Malcolm Ingram is the Canadian director behind the likes of Small Town Gay Bar and Southern Pride — documentaries seeking to expose both the rot and the heart at the core of American society. He’s also a long-time friend of indie filmmaker Kevin Smith, and Ingram’s latest offering, Clerk, charts his buddy’s rise from Sundance darling to Hollywood’s most hated man to the present day, where Smith retains an impressive but far more niche fan base than ever before.
Loaded with fascinating behind-the-scenes moments and tell-all interviews with some of Smith’s nearest and dearest, Clerk paints the clearest picture yet of why the American filmmaker continues making movies despite being put through the wringer on numerous occasions. More importantly, Ingram’s heartfelt documentary proves once and for all why fans continue to flock to Smith every time he makes something new, however weird.
I recently caught up with Ingram, over the phone, to chat about Kevin Smith fandom, why the frequently derided filmmaker deserves his own documentary and much more.
Joey Keogh: It’s funny, I feel like I know your voice from Kevin’s impression of you on his many podcasts, but I’m just now realizing it’s not very accurate.
Malcolm Ingram: He’s trying to make me sound as buffoonish as possible [does a perfect impression of Smith’s impression].
JK: Yes! That’s exactly what it sounds like!
MI: Oh, I’ve heard it!
JK: Good, good. And I’m sure you’re offended?
MI: I’m past the point of being offended by anything Kevin does. It’s been… it’s a long relationship. It takes a lot more for him to offend me these days.
JK: Well, on that note, what was the inspiration behind Clerk, this sort of expansive, wide-ranging look at your friend’s life and career? ‘Cause it was quite a long time coming, as I understand it.
MI: Me and Kevin were at Sundance together, he was there with Yoga Hosers, and I was there just bumming around, and we saw a documentary about Richard Linklater. I was like “Kevin, I want to be yours.” And he laughed it off. Then there was talk of… they asked me to write a book about him, a book that finally came out and is really great, but I was like, I’m not really a book writer, I’d rather make a documentary. So finally, there was the big 25th anniversary coming up for Clerks and all that, so I really just sold Kevin on the idea of “Like, let’s look at your career up until now.” Hopefully, it’s just a mid-career thing, ‘cause it doesn’t tell the whole story.
JK: Did you feel like you were the only person who could tell this story accurately?
MI: Wow. I’ve never been asked that question… it would be very arrogant of me to be like “Of course, I am the only one!” So, I don’t want to be that guy. I think I’m the only person who could’ve made this movie. There’s nobody else who could’ve made this movie. Other movies could’ve been made about Kevin Smith, but nobody else could’ve made this movie. Is that fair, do you think?
JK: Yeah, I think that’s fair enough. Tell me, did you learn anything new about Kevin along the way while making Clerk?
MI: The thing that really surprised me and took me aback is how relevant he continues to be, and how much he’s been involved in this stuff. Talking to Stan Lee and Joe Quesada, and all these other incredibly important players, it’s really impressive what’s Kevin’s been involved in, and the people he’s been involved with, and his place in the pop culture zeitgeist. Making this documentary, talking to all these people, just reaffirmed, holy shit, Kevin is definitely worthy of a documentary.
JK: Would you say Clerk is aimed squarely at diehards, or are you interested in setting the story straight in a way too?
MI: I’m just trying to tell the story. I didn’t want to… there are a lot of easter eggs in the movie, so if you’re a Kevin Smith fan, you’re going to be happy. But you still want to have as large of an audience as possible. I took the fans into account, and I didn’t want to disappoint them, but I also didn’t want it to be so insider that nobody could just… I feel like you could sit down and watch this movie without having a real understanding of Kevin Smith, and I think we kind of lay it out enough that you don’t even really need to have seen all his films to understand it. There’s a lot of little things pointing to “Oh, he’s the guy who worked with Ben Affleck,” “Oh, he’s that guy, he’s that guy.”
JK: It’s funny, I’ve been a Kevin Smith fan my whole life, loved him forever, and I feel like I learned something new from Clerk. But after we watched it, my husband was like “I knew all that already.”
MI: Yeah, there are always going to be those people, the “I’ve seen it all already” people. It’s like all right, get your medal. You might have known some of these things already, but you’ve never heard them from this perspective before. Having someone like Joey [Lauren Adams] talk about it is really cool, having someone like Scott Mosier [Smith’s long-time producer] talk about it… I loved how much he opened up, and how he showed how that relationship developed over time, that was really important stuff to me. You can tell your husband he can go screw!
