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Red State Of Mind - Part One

Posted on Friday December 10, 2010, 17:24 by James White in Empire States
Red State Of Mind - Part One

Empire attends Kevin Smith’s filmmaking Q&A series - Part One: David Klein

Kevin Smith, a man whose name has been synonymous with indie filmmaking for years, is entering what could be described as the next act of his career. After making movies funded by studios and chafing against the restrictions, he’s going back to basics, scraping up the money to make his latest, horror move Red State, on his own terms. And while his career and recognition factor meant he didn’t have to max out any credit cards this time, he’s still taking a big risk and ploughing a lot into this new endeavour.

At the same time, he has extended his seemingly boundless yen for talking about his work and himself, building a network of podcasts featuring the filmmaker and his friends chewing the cud on all manner of subjects. In less than a year, he has a podcast show running every day of the week for free online, a labour of love that appears to be slowly taking over from his passion for making movies, which reached its peak in the summer with him renting and redecorating an intimate, 50-seat theatre in Los Angeles where he can invite punters to come and watch the various chat-fests as a paying audience.

Merging these two strands of his life must’ve seemed like a no-brainer, and so it has come to pass - in November, Smith announced that he was kicking off Red State of the Union, a 10-week blend of film school, nostalgia trip and screening series that would focus on a different element of how he and his crew brought Red State to life every week.

As a Smith fan, I plunked down the $100 it cost to attend and am now taking my seat every Monday night to watch and, as planned, learn…

Though Smith had already run two nights focused on Red State, at the first of which he played the teaser and gotten audience feedback and the second talked to producer Jon Gordon about their shared experience with Harvey Weinstein and their struggles to get the cash together, the series formally kicked off with episode 3.

Aside from Scott Mosier and Jason Mewes, one name should stick out to Kevin Smith fans as an integral part of what was once known as the View Askew crew – Dave Klein. After meeting Smith (and, more specifically, Mosier) at film school, Klein was asked to be the cinematographer of Clerks, and went on to collaborate with the director on Mallrats and Chasing Amy. But then came Dogma, and, as Smith recalls, Harvey Weinstein refused to let him cast Joey Lauren Adams in the film or use Klein as director of photography. Sundance, that year, they both recalled, wasn’t that much fun.

While the decision didn’t hurt the pair’s friendship too seriously, they didn’t work together for almost a decade. After a period of little work, Klein settled into shooting TV shows and Indies, building up his experience. Heading into Clerks II, Smith stuck to the idea that he got to bring Klein back for the film, since the cinematographer had been so instrumental in the original, and that he'd accrued plenty of credits since then. After working together on that, Smith has sworn that he won't shoot anything without Klein ever again - and has maintained that through his stint directing the Reaper pilot, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Cop Out.

"When we got back together, we were still great friends, but we also brought 10 years of experience working with other people," says Klein. "There was something nice about having a shorthand," admits Smith. "And there was something nice about not working with a huge, famous cinematographer again, because you never want to suggest anything. They give you that look of, 'are you f*****g dumb? How many movies have you directed? Are you sure you're the Clerks guy?' So you don't ever want to bring anything else up for fear of looking like a dick in front of a true master of the craft."

On Red State, Klein had around five weeks of preparation. "It usually starts with talking to Kevin. We sat for five days and made a shot list, and not only does that give me a guide as to where we're going to go, but also gives me the tone of a scene, so even if we don't stick to that initial list, it really tells me how we should light it and the mood we should have. From that, we assemble a crew and decide all the equipment that you need."

Smith's inspirations for the look of the film included Half Nelson and Klein tried to zero in on what the director meant by that, locking in the idea that he wanted to shoot it handheld. "It was that, but also the way that it's lit and the feeling and the fact that it feels very real," says Klein. "The lighting in Red State is not as refined as it was on some of the bigger things we've done. You wanted it to look gritty but also I knew that we were crunched in terms of manpower, gear and the schedule. We didn't have a lot of time. That starts to shape the look of the movie, more so in creative terms, based on what the resources are."

After showing a clip from early in the film, Smith explained that the scene represents the last vestige of the types of movies he used to enjoy doing (lots of raunchy sex talk and joking between the likes of Kyle Gallner and Michael Angarano). "If you can divide Red State into three sections, because it's kind of a movie about the three things you're never supposed to discuss publicly - sex, religion and politics - the first, I wouldn't even call it the first third, but the first 17 minutes of the movie are about sex. The next hour or maybe 45 minutes, is about the religion, and the last third is pretty much about politics. So in terms of doing sex, it's the last chance that I get to do the type of humour that I was used to doing. And we play it more naturalistically, but it calls back to what I used to do. The movie's full of places where you think it's going somewhere and it heads that way, but then it goes left or just when you catch up to it, it goes right. It's twisty, but not in an M Night Shyamalan kind of a way, but a little twisty-turny."

Klein talked about the look of the scene, which is set in a car at night. "Adam, the first assistant director came to me with the idea of shooting it rear-projection, because to shoot practically at night takes a lot - you've got a car on a trailer, you're towing it, you're lighting it and every time you turn around, you loop on the road. It adds up to a lot of time. To make the schedule work, Adam suggested this. I was hesitant because usually you need a lot of space and resources we didn't really have. But we scraped it together and found a small space we turned into a stage and set up the space there and lit the car in a way that I think is interesting and doesn't look like a movie we've made before."

The pair drifted back to reminiscing about working on Clerks for a while, with Klein getting a big laugh with the revelation that he wasn't old enough to buy beer to celebrate the shoot wrapping.

Talking about collaborating with Smith, Klein pinpointed the big difference of working on one of Kevin's sets. "It's very laid back. You're appreciative of everyone who works with us and people see that and appreciate it. It's so relaxed, and we have a good time. But it was also because we're were doing a lot of s**t that we had never done before."

"That was the joy," agrees Smith. "The thrill of a new toy box, because we've never had call for it before. People have said the movie looks good and that it feels like we we've grown up, but I think we were always capable of it, I just don't think I felt like I ever needed it. I usually just had people talking to each other, so frenetic camerawork isn't called for. I got to a place where I was ready to hear more about the visual. We had so much fun."

"There was nobody looking over our back," says Klein. "There was no other audience that we had to make happy aside from ourselves, basically. And that's what made it fun."

For a chance to hear everything, point your browsers and your ears towards the Red State Of The Union podcast.

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