Kevin Smith: How I came to direct The Flash
Prolific filmmaker and lifelong comic book fan Kevin Smith directed Tuesday’s episode of The Flash, which features the aftermath of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) disappearing after Team Flash recreated the particle accelerator explosion in a bid to give him his powers back. What follows is the unfiltered story of how Smith, in his own words, came to direct an episode of The Flash.
I wasn’t approached to direct The Flash, what had happened was Jordan Monsanto, who runs our company SModco, that’s Jason Mewes’ wife, she heard me talking about the show at great lengths. Jason had been begging me to watch The CW/DC shows since they began. He’s a massive Arrow fan; I mean he watches everything on CW, what I call the shirtless boy network. And he consumes every piece of media, but he especially loves the Berlanti Universe stuff, so he tried to get me to watch Arrow and I said, “No, you watch it for me dude.” And then he said, “They introduced Flash.” And I said, “I saw The Flash in the ’90s on TV, I’m good.”
Then one night he called me up, second season of Flash, when they were doing a King Shark appearance at the end of the episode. And Mewes never calls my house. Never. I saw his name pop up and I quickly answered, I said, “Hello,” and he screams, “Turn on the TV, you got to turn on the TV right now.” And the last time he did that was during September 11th, when that was going on, so immediately I’m like, “Are we under attack?” And he’s like, “No, King Shark is on Flash.” And I was like, “Jesus Christ dude, f—ing last time you screamed at me like that — I thought ISIS was here or something like that!” And he’s like, “Who’s she?” I said, “Listen dude, I’m not going to watch this.” And he goes, “You’ve got to see King Shark though. He’s holding him by the neck, King Shark’s picking up Flash by the neck. It looks amazing.” He’s like, “Oh, it’s over. You missed it.”
So I went online to Twitter and people start posting images of King Shark going, “Holy sh–, King Shark.” And for those who don’t follow this sort of thing, King Shark is one the weirdest, lamest DC super villains there is. He’s just like a shark with pants that walks on land. You can pull him off on the comics page, but to try him in real life on that show, that made we want to try The Flash, because I was like, “You have to have confidence and like a 10-inch f—ing c–k in order to go, ‘Let’s pull off King Shark.'” That’s where you can potentially lose it, that’s where your show can potentially jump the King Shark, if you will.
So I said I got to watch it now, after all this time I’ve got to give it a shot. And I watched it and I thought the episode was incredibly well done. No. 1, King Shark looked amazing. I mean, if you’re going to do King Shark, holy crap he looked fantastic. No. 2, I just liked the structure of it, man. There’s something really appealing about the show, it actually felt like a Flash comic book that I had read — not the exact issue, but the same tone, feeling, depths of a comic book that I used to read in the late ’80s, early ’90s when I was a big Flash reader. They had gotten the tone down to a science.
Each episode of The Flash, I learned when I went back and watched all of season 1, plays like a standalone episode or issue of a comic book. It’s amazing. You find out later on they build the foundation of every episode on three very strong pillars: heart, humor, and spectacle. If they don’t have that, they don’t make the episode. Heart and humor definitely appeal to me, that’s in my wheel house, and spectacle is always the thing that’s outside my grasp, but on Flash it looks better than anything I ever do, but it’s not like, “Oh my god, we need five weeks to shoot this.” You know they shoot it on a regular basis, so it’s doable spectacle.
I fell in love with the show and started talking to everyone about it. Jason became my point man, because he’d seen every single episode of not just Flash, but Arrow and stuff like that. We’d go back and forth sometimes like, “I don’t understand what they’re talking about in this point here.” And Jason’s like, “Ah that’s from that one thing that happened over on Arrow in Starling City.” And my wife would mock us mercifully like, “Look at you two old ladies and your stories man. What are Nikki and Victor up to this week?” I was like, “F— you, this is The Flash, this is serious.”
I fell in love with it big time. I put up a video of me watching the season finale and crying, like balling; not just rolling a single tear like the Native American who sees some garbage by the roadside, I’m talking about full blubber, with my man boobs f—ing going back and forth almost hitting me in the chin. I put it up on my YouTube channel and my mom called me. I guess somebody had forwarded it to her, and she goes, “Oh Tiger, I just saw you crying in a video on the internet.” And I was like, “Which one?” And she was like, “You were watching The Flash and the boy’s mom died.” And I said, “Oh, it’s an insanely well done show.” And my mom was like, “God, I hope you cry that hard when I die one day.” I said, “I will, don’t worry about it.”
