Maggie Gyllenhaal, photographed in the Post last Friday dining alfresco, can’t escape the attention. “Now that I’m pregnant, the paparazzi run around like crazy. And I never see them coming,” she complains. It’s even keeping her and dad-to-be Peter Sarsgaard from enjoying the weather in their neighborhood. “I went to Bar Pitti recently before I realized it was one of those spots, and I thought, It’s a beautiful day! I do not want to go inside, it’s not fair! Take my picture, I’m not doing anything interesting, I’m eating with my mom!” The couple isn’t expecting a bidding war for their baby pics, though. “I understand if you’re Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie,” she says. “We’re just not in any kind of position like that. Thank God.”
The Man with 50,000 Friends
How Kevin Smith accidentally invented the future of movie marketing.
By Ben Wasserstein
I’m not the guy that can be stalked,” says Kevin Smith, the Jersey auteur behind Clerks and now Clerks II. “Stalking is born from people—besides being fuckin’ insane—having an inability to get to the object of their affection. But me, you can always find me. If I’m not online, I’m at a college gig; if I’m not there, I’m at one of the two fuckin’ comic stores” he owns in Red Bank, New Jersey, and L.A. “I’m always around.” Smith’s availability to his followers is very trendy right now—well, as trendy as working at a comic-book store can be. In The Long Tail, the media-crystal-ball book of the moment, Chris Anderson argues that niches will supplant hits as the key sector of the 21st-century entertainment economy, pointing out that Netflix, Amazon.com, and iTunes earn more from the sum of their many-thousand low sellers than they do from blockbusters. The long-tail economy makes a passionate fan base more important to entertainers than ever: In the same way that the real money for rock stars has been in merchandise and concerts, a filmmaker’s fortune isn’t just dependent on ticket sales but on video-on-demand, online downloads, DVDs, and then special-edition DVDs; in short, on the ardor of his devotees. So, naturally, every with-it director is on MySpace—but Kevin Smith has them all beat by a mile. “He was so ahead of his time, because he was always communicating with his fans,” says Harvey Weinstein.
Smith’s is the great Horatio Alger story of nineties independent film. A New School and film-school dropout, he wrote the screenplay for Clerks while working at a Quick Stop in Leonardo, New Jersey. He shot in the store at night with $27,000 he raised in part by selling his comic-book collection. The grainy black-and-white comedy, with its vivid characterizations of foul-mouthed, sex- and Star Wars–obsessed go-nowheres, played at Sundance, was bought by Weinstein’s Miramax, and became a home-video sensation. Twelve years later, its sequel is opening on Friday after a triumphant Cannes midnight screening that garnered an eight-minute standing ovation. (I wouldn’t have believed it myself, but I saw the video on Smith’s blog.)
Clerks II is not the first extension of the franchise. In 2000, ABC broadcast two episodes of Clerks: The Animated Series, which Smith developed with former Seinfeld writer David Mandel. The original actors revived their roles, joined by Alec Baldwin as the Mr. Burns–style evil plutocrat Leonardo Leonardo, whose catchphrase was “Well played, clerks.” The six produced episodes eventually aired on Comedy Central and were released on DVD, which have sold well enough to merit rumors of a feature-length follow-up, tentatively titled Clerks: Sell Out.
After the disastrous Jersey Girl, an attempt to branch out from his usual fare, Smith is returning to the characters he made his name with, picking up the original’s early-twenties anti-heroes in their mid-thirties, as they stress about parenthood, marriage, breaking free from their McJobs, and that defiler of Star Wars, Jar Jar Binks. As in most of Smith’s films, the camerawork is basic and the vulgarity frequent. (The escalation from Clerks’ comparatively innocent discussions of oral sex to Clerks II’s “interspecies erotica” says something about the impossibility of competing with the Internet for gross-out gags.) If you don’t chuckle at or in some way admire the phrase “a huge fuckin’ nerd of Potsie-like proportions,” chances are you won’t be stalking Smith anytime soon. But his screenplays also weave in weightier themes, and Clerks II is ultimately about maturity and responsibility—to friends, to family, to yourself. That, and donkey sex.
Smith discovered the Internet “in late ’95, after Mallrats shit-tanked,” he recalls. “I just remember that screechy noise, and thinking, Holy shit, this is like WarGames!” Soon after, he hired the designer of a Clerks fan site to create one for his production company, View Askew. Smith became a constant presence on its message board, which “really does feel like a big family,” says My Name Is Earl star Jason Lee, who’s been in every Smith film since Mallrats. “As a result of what Kevin gives, the fans give it right back.” Today Smith presides over a Web empire encompassing his board (Smith’s approaching his 3,000th post), an online short-film festival, and more. He’s making an “in-theater” audio commentary to entice iPod-toting fans to see Clerks II a second time. And Smith’s films may be the most merchandised comedies since Ghostbusters. There was a one-off joke in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back about a drug-dealers union: A UNITED JERSEY BROTHERHOOD OF DEALERS card sells for $2. A DVD of his Q&A sessions was so popular that a follow-up with the supremely unlikely title An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder hits stores in November. There are shelves of action figures, even one of Smith himself—not Silent Bob, the pot dealer he plays. Just Kevin, standing around, doing nothing.
Smith’s newest addiction is MySpace: “I think it has a lot to do with growing up fat, ’cause you’re always trying to find acceptance and credibility. I’ve been on since March and I’m closing in on 50,000 friends. So I feel like, Wow, that’s kind of cool.” The Weinstein Co. hatched a plan to promote Clerks II by putting the names of the film’s first 10,000 MySpace friends in the credits. They thought the contest would go for weeks. They had the names in two hours.
