On New Year’s Day, the NHL will host their annual Winter Classic. As has been done in years past, there will be a weekly television documentary series prior to the actual game revolving around the teams involved, and what they do (the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals). For this season, it will be EPIX Presents: The Road to the Winter Classic.
The show will air each Tuesday leading up to the game, and can be found on EPIX.com and NHL.com. On the Wednesday following each show, filmmaker Kevin Smith do a two-minute recap of each episode called: Kevin Smith’s Penalty Box.
zoomdune.com talked to Kevin Smith this past weekend about the show. The discussion that ensued touched on many different subjects. What started as a conversation about a show about hockey transformed into something else.
Due to a gargantuan word count and the short attention spans of people, much of the interview was left on the cutting room floor during the editing process. The more concise discussion focusing primarily on hockey can be found here. For those that want to dig deeper into not only that, but Kevin Smith’s family, current and future workings, politics and more. Here is the complete transcript of the interview:
Andrew Demo: We’re two episodes in to EPIX presents: Road to the NHL Winter Classic, what are your thoughts so far?
Kevin Smith: I am a fan of not just the genre. I mean, I am a real wh*re of documentaries (I guess they’d call them). To me, they create all of the drama out of such a simple game. They create the narrative. The Road to series has done that exceptionally well. I used to watch it on HBO, now I get to watch it on EPIX.
So far this year…you know it’s great filmmaking when I don’t give a f*ck about the ‘Hawks or Caps in real life, but it’s been a compelling watch. Those are not my two teams, but suddenly I’m intrigued. I’m interested; and that’s excellent filmmaking. Not just in terms of structuring a narrative out of what’s simply adult children playing a game; but also visually…stunning. I’m a filmmaker 20 years, and I watch this show and go “how come I can’t shoot this good?”
AD: You’ve been doing two-minute recaps for EPIX called Kevin Smith’s Penalty Box. How did you become involved with this project?
KS: EPIX I’ve worked with for a few years now. They did Too Fat for 40, one of the standup shows that I did. They did some Q&A shows, Kevin Smith Burn in Hell, and Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under (which was just me and Jason Mewes doing our podcast live down in Australia). So I’ve been involved with them for years; and when they got this, they sent me an e-mail saying: “we know you love hockey, how would you feel about doing recaps?”
It was pitched to me as a really short version of The Talking Dead for this series. And I was like: “man, two minutes? That’s pretty short.” But I was in, I was all in. Especially because number one, they told me they were going to send me links to the shows early. As a fan that’s pretty awesome. And number two, any time I get to advocate for the game, I like to do so.
I believe in hockey. Not just as a past time, but as a way of life.
AD: As someone that tells stories for a living, what storyline that you’ve seen thus far on the show do you find most captivating?
KS: Last week, when we saw the assistant equipment manager sit there and tell us that they have to move 7,000 pounds of equipment every time they go on the road. Factoids like that. Then he was giving us some great “inside hockey” on the locker room. Like personalities, people on the team… and the guy was real charming and folksy. And you’re like “alright, I look forward to seeing more of this dude on the series.” Then, at the tail end of the episode, (spoilers for those who don’t know) sadly in real life, the man at 34-years-old passed away in his sleep.
So suddenly you’re watching this episode about these two teams going at it for the Winter Classic. Lots of footage on Alexander Ovechkin off the ice and on the ice; and suddenly you’re dealt a healthy dose of reality, as is the team. Watching coach Q [Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville] kind of break down was very emotional. You got the impression that the world lost somebody that we really could have used. A good one, as they say. That has been, hands down, the most compelling moment of the series.
After that I’d have to say, Barry Trotz and his kid is pretty emotional. And that’s the stuff that really binds you there. Putting aside the loftier material, honestly, I love to watch hockey players curse. You don’t get to see that in any broadcast game. Every once-in-a-while you’ll pick it up, or you’ll see it on the ice; and it doesn’t take a lip reader to tell that they just screamed “f*ck.” But I love hearing it in the Road to series.
It would be amazing if they would keep that going in the real world. At the end of the day it’s a live event, so you could probably get away with some sort of FCC thing, but it’s gross to say and some people may think I am missing the point completely. I love passion and that’s passion.
That’s what people do in the real world. They cuss. Because those words kind of relieve tension. So when you watch them do it in a game. Especially when they do it in accents.