At that point, I was kind of confirmed as a hardcore Flash fan. I started talking about it a lot on the podcast. We had Andrew Kreisberg on Fatman on Batman, the podcast that I do. So, being that I liked it so much, it never occurred to me to take my fandom to the next level. Jordan Monsanto did. One day she calls me, she goes, “I know you’re going to hate this but I called up boy Jordan.” Girl Jordan runs our company; boy Jordan [Cerf] is my TV agent. She goes, “I called up boy Jordan and I told him that you like The Flash a lot so maybe he should call The Flash production office and see if they’ll let you direct an episode.” And I was like, “Why the f— would you do that man?” I don’t need no handouts. I said, “We’re busy, we’re doing sh–. I don’t need to be asking CW for a job.” She goes, “Calm down, they said yeah.” I was like, “Good job, that a girl. Way to think outside the box. Holy sh–, really?” Then suddenly I was in Flash world — it was that simple.
Girl Jordan called boy Jordan, boy Jordan called The Flash production office and was like, “Hey, you know Kevin Smith?” And they’re like, “Yeah, Dogma.” And he said, “He loves the show, would you ever let him direct an episode?” And they said, “Sure.” And that’s how it happened. It was that f—ing simple, it was crazy. But because Jordan made the call and what not, J[ason] held it over my head and he was like, “You’ve got to bring me with you.” And I was like, “Dude, I can’t cast you in a show that I just found out I got. That’s weird, like I can’t go in and start making demands and sh–.” And he said, “I don’t care, I don’t need to be in it. I just want to go up there and see it happen and stuff.” I said, “How?” And he goes, “I’ll be your assistant.” And I said, “You kind of are my assistant in real life.”
He came up with me to The Flash and when we got there that’s when I first got the episode. The episode’s written by Zack Stentz, who wrote Thor, the first screenplay for the first movie, and he co-wrote the X-Men movie First Class, so he comes from the world of comic book movie writing. They got him writing a script, this episode “Runaway Dinosaur” it’s called. You don’t see the script until you get up there. They write right up until the last minute. Then boom I saw the script and it was amazing. It’s perfect; it’s right up my alley. A lot of character stuff, a lot of emotional scenes, big time emotional scenes. The script felt like, and the episode really feels like, a spiritual sequel to the season 1 finale. They are kind of side-by-side episodes. That was my watermark that I was hitting for. That was the most fantastic episode of the show that they’ve ever done and also one of the strongest hours of television ever produced. Luckily Zack wrote a script that allowed us to do that.
The Flash producers plotted [an episode] where I came on and Barry is gone, essentially dead and in the speed force. It was like doing an episode in heaven. Nobody calls it that in the show, but we’re in the afterlife. For some reason that is just so up my alley, particularly the emotional stuff. I think they might have seen the video of me crying and said, “He’ll be able to do this episode.” Because this episode is like a three-hanky episode. I mean three hankies because two of them you are using to cry, there is so much emotional stuff in the episode, and the third one you’re using to fill because you’re just blasting your shorts. I don’t know what I can say in EW these days. You will c– your shorts is what I’m saying, that’s how f—ing strong the episode is.
I’m not saying I made it great or anything like that; I just relied on the folks who make this show every week, man. That’s the thing: I was never going to go up there and be like, “Let me show you f—ers how to make The Flash. No. 1, Barry should say c—sucker a lot more.” No, obviously not. If I want to do my stuff, I can do that in my stuff all the time. If I want to ruin things, I can ruin my own piece of work. Flash, I didn’t want to go up in ruin.
I wanted to go up and really just make an episode that nobody would even notice, you know what I’m saying? That was my aim. I didn’t want to do something where people go, “Kevin Smith directed that episode.” I wanted to make an episode that was just seamlessly fit into their world, so without the directive of like, “I’m going to go up there and run my stank on this show.” Really, I just went up as a total fan and my job became one of opinion and suggestion.
Basically you’ve got people who do the show on a regular basis, both the cast and crew, and f—ing knock it out the park, so much so that I became an insta-fan. I was like, “Let me lean on the cats that are here.” Kim Miles is our DP, crushed it with this episode. I’ve been a filmmaker — this is embarrassing to admit — for 22 years, but I probably learned more in eight days of directing The Flash than I have in the previous 22 years fuddling around doing this sh– on my own.
There’s something to be said for walking into a set-up where you don’t get to play your game, you got to play the game. So when I direct my stuff, I usually write it and I also edit it, so I buttress my direction, which is weak. If you ask any critic, they will tell you I’m a bad director. But I buttress it with the writing of the script and the editing of the script, so I control as much of it as possible. Directing has never been my first language. I’m a writer, first and foremost, who happened to wind up directing his own scripts.
