Sometimes it’s interesting to learn about the limits of a creative person’s power, even over their own creations. We all know that George Lucas doesn’t own Star Wars anymore, for example, and technically, Disney can make whatever product they want with that name on it and never have to even consult with Lucas himself. That seems fine with Lucas, although when pressed in interviews, he does still appear to be in the process of disengaging from Star Wars. It’s hardly an equal comparison, but Kevin Smith has recently run up against similar issues in his efforts to make sequels to his early calling-card films Clerks (1993) and Mallrats (1995).
Those of us who follow Smith’s podcasts have been aware for some time that Smith had completed a script for Clerks III. An episode of Smodcast from October of 2014 with Jeff Anderson (who plays Randall) found Smith and his star in warm spirits, both on-board with the new film and looking forward to making it. Careful not to spoil the story, they reveal that Clerks III would be quite different from the first two Clerks films, much more serious and grown-up, the “Empire Strikes Back of the Clerks world,” as Anderson describes it. Just last week, however, Smith broke the sad news that Clerks III will not be made. His latest Smodcast episode, along with his posts on Facebook and Instagram, detail some of the process of the film’s unravelling.
Clerks III is not, to put it mildly, an easy project to get off the ground. The film has a niche market and limited appeal, and the rights to Clerks are still owned by the Weinstein brothers, one of whom (Harvey) has completely severed ties with Smith, personally and professionally. Then, there’s the small matter of raising the money for a film from the director of Tusk and Yoga Hosers, two films that haven’t exactly been hits at the box office or with critics. But, amazingly, some eight million dollars were raised for Clerks III and the Weinsteins gave the project their blessing. Locations had been scouted in Philadelphia, many of the crew who had just finished working on Creed would work on Clerks, and the producers were just about to open an office in the city for pre-production, when one of the “four principals” in the franchise pulled out. The four essential elements for a Clerks film are Kevin Smith (of course), Jason Mewes as Jay, Brian O’Halloran as Dante and Jeff Anderson as Randall. While Smith (and, indeed, no one else close to the process) has specifically mentioned it, the holdout was, in all probability, Anderson. Jeff Anderson was always the reluctant party in Clerks. Not a trained actor, nor someone who ever had an interest in being one, he almost pulled out of the original film just before shooting due to a lack of confidence. Anderson was also a holdout on 2006’s Clerks II, but had a wonderful time making the sequel. But issues about non-payment of royalties from Miramax, which dragged on in and out of court for years, soured the water somewhat for Anderson and others involved in Clerks II. We don’t know the reason why Anderson pulled out at the last minute, and Smith doesn’t specify (except to say that having the project collapse “sucked”), but we can speculate that it was probably a combination of professional insecurity and legal disputes. The end result is the same: Clerks III will not be made.
Smith has also been very open about his recent efforts to make a sequel to his 1995 sophomore effort, Mallrats. Inspired by an idea from the original producer, the late Jim Jacks, Mallrats 2 can be summed up as “Die Hard in a mall”. The premise was that Brodie (Jason Lee) is staging a comic-con at the local mall, and the mall is taken over by a group of terrorists, resulting in Brodie’s adventures, along with Jay and Silent Bob, to defeat the villains and free the kidnapped comics fans. All of the principal actors, with the exception of Ben Affleck, had agreed to return, including Stan Lee, and Smith had even managed to get the consent of Universal studios, who owned the property, to develop the idea. Eventually turned down as a film, Smith was encouraged by Universal to re-imagine Mallrats 2 as a TV series. Smith claims he pitched the show to six different content distributors (yes, including Netflix) and was turned down by all of them. The pitches themselves were interesting, as initially every one of the studio executives, many of whom had seen Mallrats as College students, expressed their love for the film, but when push came to shove, they always had to decline to finance the series. Mallrats 2 was officially dead.
Trying to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, Smith has decided to move ahead with the only project possible, using his classic characters, Jay and Silent Bob: Reboot. Since Smith owns the characters, no studio needs to be involved, and Jason Mewes is emphatically on-board. The story itself will be a meta-reference to the popularity of reboots, as Jay and Silent Bob will once again have to hit the road to go to Hollywood and stop the reboot of Bluntman and Chronic, now titled Bluntman V Chronic, and will make many points about superhero movies and popular culture. Barring any disaster, such as Mewes breaking his years-long sobriety, the film will shoot this summer.
Some of the failed projects will find their way into Reboot, such as the opening sequence of Clerks III, which involved Jay and Silent Bob. But much of the story will probably be very similar to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back from 2001: episodic adventures of these two vagrant stoners on the road. But the loss of Clerks III seems the real tragedy here. While few plot details have surfaced, the script itself had been handed around to enough potential crew members to produce some promising buzz. The reaction to Smith’s story was never less than positive. It could very well have been his masterpiece. And now all that work will have to be discarded. Smith is very magnanimous in public and hasn’t even named Anderson as the holdout party, but it must have been a crushing blow. Our consolation prize, the Reboot film, will probably be fun, but Smith fans have always wanted him to move into more adult territory, but do so in a way that doesn’t descend into empty sentiment (Jersey Girl) or follow his own peculiar obsessions into off-putting and strange places (Tusk). The loss of Clerks III is one that should be mourned.