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Kevin Smith used his annual Hall H slot at Comic-Con International to announce he’ll write and direct Tusk, a horror film starring Michael Parks and possibly Quentin Tarantino, in addition to the previously announced Clerks III. That contradiction his earlier declaration that Clerks III would be his final film before he turned his focus to podcasting and speaking engagements.
The announcement came about halfway into his two-hour set, which began with Smith noticing the massive hall appeared empty. The Marvel Studios presentation immediately preceded his discussion, and it took Comic-Con staff about 45 minutes to an hour to get those waiting outside in to the cavernous room. Right before the announcement Smith, noticed the back of the room had filled up.
He had been taking questions from the audience, and talking about the creative process and how long it takes to make a movie once you have an idea in place. Smith referenced how he had to wait for Seth Rogen’s schedule to clear before he could shoot Zack and Miri.
“I hated sitting there and waiting,” the filmmaker recalled. “I felt like the fat kid sitting there staring at the phone wondering if I am going to prom or am I not going to prom. And I was thinking, you know, I can’t wait any longer. I’ve been thinking about writing this movie for a while — I’m just gonna sit down and write it. And that movie was Red State. So instead of sitting and waiting for Zack and Miri to be made I just went and created something else.”
He said he faces a similar situation with Clerks III, hinting that financial issues could stall the film for a few months as he and The Weinstein Company work out the budget, which will determine whether the project will be shot in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh or Atlanta. “I started thinking, ‘I’m not gonna wait. I’m just gonna go create something else,’” Smith said. “’I’m just gonna write something to take my mind off things.’”
Smith then relayed a story about how he and Scott Mosier were doing SMODcast and began discussing a story they’d seen about an ad on a website offering free lodging in a mansion and asking people to apply to live there. “There was a guy, and his entry was very bizarre,” he recalled. “The guy said, ‘You know I’ve lived a very good life, including a time where I was lost at sea for years where my only companion was a walrus named Gregory.’ So right away you’re like, ‘What’s this about?’ And then he said, ‘Now I’m nearing the end of my life and I live in a very large house with lots of room and I’d like to offer this lodging situation to anyone who might need a place to stay. You’ll have run of the house. You’ll have your own room. You just have to stay out of my room and my workshop, but you can use the house as much as you want. But in exchange for this there will be a minor expectation. I have been for some time constructing a realistic walrus costume. For two hours every day, you have to put on the costume. Never speak as a human. You can only speak as a walrus and I will periodically throw you fish and crabs. Two hours a day. It won’t be every day. It won’t always be two hours a day. But when you do it will only be for two hours max at the most.’ So this captured our imagination. We were like, ‘What the fuck, man?’”
“So then the guy does an update,” Smith continued. “He posts, ‘Thank you for all the interest, but I’ve found my lodger. I’m sorry to all those that didn’t make it,’ which indicated that a lot of people signed up for this thing! A lot of people were like, ‘A free room and a free kitchen? Fuck it! I’ll wear a walrus suit.’”
Smith said that during the podcast, he and Mosier began constructing a horror film around this “dopey” concept. “It was like a Hammer horror movie, where you go to this guy’s house and he turns you into the human walrus! Where he kills you and then sews you into a walrus suit! So we fed each other’s imaginations, kept making each other laugh, and then at the end of it we were like, ‘This could totally work, man! In a world where The Birds worked, this could totally fucking work!’”
Smith then asked podcast listeners to vote on Twitter with the hashtag #WalrusYes if they thought the concept could work as a movie, and #WalrusNo if they thought it was stupid. He said the last time he checked, there were just four “no” votes; “WalrusYes” went on for pages. “It was as if all those people were saying, ‘I fucking dare you to make this movie,’” he said.
“People were saying, ‘Dude, if you write this as a horror movie it’ll be so fucked up’ and I started thinking, ‘Yeah, and I could take Michael Parks, the guy who played the pastor in Red State, and make him the guy that puts the dude in the walrus suit,” Smith continued. “You could make a real creepy movie out of this shit.’”
