There might not be a person in the entertainment business more in touch with his fan base than filmmaker Kevin Smith. Whether it's through his multiple podcasts, live Q&A tours, daily Internet radio shows or his 1.7 million-plus followers on Twitter, Smith and his loyal supporters have an ongoing dialogue.
It's clearly a two-way street -- as much as fans adore Smith, he listens when those fans speak to him. That's how two scenes from his in-development script for his next -- and he says last -- film, the hockey-themed "Hit Somebody," surfaced online in March, and likely will lead to the public getting a sneak preview of the film long before it hits theaters.
"Hit Somebody" is based on the Warren Zevon song of the same name. The song tells the story of Buddy, an enforcer with no offensive skills who holds fast to the dream of someday scoring just one goal in a game. Award-winning Detroit Free Press columnist and author Mitch Albom wrote the lyrics to the song, which was released in 2002 on Zevon's final album before his death a year later. The song got little radio airplay and seemingly had lived its life before Smith came across it in late 2008. He credits the song for reinvigorating his passion for both writing and hockey.
Smith said he is hoping to film the movie sometime this summer, and he'll do it in the Detroit area, part of a promise he made to Albom.
Smith has stayed busy this year, conducting a tour of the U.S. that has seen him show his new horror film, "Red State," followed by a Q&A session. He's also done tours with his numerous podcasts and launched an Internet radio station.
He's also stayed busy working on the "Hit Somebody" script. He reached the halfway point in April and hopes to finish it soon now that he's cut back on his tour schedule.
Smith, who calls himself "an over-sharer by nature," said a tweet asking about John Goodman's place in the film -- Smith said he'll play a coach for the title character -- prodded him in a direction he hadn't planned on going during his writing.
"Some tweet asked me about John Goodman being in 'Hit Somebody' and who he would play," Smith told NHL.com recently. "He has this wonderful monologue about hockey and it'll crush and I said maybe I'll just post it for you guys. I was on a plane when I wrote that. We landed and I forgot and then I said, 'Oh yeah, I want to post that scene.'"
Before it went up, however, Smith said he was struck by what would happen when he pressed “Send” on his blog.
"I froze and said oh (wow), this goes public right now," Smith said. "As many people like it, you're going to get people being (the other way)."
So he took two more editing passes through the scene, scaled it back a bit, and posted it to what he said was mostly positive feedback. Two weeks later, he went through the same exercise when fans took him up on a challenge to get his wife to 20,000 Twitter followers. So he found another scene, went through the same editing and tightening process, and posted it to another set of positive reviews.
Smith said those experiences proved therapeutic and inspiring.
"I want the feedback because that inspires you, makes you want to produce it," Smith told NHL.com. "People start writing the loveliest things if they like it – and even if they don't like it, you tend to skip over those. But the ones that like it, when you get into it, when they get what you're trying to say and accomplish, it's a really nice thing. It fuels you. It makes you want to work harder. It's the whole pat on the back thing.
"Based on those two instances, I have a new plan for 'Hit Somebody.' I'm going to publish the script way before I make the movie."
That would be a pretty bold departure from the norm. Most fans never see the scripts of their favorite films, and if they do, they're published long after the movie has come out. But in Smith's mind, releasing the full script for "Hit Somebody" is a blatantly obvious move.
"It's so much more difficult to explain your intentions to people or to open up your head and let them see what the plan is or how you connect the dots," Smith said.
"It's so much easier to just say here and cut to the chase. So much of film, if you're a writer or director, is predicated on keeping it secret. It's my currency, right? But … it feels stupid to be working on something in the dark that you just want to share. The only reason we do it is because we want people to see it, want people to share in the feeling, the emotion."
For Smith, hockey is all about emotion. A born-and-bred New Jersey native, he lives and dies with his beloved Devils. One of his great thrills was learning all-time Devil Ken Daneyko was one of the people who read the online scenes and provided positive feedback.
"There’s no question that his passion for the game, even just in this little scene here, comes out," Daneyko told Entertainment Weekly's website PopWatch.com. "Buddy shooting pucks against the barn brings me back. Kevin captures a lot of what young hockey players do. If you weren't shooting against the barn, you were putting boards up and shooting hundreds of pucks a day into the garage. You'd miss the board and your parents would come out and say, 'Stop! You're wrecking the garage!' He knows the game."
That type of support brings a smile to Smith's face.
