question of the day: Should Kevin Smith — or any filmmaker — leave “the personality stuff” out of his films?

From the same MTV article whence came the Kevin Smith quote that formed the core of yesterday’s QOTD about the Southewest Airlines debacle comes a completely unrelated quote from the filmmaker that struck me. About his latest movie, Smith says:

“[‘Cop Out’] has nothing to say itself; it’s a popcorn movie,” he explained. “Let me see if we can work on this other part of the craft, just me as the director, and leave the personality stuff out of it. Because I’ve got SModcast now, I’ve got this Twitter account I’m on every day, I do Q&A’s onstage all the time. So I can be myself, express myself in any number of forums.

“Before, it used to just be the films, so I’d do it in my films — now I can do it everywhere on a regular basis for free; I don’t feel the need to put it in films,” he added — then admitted that the “Cop Out” experience has him re-evaluating his own place in Hollywood. “Without [making references to my life in films] I’m like, ‘Who am I? If I’m not the guy who’s making Kevin Smith movies then who am I?’ I’m trying to figure out if I have any skills after 15 years as a professional director.”

I would never have guessed that it was a deliberate choice on Smith’s part to “leave the personality stuff out of “ Cop Out, and hearing this horrifies me. It’s the best explanation I’ve heard so far of why so many Hollywood movies feel so manufactured: the very qualities that would make them unique rather than assembly-line products have been deliberately excised, in the same way that anything that makes a McDonald’s hamburger resemble real food has been removed in an effort to make every single one of them like every other one.

Should Kevin Smith — or any filmmaker — being leaving “the personality stuff” out of his films?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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Thu, Feb 25, 2010 8:56am

I think there’s a time and a place for everything. Not every work, in any medium, needs to be intensely personal. Sometimes, you need to just make something for the sake of making something. The only real problem arises when you become a machine who only cranks out impersonal material. It’s all about balance, and in this case, I find it unlikely that Smith is going to entirely forsake his usual creative shtick.

That said, as someone who is generally not a fan of Kevin Smith’s movies, nor the man himself, I’d say that he’s more than welcome to leave the personality off-screen.

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Thu, Feb 25, 2010 9:01am

*Groan*. People only complain about “personality” (or politics! or that critics be “objective”!) when the views don’t match their own.

Getting a little tired of all the anti-intellectualism and intolerance masquerading as egalitarianism. Is this an American thing? Oh, and “tolerance” does NOT equal YOU AGREE WIT ME OR ELSE!!

I may not like someone’s worldview or opinion or personality, but goddammit, they have every right to express it.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 10:13am

Look, I’m OK enough with Smith, though he should tone it down. I just want M. Night to stop inserting himself into his films.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 10:36am

Everything is personal. If we aren’t putting ourselves into our work, what the hell are we doing with our days, eh? Marking time? Treading water? Dying?

With movies, I take the example of Polanski. I don’t want to know about his personal vistas, in a way. I was horrified when I was younger about how he ran away from taking his punishment and I still am completely disgusted — although no longer horrified as I’m older and more cynical. However, he does, I am certain, put himself and his (however twisted) views about victim&perpitrator into every movie. He makes aesthetic statements with personal points of view. I see all of his movies although my frontal lobes do not wish to support the man. Why? Because his work is compelling and often so upsetting that I need to steel myself for days before going to see one of his films. I remember scenes in them forever. This would not happen if he wasn’t investing himself in there.

If we don’t put ourselves into our work, then it just fills some checklist that came from no-one-knows-where and is dull and unsatisfying.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 10:38am

In most cases I’d say keep the personality. In Smith’s case I’d say it’s a good idea to branch out in any way possible.

In so many cases you saw someone’s big indie hit back in the nineties and you wondered what they’d do if they had real money. And a lot of the time it turned out great once they could spread their directorial wings with proper equipment, actors, time and money. Kev Smith just never managed it, for my money.

It’s a tough thing to argue too strongly, I know. There must be loads of people who crashed and burned, cruised quietly or disappeared after some indie success. And there’s lots of highly paid directors who have little to no visual ability (Ratner springs to mind). Why can’t he just be himself? Well I guess a lot of the kvetching about him is because despite limping along, he’s always had an audience and been, if not exactly in the spotlight, in the penumbra. This, I think, has also allowed him to avoid ever becoming Kevin Smith, Director and just be Kevin Smith, Kevin Smith.

His idiosyncracies aren’t so great as a Hal Hartley or a Wes Anderson that he can always just make “his” movies. And there’s no Do The Right Thing to point to when enduring idiosyncratic failures. He’s got to step out and submit to a film a few times (as Spike actually has). It’d be be a waste of all that opportunity otherwise, that’s all.

So, yeah, in most cases more personality’d be good. In his case it’s mostly all he had and it ain’t enough anymore.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 11:51am

Not every work, in any medium, needs to be intensely personal.

There’s a huge difference between a work that is “intensely personal” and one that exhibits no personality whatsoever. A movie like From Paris with Love, for instance, is “just a popcorn movie” and doesn’t really have much to say. But it still has personality.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 2:07pm

I don’t think it’s possible to leave your personality out of a movie. You can just hide it really well.

