#103. A Conversation with Scott Mosier
Jason Anders: Since you spend so much time talking on Smodcast, do you do a lot of interviews anymore?
Scott Mosier: I don't do a lot of interviews... it's not me hiding and refusing people, I just don't get a lot of interview requests. I'm not out there searching for them either. It's not really connected to the fact talk so much that I don't think I have to do it, I'm just not really on the hunt to do it.
JA: So what is it like to be essentially the first rock-star podcasters, selling out Hard Rock Live with cheering crowds who come out just to hear your banter?
SM: I guess that is the "rock star" part, but everything else about it doesn't feel that way. If you followed me around with a camera there would be no groupies, crazy sex, drugs, or the rest of that stuff. I still get a little bit anxious to do the actual shows, it's not my natural state of being to be in front of a group of people. It's intoxicating when the crowds are excited, like in Orlando and Pittsburg, you just get this high because everyone in the audience is having fun. You feel like it's an event, and everyone is there to have a good time. I love it.
JA: Did you ever anticipate it catching on or doing live shows like this when you recorded your first episode?
SM: No. I think my expectation when we started doing the podcast was that it would result in more podcasts. My brain never goes towards standing in front of a group of people, that's never my instinctual reaction. It's usually the opposite, like "can we move this into a smaller closet?"
JA: Whatever happened to the background music you used to have? Was it a legal or creative decision to take it out?
SM: At the beginning we questioned whether or not it was too dry to just talk, which I guess at this point the answer is no. I think that Ken adding the music was a fun edition, but for legal reasons now that we're on Sirius XM and all these other venues, if it's just our voices we can claim it as ours.
JA: Let's jump all the way back to when you were just starting out, even before Clerks, and even before going to film school- What originally inspired you to go into filmmaking?
SM: Oh wow, going way back when... I haven't thought about it in a long time. When I was a kid, I was watching Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but at that point I was more into the movie as a film-goer and buying the toys. I wanted to be the Jedi, as opposed to making the movie about the Jedi. At a certain point that transition happened, and I guess it's when you become aware of the process, and once you become aware of the process, it either intrigues you or it doesn't. For a lot of people I don't think the process intrigues them at all, they don't go to the movies for that. They go to escape and sort of stay in that place.
A lot of my friends and family are the same way. I don't have a definitive moment for my transition when I was like "I'm gonna be a filmmaker!" I was probably around fifteen when the idea started coming into my head. By the time I turned eighteen I had pretty much decided that I wanted to get into film or animation. I was either going to go to film school or art school. My grades were terrible out of high school, my SATs were awful, so it wasn't like me going "Okay, who wants Scott Mosier?"... nobody wanted Scott Mosier. I found this one little JT down in California while I was living in Vancouver that had a super small film program, and I ended up going there because it was cheap and I could try and get my grades up so that I could go to a bigger school. That didn't happen.
I would just watch movies, read books on film, get bad grades, and skip school... I was not a good student. I was in Los Angeles for about two years and ended up working at a production company for six months... which is fine, but it really didn't excite me that much. I didn't really know what I was going to do, and then I found a film school in Vancouver. My parents were still there, so I could go for ten months and learn the process- Which is what I ended up doing, and that's where I met Kevin Smith and David Klein.
I was not the kid who made short films growing up. It wasn't the Spielberg route, where by the time I was twelve I had shot movies. I was always into it, but not applying it. I also didn't really have friends who were into it in the same way, there was no collective sense of "hey let's go do this thing...", I also never did any practical research on it, I just read and watched movies. In college I watched a ton. It sounds terrible, but by the end of it I just stopped going to class and would watch four or five movies a day. I was just watching as much as I could, I would see anything. I was living around UCLA, and there were four or five theaters you could just walk to, and I'd watch anything- I even saw My Girl with Macaulay Culkin and Where the Boys Are with Bette Midler. I'd be in the theater all day long.
