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A new SXSW doc explores the genius of Kevin Smith.

Most young filmmakers have probably at some point been inspired by writer/director/actor Kevin Smith, who made it big with his lo-fi indie hit Clerks in 1994 by doing exactly the thing that most filmmakers advise: landing on a story that resonates with you, picking up a camera, and making the dang movie.

Since then, Smith’s career has had its ups and downs, but no matter what, he keeps creating and telling stories, adapting to new mediums and garnering new generations of fans.

That journey is explored in the documentary Clerk from director Malcolm Ingram, who also happens to be a close friend to Smith.

No Film School spoke with Ingram via Zoom prior to SXSW. We discuss what he’s learned as a documentary filmmaker, how he dealt with a unique challenge during the production of Clerk, and what it’s like to watch Smith work. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: Thank you for taking the time today. I loved your film.

Malcolm Ingram: Oh, thank you.

NFS: It’s such an inspiring look at filmmaking, and being creative—and it’s honestly a little bit frustrating, watching it now. Because productions are not done that way anymore, and you can’t—

Ingram: No, they are not.

NFS: You can’t tell those types of stories anymore, or in the same way. It’s a really inspiring documentary and I really enjoyed it.

Ingram: I mean, I was very influenced by—there’s a documentary that was made about the actual making of Clerks that was made for the 10-year anniversary. It was done by Phil Benson and it’s called Snowball Effect. And that movie didn’t get seen by a lot, it was a DVD extra. That documentary is incredible. I absolutely recommend people go check it out. It’s on the Clerks 10-year disk.

But Phil Benson’s work on that documentary was a huge inspiration for me making this. The great thing about Snowball Effect, it was a documentary that is so good, that it made you want to make a movie. I mean, it made me want to make a movie. It made me want to make this movie. So credit to Phil Benson.

NFS: I think you can say the same about yours, for sure. It made me want to get writing and pick up a camera. You have said that it was a daunting task and that you felt challenged to maintain your creative perspective working with a slightly larger-than-life figure. Can you talk more about those challenges on this?

Ingram: Yeah, I mean it was hard, man. It was really hard. Because I’m a social issue documentarian. I made a lot of documentaries with queer issues. So I’m a bit of a snob, I guess. I knew that right away going in, making a documentary of my friend, I knew that that was going to be complicated. And we’re also very two strong individuals and we have very certain opinions. And we fought—oh God, we fought. We didn’t talk for a year.

But it wasn’t about the dumb things. It was just about the integrity of the piece. Both me and Kevin—ironically, one of the things we fought the hardest about was the Harvey Weinstein bit, where I was just, because I’ve been around Kevin all the time and I didn’t want to talk about Harvey Weinstein in this movie. I just felt like there’s going to be a really good documentary about Harvey Weinstein and that whole thing. And it’s just, it’s too big of a story to try and encapsulate in this small story.

But Kevin conversely said, “Well, although I’m not directly part of it, it is part of my story and I feel I should address it.” And that was our biggest fight. And ultimately he was right. He just said his piece.

And that was a big fight because I was just, I just didn’t want to get into the Harvey Weinstein thing. And the only way I felt comfortable of not getting into this because I was around Kevin all the time and I know that he wasn’t linked to any of that.


‘Clerk’Credit: TCB Productions

NFS: I thought that it was handled well and appropriately placed. Not an afterthought. Enough of the focus was on the work and him that it didn’t feel like a distraction, and you just addressed it. So hopefully you feel like you came to a good middle ground.

Ingram: No, I mean the thing about it was is that I didn’t want to do a disservice to a story that involves victims. That story involves victims. It’s a very complicated story. But Kevin is a part, Kevin is connected to it. So he deserves to say his piece about it. And what he said was very honest and ultimately it worked. But it took a year before I would even roll.

Him talking about Harvey, we didn’t film until near the end of shooting. And I was not into it, but I said, “Okay, we’ll just do it.” And what he said was so genuine and real, I was like, “Okay, that works.”

NFS: I was just going to ask about the process of the doc. How long did it take? Did you have any trouble getting sources or anything like that?

Ingram: Took three years. We started filming probably around this time in 2018. And we cast in a net of the people we wanted to speak to. And it all came together the way it was supposed to. There’s some people that I chased that after a while I realized, oh, their voices aren’t really important. And then there’s other people who just pop into the story, like Penn Jillette who when I began this journey, I was like, “Why would Penn Jillette fit in to this story?” And then I mean, he saved Kevin’s life. Penn & Teller is a huge influence on Kevin and Silent Bob.

Penn & Teller Get Killed was a huge influence on Kevin’s comedic sensibilities. So it was really refreshing to not just have the people, to not just drag in the usual suspects, actually have really interesting people who have made a mark in their own world to actually comment on Kevin’s world. And that was a privilege getting people to, getting someone like Penn Jillette, getting someone like Jason Reitman, getting…

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