Nobody can dispute the impact the film CLERKS had on indie filmmaking, and filmmaking in general, when it was released in 1994 (the UK had to wait until the following year). Writer/director/actor/editor/producer Kevin Smith, alongside his buddy Scott Mosier, created a piece of work that was simply about everyday life working in a convenience store. Its simplicity was its brilliance.
Whether you had worked in a store or just went to one regularly you could recognise at least two of the characters in the film from their real-life counterparts of your local store. CLERKS was a snapshot of everyday life that everybody could relate to, especially the nerds and the disaffected. Indeed, the film was nerdy to its core: it was okay to be a grown-up (kind of) and still be talking about STAR WARS. It was okay to talk about sex, it was okay to talk about drug addiction, it was okay to do a stupid job just so you could go and do nerdy things like play hockey or watch videos or just hang out with your mates. It was one of the few films in the ’90s that said it was okay to not know what you are meant to do, or how to act like an adult. In that regard, CLERKS broke the mould and was a pioneer of ’90s movie making.
Twenty-five years later and CLERKS is still a pioneer. It is still talked out by fans and filmmakers. It is still talked about by those who were involved and, at May’s MCM Comic Con London event, four of the original cast – Jason Mewes, Brian O’Halloran, Marilyn Ghigliotti and Scott Schiaffo – took to the stage and discussed its making of.
Here are some of the best bits from the CLERKS 25th Anniversary Panel:
O’Halloran: “If you are going to talk about the wonderful writing that Kevin does, the timeless one-liners that we all get yelled at, if people are yelling at me or asking me ‘Are you even supposed to be here today?’ then I’m golden. Marilyn has to put up with ‘Try not to suck any dick on the way through the parking lot’. I’m happy with my catchphrase. Jason has ‘snoogins’. I have ‘I’m not even supposed to be here today’. Scott has ‘How long have you been smoking cigarettes?’ and Marilyn has ‘try not to suck any dicks on the way through the parking lot’. So, I’m good. But imagine a stranger screaming that at her [Marilyn], and you’re not a fan of the movies, and you hear some dud screaming at a woman ‘Hey, try not to suck any dicks on the way through the parking lot’ You’d be like ‘You go apologise to that woman right now’.”
Mewes: “In CLERKS, that is exactly how I acted when he first met me. The character changed as my real life changed. Kevin did really well keeping “Jay”, Jay. You can see in the movies how Jay changed.
Schiaffo: “There is a lot of speculation [about the Chewlie’s gum guy putting gum in the shutter’s locks], but if he had had jammed the locks then he could not have got in [to the store] to do his schpeel. It doesn’t make sense that he would do that. “
O’Halloran: “It is the very first film, so what was written was said. Kevin would note on delivery. With Jay, he would give him the essence of what he wanted to get out of him. Then Jay would be Jay and just roll with it.
Mewes: “I was really nervous on the first CLERKS .”
O’Halloran: “Well, we couldn’t be around you because you were so nervous. So, Scott would turn the camera on and then we would all have to walk into the store to stay out of your sight. Then he would call ‘cut’ and then we would all walk out of the store again. So, we didn’t know what he was doing at any point in time until we saw it in the film.”
Mewes: “The next time you watch CLERKS and the scene where I go ‘Olaf, sing Berserker. Girls think it’s sexy’ and he does his thing. It was supposed to cut back to us. But you’ll notice there is an insert of our feet. It is so weird because it goes from Olaf to mine and Kevin’s feet. It is because he couldn’t find a good shot of me saying ‘Olaf, sing Berserker’ because I was nervous all the time. Then there were a few times that I wasted.”
O’Halloran: “Do you remember the time Jeff and Lisa went and got you from a party? They took you from a party and you were three sheets to the win but you still showed up and we filmed you doing something and you were great. You probably don’t remember that but you were great.”
O’Halloran: “I didn’t think at the time we were making it, because it was so independent, that… the best I could have hoped for was to get a VHS copy and show it to my friends. Thank God people saw it and it resonated. I think it resonates because everyone has been to a shop. Either you’ve worked in a shitty shop or you’ve been to a store where you’ve been treated like shit. Kevin’s writing and being to successful with the ViewAskew Universe and characters like Jay and Silent Bob and people like T.S. & Brody and all these great characters coming together.