When I went to Vancouver and met Kevin, he was ready to make a movie. I had gone to school to become a writer/ director, that was my path. Without having made any short films I didn't have the sense of what it all meant, so it was more about doing this abstract idea. Of course I wanted to be a writer/ director, that's what everyone wants to do. Kevin had been writing for so long that he knew he wanted to be a writer, he had gone through that experience. It was the same with David Klein who had been shooting photos and stuff, so when the time came he knew what he wanted to do. When the time came I hadn't done any writing or shooting. I sort of slipped into producing, I learned everything I could about every single aspect about making films... that broad education made it easier to become the producer of Clerks, because I had studied what all the aspects were... whether I was good at them or not didn't matter, because I was the one who had studied all sides of it. That was a very long answer.
JA: Did you ever have other careers in mind when you were younger?
SM: I can't remember as a kid if I ever wanted to definitively be a fireman or anything. I think when I was young I had an aspiration to play soccer, but it wasn't that definitive because it wasn't what I really wanted to do. I was really into comic books and movies, and very interested in one of those two things. I either wanted to become a comic book artist or go make movies. I wasn't working that hard at either one, I was just writing and drawing and shit.
I remember jogging around UCLA and decided that I should commit to one or the other, I either needed to get a portfolio together or go to a film school. I used to jog around the outside of the school and decided to cut through the middle where you run up these big steps... they were in that movie Gotcha! with Anthony Edwards. Anyways. I was running up these steps and at the very top there's this bright light, and when my eyes focused I realized they were shooting this short film. That literally is why I went to film school. For somebody who doesn't believe in God or any of the rest of that stuff, it's not that I thought it was a sign, I just wasn't leaning either way. I loved doing both things, and it just became a way to decide. Within a month I had packed up my shit, drove all the way back home, and started school.
When I got out of film school, animation was in my head because it was the blend of the two. I remember dropping off a resume to a small animation studio in Vancouver to be an intern. I left for New Jersey and made Clerks after that.
JA: Were there specific animation directors, movies, or cartoon shorts that got you interested in that side?
SM: I grew up in the world of Saturday morning cartoons, I watched a bunch and it just feels like a blur. It kind of transferred into comic books when I got a little bit older because I still loved the art, but the stories of the Saturday morning cartoons just got boring. I graduated high school in 1989, which was the beginning of the resurgence of Disney animation, right around the time that The Little Mermaid was happening. I remember seeing that movie in a class and writing a paper on it. I went to all the new Disney movies that were coming out at that time. You probably know more about the history of animation than I do. Going out to apply at animation studios back then was completely different than it is today.
JA: Did you have any "hopeless" moments when you first started out making movies, or were you able to maintain staying positive about it?
SM: Because we were so young when we made Clerks we had expectations of what could happen... but if they're too high, most disappointment comes from not reaching the expectations you set upon yourself. I don't think our expectations were so enormous that we could get let down on that first movie. While making the movie there was nothing to put it up against, it was just us doing it. There was no one there to say, "What the f**k are you guys doing? This is never going to work." We were living in our own little bubble. We stayed very present and just made that movie. No one sat down to plan out the next ten years of our careers. If you do that, then everything has to live up against it, and any time that you veer away from your destiny you'll get disappointed. So I don't think there were expectations, but there was hope and desire. We didn't expect anything to happen, but we wanted things to happen. We were looking at what happened to Richard Linklater with Slacker, but our expectations were in check.
When we screened it for the first time and it was a disaster, it wasn't about "Oh f**k, our whole careers are in the toilet", because we didn't have careers. There was no career to speak of. We had gone to other screenings of other people's movies at the IFFM, and we grew these expectations of having a good audience at our screening. None of that happened. We left the screening like "oh f**k." Kevin's response was like "I've got all this debt", you know? Not sitting there going, "My next five movies I had planned out have just gone up in smoke." I remember thinking that maybe all that hope and desire wasn't going to come to fruition on this one, and if that's the case then I'm broke and in debt, and what do I do now?
All of the sudden these phone calls started coming in, and the film sort of took over. It started getting passed around to people and then went to Sundance... it was one of those rare moments where everything exceeded our expectations. It's really a lesson in trying to not have expectations, and just enjoy everything that you're doing. Those times in life where things exceed your expectations are rare, and if you don't have them it'll happen a lot more.