He added, “I was sitting there going, ‘I don’t want to wait for the phone to ring. I’ve got enough people saying WalrusYes. I had a skeleton of a fucking pretty good idea, so I’m gonna sit down and see if anything comes of this fucking walrus picture.’ So I sit down and I start writing. On the podcast we called it The Walrus and the Carpenter; that was going to be the name of the movie. I went a different way with it. I’m gonna call it Tusk. So I put in the Fleetwood Mac track and put it on a loop and played it over and over again. And if you’ve ever heard [the Fleetwood Mac song] ‘Tusk,’ it’s a really spooky song. And if you think about in relation to a guy getting sewn into a walrus suit, it gets even fucking spookier!
“I played that song over and over, and I’m writing, and I get about 50 pages into it, and Mosier pops up online one day asks what I’m up to,” Smith continued. “So I send him the pages and he’s like, ‘Get the fuck out of here! Is this for real?’ I tell him, ‘Yeah, I think this a fucking tight idea. I would like to see this movie!’”
He said when he flips through Netflix or iTunes, he sees a lot of content – a lot of good content – but not anything that really speaks to him. “So while we were sitting there feeding each other’s imaginations about this dopey walrus movie that didn’t exist, I kept thinking, ‘I just want to see this movie! It’s like a cuddlier version of The Human Centipede!’” Smith said. “Mosier thought I was kidding. I’m like, ‘Nope, I’m totally serious. I want to see this movie.’”
“So I finished it and came in at roughly 85 pages. And I gotta tell you, it’s pretty fucking good!” he said as the crowd cheered. “In a strange way, and it has no right to be, it’s good. But I think because I was writing for Michael Parks, and because I had no agenda — I’ll just play and see what it is. No agenda, other than to keep it cheap: just two people and a house to keep the movie from costing a lot to make. So as I’m writing I’m coming up with all this great dialogue for Michael Parks to say — it’s just flowing out of him for pages — and then around Page 25 — Bam! Lodger gets hit! — we start heading toward the walrus suit!”
“It’s so fucking bizarre,” Smith continued. “I was about 30 pages in, and my wife came in and asked me what I was working on. I said, ‘Oh, you don’t want to know.’ She doesn’t listen to SMODcast. So I started telling her what was going on, and about the tweets. She says, ‘That sounds weird. I thought you were done making movies.’ And I’m like ‘Yeah, I thought I was, too, but I really want to see this movie. And I don’t think anybody is ever going to make this movie.’ And she says, ‘Yeah, with good reason, Kevin.’ And I say, ‘Well, read the pages, tell me what you think.’
“So she come back and says, ‘You know, I’m gripped. I was looking to read a book this summer, but now I wanna read this. It’s fucked up. I haven’t seen this movie before.’ I asked, ‘It doesn’t feel like Misery to you?’ She says, ‘Only in that there are two people and one them is being held captive, but other than that, I haven’t seen this movie.’ I’m like, ‘Right on! I’m gonna keep writing this movie.’ And she’s giving me this look in a sexy way, like she’s thinking, ‘I had no idea you thought so disturbingly.’”
Smith said that while he wrote the script with Parks in mind, he hadn’t envisioned anyone in particular to play the lodger. “But if you listen to the SMODCast, we did an episode toward the end of the year about all of this Canadian maple syrup that had been stolen, and there was a guy in charge of the investigation. I put that guy as a character in the walrus movie,” he said. “And I wrote it for one person in mind — and I gave that person the script right before I headed down to Comic-Con, and I didn’t find out if he liked it or not. I guess I’ll find out when I get home. But the casting makes utter sense to me. I couldn’t have found Michael Parks without him, so I asked Quentin Tarantino if he’ll play the role.”
That announcement triggered an eruption of applause from the audience. “Now he may say ‘fuck, no,’ but I doubt it, man,” the filmmaker continued. “Because the movie is fucking weird, and I didn’t tell him anything about it. I told him, ‘I’m making this little movie, it’s a horror movie.’ I didn’t tell him about the walrus. Wait until he gets to that. But what’s the worst that can happen? If the worst thing that happens is Quentin Tarantino says to me, ‘Look, Kevin, you’re fucked up.’ That would be amazing.”