On this, I couldn’t write it because Zack already wrote it and crushed it. I couldn’t edit it because we had Felicia [Mignon]. They had a crew of editors there and I certainly ain’t taking a job away from anybody, let alone a woman in film, so Felicia was our editor. All that left me to do was the one job that most people know me for, but the one job I feel least comfortable ever doing, which is directing. Forced to solely direct and focus concentration on that, I actually became stronger, man. Kim Miles was a big part of that. Anytime I was like, “Hey man, so how about we move over here? We take the shot, we start the shot, we roll over here and we pick this up.” He was never like, “That’s idiotic.” He’d be like, “That’s good. And then we can…” And then he’d turn it into the shot that it became, making it really more beautiful. He was definitely dialed up to 11 as they say.
Who else? Lexi [La Roche], who is our script supervisor, I consider her the co-director of the episode, because she sits there for every episode, she sees everything. She’s in the God spot. She knows more about the characters, their motivations, and the history of the show than even some of the writers, because she’s been there for the shooting of every episode. Continuity, that’s the job she does, with script supervision you oversee that completely. She was an incredible asset to have in terms of me wanting to get it as Flash as possible. I don’t want anybody watching the episode and be like, “He f—ed up continuity,” or, “This is where they jumped the shark, or the King Shark.” I wanted everybody to be like, “Yeah man, this is a strong Flash. This fits in, it’s not going to stick out like a sore thumb.”
It’s a collaborative medium and being there as the guest director is kind of like being the guest host of SNL. You know if that person got shot by a person in the rafters and they dropped them right there on the floor and everyone was like, “Oh my god,” they could still make the show that night; that person isn’t really that essential. It would be tragic, no one wants to see the guest host of SNL get gunned down, but the show would still go on. Same with me. If I stepped onto set on my directing gig on Flash and was like, “OK, I’m ready to do this,” and somebody took me out with a sniper rifle, they would be sad for a little bit because they’d be like, “Oh, Silent Bob seemed like a nice guy in pre.” But they’ve got a schedule to keep, they’ve got eight days to shoot 50 pages, they’re going to go forward and they can do it leaderless.
They don’t need a director there, they do it every week and the directors that come in bring a little something to it. But these people are such wonderful artisans, you could do it without a director. My take on Flash as director, I offered a lot of opinion and suggestion. That was just to get us going. But since everyone knows their characters so well, they’ve been doing them for two seasons, I’m certainly not going to be like, “Grant, let me tell you how to be Barry.” He knows how to be Barry, man. So instead of enforcing your vision on them, you go like, “Hey, gloves are off, go be as Barry as you can, man.” Particularly with this really touchy, feely stuff. Lot of emotional stuff, lot of him getting glassy-eyed on the verge of crying and then breaking down. So certainly I’m not going to teach the guy how to cry. I mean, I could be like, “Look, how I do it is I think about all the career I’ve wasted and the tears come.” But he doesn’t need that because this dude does this on a regular basis.
Grant’s process was amazing. This kid is going to win an Oscar one day, certainly not for playing The Flash, because it’s a TV show, but they’re lucky to have him and he’s lucky to have them as well. I hope it goes on forever, but one day he’s going to be off this show and he’s easily going to win an award. The dude’s true grit, he’s an amazing actor. Watching his process was really fun, to be like, “Oh my lord, this is how it gets to Barry on The Flash.”
The strongest muscle I brought to the job is that I’m a very enthusiastic person, particularly when I’m directing. In the early days, when I didn’t know how to do it and I was figuring it out, I would just pretty much communicate what we were doing to the keys, that’s how you do it on a movie set. On Clerks, we only had two or three people, so it wasn’t a lot of people to communicate to. When we got to Mallrats, suddenly you’ve got a crew of 70-100 people. I hate directing in front of people, because it’s an embarrassing job. Really it’s just being paid to make pretend for a living as a grown up. An embarrassing job to do in front of people because I felt like, “Oh my god, they are going to see what a charlatan thing this whole thing is, like there’s no such thing.”
Back in the day, I’d communicate whatever we were doing to the rest of the crew via the keys, the heads of the departments, that’s the normal process. But once I became a stoner, and I think that was after Zack and Miri, suddenly I realized, “Oh, don’t be that guy. You’re not an artist, you’re not that clown that needs to be like, ‘Hey man, I’m a think tank over here and I need to be with other thinkers, and everybody can’t understand my vision.'” No, just tell everybody. The quickest route between two points is the direct line, and the job of the crew is to try to get out of the head the vision that this dopey director has for what everything is supposed to look like when it’s all said and done. Best way to do that is to give everyone as much information as possible.
