Cult director Kevin Smith's new action comedy, COP OUT starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan and Seann William Scott, screenwritten by Robb and Mark Cullen got its UK cinema release last week. For Kevin Smith it's a suprising move into more mainstream buddy comedy terrain his last film 2009's Zack and Miri Make a Porno earned him good reviews and everyone looks back fondly on stoner classics Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but is Cop Out just that? Or a decent first transition toward entertaining popcorn comedy movies with a twist for Smith? Well we've been sent a Q&A with Kevin Smith where he talks about how he got involved in the project, working with stars like Bruce Willis and Seann William Scott and why he thinks he's ready to take a step up to the next level as a movie director.
QUESTION: This is the first time you're directing a movie that you didn't write. What drew you to Cop Out?
KEVIN SMITH: Zack and Miri [Make a Porno] was the last film I had come out and when it came out, it didn't do what I thought it was going to do. When that didn't happen, I was completely crestfallen. So, I didn't want to write about a personal experience right then and there. Didn't have a way to reframe it yet because I hadn't figured out what I wanted to do next with the career, so I would have just immediately done what I'd always done, and write a movie about that experience. So I said, “I don't want to do that, but I'm trained as a filmmaker; I should be doing something. I can't just sit around. I've got to get back on the horse, but I'm not going to get back on the horse with my own stuff, because I don't have anything to say right now.” And into my lap came Cop Out. Warner Bros. sent it over.
I thought the Cullen brothers had sent it to me because I worked with them both on Man Child, this pilot they had done for Showtime that Showtime didn't pick up. They sent it to me and I was just like, “These dudes have way too much talent and way too much ego to send a script to another writer to be like, 'You want to punch this up?'” So, I didn't understand what was going on, but I was promoting Zack and Miri at the time, so I didn't look into it that deeply until I got a call.
Two weeks later, an email arrived from Jeff Robinov over at Warner Bros. going, “Did you read Cop Out?” And I was like, “Oh, you sent that?” He said, “Yeah. Read it.” And so I read it and I loved it. I thought it was really fun and I was like, “Dude, I don't know what you want me to do, like, I can't punch this up. It's funny. It needs no help from me. He's like, “Oh, I don't want you to re-write it.” I said, “You want me to be in it? I'll play Dave, that part's really, really funny.” He goes, “No, I don't want you to be in it.” And I was like, “You want me to do craft service?” And he was just like, “Wow, man, like, come on, really? You're going to wait to figure it out?” And I was like, “Direct?” And he was like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Dude, nobody ever hands me scripts to direct. I'm not that guy.” And he's like, “Oh, no, I look at Zack and Miri and I think you're ready as a filmmaker in terms of the craft to try something outside of your comfort zone. You ever think about doing that?” And I was like, “No.”
So he said, “Well, give it a shot. Why don't you read it?” And I read it with an eye toward directing it, and I figured I might be able to handle this because it is kind of action comedy; it's like Lethal Weapon with sixty percent less action. And I can handle that. I'm getting my head around that. It's mostly just dudes sitting around talking. And the notion of the three tentpole sequences didn't seem too difficult, like the chase up front and then the Mercedes chase in the middle and the gun fight at the end. It didn't seem too difficult.
I thought, “Well, that day I'll just come to work a little more diligent than I normally do,” because generally I shoot people talking, and that's fun for me. But the moment it starts getting difficult, we're like, “Hey, we want to shoot some action,” I tune out. It's boring, boring shooting an action sequence. Many days to shoot minor seconds of a film when you could be sitting there watching people talk and feeling the human drama connection, the comedy, what have you.
So I was like, “Look, those days I'll come a little more prepared. I'll work a little harder.” But other than that, I think I could do this, because it's just Clerks with cops. You know, they're older, but it's two dudes talking to each other. That's my bread and butter.
And then the reason that I really connected to it, I think, had a lot to do with [the fact that] my father passed away a few years ago. And I'm so not using it as a sympathy vote, but it has everything to do with it. My father took me to see all those movies, always took me out of school at one o'clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday to see whatever opened. So, 48 Hrs, the Lethal Weapons, the Die Hards, Last Boy Scout, Running Scared, the old one with Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal—my father took me to see all those movies. And whenever I think about those flicks, I think of my dad.
So, I'm reading this flick going, “Wow, if I made this movie, this would be the movie that my father would be like, 'Oh, you do make movies for a living.' Because with my other stuff, he'd always be like, “Does it count as a movie if all you do is talk about Star Wars and other movies?” And I was like, “In the '90s it does, Dad.”
So, now, with this script, if I direct and he was alive, he would have said, “Oh, this is a movie. It's got a plot going; Bruce Willis is in it. He's a movie star.” Because I've never worked with a major movie star before … please don't tell Ben Affleck I said that. [Laughs]
So, anyway, I was drawn to it for that and even though I hadn't written it, it just hit me at the right time where I was like, “You know what, man? I've got nothing to say.” Well, it doesn't need to be said; it has nothing to say itself. It's a popcorn movie. And I'm rarely doing popcorn movies. Let me try that right now; let me see if I could work on this other part of the craft, just me as a director, and leave the personality stuff out of it, because I have a podcast. I got this Twitter every day and I do Q&As onstage all the time. So, I could be myself, express myself, in any number of forums. And before, it used to just be the films, so I'd do it in my films. But now I could do it everywhere and on a regular basis for free. I don't feel the need to put it in the films. And without that I'm just like, “Well, who am I? If I'm not the guy who's making Kevin Smith movies, then who am I?” So, I don't know, I'm trying to figure out if I have any skill, after 15 years as a professional, as a director. I called myself a director for 15 years and I'm trying to see with this movie: well, can I do it? And I feel like I did. I felt like, yeah, I directed it. I executed their script, and not only did I execute, but I felt like I brought a little bit to it; it was different because I was involved.