I think there was a sense for a long time, until Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, where there was a feeling that it could all end. Our luck is going to run out. Starting out you feel like an outsider without any experience, but as soon as it didn't feel foreign and intimidating to me it felt like work. As soon as I hit that equilibrium I realized I was probably in for the long haul, and nobody is going to come and take it away. That internal feeling of "I don't know what the f**k I'm doing" and somebody's gonna come in and say "Get the f**k out of here. You don't belong here. You don't know what the f**k you're doing"... that internal monologue went away when I stopped stressing about every little thing and it all balanced out. I didn't know everything, but I had enough knowledge. I had a lot of irrational anxiety that came from learning on the job. Once I'd had enough experience, and had done three or four first days of shooting, then it just went away. I sort of leveled out.
JA: So where do you feel you're at now with writing your script and stepping out of your comfort zone of working with Kevin?
SM: I have definitely stepped out of my comfort zone. It was an itch that I had when I went to school, and I wrote a couple of scripts when I was in college that do not exist... and that's good. I don't know where they are, I don't think anybody has them. They were not good. I wasn't a writer at the time, and I wasn't a filmmaker, so it was all sort of just practice. I got to the point where I can't just sit around and think about it anymore, there comes a point where you just have to do it. If you're gonna do it, you have to commit to it. I had succeeded as a producer, but I had put a lot of hours in. I did not just work a couple hours a week, I worked a lot. I worked a shit-ton. I completely immersed myself in doing that, and learning every aspect of what this person does and what that person does. When I got around to Zack and Miri Make a Porno, I had these ideas I wanted to explore and I hadn't really sat down to write them. I was like, if I don't stop doing what I'm doing and assert the same kind of attitude or put in the same kind of hours, I'm never going to do it... and I'm never going to see whether or not it's something I can do.
When people look at Kevin, they say "oh, he wrote Clerks. That's amazing!" But it's not like he never wrote a word, and then wrote Clerks, you know? That's not what happened. People who never write a word and then start writing, it's just not that simple to be good at it. He had been writing for forever, since he was a kid. By the time he wrote his script he had hours and hours and hours of developing himself as a writer, and developing his voice and all these things. I'm not saying this to take away from him, I'm saying that he worked his ass off while kids like me were running around playing soccer and trying to get laid... I mean, he was trying to get laid too... he was also putting in the time. He was dedicating himself to all this stuff.
I'm a little bit in that place now. All of my experience in making movies and being an editor... even the podcasting stuff, helped me to become a better writer. I can use that experience as a really good foundation for starting to write. Being around a great writer for sixteen years, and having edited so much, I've spent a lot of time figuring out how to tell stories. I've read a ton of scripts and given a ton of notes, so it's like your mind is already working that way. Not just Kevin's scripts, but tons more. Awful scripts that no one's ever heard of or seen. It still makes your mind focus on giving that person notes, so how would this be a good story in my estimation? It's like working out and training your brain... like here's two badminton players and a donkey, and how can you make that into something that's watchable? Sitting there focusing on how to make that a better story just sort of gave me a foundation to start.
I'm still in the process and try to work every day. Trying to keep writing, knowing that the experience is part of the process. Knowing that you have something pretty good, but you can write something better, so I should. Not getting too fixated on something that's pretty good and a learning experience. Now I can spend the next year turning that into something better, or just start from scratch... applying everything that I've learned, and put in the new ideas.
JA: I think what is so cool about Smodcast preparing you to write is that it has also been a fuel to many other fires, including my own as I write... as well as an inspiration to who knows how many others out there interested in storytelling and filmmaking.
