, the interview segment is really the crown jewel of "Spoilers," at least for movie buffs.
Although the edited interview only lasts about 10 minutes, Smith said that it's common for conversations to go on for 30-40 minutes, and he and Hulu often make the unedited cut available for fans later.
"When that person’s in the chair as a guest, you just want to pull all that good shit out of them because you know that, even if they’ve done other interviews, they’re in and out in five to seven minutes. So here, we’re trying to set a tone where they know they can come and they don’t necessarily have to be like, 'Here’s my three best jokes,'" he said.
Whether it's the conversational tone, the guests' familiarity with Smith or simply the opportunity to talk without being on the clock, something about "Spoilers" seems to put interviewees at ease. It was remarkable to watch Favreau open up; not just about the business of moviemaking and his memories of filming "Swingers," but also his flaws and insecurities.
"A 30-minute interview about art mixed with commerce and the feeling of, 'I’ve done it, but have I?' You don’t hear that shit normally," Smith pointed out. "You don’t hear about a dude who’s made like a $300, $400, $500 million movie talking like, 'It was cool, but it didn’t fulfill me.' That shit is real."
What really distinguishes "Spoilers" from other shows of its ilk -- both movie review series and late night talk shows -- is Smith's obvious passion for the subject.
"You know what’s been really beautiful about this experience?" Smith observed. "If you’re lucky, you go from being a movie fan to a movie maker. [But it's] everything that you loved about movies when you were a fan and all that shit you didn’t have, like checking your pulse; seeing where your position is in the community; keeping up with the Joneses; looking over someone else’s fence ... That shit takes away from the simple joy of what got you there in the first place. I just love movies, so suddenly, you’re political about movies, and that’s dark. It’s just not fun when something you love becomes calculated. So when I got to the place where I was like, 'You know what, I’m going to stop filmmaking' and then I started stepping back and doing shit like this, this is an awesome way to walk away from movies and not walk from movies. I can go back to just being a fucking movie fan."
Much like Smith's conversation with Favreau, our wide-ranging interview lasted for the better part of an hour, so below are further highlights from the discussion that have been condensed for length.
On why he chose Hulu:
Hulu gave us this really cool opportunity to do something no one else would have done. Now, we hear from everybody, like, "Why didn’t you bring that show here?," and it’s because if I did, you never would have fucking gotten it, never in a million years. [They'd have said,] "What, you’re going to talk to normal people? Are they going to be pretty? Are they going to be sexy?" That’s the thing, if we were doing it on a network, they would immediately tell us, "You've got to cast 40 people because I don’t want to look out there and see any fat people."
I’m like, "No. 1, there’s one fat guy right on the camera, so if I’m fat everyone else can be fat too." Let’s show real fucking people, and that was one of the first notes I got back on tour that I loved by the second episode. People were like, "You can tell you put fat people up front." Of course I do, man. Never mind being in the back, sit them right up front. Maybe sometimes you watch shows that they shoot in Hollywood and even the audiences are impossibly pretty, so I don’t know, you like to look at them and just see something that looks like the real world.
It’s like when you watch porn, man, you’re like, "Oh, is this how I should be fucking?" No. Nobody fucks like that, but you’re so used to seeing it and they push it in your face, you’re like, "I’m failing at something." Same thing here, you watch audience shows and everyone’s cast and impossibly pretty and you’re like, "I guess we’re doing it wrong." No, we’re doing it right. This is what the world looks like.
[Hulu has] a nice following that they’ve built up, but they’re not in a place where they’re like, "Well, this this is too large for your chicanery." It reminds me of being in Miramax back in the day when we were making all those flicks because they were just like, "Do what you want as long as it’s cheap."
A lot of motherfuckers would be like, "Hulu? You got a web series." I’m like, go ahead, keep calling it a web series, that means we can stay here alone by ourselves for a little bit longer -- because the moment people figure out that we’re having a good time here, like you’re going to start seeing it [more]. Unfortunately, I keep putting directors and creative people next to me and by the end of the night, everyone goes, "What are these Hulu people like?" Get out. Find your own thing, man, I finally found something of my own!
