Biography: Kevin Smith, Creator of "Clerks"

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A day in the lives of two convenience clerks named Dante and Randal as they annoy customers, discuss movies, and play hockey on the store roof.
Photo Credit: Miramax Films
August 8th, 2013

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Biography: Kevin Smith, Creator of "Clerks"

Born on August 2, 1970 in Red Bank, New Jersey, Kevin Patrick Smith was known as a king of independent film in the '90s. A multitalented artist, Smith's resume includes film producer, director, screenwriter, actor, comic book writer, and comedian.

Smith earned his stripes in 1994 with the movie "Clerks," which he wrote, directed, and appeared in as the character Silent Bob. The comedy is based in New Jersey and shares plot elements with some of Smith's later films. Lacking a budget for "Clerks," Smith was allowed to film the movie after hours in the convenience and video stores where he worked. A testament to Smith's talent, "Clerks" was written in a month and was produced with a meager budget of under $28,000. Smith funded the film by selling his comic book collection and maxing out his credit cards. Smith's debut film subsequently won awards at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. The film was picked up by Miramax and aired in theaters, pulling in $3.2 million at the box office and effectively launching Kevin Smith's career. Smith also made the movie "Mallrats" in 1995 with Jason Lee, Shannen Doherty, and Jason London as the starring actors. "Mallrats" did exceedingly well in video stores and is beloved by fans of Smith's work.

These movies shaped the universe fans call View Askewniverse, in reference to Smith's production company, View Askew Productions. During the making of "Mallrats," Smith met Joey Lauren Adams, whom he began dating. She was a big inspiration for his next movie, "Chasing Amy," which was released in 1997 and starred Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams. "Chasing Amy" was made with a budget of $250,000 and brought in $12 million at the box office. That latest movie in Smith's repertoire won two Spirit awards: Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Role for Jason Lee's part. The film was also runner-up in the Boston Society of Film Critic's Choice Awards. 

By the time Smith began filming "Dogma" in 1999, he had moved past his relationship with Adams and was married to Jennifer Schwalbach Smith. The couple's daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, was born around the time "Dogma" was being filmed. Smith's success with "Chasing Amy" lured major stars to "Dogma," which featured actors like Salma Hayek, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Rock, George Carlin, and Alanis Morissette. The script was written prior to "Clerks," but Smith waited for a budget that would afford his desired special effects before taking the movie to production. The comedy was based on a Christian theme and drew criticism from the church-going public and the Catholic League, causing Disney, Miramax's parent company, to drop the movie. Regardless, "Dogma" made almost $30 million.

"Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" came in 2001, the title characters having been developed in Smith's previous films. The movie received mixed reviews and was mainly embraced by fans of Smith's Askewniverse. Smith decided to go in a new direction with the movie "Jersey Girl," filmed in 2004 and starring Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Ben Affleck, and Raquel Castro. The film did poorly at the box office, and Smith retreated to make the last film featuring his familiar Askewniverse, "Clerks II," in 2006. This film, which starred Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Jason Mewes, Jennifer Schwalback, and Smith as Silent Bob, won awards at the MTV Movie Awards and the Edinburgh Film Festival.  Although he did not write the script, Smith directed "Cop Out" starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in 2010. "Cop Out" received poor reviews; however, it was Smith's highest grossing film, making more than $55.5 million. Later that same year, Smith began work on the film "Red State," starring John Goodman, Michael Parks, and Melissa Leo. The self-distributed film drew criticism from church members, and the movie only made $1.4 million. Smith now plans to make one more movie in the "Clerks" series before retiring as a director to focus on writing. 

Kevin Smith has published four books through Miramax Books and Titan Books publishing companies. The books are collections of previously published essays, many of them from Smith's contributions to Arena magazine. A longtime lover of comic books, Smith has written for Marvel Comics and DC comics. His work includes "Daredevil: Guardian Devil," "Green Arrow: Quiver," "Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil that Men Do," "Batman: The Widening Gyre," "Green Hornet," and "The Bionic Man." Smith's talents have allowed him to branch out in many directions, so it seems a certainty he will continue to produce innovative work.