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Filmmaker Kevin Smith: Podcasting saved my career

Doug Gross, CNN
"Clerks" and "Mallrats" creator Kevin Smith said he'd lost the passion for filmmaking when he started his weekly podcast.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kevin Smith: After I lost my passion for film, podcasting saved my career
  • "Clerks," "Dogma" creator speaks at the South by Southwest festival
  • Smith says his "SModcast" started as a personal project, not a business venture
  • Soon, though, advertising, subscriptions and live tours followed

Austin, Texas (CNN) -- Podcasting saved Kevin Smith's career.

So said the filmmaker (and you can throw a few slashes after that title these days) at the South by Southwest festival here on Monday during a panel called, appropriately, "The Business of Kevin Smith."

"I had no idea, but that would become the f---ing center of everything I'm doing now," said Smith, who broke into moves after making 1994's indie hit "Clerks" for roughly $25,000.

"The ultimate freedom that allowed me to walk away from the 'heroin' [money] of the movie business -- what gave me the strength to walk away -- was [expletive] podcasting."

Smith said he was working on "Zach and Miri Make a Porno," which he wrote and directed, when he realized the passion that led him to make movies like "Dogma" and "Chasing Amy" was gone.

"For a while I became a filmmaker and for a while a professional director," he said. "But I really felt like I'm an artist."

Smith said he decided to take advantage of his access to celebrities and gift of gab to launch a new project. And he deployed a technique he said has always served him well: do what you love and what you're good at, then figure out how to make money doing it.

And that led to "SModcast," a weekly podcast that he and friend/co-producer Scott Mosier launched in 2007 and do to this day.

It was free. But as its online audience grew, the opportunities to make money arose.

"People would tweet left and right: 'You put out so many free podcasts; how can I pay it back?' " said Smith, who has more than 2 million followers on Twitter. "I was like, 'Go buy a T-shirt' and they were like, 'Cool.' "

Then came paid advertising. (The first sponsor notoriously being adult product Fleshlight). Then a paid version of the podcast, "SModcost," which contains bonus features but no ads.

Then he and Mosier took the show on the road, selling out venues and selling merchandise along the way. Smith now heads up a SModcast network of funny and sometimes raunchy Internet radio shows.

In a way, the podcasting model is a logical extension for Smith, who took to the Internet early.

In the mid-'90s, a friend told him he had to go see a website someone had created for "Clerks." Smith had to go to an Internet café to view it. And as he admitted Monday, he wasn't exactly Web savvy.

"I was like Scotty in 'Star Trek,' " he said. "I was like, 'Computer! Take me to 'Clerks'!"

Ming Chen, who now appears on Smith's reality show "Comic Book Men," had created the site. Smith quickly hired him to make an official one for his production company, View Askew. Before long, it had a message board with more than 200,000 registered users -- a huge number on the Internet of the '90s -- and it established Smith as one of the first filmmakers with a major online presence.

"In terms of filmmakers, it was me and ("Lord of the Rings" director) Peter Jackson on the Web," he said. Then, one day, he said 'I'm going to get offline and go make classics' and I was like, 'I'll stay here.' "

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