SM: From a writing standpoint you're forced to tell a story of "hey I went to go buy groceries"... how do you turn that into an actual story, as opposed to me just saying that I drove there, got out of the car, and went in there. It forces your brain into figuring out how to make that an actual story that people might find compelling. To me, that's a lot of what it means to write. It's not about telling it exactly as it happened, and I'm not saying you lie, but how do you use your language to turn it into something that's more compelling. Not just the standard reporting of what happened. Sitting around trying to tell stories or jokes, it's that aspect of doing the podcast, or trying to make Kevin laugh... it's like telling your brain to do something new. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
It all feels like exercise, and not in a bad way. But by the end of it I think there's this residual benefit to it that you're maybe not intentionally thinking about, but it's coming through. It's also getting used to the idea of just throwing it out there. On stage it is even more so, where you throw something out and it's either going to work or it's going to burn, and no one's going to laugh. You reach the point where when it crashes and burns that you just go to the next thing. It reduces the sense of internalizing things and thinking "should I say this? Or this?" You get more loose with your ideas where you just throw them out there to be pissed on.
One of the hurdles I felt early on was always wanting to present your best side. You want to present the perfect idea. That's way too precious, and you start that process and it's fear of rejection that makes it hard. You want that validation. Validation makes it easy to keep going, but rejection makes you think "what do I do now?" You have to get past that point. You just have to be able to throw it out there, and know that some people are going to like it and some people won't. They'll say it sucks. What you gain in the long run is that it keeps your mind churning. If you internalize everything and only try and cherry-pick what you're gonna say, you're going to miss out. You're going to get too precious about it. Throw it out to your friends, or anybody, but don't hold onto it and protect it and wait for the perfect moment. Especially in this business... you may sit there and go "I have the best idea ever", and there are most likely eight scripts out there that are just like it.
I know people that will spend two years writing a script, and I have to say there are four movies out there so close to it that no one is going to do it. It's like you've isolated yourself, and now you've come out and the world is supposed to be so excited, but the world has been going on for the last two years, and there's thousands of people who are just throwing ideas at the wall all day long. You have to learn to compete in that environment.
JA: To close out the conversation, what advice do you have for someone who has a script that they want to get out there and is just now getting started?
SM: Well as far as how to sell it, get an agent, and all that stuff... honestly it's very hard for me to give that advice because at the particular stage I'm at right now, I've been in the business for seventeen years... so I could tell you "hey, you should go produce for Kevin Smith for seventeen years." It's hard for me to say what you should do starting from ground zero.
The one thing I'll say is to think about reality. You're sitting at home writing a script, no one gives a shit. I don't mean that in a mean way, but no one gives a shit. When I hear people say "I've been watching movies and R-rated comedies" and they're speculating on what they should do here and there, or they say "I don't know, I think the vampire thing is over." They are trying to make a decision on what to write based on making it strategic. Making the decision to write a script based on what's hot. Look, no one gives a shit. You can write whatever you want. And right now, you should write whatever you want because you'll probably write a better script. It's just a fact, and why not have fun? Why burn yourself down?
All that strategy to me is like... look, if it was as simple as that, where everybody just goes and watches some movies and reads the trades and is just like "you know what? I know what it is! I'll write a vampire/ werewolf comedy." If it was as simple as that to succeed, then everyone would just be doing that. The only thing that you have going for you right now is the fact that no one gives a shit. That is kind of in your favor. You are you, and only you can be you. Write something that excites you. You take that element away... your lack of experience needs to be propped up by something else. Your lack of experience in writing is not going to be propped up because you read Variety, or that you've analyzed the industry and have decided what they need right now. The only thing you can prop it up with is that you're excited. Your own excitement is all you really have.
You have nothing to lose. Write what you want, write what excites you. Don't try and figure out what you "should" do. If you write something that manages to get into the hands of certain people, and it gets out here and somebody makes it into a movie or doesn't make it into a movie, then your life may become about "not" writing what you want to. It's going to be about writing what people are paying you to do. Now's the time to write what you want to. Where to go from there is a very tough question, because there's so many answers. If you take a thousand people who have sold scripts, they've all approached it from a different angle. The truth is that if you work hard and you write scripts... the only thing I can say is that if you have any connection to anybody who has any connection to anybody who has any connection to anybody... if you do a great job, there's a good chance that somebody in the pipeline of how this shit gets made reads it, you could get somewhere.
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