Ghigliotti: “Kevin just has a way of expressing himself that I admire so much. Brian and I have theatre history before CLERKS .”
Mewes: “There are no memories [of making CLERKS ] because I was all fucked up. I was very nervous when I was sober but mainly very drunk. Kevin tells this story, and I don’t remember it, where there is this scene where an older gentleman is in the store, he is going through the whole construction of the Death Star, and I was in the back waiting for my turn and he kept fucking up his dialogue. He had to keep starting again. Eventually, I said, ‘C’MON ALREADY! DON’T YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING?’ I don’t remember any of that though.”
O’Halloran: “I was there. What was funny about it was the guy kept messing up this simple line and Jay keeps saying ‘Oh, c’mon man, even I know the line by now!’, because he kept hearing it. I felt bad for the guy but, at the same time, I was like fucking A-right man. It was just so funny because it was coming from the seventeen-year-old drunk kid in the back.”
Mewes: “For me, it was a weird experience. I worked my normal job, I was roofing. I was nervous and I would get wasted. I guess my favourite memories was just the experience of meeting these characters and going through the process. We watched it in the video store on a little TV and I thought that was it, ‘Oh, we saw the movie. We did it. Great job, Kevin…’ and I didn’t know there was a chance it could be bought at a film festival and then put out on a big screen.
Mewes: “When we did MALLRATS [in 1995], Kevin and Scott knew about my nervousness. The studio were like, ‘Look, you’ve never had any acting classes or schooling’. They made me audition for the part. I auditioned for Jay and I cared that I wanted the part and not lose the opportunity of being in a studio movie but I wasn’t scared of auditioning because I almost didn’t care. Kevin and Scott fought for me.
They didn’t pay for me to go out to Minnesota [where they were shooting MALLRATS], everyone else got paid to go out, put up in a hotel and had two weeks’ worth of rehearsals before the film started shooting. I had to sleep on Kevin’s floor and he had to pay for me to come out. They [The studio] were like ‘we won’t pay for him to come out but we will let him shoot the first day and if he doesn’t do a good job then we will call the guy that we want’, which was Seth Green.
I think because there was all this pressure and I rehearsed it so much with Kevin, that when it came time, the producers were there watching my every move. I was nervous, don’t get me wrong. It really pushed me doing MALLRATS. CLERKS was really really bad though. I was super, super nervous. It did get easier. I was out there two months on Dogma and I had the whole script memorised. The more times I did it the more comfortable I got with it.”
O’Halloran: “I always find it funny to think Seth Green could have had your role. Now I imagine the Jay character sounding like Chris Griffin.”
Ghigliotti: “Did Seth have to audition for that?”
Mewes: “He did. There was Kevin Connolly, Mark-Paul Gosselaar. There was a lot of people. Like I walked in and went ‘SNOOTCH TO THE FUCKING NOOTCH!!’ and there was Jason Lee, Tobey Maguire, Jennifer Love-Hewitt. It was crazy.”
O’Halloran: “The only person I could see back in those days would be Pauly Shore.”
Mewes: “I’m the weeeeeasel, snootcheeees.”
O’Halloran: [Discussing the original ending with Dante getting shot]: “There is a scene where Jay and Silent Bob are outside the store and they look off and go ‘Doesn’t that guy owe us money? Hey Dude!’ and then you hear him take off. We thought it was that guy as he didn’t have the money to pay off Jay and Silent Bob, and comes in and shoots Dante. When I first read that in the script, I hated it. I was like ‘Why have I got to die?’ We shot it anyway.
Thankfully, Kevin meet producer John Pearson who said ‘Look, man, this is a straight-up comedy. With that ending, all you are going to do is piss off your audience by killing off one of your main characters. Why don’t you end it with him saying “We are closed” and, in the end, he was right. The first time we showed it at a film festival we showed that ending and then they went into editing, went to Sundance with the non-killing ending and then it went really well and got picked up by Miramax.”
O’Halloran: [on the subject of CLERKS 3]: “We were all geared up to shoot it. Jeff Anderson had some issues that he wanted to address and they didn’t get addressed the way he wanted them done. So, we had to put that on the shelf. Is it a complete not-going-to-happen type thing? I don’t think so.
Ghigliotti: “Put the prayers and the energy out there!”