Honestly, for me, Hulu ain’t web, man. This is perfect and I tell this story over and over again because it’s clearly indicative. My kid has been a useful focus group participant in the last few years because now, she’s of an age where she has an opinion. So I said to my kid when we were first talking to the Hulu cats about doing the show, "Hey man, what’s your favorite network?" She’s like, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, where do you watch your shows?” Like, she watches "Modern Family." I said, "Where do you watch 'Modern Family'?" She was like, "On my computer." I said, "Okay, but what network is 'Modern Family' on?" She was like, "Hulu." There it is. There’s such fluidity between television and this spot here, and I’m glad.
On the competitive nature of filmmaking:
Jon Favreau, he’s a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-guy for me. I’m like, "Where’s Favreau at, where am I at?" I’m jockeying for position, ain't never gonna hit that peak. So it’s nice to be able to get to a place where I’m like, "Fuck all that noise; let’s just talk about how cool that movie was. Good for you and your success."
I like him because I was on his show years ago and he’s a very insightful dude. He’s funny. We have a similar sensibility. We were on "Dinner for Five" and it was just after "Elf" had broken and "Elf" was huge. So I’d been on "Dinner for Five" once before and the running joke that I always had with them was: It’s about five minutes into the show, Favreau’s going to mention "Swingers." And then sooner or later there’s always like, "Well, we were on 'Swingers' and ... "
So I went back for the show right after "Elf" was huge and he was talking about stuff and then, eventually, about 10 minutes in, he got to "Elf" and I was like, 'Oh, dude, I knew it. I was just counting the seconds, it used to be 'Swingers.' I knew you couldn’t wait until you could talk 'Elf' -- 10 minutes in." And he said the thing that still, to this day, makes me laugh -- he goes, "Why can’t you be happy? Why can’t 'Elf' do good and you be happy?"
It was funny and it made me laugh, but at the same time, it was so fucking true. I was like, I should be happy for this guy, but when you’re in the game, you have to think about yourself. It’s competitive, even though it shouldn’t be because it’s like, I’m not trying to beat him. It’s not like we’re even competing for jobs, but you just get like that because of the business, that sick business shit interferes, takes all the joy out of it and becomes a job. It’s no longer something you just do for passion.
On why he'll never helm a comic-book movie (and the state of women in film):
You know, comics and movies, even if you take a comic and turn it into a movie, we can’t all be Joss Whedon. Even that took fucking years to get to that place where all the components moved in the right time and suddenly ba-boom, it happens ... [But] the notion of sitting around for two weeks while some motherfucker tries to make fucking Superman fly and all I’m doing is trying to get to the next scene where Superman and Lois have a conversation, that’s just painful to me. Honestly, if you know the characters that well, the best place to play with them is in comics. That’s where you can do whatever you want. You can spend as much money as you want because it’s just somebody drawing it. So it depends what you like and to me I’m a comic book fan so I like that, like that notion of being able to deal with all the continuity minutia and having to bring that to life.
I love "Avengers," it’s well done and it’s unlike a lot of movies where motherfuckers are like, "Oh, my girlfriend needs saving." When you have a kid, particularly a daughter, you sit around and watch movies and go like, "Can you show one fucking movie where the chick isn’t getting saved?" That’s why "Brave" is so neat because it’s just like, here’s a chick who ain’t getting fucking saved. It’s crazy, you sit there going like, "Let me take my kid to one fucking movie where it's not one strong woman amongst five dudes, but just like a fucking chick."
I mean, it’s crazy to say, but Amanda Seyfried did this movie "Gone," which is on like VOD. It’s literally the same old story you’ve always heard, but the only key difference, which makes it fun and watchable, is instead of, "I got to save that girl," she’s like, "I got to save my sister." It’s a simple switch, but it was like water in the desert because you don’t get to see that movie very often.
So when you do a comic book movie, unless you’re Wonder Woman, it tends to be some fucking dude saving some chick. Throw a rock and somebody can tell that story way better than I can. I’m more interested in telling the stories that people don’t want to tell and I got to do that for a while. They used to spend money on it, but they don’t do that anymore. Now, they want to make the big movies and stuff. So now, I’m going to talk about the big movies.
A new episode of "Spoilers" is available every Monday on Hulu.