There was this one… I don’t know who yelled it. It was on the Caps side in episode two, and it was something straight out of f*cking Slapshot. The guy yells out: “We f*cking owe them, boys. Eh?” and he literally punctuated it with “Eh?” It was beautiful. And that f*cking gave me chills.
I’m not a locker room guy. I was never an athlete. So I didn’t get to hang out in the locker room. As a dude who, this sounds vaguely homo-erotic, but as a dude who didn’t have that experience I always imagined…Sports were something that baffled me as a child. I was like: “Why would you watch this, when you could watch Star Wars?“
So you have to kind of build your narrative for sport when you’re a storyteller type of person, it’s not enough to watch people doing physical feats that you can’t do and scoring during a game. Because at the end of the day, this is a game. It’s just a game. It’s literally a game. Nothing’s going to come of this. This is going to change the world one iota. It’s just a game.
But when you watch athletes play, and you build a narrative for it; that’s kind of where they grabbed me later in life. It’s like “yeah it’s a game,” but when you play this game, you are saving the world. There’s something kind of beautiful about it.
Hockey, above all other sports, has poetry to it. It’s all about a pastime that requires use of almost every muscle in your body to just be stationary; before you blast into extreme physical performance. It’s a beautiful sport. It kind of represents life in the best possible way. We all have goals we’ve got to get to and there’s usually a gazillion things in our way. Persistence pays off. Hit the f*cking net. If you don’t score right away, try again. It’s a beautiful metaphor for life.
When you watch the show. When they are cursing. That, to me, is real. And when you hear a moment in the locker room like: “we f*cking owe em, boys!” If I were writing a hockey scene, I would write that. Even though I have no experience in that world really, because it feels like what they would say in advance of a game.
Then you sit there and you go: “well, what DO they f*cking owe them?” Really, it’s nothing. It’s a ridiculous sentiment. It’s a game. They lost a game. Next time they will win the game. But there’s drama behind that. You know what I am saying? Passion and storytelling. And that’s why for somebody like me, it’s not enough to simply watch a sporting event. There needs to be some drama behind it. That’s why this series appeals to me in such a big, bad way. It’s pornography if you love sports stories. Especially well-told sports stories that make the game far more interesting.
The Road to series is kind of like Law & Order for hockey. When you watch Law & Order you’re like: “F*ck… Justice is brisk!” In 45 minutes they caught that guy, put him through the penal system and now he’s going to f*cking jail. If you look at the dates, it’s like a three-year process. Then they compress it really quickly because it’s f*cking fiction.
When you watch the Road to you’re like: “Oh man, that game was amazing!” And I watched that game in real life and it wasn’t amazing. But you put the right score behind it, and you slow that footage down and suddenly you’re like “that was the greatest game that I ever saw.”
So, I guess I appreciate the storytellers, the director, the producers and their ability to turn what is very simply people going up and down and trying to shoot a vulcanized rubber puck into a net and instill it with a dramatic back story. You do that and you’ve got me every time.
Honestly, this sounds gross to say, but I would rather watch a documentary about hockey sometimes, than an actual hockey game.
AD: As a fan of the New Jersey Devils, do you have a “horse” in the Winter Classic “race” at all?
KS: That’s the really cool thing, but it’s also very telling about how good the show is. I’ve now had to watch the Devils get beat three times in two episodes by two different teams, and I had to live those in the real world. So having to relive them in 35mm film quality and slow motion with dramatic music with the lean toward the other team should be painful. And it was kind of; but at the same time, the storytelling was so strong that you let it go.
I’m not saying that I’m rooting for the Caps or the Hawks now over the Devils, but you sit thee going like “damn, man…the Hawks are on their way.” It’s just crazy, suddenly you forget and it’s like watching a movie, more so than watching the real game. It’s so well put together.
AD: The Devils are going through some tough times. They just fired their coach (Peter DeBoer) and named Scott Stevens and Adam Oates as co-coaches. What are your thoughts on the change?
KS: Scotty Stevens, of course, is a huge emotional favorite and whatnot. Why not at this point? The dude knows leadership. Anybody that appreciates hockey, but particularly a New Jersey Devils fan, knows that.
You hate to see any coach go, but that’s what happens. If people aren’t winning. They get replaced. That goes for the players. That goes for the coaching staff. It has been a tough year. It was going to be a tough year regardless.
It’s the first non-Marty year in forever as far as being a Devils fan is concerned. For as many fans who b*tched last year about his performance, watching such an integral part of the franchise not be welcomed back…and I understood he didn’t want to sit on the bench for half the season and whatnot. It was just one of those situations when you’re like: “Oh no, mom and dad are fighting.” So you kind of knew this season was going to be a bumpy ride anyway.
