Hi Everyone, James here.
It’s been a week since the Sundance announcement and I’ve been thinking a lot about Kevin Smith recently. Not an overly surprising thing, given his near poster-boy association with Sundance and our film’s recent news. But, it’s not just that, there’s a couple more things at play here.
The picture above was taken about seven years ago by me. It’s a picture of Kevin Smith. We both were waiting to board a Los Angeles-bound plane from Minneapolis. He was in town giving a talk the evening before, and I was catching a connection from my hometown Winnipeg. He was likely returning to his very successful Hollywood life. While I was en route to the Erosion and Sediment Control Conference to do a corporate gig.
So close, but, my God, so far apart.
Being an aspiring filmmaker, I’ve always looked up to Kevin Smith. Not only for his films - which I completely enjoy and appreciate - but even more so for the enterprising filmmaker spirit he represents. If you’re familiar with his backstory or his online world, you likely know what I mean. The guy’s more than just a filmmaker. He’s kind of a force.
So when I found myself standing there next to Silent Bob, I felt compelled to do something. I really don’t think of myself as a celebrity-gawker type, but it was too cool a moment to not at least get a picture. So I said ‘Hi’, asked him how the talk went, and asked if I could snap a picture.
He was a very friendly guy, obliged with the small talk and the picture. In taking the picture, my arms were slung with waaayy-over regulation-weight camera gear, which had the unfortunate effect of making my arms shake while taking the photo. I came off as the most nervous of fanboys, which really was the result of poor muscle-tone. I could’ve explained away the shake to Mr. Smith, but the damage was done. I was a fanboy. That’s Okay, I’m sure he’s gotten much worse.
After the picture I said thanks and walked away. I got probably five steps, before a very loud voice started going off in my head: ‘Hey Idiot! You’re an (aspiring) filmmaker. You just finished talking to someone who’s career you really admire. And you said nothing. Sell yourself Dammit!’
It was a strange moment. I didn’t really want to bug the poor guy. He looked dead-tired. But you hear so many stories about ‘Hollywood discovery’ and connections being made in the strangest way. If you want to ‘break-in’ to Hollywood, I should be doing something right? ... right?
Well, after the debacle of the arm shake, I wasn’t about to walk back there. To make matters worse, I had zero to offer really. My bag was full of camera gear and educational erosion control DVDs (seriously).
I did have one thing, though. Not much better than erosion DVDs, but it was at least something. For my sister’s wedding, instead of a speech, I made a 22 minute mockumentary that was, in the opinion of many of my Aunts, ‘very funny’.
I had a copy of it on me. It showed enough humour, and maybe enough glimmer of talent that I could pass it off as something to a person could be proud of...maybe. But, even if it wasn’t, this was my shot right? I had to try to make something happen - that’s what people who want to make movies do, right?
The plane began boarding. As one would expect, Kevin was a priority flyer and quickly boarded. A little while later I followed. He in first class, myself in coach. But I could see him from my seat, and it wasn’t hard to deduce his row & seat number. I pulled out a piece of paper and pen....
The flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles is about two and a half, maybe three hours. I spent the entire time composing a letter to the occupant of 4C. The entire letter was written with a way-too-tight-grip and sweaty palms; as I struggled to explain in a persuasive manner why I was giving Kevin Smith a copy of my sister’s wedding video. It was absurd.
I was embarrassed even while writing the letter. But, that didn’t compare to the horror I felt when I rang up the flight attendant to ‘please give this to my friend (I may have said colleague) up there, he’s in 4C’
I gave it to the attendant, immediately slunk into my seat, peaking out just enough to make out the delivery. I think he got it...I think.
I was mortified. It was all very odd. Here I was in L.A., or about to be, on one of my first real gigs. I was getting paid to make something with my camera and that was undoubtably awesome. It was. But, I wanted to make films. And I was faced with the idea, in a very real, very immediate way, that I was miles away from what I originally wanted to be doing. We touched down.
Kevin Smith was leaving the plane to make his next feature film; I was leaving that same plane to make erosion and sediment control videos (which, if you were to ask, I’m quite proud of actually).
Now, I’m a pretty logical and pragmatic guy. I was there making money filming and that in and of itself is a success. But, even while being fully aware of this, I couldn’t ignore the seemingly cruel poetry of the situation at play.
It was one of the most discouraging moments of my filmic life.
I went on my way. Did the erosion conference and did a good job of it. Kevin Smith never called. This makes sense. He shouldn’t have.
But in the next seven years, I started my own production company, doing mostly commercial/corporate work. And I continued making stuff. Good stuff, some pretty good stuff and lots of really crappy stuff. Each project got a little more ambitious, a little bit bigger and I got a little better with each one.
It all led up to the decision to stop making content for others, and to take a risk on making something for myself (‘ourselves’ really ... Lisanne has her own version of this). Which meant making Indie Game: The Movie.
That decision was 19 months ago. The film is now in Sundance.
As fate would have it, this Sunday, Kevin Smith is in Winnipeg doing a show. I have tickets and will be going. It will be a similar situation of Me and Kevin Smith spending two and a half to three hours in the same space. This time, there will be no embarrassing letters being written, at then end of the three hours, the lights will come up and we will have touched down again. Again, Kevin will leave, and I will leave. He will return to his still incredibly impressive life.
But this time, I will be a little bit closer. Warm in the knowledge that I’m doing what I want to be doing. And it wasn’t a letter or chance meeting that got me there, it will have been seven years of continued work ... much of it erosion and sediment control related.
p.s. Kevin Smith was at last year’s Sundance, and caused a little bit of controversy by deciding not to sell his film to a distributor, opting to take it to his audience himself. A LOT of what he says in this video applies directly to independent gaming. Independent creation in general really. You should watch this...
p.p.s. And if, by the off-chance, Kevin Smith is reading this: I have a better movie to show you this time. If you and Jason feel like catching a Sundance-bound video game documentary while in Winnipeg, we would love to show you guys ... seven year later, still compelled to ask :)