Kevin Smith has earned his stripes

By David Germain

The ‘Zack & Miri’ filmmaker was pleased to have landed actor Seth Rogen.

TORONTO — The wonderboy who made “Clerks” now is officially an influence on a new generation of filmmakers.

Kevin Smith wrote his latest comedy, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” with Seth Rogen in mind to play slacker Zack, who makes a skin flick with his platonic best pal to turn some quick cash.

When Smith started, Rogen was a supporting player just getting a foothold in Hollywood. By the time he was ready to pitch the film to the actor, Rogen was about to break out as a leading man with “Knocked Up” and then as a screenwriter developing his own material.

Smith figured he had lost his shot at Rogen. But it turns out, the actor’s big dream always had been to work with the filmmaker he’d admired so much as a teen: Kevin Smith.

“It really comes down to ‘Clerks’ as the gift that just keeps on giving,” Smith, 38, said at September’s Toronto International Film Festival, where “Zack and Miri” premiered in advance of its debut in theaters Friday. “It gave me a career, I met my wife because of it. It just goes on and on.

“And then suddenly, there’s another reason to love ‘Clerks,’ because Rogen loved it, and that’s how he winds up in this movie, eventually. ... I felt like this dude’s doing me a true solid, because suddenly, he’s a movie star. The dude can do any movie he wants at this point. For him to choose ours is really cool.”

With Rogen’s fresh star power and sharp rapport with co-star Elizabeth Banks, “Zack and Miri” has a shot at elevating Smith beyond his loyal cult audience and into the mainstream.

Rogen’s three big films over the past year and a half — “Knocked Up,” “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” — collectively hauled in $360 million domestically, nearly three times the total for all seven of Smith’s movies, from the $3.1 million gross for 1994’s “Clerks” through the $24.1 million take for “Clerks II” in 2006.

At just over $30 million each, Smith’s highest-grossing flicks were the Roman Catholic comedy “Dogma,” with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as fallen angels, and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” which elevated the director’s alter ego Bob and old Jersey pal Jason Mewes’ Jay to star status after appearing in smaller roles in his previous flicks.

Smith’s movies find much of their audience in their afterlife, once they depart theaters.

“With our stuff, even though we don’t kill theatrically, our home video’s always been fantastic,” Smith said. “I learned that very early on, from ‘Clerks.’ That’s been our savior many times in the past.”

“Zack and Miri” has some commercial drawbacks that will scare away a chunk of the potential audience.

Its R rating is well-deserved for the subject matter, Smith’s trademark profanity, and nudity involving some of the co-stars, including Mewes and porn star Katie Morgan. The movie initially had an adults-only NC-17 rating, though Smith received an R on appeal.

2008, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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