It’s not like this is the curse of Martin Brodeur, and you certainly don’t want to think this season is a complete loss. Maybe we should just call this a rebuilding year and move on.
AD: Is it strange seeing Martin Brodeur in a St. Louis Blues uniform?
KS: Yeah, of course. As strange as it is for anybody. You imagined he was going to retire a Devil and that would be that. But then you remember that’s part of the dramatic narrative that people build around the sport. “Yeah man…loyal colors until the end!” They will hang his jersey in the rafters naturally, once he retires.
At the end of the day, this is a man who had a job; and then he didn’t have a job. But he likes working, and he wanted to go back to work. So he found a different job.
It’s weird. It’s not like a big, wide world. It’s a 30-team league, so you’re going to bump into him elsewhere. And now we’re bumping into him in St. Louis. I’m happy for him. I am happy that he gets to continue to play. This is the greatest goalie in the world.
There’s something nice about him going to St. Louis at the same time. This is a team that is as entrenched in hockey as the Philadelphia Flyers or the Edmonton Oilers.; but they’re a cup-less team. I’ve always had a little affinity for the Blues. Even though I am not a St. Louis person at all. The year when I was born, that was the year the Bruins beat the Blues in the Stanley Cup. For that reason, I’ve always felt affinity for the Blues; because they’ve got a strong fan base, but they’ve never quite gone the distance.
Every year, people have hope for them and they don’t quite make it. They remind me of my own personal career from time to time.
AD: The Devils are just one of the teams that have been affected by the recent mumps outbreak. Have you ever seen an outbreak of anything on set? If so, how did you handle it?
KS: No. Man…It sounds like they all went on a cruise ship or something. When that many people get sick, usually there’s a cruise ship involved in the story. I guess it makes sense, and it’s crazy that this is the first time that it’s happened. Not just for mumps, but for anything.
I guess when people are sick, they generally don’t get out on the ice, but there’s a lot of exchange of bodily fluids out there involuntarily. It’s crazy to me that it’s the first time there has been some sort of outbreak in the sport.
That’s a pretty strong strain of mumps, man. I’ve never had anything like that in movie-world. That would be costly. At least when you’ve got a few hockey players down, you’ve got a pretty deep bench. You’ll replace them with somebody else, or you’ll call somebody up from the farm. If you’re doing a movie and you get an outbreak of mumps, you’re shutting production down; and that’s just burning money. So thankfully that’s never happened.
AD: You often depict hockey in your movies. What drives you to combine your love of the game and your work on screen?
KS: At the end of the day, I am not a very good filmmaker. Or a very commercial filmmaker. I just approach the job differently. I really think about myself first, and then the audience after that. You definitely concede to certain tropes of storytelling.
What’s fun about the job for me isn’t making a bunch of money. It’s, you know, doing a bunch of things I have not seen before. Let me put the things I love in a movie. So, from early on, I’ve just always included the sh*t that makes me happy and tried to put it into the flick.
It’s kind of side salesmanship right? In the middle of the movie you’re like: “Don’t forget, watch hockey,” it’s fun. It gives you something to talk about; the bonding agent. A lot of people understand it.
Hockey particularly is kind of cool, because it’s something only a certain amount of people are into. It’s not like football, or baseball or basketball; where you’re just inundated by it 24/7. It’s like laser disc back in the day, prior to DVDs. Like “yeah man, there’s only a few of us; but we’re f*cking passionate!” And that appeals to me because it reminds me of my career as well.
I have a very passionate audience, but it ain’t the audience of f*cking baseball, basketball or football. It’s probably not even the audience of hockey. But that’s the one I can most identify with. There’s nothing wrong with not being the most well-known. Or the best even. You play your game. That’s what I love about hockey. They play their game. F*ck everyone else’s game, you play your game. For that reason alone, I’ve kind of always thrown it into the flicks.
In this most recent move we made (Tusk), the one that’s out now on video, there’s a reference to a hockey player. And I have the one character repeat it over and over. “The hockey player, Gregory Gumtree.” He has to say the same line over and over, just to kind of nail it home. The movie is set in Canada, so, for me it was important to put a little hockey in there.
This new movie we are working on right now called Yoga Hosers has a massive f*cking hockey element in the third act. It’s so metal; it makes me smile from ear to ear.
For the conclusion of this interview check out part 2, which can be found here.