But Kevin Smith reminds me of David Mamet, in the sense that his movies are very writer-driven. (Mamet is rather outspoken about this.) The camera work may not be very artful, the acting may be a little flat, but the script will be brilliant. (We will overlook Jersey Girl for the length of this discussion.) So if the point is that Kevin Smith wants to develop his technical skills in areas other than writing, I support him.

I can also imagine him saying, “I didn’t write this screenplay. My job is to help audiences hear the voice of the person who did write it. I don’t want my personal stylistic quirks to get in the way of that.”

To put it another way, if Smith were a writer for television and–to make this example even more interesting–he were hired to write scripts for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, his job would be to sound as much like Joss Whedon as possible. He could work in his own ideas about life, society, and pop culture–if they fit the characters who were saying the lines–but they’d still have to match the tone and style of the series.

Of course, none of this means that Cop Out is a good movie. But I hold out hope that it’s a bad movie with a personality.

I was going to add another comment about writers and directors who go too far in the other direction and call way too much attention to their personality and stylistic quirks, but I think I’ve gone on too long already.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 4:46pm

I agree with Daniel – it’s ok for him to see how he works with somebody else’s words – it is a way to test himself.

As I’ve said before on the site, I think he’s a terrible director but he sure is funny. Hopefully if they throw a lot of money at him and surround him with good below the line, behind the scenes talent maybe it will turn out ok.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 6:01pm

There are writers that direct and directors that write. Some times you have both (Woody Allen, Tarrantino) but they are pretty rare.

Kevin Smith isn’t a very good director. He is however an interesting writer. So, we put up with his directing for the fun writing. He has no personality as a director. He just isn’t very good at it.

Therefore, when he takes his personality out of the equation (i.e. flattens out the writing or even worse directs someone elses script) the result is at least uninteresting if not just plain bad.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 9:46pm

drewryce (Thu Feb 25 10, 6:01PM):

Therefore, when he takes his personality out of the equation (i.e. flattens out the writing or even worse directs someone elses script) the result is at least uninteresting if not just plain bad.

This is silly. Which movie of his are you talking about? He’s written them all up to this point, and Cop Out doesn’t come into theaters until tomorrow.

As to the original question: leaving “personality” out of a film is a really bad idea, but that’s not what Kevin is talking about. He’s specifically pointing out his style — he has a very distinct voice as a writer — isn’t going to be on display here. He’s not talking about all personality, just his. In other words, no star wars diatribes or poop monsters. Clever as they may be!

I’m holding out a lot of hope for Cop Out. I’ve loved all Kevin’s movies, even Jersey Girl (mmm… affleck), and I like that he’s trying to stretch himself a little. And with a title like “A Couple of Dicks” you know it is just a little. Baby steps, right?

Ide Cyan
Ide Cyan
Thu, Feb 25, 2010 9:57pm

I think this topic really ties into this older question:

Fri, Feb 26, 2010 1:22pm

Newbs: I was talking about Cop Out. Smith’s poor skills as a director are obvious even in the films of his that I share your enjoyment of. As I explained, the parts I like are his writing. Take that out and the result is flat and uninteresting.

Sat, Feb 27, 2010 7:17pm

I suppose it’s an interesting test of ability to see if he can direct someone else’s writing. But directors aren’t just about getting across someone else’s personality right? You KNOW a Michael Bay movie when you see one, and it’s not because the writer’s voice is shining through, there.

There are some TV shows where you learn the different director’s styles, and you know some episodes are going to be better than others because this one is good at the heavy drama, with all the close in shots or whatever it is that makes it all hit you right in the gut.

What I think Daniel is suggesting is that Kevin Smith doesn’t actually have much of a directing style. What he has is a writing style, one that people generally either love or hate, but which is definitely unique. And the only exposure you get to it is when he’s also directing.

So if Smith’s other outlets are basically using up all his personality, all his need to say something, what we’re probably not going to see much of are scripts, anymore. Maybe he can develop the technical skills to be an unnotable director, or figure out how to have a personality as a director?

Sun, Feb 28, 2010 1:28am

Whoah, you pretty much hit the nail on the head with the whole manufactured feel of so many films. And I’m curious as to those who like Kevin Smith’s writing skills are drawing their appreciation from: I don’t even find Kevin Smith’s writing to be interesting or clever, to be honest. I find his films to be pretty damn conformist, when it comes right down to it: Clerks 2, underneath the dick jokes, is a re-affirmation of the traditional American family structure in which the guys learn responsibility and own a business. Zack and Miri, without the shit jokes, is pretty much a run of the mill monogamous romance in which the porno serves as a conduit for Zack to finally show some ambition and a go-getter attitude. I think his weakness as a writer shines through most glaringly when he works in media that are less permissive towards his self-indulgent taste for the low-brow.

Mon, Mar 01, 2010 10:34pm

If I didn’t put my personality into my writing, I might as well be that boyfriend from the Sandra Bullock movie about drying out in rehab who told her that life was meaningless and then you die so you might as well eat,drink, and be merry.

On the other hand, a writer, or any artist, should not forget the need to communicate with the audience. They have to understand what you’re doing, even when you are challenging them, or again, the work is meaningless. Or at least communicationless, which I”m not sure is a word.