Kevin Smith's career -- from Sundance darling to joke to podcast sensation -- leaves a lot of lessons in its wake.
Kevin Smith was the first director I heard talk openly about betting on himself and how it changed his life. That bet led me, and a lot of other people, to Hollywood to tell stories that mattered to us. Since then, Smtih's career has taken every twist and turn imaginable and unimaginable. He's faced death, destruction, ill will, goodwill, and everything in between.
But what can you learn from Smith's choices and career path? Let's light a blunt and see where we end up.
1. Eat your vegetables (figuratively and literally)
Seriously, eat your damn veggies. Smith suffered a near-widowmaker of a heart attack at 46. The guy was not healthy before that. But now that he's a vegan, his lifestyle is much more conducive to creating.
I'm not here to tell you to just be a vegan. That's your choice. I don't care.
But when it comes to working in the industry, you have to eat your vegetables. What do I mean by that?
It means to take the jobs that pay. They may not always be your passion project, but they will help you cut your teeth, make contacts, and just have a bank account. Smith became a respected script doctor in the '90s and 2000s because he knew that, to take big swings and bet on himself, he needed the cash to survive.
The one thing I tell anyone asking for advice about coming to Los Angeles is to get a job. It doesn't matter what that job entails, but your best writing will come when you're not struggling and worrying. So take writing jobs that pay. Get a day job that pays the bills.
Eaytyour vegetables and survive longer in this town.
2. Find your brand
What kind of stories do you tell better than anyone else?
While there is value to diversity in storytelling, it is important to know how your agent or manager is going to sell you. When you start out, I'd suggest leaning into your brand. Smith was able to create five movies within his universe and brand.
While they were not massive hits, they allowed him to prove himself as a commodity and continue to work. That work led to the punch-up gigs and to expanding his horizons. It led to him being able to take risks later when it mattered more. So, again, ask yourself about your brand. About the kinds of stories and the kinds of gigs you want.
Research other people who work within those aspects. And learn from the pros.
3. Work with your biggest fans
One of the things I admire the most about Kevin Smith is how much he loves his fans. When it came time to sell Red State, Smith was able to take it on a tour as part of a comeback instead of finding a studio.
And when filmmaking didn't help, he turned to his fans and podcasting.
This also applies with who you work with inside the industry.
For nearly two decades, Smith's movies were almost exclusively produced by Miramax. The main lesson here is that Smith knew he had a fan in Bob (and possibly Harvey) and he knew they liked his voice. When it was time to make films like Dogma, they were the right people to sell the vision.
They apparently bought Zach and Miri Make a Porno based on the title alone. So find your fans and share your work with them first. Warm reads help get your ideas sold.
4. Think outside the box
I mentioned it earlier, but when filmmaking wasn't going Kevin Smith's way, he turned to podcasting. Podcasting is now a huge industry, and Smith is an early pioneer. He was able to create a lucrative and popular network.
And when that network reinvigorated his love of moviemaking, Smith came back in a new way. His reentry into filmmaking wasn't in the studio system. It was going back to his roots and working independently.
While these swings don't always work out well, they were swings that got him back in the business.
So don't be afraid to reinvent who you are, just keep working.
5. Love the job
Despite the ups and downs, it's hard to believe Kevin Smith is unhappy. He has a family, his health, and his love and passion for the work seeps through in every moment. Smith's stand up specials and late-night appearances prove that if you love the work, and dedicate yourself, it can pay off.
While we don't know if it'll pay off in Smith fashion, you have to love the work to keep a career going for that many years.
If you don't love it, don't do it. And if you have trouble figuring out if that makes you happy...
Then go back for number four, think outside the box, and I can't wait to see what you come up with.
What's next? Go BTS of Jay and Silent Bob: Reboot!
Kevin Smith has been a staple of truth-telling and directing for 20+ years. See him back in his indie role behind the camera and watch him break down a scene. Snoogans!
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