JK: Ha! I totally will. I also don’t believe him, at all.
MI: You tell him Malcolm says, “go screw!”
JK: Well, genuinely, I was crying by the end of Clerk. I went full Kevin Smith and just bawled.
MI: Isn’t it horrible that going full Kevin Smith is totally a thing now?
JK: To be fair to him, the emotion is always genuine and it’s not his fault he has that kind of reaction.
MI: He’s a very sensitive boy.
JK: You mentioned Mosier, of course, and Joey Lauren Adams, my namesake, but was there anyone who refused to take part in Clerk or who couldn’t take part for whatever reason? I did notice a couple people missing.
MI: Jason Lee’s the only one who said no.
JK: Really? ‘Cause I had him written down and then also Jeff Anderson. Those were the only two who were kind of conspicuous by their absence.
MI: Kevin and Jeff Anderson weren’t talking at the time, so I couldn’t get Jeff, and then Jason Lee has a personal problem with me… so he wouldn’t do it. Jason Lee wouldn’t do it because of me! Jason Lee and I have a very complicated relationship. I, one time, kind of attacked Scientology to him and he was a big Scientologist and that caused a big rupture in our relationship. I stand by what I said, but it caused a deep rupture, like, me and Jason Lee. I mean, Jason Lee was in my first film, and we used to be really, really tight. I’m the reason Jason Lee ended up coming back for Dogma because Kevin and Jason were having a big fight [at the time]. But, look, Jason Lee is a brilliant actor, and he’s also a very interesting, mercurial individual. But that’s about it — it was all for personal reasons.
JK: Right, all just drama.
MI: Which is fine! Look, you live a life, that shit happens.
JK: And to be fair, the amount of people who did take part in Clerk was impressive. I only noticed those two were missing ‘cause I’m a nerd.
MI: Jason Lee was one thing, but there was nobody who was desperately needed for the movie aside from Kevin, [Jason] Mewes, Mosier. That’s the movie, everything else is gravy. Those three guys — if you’re going to tell a Kevin Smith story, those are the people, and that was my attitude to it. There’s nobody beyond those three people that, if we didn’t get them, the movie would’ve been over. It would’ve been nice, ‘cause Jason Lee has a very distinct way of thinking, so it would’ve been interesting to have his viewpoint, but it just didn’t work out.
JK: What about you? Did you ever consider taking part? ‘Cause you’re also part of the story, and you do have these little off-camera asides at various moments in Clerk. Did you ever consider taking a bigger role in front of the camera too?
MI: You know what? My love of documentary filmmaking came from Michael Moore. I always loved his documentaries very, very much, and he was a guy who really understood how to involve himself in the story. And then Morgan Spurlock came along, and he ruined it for me. I don’t ever want to be in a documentary because I see how… I didn’t know how to do it without being cutesy, you know — “And I’m Malcolm Ingram!” If I’m doing my job right, the movie is my voice, and that’s what’s needed. I don’t have to shoehorn myself into the story because I’m the director… I’m telling the story. So, if I’m telling the story right, I’m not focused on putting myself physically in there. If I’m doing my job right, I’m all over the thing, and that’s more important than thrusting my face in there.
JK: What about Kevin himself; he discusses the Harvey Weinstein stuff, the heart attack — was there anything that was off limits for him for Clerk, that he said “I will not discuss this”?
MI: Kevin would talk about anything. Kevin doesn’t have a lot of secrets. Like, you can’t be Kevin Smith and have a ton of secrets ‘cause his life is just so out there, right? I know Kevin’s story, I know the whole story, and there’s nothing missing that would’ve shone a light on anything that was kind of… there were no massive revelations. There was no rock to uncover, and that was the whole thing going into the story. The closest would’ve been the Weinstein thing, but I’ve known Kevin through that entire period — we all knew that Harvey was a piece of shit. He was, he was a horrible man — there was a time when he was going to buy Small Town Gay Bar and I wasn’t interested because I didn’t want to work with Harvey Weinstein. But we didn’t know how bad it was. I don’t think many people knew how truly bad it was.
JK: I was impressed that it was in there, and that Kevin decided to tackle it. I didn’t know about him donating the money either [Smith pledged to donate any future residuals from his Weinstein-produced movies to nonprofit organization Women in Film, per The Hollywood Reporter].
