A decade before the digital revolution, there was a renaissance in American independent film that gave rise to a generation of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Edward Burns, and Richard Linklater.
Kevin Smith wrote and directed four feature films in the 90s: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma. His first feature, Clerks, epitomized the ideals of independent filmmaking. It was edgy, smart, and irreverent, and just as shocking as it was funny.
Clerks is a black and white, dialogue-driven comedy about two twenty-somethings working at the Quick Stop convenience and RST Video stores in New Jersey. Some critics have called it “raw,” some would even say raunchy, but that irreverence was part of the appeal. There was really nothing like it at the time, and it struck a chord with Generation Xers who were trying to figure themselves out.
The story of the making of Clerks is legendary, an inspiration to filmmakers everywhere. At the age of 24, Smith was able to make a 16mm feature film on a micro-budget of $27,000 He maxed out credit cards and scammed discounts wherever he could. With the help of producer, Scott Mosier, he assembled a cast and crew of family and friends and completed production in just 21 days.
Smith was inspired by Richard Linklater’s Slacker and by other independent films he saw at the Angelika Film Center in New York City. After reading an interview with Robert Rodriguez and learning about resource filmmaking, he decided to make his first feature.
The movie relies heavily on Smith’s funny and filthy dialogue and characters who seem to have no filter. Smith allows the scenes to play out in long takes where the pace of the scene is dictated by the acting and not the editing. Howard Hawks used similar technique in movies like His Girl Friday.
Clerks and its contemporaries inspired young filmmakers like me who wanted to make movies but didn’t know how we’d ever be able. We saw it and said, “If that guy can do it, so can I.” Clerks is a testament to what a filmmaker can do if he’s creative enough to overcome his limitations and daring enough to try.