The Askew-niverse
Kevin Smith's off-center view

About four years back, I helped host a live Web chat with writer-director Kevin Smith, who was out stumping for Mallrats -- a critically eviscerated film that was nearly his professional undoing.

See also...
... by Kat Giantis
... in the Dirt section
... from November 9, 1999

My job was to relay questions to Smith over the phone. Before the chat began, I tried to fill the uncomfortable silence by making small talk, which alternated between lying to him about how much I enjoyed the film and telling him about the proliferation of Clerks sites on the Internet.

He seemed genuinely surprised by the online devotion to his dialogue-heavy first feature, and I promised to send him a list of the URLs. I'm ashamed to admit I never got around to it, but I take comfort in knowing it didn't really matter: Kevin's own site puts his fan pages to shame. (named after his production company) fulfills the promise of every half-baked celebrity-run Web site by allowing you -- the average schmo surfing at home in your undies -- to have direct contact with the object of your interest. As the self-deprecating Smith once explained, the site gives you "the power of communication, as you can actually interact with the losers who hit it big with their movies of smut and conscience!"

The so-called View Askew-niverse is a community in the best sense of the word. Kevin encourages a close-knit atmosphere by inviting his fans into his private spaces, from providing an online tour of his cluttered New Jersey production office to offering a personal essay on how Chasing Amy was inspired by his relationship with baby-voiced actress (and Amy star) Joey Lauren Adams.

Kevin (a.k.a. Silent Bob) is also a regular contributor on the View Askew message board, giving thoughtful replies to both positive and negative feedback on his films. He also encourages his famous friends, including Ben Affleck, to stop in and post.

Rather than tiptoe around the pre-release commotion his latest film, Dogma, has created, Kevin lets fans see what he's dealing with: dedicating a section on the site to the various pieces of hate mail the film has generated.

This tactic proves particularly effective when the anti-Dogma missives turn malicious: "Too bad you still cannot comprehend why Hitler was neccessary [sic], but you understand the virginity of Mary," read one recently posted letter. "Because of sinners like you: Christ said there will be no stone left unturned in Jerusalem."

Cruising through View Askew, it's clear that Kevin hasn't bought into his own press, and unlike most of his fellow auteurs, he's not afraid to look like an ass in front of large groups of people. He gamely played along when Affleck planted a big wet kiss on him at the MTV Awards (Affleck's conclusion: "Man, you have to brush."), and he's enough of a sport to post the less-than-flattering clip on his site.

Do you think image-conscious, old-school directors like James Cameron or Steven Spielberg would have the cojones to skewer themselves like this? Unlikely, especially since few members of the Directors Guild have even bothered to go online.

Kevin understands that having a connection to his audience is vital to his success, as evidenced by his introduction to his Dogma production diary: "While I was shooting the flick, I wanted to stay in touch with the fan base -- the people responsible for me actually having a job (I mean, if they don't buy tickets, I don't get to make movies)."

It seems so simple, yet he's one of the few filmmakers who gets it.

Kat Giantis writes about popular culture, even though she lives in Seattle.

Celebrity Web site reviews run every Tuesday on GettingIt.