QUESTION: So, are you ready now to move onto another level as a filmmaker?
KEVIN SMITH: Yeah, I think so. I think what I figured out was that the next film is a hybrid of sorts. It's based on other material. It's based on a song by Warren Zevon called “Hit Somebody,” which was written by Mitch Albom, the author who wrote Tuesdays with Morrie, amongst his other great bestselling books. I never would have gotten my head around thinking about the fact that I'm adapting a song, particularly because it's never really worked out. I mean, look at “Convoy” for crissakes.
But for me, having directed somebody else's script now, and that song hitting me on a level it did, I felt, “Oh my god, I can use this song as a vehicle from which to tell an insanely personal story.” You know what I'm saying? I identify with the story of a guy who's part of the hockey league, who's playing professional hockey, but he's there just because he could beat people up. He's not very good at it. He loves the game so much, but he's not that good at it. And that's what the song's about. I identify with that in a big, bad way. So, I have a story to tell using that, and I'll build the script onto it.
QUESTION: Has that happened to you?
KEVIN SMITH: No, but you've got to think about it when I leave. [Laughs] So, that's the thing that I'll be working on next and I think without Cop Out I wouldn't have ever been like, “I'm going to adapt to this song.” I would have been too proud as a writer. I'd be like, “I'm not touching somebody else's work.”
Now that I've kind of taken somebody else's work and taken somebody else's writing work and made it kind of mine as a director to some degree, I feel like I could take that song and put everything in my life, 15 years of experience and everything that I want to say that doesn't involve Jane, I'm looking to make the Forrest Gump of sports movies. I know that's ambitious, but it's not like it doesn't have a lot of special effects, but it takes place between 1950 to '80 and it's just a big valentine to the game—particularly to Canada. I should really just go up to Canada and make the movie. Most people down here are going to be like, “Are you from Canada?” And I'm like, “No, I just like hockey very much.”
QUESTION: Kevin, Tracy said that you are somewhat of a comedian's comedian.
KEVIN SMITH: Oh, he's sweet. He is the best of the best. Also in this movie, Seann William Scott. Those two dudes, Tracy and Seann, are just brilliant, brilliant ad-libbers. They're dudes who can execute the script really well, very funny, but then they just give you a bunch of special sauce on top of it. And Tracy just had buckets to bring. So, we would shoot the script, because the script is really funny and the script is a story and the script is a plot.
But then we would go and shoot comedy. We'd shoot more on top of it, just to have, and to make each other laugh. And the presence of Bruce made it all better too. Look at the sequence of them in the car. I wasn't in the car, but I was in the car by way of a walkie-talkie. Like, I'm watching; we're towing the vehicle with this flatbed truck. I'm sitting on the back, two monitors, got earphones on, a walkie to talk to those guys. And there's Bruce and there's Tracy and there's Seann in the back. And the whole time, Seann, Tracy and me in a completely different vehicle are just playing to make the one other dude in the driver's seat laugh and smile. We were all just trying to work on “Dad,” you know what I'm saying? We were just like, “Who can make him laugh first?” And so all of us are bringing our 'A' game, because if you can make Bruce Willis laugh, you could tell your grandkids about that. Like, “I made John McClane laugh and he didn't shoot me.”
So, all of us were playing so hard. And that scene, I think, is as funny as it is because those two dudes in the car coming up with stuff, and I'm on the walkie trying to beat them, throwing them stuff to say, and all of us are just looking at Willis to see if he'll smile. And it worked out. The scene's very funny because of it.
QUESTION: Can you talk about Seann and what he brings to the dynamic?
KEVIN SMITH: Yeah. For me, I saw it as a Looney Tunes. It was a Warner Bros. movie, so I was like, “Let's use the Looney Tunes' model.” Bruce and Tracy are Daffy and Bugs, until Seann comes in and then Seann becomes Bugs Bunny and Tracy becomes Daffy Duck. So, for me, if we just had the whole movie of two Bugs Bunnies and one Daffy Duck, it doesn't really pan out. Again, I was playing the ball where it lay, and that's how it was written, that Seann would come in for these little bits. And everyone digs him because we used him sparingly, so you never get irritated of him, because you give them a nice taste, and then he goes away for a while, and then comes back. But, for me personally, I don't want to drown him with too much. I'd rather have you think, “Man, I wish there was more of that dude in there.” But, yeah, he was fun, man, just like Tracy; they're two dudes who would bring funny on top of it.
I mean, there was a day we were shooting the opening sequence with all the movie lines and whatnot, and it was about as fun to shoot as it looks. And as we're doing it, I sit behind a monitor and I watch Tracy doing lines and I'll run and be like, “Tracy, do a line from Jaws now.” He's like, “All right, I'll do Jaws.” And I run out and I watch the monitor, and it's funny. So, I run back in and I'm like, “Do that line from Planet of the Apes, man, about the forbidden zone.” He was like, “Oh, I'll do that.” So, I run out, watch it again. That goes on for two, three hours.
One of the last times I get back to the monitor, one of the crew guys was just like, “Dude, you've got to do Mr. Tibbs.” I was like, “Oh, yes.” I run in to Tracy, I was like, “You've got to do Mr. Tibbs.” He's like, “Mr. Tibbs, good.” I run back out, I sit behind the monitor, and I hear one of the crew dudes behind me go, “It's like watching two kids make a Youtube clip.” [Laughs] And that's what it felt like. At its best moments, it doesn't feel like work. It doesn't feel like there are millions of dollars at stake. We just try to make each other laugh. It's fun.
COP OUT is out in Cinemas now.