Shooting Clerks is a partial biopic of director Kevin Smith, telling the story of his early years and his inspirations as a filmmaker, leading to the creation of his cult comedy Clerks and its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
The story takes a little while to engage with since the opening section is rather disjointed as it jumps through Smith’s childhood and touches upon the films he has loved since he was young, all of which culminates with his time at film school in Vancouver. However, once the preparation for making Clerks gets underway and its filming begins, everything the film is trying to convey becomes clear.
While principally a meticulously reconstructed tale of the creation of Smith’s debut feature, Shooting Clerks is also a love letter to independent filmmaking itself. Making movies is not specifically a career or a way to amass money or glory, but rather a calling. Those who undertake it do so to sate a burning need to produce something original, one that can only be satisfied by not just talking, thinking or planning, but simply getting out there and actually doing it. The drive to create and refusal to let anything stand in your way is a sentiment many can identify with, and one the film carries at its core. It also deals with the less romantic aspects of the process, such as problems caused by casting your friends and in particular the occasional necessity of bumping them to lesser roles if it will ultimately improve the finished product.
The largely British cast acquit themselves well in terms of mimicked accents, and while they don’t all much resemble the people they portray, the interactions keep it clear who is who and prevents things getting confusing. The film hides its limited resources well, craftily dismissing potential accusations of poor production values by mimicking the grainy monochrome of its subject, which also affords it a slightly surreal metafictional tone. The feeling is enhanced by a plethora of cameos such as Smith cohorts the Comic Book Men appearing as comic store employees, Marilyn Ghigliotti (Clerks’ Veronica) as a critic who first reviews the film, and even Smith himself as an overtly Canadian journalist. It even has Richard Linklater periodically crop up in recreated TV interviews like an indie overlord, acting as some electronic spirit guide espousing the wisdom that Smith needs at that particular moment. Additionally, numerous events pointedly echo moments from Smith’s films – such as his girlfriend dumping him by letter with a prominent use of ‘callow’ – reinforcing the autobiographical inspiration of Clerks’ genesis and just how much its creation was a happy coalescence of unlikely circumstances.
Once it gets going, Shooting Clerks is a funny and charming story that remains engaging even if you’re already familiar with parts of it. In watching the film, you get the impression that making it was as much a communal effort from a group of friends as Clerks itself was, and leaves you with the same sense of satisfaction at what lo-fi filmmaking can achieve.
SHOOTING CLERKS / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER DOWNIE / STARRING: MARK FROST, HARRY MITCHELL, JAY BOOTON, KIT ALEXANDER, TOM SULLIVAN, CHRIS BAIN, ASHLEY GRAZIANO, STEPHANIE PRICE, MATTHEW POSTLETHWAITE, BRETT MURRAY / RELEASE DATE: JULY 19TH