I became like more of a host on the movies. Later on, in the episode of The Flash, basically I just narrated the whole damn thing and told people what we’re doing like, “OK folks, this is it, we’re doing the second take of this scene only because I missed something. The performances were amazing, all the good is yours, only the bad is mine. So basically we’re going to pick this whole scene up one more time, just this take, just to get this one movement and when we’re done we’re going to be moving out of this for good, so I urge you, before we move on from this, seize this moment. This moment is never going to come again and you’re never going to say these words again, this camera is never going to be sitting there again. We will never be in this exact situation again, so let’s enjoy this. Let’s suck the marrow out of this moment, because we’re all overgrown children who get paid to make pretend for a living. We’ve got the greatest job in the world. And it got even better because we’re doing The Flash, so let’s do it. Action!”
I began every take in that fashion and that sounds obnoxious, I guess, but people love it on set. You bring that level of enthusiasm to every shot, it bleeds in. I’m not much at directing, but I know I’m a very enthusiastic director and I’ve been told over the course of my career, “You just make me want to do it man, it’s crazy. I like this, but you make me like it even more.” That’s why I end up getting pretty good casts.
This is the first time I’ve ever done something where I’m moving into an episodic that’s been up and running. I directed a pilot, Reaper for CW, back in the day, but directing the first episode is like directing a movie; you set the tone and all that stuff. When you’re doing a show where they’ve been doing it for two seasons and you’re just coming into it in the middle of it, you basically have to do their show; you can’t do your show. Going into it I was like, “I’m not going to try to make this a Kevin Smith thing, I’m just going do the best episode of Flash that I possibly can do and the only way I know how do that is to this job the way I normally do, which is chatty, gregarious, like telling everyone how great this is, cheerleading.” My job as director comes down to opinion, suggestion, and cheerleading.
It’s fun. You’ve got to remind everyone, especially when you’re in series television, it can become like any other job where, “This is what I do.” Sometimes you forget, “Oh my god, what’s better than this? You know what’s worse than this? Almost every other job on the planet, because all we are doing here is making pretend and they pay us for this. We don’t even need to fund it out of our own pockets. It’s not a waste of time because this is how we spend our time.” For an outsider to jump in and be like, “You guys are so lucky, you make the f—ing Flash every week,” that rubs off on every person, every department, every level.
Sometimes it just helps to have an outsider come in and remind people like, “This rules and what you guys do is amazing, so much so that like I changed every aspect of my life, which is usually full of stupid sh–, to be here and see how you do it. I didn’t come up here to get no check and I didn’t come up here to fix your broken f—ing show. I came here to learn, because you guys are like Tibetan ninjas or wizards of turning a show about a guy who solves all of his problems simply running real fast and they turn it into something even better, something more artistic, something special, something emotional.”
People have seen the artwork, they’ve released pictures online, so I guess I can say it, Barry’s mom is in the episode and that’s like porn if you’re a Flash lover. All the Barry mom stuff is not only cannon, but it’s the heart of the show. It’s a show about a boy who lost his mom in this mystery f—ing crime in his childhood that destroyed his family. Season 1, they break through all that, he finds a little redemption, but he can’t bring his mom back from the dead. Whenever you deal with Nora Allen on this show, it’s big stakes, it’s wonderful and it gives you an opportunity to cut right to the heart and soul of what that show is. And Grant is always fantastic on the show, but he is absolutely at his best when he’s working with Michelle [Harrison], who plays his mom. I was delighted when I cracked open that script and I saw Barry’s mom. I literally lost my breath, gasped when I saw the act end break and he goes, “Mom.” And I was like, “Oh sh–, I got this son.”
There’s spectacle in the show, don’t get me wrong. We bring back Girder, and Greg Finley crushes it, so there’s monster-of-the-week aspect, as they always do, and there’s mythology and there’s special effects. There’s the required spectacle, as per every episode, but it is so deep on emotion. Every episode has heart, humor, and spectacle. There’s so much heart in this episode, it’s crazy nuts.
We had this moment where Barry is with his home in the speed force and they’re reading this book — you know, spoilers — that’s the title, “The Runaway Dinosaur” is about a kid’s book that she used to read to him all the time, and I get glassy eyed just saying it out loud, that’s how much I love the f—ing episode.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.