Catfight on the ‘Runway’
He said, he said. Meow!
By Jada Yuan
Tensions ran high at Project Runway’s third-season launch party at Buddha Bar last Tuesday. Season-two finalist Daniel Vosovic was avoiding Runway “mentor” and Parsons’ fashion-design chief Timothy Gunn, who’d told the Chicago Tribune that Vosovic is a “terrible diva” and chastised him for turning down a job with Michael Kors. “That came completely out of left field, and some of it was just blatant lies,” Vosovic complained. “Michael Kors didn’t offer me a job.” Gunn says, “Michael portrays it differently. My impression was that Daniel wasn’t offered the job he wanted.” Vosovic said that he sent Gunn an e-mail saying, “I don’t know what I’ve done to you. I thought we were friends,” but Gunn says he never received it. Still, Vosovic said he had planned to approach Gunn at the party and say, “Hey, I’m around if you want to talk later,” but he didn’t. “The only time I saw Daniel at the party,” says Gunn, “was when I was sent into his red-carpet photo shoot to be with him and he gave me that ‘Die, scum, die!’ look.” (Vosovic e-mailed post-party to say they made up later.)
Don’t Look Now
Paul Giamatti on the pleasures of fearing the bogeyman.
By Emily Nussbaum
Paul Giamatti and I are sitting on a stoop near Washington Square Park when two sweet little girls ask him for an autograph, having recognized the actor from his appearance in Big Fat Liar.
“Yes, ma’am!” says Giamatti. “You got something to write on?”
The girls run to their mother and return with a makeshift autograph book—a lurid-looking softcover titled Vampirates. “Wow, look at that,” Giamatti says, laughing with approval, scribbling his name on the bottom of a page. “That’ll screw you up—that’s good.”
Suddenly, a bicycle swerves into our face—not another fan, it turns out, just a wild-eyed dude asking for change.
“I got nothing for you, man,” says Giamatti.
“Far out!” replies the bicycle guy in a friendly tone, and he wheels away.
“See there?” announces Giamatti as the little group disperses. “You just saw my demographic: strung-out guys and kids.”
There are a few basic points everyone hits when talking about Paul Giamatti. The first is that he is not conventionally handsome—the sort of actor whom writers feel free to describe as resembling, say, a manatee. The second is that he is very, very good at playing miserable men. Giamatti is best known for his two astonishing character turns, as the self-loathing, yearning autodidact Miles in Sideways and as the self-loathing, cranky autodidact Harvey Pekar in American Splendor. In each film, Giamatti managed a subtle trick: He was fantastically charismatic while also seeming utterly uncomfortable in his own skin.
He knows that a lot of people confuse him with his bookish characters, and even setting aside his bespectacled looks, it’s understandable. He comes from a fancy academic background: His father was A. Bartlett Giamatti, the beloved president of Yale and then commissioner of baseball, who died suddenly in 1989. Paul attended Choate Rosemary Hall and Yale Drama School, and he always planned to go into the theater, which is part of what drew him to New York—and Brooklyn, where he now lives—rather than Los Angeles. “I didn’t figure myself having much of a film or television career,” he says with a shrug. “So I came here. This is just what I was more comfortable with.”
In person, Giamatti is presentable and not at all manatee-ish. His hair is orange and he slumps a bit and his manner is affable; he’s even sexy, in the Brooklyn sense of the word, which is to say he seems comfortable in his own skin. He’s mild-mannered, too, about movie promotion, this time for Lady in the Water—the latest movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and the first without a twist ending. It’s the start of a flurry of upcoming Giamatti films: He gives voice to an exterminator in the animated The Ant Bully, and plays an inspector general in The Illusionist, an amazing screw-on head in a comic-book TV movie called Amazing Screw-On Head, and a distant dad in The Nanny Diaries. For any fan, it’s surprising and satisfying that he seems to have transformed from character actor to leading man without ever losing his independent-oddball options.
Giamatti’s son takes after his mother, who isn’t much into the horror movies. “He just flat-out doesn’t like it. I’ve got to back off on the scary books.”
The previews forLady in the Water make it look like some amalgam of The Ring and Splash, and they are almost criminally misleading. Instead of being a slasher flick about a mermaid who will strangle you in your sleep, Lady is a moody fairy tale, a meditation on storytelling based on bedtime stories that Shyamalan told his own children. It may be slightly too creepy to show to an actual child, but Giamatti’s performance is crucial, lending a human center to an intensely stylized experience. “Strange children will probably like it,” Giamatti suggests. “I mean, it’s a movie about children—in that sense, it’s a ‘children’s movie.’ ”
Giamatti has read a few bedtime stories himself, since he has a 5-year-old son, Sam, with his wife, Elizabeth, a writer and producer. “Do you ever make up stories for your son?” I ask him. “Yeah, yeah—he gets kind of tired of them. I get more into them than he is. He always wants me to use Superman and Aquaman and, you know, Tintin. And I have a hard time with that! I can’t come up with anything good.”
Growing up, Giamatti had tastes a bit more ghoulish than Sam’s—more in the Vampirates camp. He ticks off his favorites: “Anything creepy—the old Universal horror movies, Creepy and Eerie magazines, Tales From the Crypt.”
He waves his arms in excitement describing the famous Twilight Zone episode in which Burgess Meredith, a bookish loner, delights in being the last man on Earth until he breaks his glasses. “I was probably 5 when I saw that. That’s such a brutal thing. There’s no reason why this man has to be so brutally punished. And it was just seared into my brain.”