MI: I honestly didn’t want Harvey Weinstein in there, because I felt putting him in the movie was going to be very complicated. You have to have context, you have to have sides, you have to talk about it properly. First, we agreed not to have it in there because, look, there are victims involved and to actually tell the story properly, you have to include their perspective. To me, putting it in there would’ve just ground the whole story down. Basically, what happened was Kevin insisted on it — we fought about it for a year, and then finally Kevin told me he had an idea. I said okay, I’ll shoot it, and then I told my editors if they could find a place to put it in, then put it in. I can’t take any credit for the Weinstein thing. Kevin shot it — I didn’t even ask any questions. I just said, “Okay go, say what you want” — he said his bit, and then I passed it over to my editor. My editor found a place for it, and it worked. But I was really apprehensive about trying to tell the Harvey Weinstein story within the bounds of this kind of puffy documentary, you know what I mean? There are serious moments, but the documentary is a very light, almost yearbook of Kevin’s life, and it’s just… I didn’t know how to do it properly, but ultimately my editors made it work.
JK: What do you hope people take away from Clerk, or what would you say you’re most proud of with this movie?
MI: I just hope people like it! Honestly, there were a lot of times when Kevin and I fought and stuff while making this movie, and in the end it’s like… Kevin’s work makes a lot of people happy, so I want people to watch it and feel like… look, it’s not always easy being a Kevin Smith fan. Kevin makes interesting decisions and often gets mass scorn as a result, and the fans have to go along with that, so it’s not always easy being a Kevin Smith fan. One of the things I’m proudest of is that any Kevin Smith fan can watch this movie and feel good about being a Kevin Smith fan. And that’s my goal. You want to know why I’m a Kevin Smith fan? Here, watch this movie. So, whenever anyone asks, “Why do you like Kevin Smith?” You can just be like “here’s why.”
JK: That’s actually a really nice way of looking at it. Very fitting.
MI: Ultimately, through a lot of bickering with Kevin, I had to examine what I wanted to do, and ultimately that’s what I wanted to do.
JK: On that note, what do you think keeps both Kevin and his fans coming back for more? ‘Cause, as you’ve said, he’s made some decisions along the way that didn’t go down too well, but he still has this massive following regardless.
MI: He’s genuine. Kevin’s the real deal. Kevin is an artist, and Kevin has failed like only an artist can. Like, Yoga Hosers is something else, you know what I mean? I think Yoga Hosers is just a brave, crazy failure. I think Yoga Hosers is one of Kevin’s rare failures, but, at the same time, it isn’t a $100 million failure. Yoga Hosers is a small movie, a very small indie, and if you’re going to fail somewhere, that’s the place to fail. The same guy who made Chasing Amy made Yoga Hosers, and the same mind made those movies. You have to be free to allow yourself to succeed or fail, and Kevin is an incredibly brave artist because he’ll take risks and sometimes they’re failures. But an incredible number of times… like, Kevin’s movies are original. I don’t care what anybody says. You can’t compare him to anybody else. Red State, Tusk, Dogma, Chasing Amy, Clerks — that motherfucker makes original content, and I think the viewers, hopefully, appreciate that. To see an artist grow — Kevin’s not boring. I’m the biggest Paul Thomas Anderson fan, but his new movie just seems like another variation of what Paul Thomas Anderson does. I know what it’s going to be. With Kevin, I don’t know what it’s going to be. And I love Paul Thomas Anderson, I love him to death, but Licorice Pizza, you know it’s going to be like Bad News Bears meets Boogie Nights, and that’s fine. But take something like Tusk and I had no idea that was coming.. and I know the guy. When I finally saw that movie, I was like “Jesus fucking WHAT?” That keeps things interesting, no? What do you think?
JK: Well, I think one of the great triumphs of Clerk is that it lays that idea out really explicitly. It’s only when you go through his back catalogue, one by one, that you realize how different they all are, and that’s so impressive.
MI: Right!? Even Zack and Miri Make a Porno, that’s such a watchable movie, that movie is so much fun. Superbad is one of my favorite, like, “I’m hungover and I’m going to lay on the couch and watch a movie” movies, and Zack and Miri is the same kind of vibe. It’s just got these great characters, it’s insanely well written and it’s really funny. And it’s dirty, but it’s got a big heart. And that’s just one of a bunch of Kevin’s movies. Anyway, that’s my take!
JK: I could honestly talk to you about this stuff forever, but I really should let you go. Congrats on Clerk, I really did love it, as a lifelong Kevin Smith fan, so well done.
MI: Thank you! And you tell your husband to go screw!
Clerk released digitally on November 23, 2021.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.