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How Kevin Smith's "Clerks" Changed Indie Filmmaking Forever

Few names are as recognizable in the annals of independent filmmaking as Kevin Smith. His 1994 debut feature, Clerks, not only launched his own career but also became a symbol of a DIY ethos that would inspire countless aspiring filmmakers. Let’s delve into Clerks' lasting impact on the indie film scene. 

Kevin Smith was just 23 years old when he decided to make Clerks. Armed with a passion for film and a handful of credit cards, Smith set out to shoot a homemade comedy that would capture the essence of his own experiences working in a convenience store. 

Filmed in the convenience and video stores where he worked, Clerks featured a cast of unknown actors, including Smith himself as the lovable slacker Silent Bob. The film’s dialogue-heavy script is witty, irreverent, and peppered with pop culture references, reflecting Smith’s unique voice and sense of humor. 

Making Clerks was far from easy. With such a limited budget ($27,575), Smith had to get creative in every aspect of the project. He filmed at night when the stores were closed to customers. The film’s iconic Quick Stop setting became not only the backdrop for what would become one of the generation’s most influential films but also the studio where Kevin and his partner-in-crime, Scot Moiser, would edit the film. 

clerks poster

Against the odds, Clerks was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival, where it was met with critical acclaim and sold to Miramax. This launched Smith's career and cemented his status as a leading figure in independent cinema. 

Clerks became a cult classic, beloved by audiences for its relatable characters, sharp dialogue, and offbeat humor. Its success opened doors for Smith, who would go on to direct a string of films featuring recurring characters collectively known as the View Askewniverse. 

Clerks inspired a generation of filmmakers to pick up a camera and tell their stories. The film’s DIY spirit demonstrated that you didn’t need a Hollywood budget to make a movie; you only needed passion, creativity, and a willingness to embrace limitations. 

That is precisely what Clerks did for me. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my grungy apartment in 1995 when my friend Charles burst in holding a VHS tape. He told me that it was imperative that we watch the tape immediately. I was just couch surfing, so I told him to pop it in the VHS player while I cracked a few beers and popped some corn. The film was Clerks and it changed the course of my life forever. 

At the time I was going to college for graphic design and playing in bands. I’d always loved movies, but I thought they were out of reach for someone like me. My favorite films were Jaws, Goonies, Fright Night, etc. They had movie stars and huge sets and effects and seemed impossible to make, but after watching Clerks, my outlook on filmmaking completely changed. This film was shot in black-and-white; the camera didn’t move much, and the dialogue felt like it was written specifically for me. My friends and I often had arguments about the lives of characters in our favorite movies, and we were living examples of the slacker generation that populated the cast of Clerks

So, after watching Smith’s film, I decided to change my major and make as many short films as possible. I rushed into filmmaking with the same passion that led me to music, and I’m still living my life immersed in cinema. Clerks was the lightning rod that gave me the courage to pick up a camera, and I still watch it at least once a year to remind myself that even when living a creative life is hard, you never know how your work will change the lives of those you share it with. 

Today, Clerks' legacy lives on in the countless independent filmmakers who continue to follow in Kevin Smith’s footsteps, pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. Its enduring popularity serves as a testament to the power of independent cinema. Clerks isn’t just a film; it’s a symbol of defiance against the constraints of traditional filmmaking. Smith paved the way for a new era of independent cinema, leaving an indelible mark on the industry that continues to resonate today. 

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