A few years ago when Kevin Smith announced a retirement that he never quite followed through on, he did it on his own terms. He promised Hit Somebody and Clerks III (neither of which have yet materialized) and that afterwards, he would devote himself primarily to his podcast network.
That podcast network ended up being a nice creative outlet for Smith (theoretically, anyway) and from it — and his partnership with Scott Mosier — came Tusk, a $3 million film that Smith shot in roughly two weeks, starring Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, and Johnny Depp, who I understand worked for free. Tusk was the brainchild of the podcast, having grown out of a hoax newspaper ad, and the podcast conversation about it.
The movie itself, unfortunately, was not very good. Nevertheless, on the strength of Kevin Smith and his very sizable following (and Johnny Depp’s pseudonymous appearance), the film opened on 600 screens. With 600 screens, Johnny Depp, a built-in audience, and only a $3 million budget (and virtually no marketing costs), how could Tusk lose?
I don’t know, but it did. The weekend estimates are in, and Tusk will open with less than $1 million (or about $885,000).
It doesn’t mean that Tusk can’t be profitable, of course. If it ends its run at $1.2 million, once you add foreign distribution, DVD and iTunes sales, plus licensing to streaming outfits like Netflix, Tusk will probably not lose its distributor, A24, very much money, if any at all. Red State, after all, was a $4 million film that made only $1 million at the box office, and Smith was given the greenlight to make another movie, so Red State must have been profitable for someone (on the other hand, the widest Red State ever went was 5 screens at a time).
The bigger problem is that there’s two more films as part of Smith’s True North trilogy, one of which — Yoga Hosers — has already been 75 percent shot. We know from Tusk that — even though Depp will return, and it will star Depp’s daughter and Kevin Smith’s daughter (both of whom were in Tusk) — Yoga Hosers is probably not a great bet at this point, and the third movie in the trilogy, Moose Jaws, has to be basically off the table at this point, right?
Hell, if Kevin Smith can’t open a movie with more than a $1 million on 600 screens, what does that mean for Clerks III? Or Anti-Claus, another horror movie he has plans to direct? Will indie studios continue to give him $2 or $3 million budgets, knowing that breaking even is a risk? How many favors can Smith continue to call in to get guys like Depp in his films? Or even Justin Long?
If he continues to get high and make largely unfocused films like Tusk, will anyone finance his projects? After voluntarily announcing his retirement from filmmaking a couple of years ago, will Kevin Smith be forced into it?
I hope not. I love the guy, warts and all. I love the guy’s ambition. His salesmanship. His storytelling ability. His sense of humor, and his affection for his fans. I hope he puts down the bong. I hope he gets back to what he does best (which is not horror films). I hope he gets back to writing about relationships and people and not about fucking walruses, and I hope he can do it in a focused, funny, and heartfelt manner.
Hopefully, Tusk is not a death knell to his filmmaking career, but a necessary wake-up call.