"I haven't played professional hockey, haven't written about professional hockey, and I know I don't know more about professional hockey than most," he said. "I can't say ‘quiz me on anything.’ But sometimes passion will go a lot further than experience."
Besides the Devils, Smith finds passion in three DVDs that rarely are farther than an arm's length away -- "Hockey - A People's History;" "The Boys On The Bus," and its sequel, "The Boys Are Back;" and the "Legends of Hockey" collection.
"I don't get (writer’s) block, but whenever I want to get in the mood to write, I'll … watch this for a few minutes and start writing," Smith said.
As readily as Smith seems to share his script, he's also willing to share casting details. Goodman and Michael Parks, who have received strong reviews for their work in "Red State," already have signed on. Another actor from "Red State," Nicholas Braun, will star in the title role.
Braun, 23, is 6-foot-6, but needs to bulk up to fit the body type of a 1970s enforcer. Smith said another problem is how Braun looks.
"He's a beautiful kid, a good-looking dude," said Smith. "That role is going to … I think it's important to show progression. Our makeup person is going to be a pretty key job when it comes to that stuff. You want him to be fresh-faced and boyish, but by the end of the movie he has to look haggard and beaten. Even though he's only going to be 30, he's got to look 40 at that point to play it for that ending."
Smith also is renowned for casting his friends in his movies, and since he says "Hit Somebody" will be the final film he writes and directs, he's going to try to cast as many of them as possible. That list includes cinematic heavyweights like Seth Rogen, Chris Rock, Will Ferrell and Tracy Morgan.
In a hockey movie that focuses so much on the grittier, more fistic aspects of the game, it's roles for two other Smith co-stars that piques the interest:
"What a good thought. I hadn't thought about that," Smith said with a laugh. "In my head, both of those dudes are on the Boston team Buddy gets traded to. The team is called the Boston Bobby Oars, and they're always in legal trouble with the Boston Bruins. Because you can't call it the Bobby Orrs, (but they say), 'We're not talking about your Bobby Orr, oars bob in the water, it's a bobbing oar."
Obviously Buddy won't be an NHL player; Smith said the film, which will span the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, will exist in a WHA-like league. However, the NHL will be seen as the in-the-distance goal, much like Major League Baseball is referenced in the baseball film "Bull Durham."
"The NHL is not a character," Smith said. "The NHL is a distant… whenever people talk about it, they talk about, 'The Show.' They talk about the big names, but we don't dwell in that world. We don't meet Gordie Howe … but you hear about them."
In Smith's world the NHL only exists in Devils red and white. However, with the Kings and Ducks making the playoffs, he followed the playoff fever that hit Southern California.
"If they (the Kings) would just bring (Wayne) Gretzky in, in any sort of connection to the current-day team, I would buy season tickets in a heartbeat," Smith said. "I just need an emotional reason to invest in the Kings. I'm emotionally invested in the Devils and have been for years. I'm emotionally invested in the dynasty Oilers … I could have an easy tangential Kings connection based on (Gretzky's) history. I just need him to come back."
Smith said he's trying to form the same kind of emotional bond with the Ducks.
"They have treated me so well," he said. "I think I've been to two games and they put me in nice seats, they've been great. They are a fantastic team. But it would have to be some sort of emotional connection to them. It's so convenient. It's even easier to get (to Honda Center) than it is to get to Staples Center to see the Kings."
Smith's current film, "Red State," is a marked departure of from what he gained notoriety for -- slacker comedies with highly profane language on the surface, but which deep down have big hearts. "Hit Somebody" will have that same big heart, he said, but will be missing the colorful language that Smith, in his off-camera life, dishes out as easily as his idol, Gretzky, dished the puck.
"It was tricky to find a way to not curse in the flick, but the device I use makes sense based on the main character," Smith said. "And then suddenly if there was cursing it would seem weird. … I know when I tell people there's no cursing, it's PG-13, they say why bother. I think it's going to pan out."
His confidence comes from the passion he feels for "Hit Somebody." That passion is obvious as he talks more and more about the movie, and as he gets deeper into the script.
"It's a pure passion flick," Smith said. "That's what's beautiful about it. It's a pretty powerful document in as much as I can hand it to people and make them cry. … If you're one of those people that can get emotional about something you've read or something you've seen, there are moments in the movie that will grab your heart and wring it. That's because it is written on pure emotion."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.