"I hate it," Kevin Smith says on the phone. He's not faking it either.
What he hates is the ridiculous situation his funny new film is in. It's called "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." It can be discussed openly that way by its star Seth Rogen with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show," but as soon as the ad comes on, it's called "Zack and Miri."
That's because another network -- Fox -- previously refused to allow the full title to be advertised during football and baseball games. And the deputy mayor of Philadelphia banned the final three words of the title from ads on bus-stop benches.
"I can't stand it," says Smith. He fully understands, of course, why producer Harvey Weinstein always seems ready to do battle with bluenoses. "It's free publicity. But me, I can't stand it. If the movie was weak, I'd welcome it. But I think the movie is strong enough that it doesn't need any sort of controversy to sell it. I'd rather that the first time people learn about the movie was in conjunction with people who've seen it -- who said it was good -- rather than the first time they hear about the movie is because somebody won't let them hang up a poster somewhere.
"I guess I understand people who don't quite understand that it's not a real porno movie. But at the same time, I kind of want to ask them, 'When's the last time you heard of a porno movie with the word "porno" in the title?' It just takes a little common sense to say, 'Well, clearly this couldn't be a real porno, because they wouldn't be advertising it on television.' I think anybody that gets up in arms, it's like [I want to say]: 'Use your common sense, dude. Just because the word "porno" is in the title doesn't mean it's a porno film. In fact, probably it means the exact opposite.' . . . The idea of getting outraged at a title like 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno' for a movie that's clearly not an X-rated movie is about as ridiculous as people getting outraged at a movie using 'Knocked Up' as a title."
What Smith is now living with is that his homemade film "Clerks" 14 years ago has made him the unofficial godfather of the whole new wave of blockbuster R-rated raunch comedy now presided over by Judd Apatow and his band of writer/performers (who include Smith's "Zack" star Rogen).
"Seth has said: 'I got into writing because of "Clerks." That made me want to write movies and be in movies,' " Smith says. "[At the big convention Comic-Con] we were asked who our influences were, and Judd [Apatow] said, 'Kevin Smith laid the track.' Those dudes say it. At the same time, I have a hard time believing that somebody wouldn't have done it sooner or later. Ever since the beginning, I've enjoyed mixing really raunchy comedy with heart-filled stuff, balancing out the profane with the profound, the nasty and the sweet. Sooner or later, somebody else was going to figure that out.
"What I think is cool about Judd and his folks is that I never believed that a movie like that could break a $30 million box office ceiling. The highest-grossing movie we had was that, $30 million. I always assumed that if you mixed the raunchy with the sweet, that was the best you were going to do, because people like to keep those elements separate.
"And then Judd and Co. come along and shatter that glass ceiling with '40 Year Old Virgin' and 'Knocked Up' and 'Superbad' and 'Pineapple [Express]' and so on. Suddenly those dudes kind of proved that the kind of movie I've loved making for 15 years -- the only kind I can make -- is now financially viable. That was a cool thing. That was very cool, a very cool moment. I said; 'Oooo, man. Who knew you could actually do a lot of business with these movies?' It was also kind of great to see someone else doing it. I remember the first time I saw '40-Year Old Virgin,' I said, 'Wow, somebody made a movie I like, a movie I would have liked to make.' It was kind of rare back then. Now, everybody seems to want to do it."
On cable TV, too. In fact, Smith was an actor with John Corbett and a couple Brits in a Coen Brothers project from a British series for Showtime called "Man Child" that "was kind of like a male version of 'Sex and the City.' It was really, really funny, but Showtime opted to go with the David Duchovny pilot 'Californication.' "
For those who can only dream, then, of a Kevin Smith series on HBO or Showtime, Smith says: "I always try to keep that door open. I'm a huge 'Dexter' fan right now. I was a huge 'Wire' fan when it was running. 'The Sopranos,' too. I like 'Weeds' on Showtime. What they're doing is right up my alley."