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Inside Kevin Smith's Booming Podcast Business

Director Kevin Smith gets the last laugh with his booming podcasting business.

The year 2010 did not begin quietly for voluble writer-director-übergeek Kevin Smith. The only thing that overshadowed the dreadful reviews for his action comedy Cop Out was his much-headlined booting from a flight for being too fat. "A lot of people thought I had a great sense of humor about the Southwest Airlines thing, but it was the worst moment of my life," the notoriously potty-mouthed Smith confesses. "For three days, there were thousands of news stories in which everyone felt license to write 'Kevin Smith — comma — the fat director.' I didn't want to get out of bed. Larry King asked me to be on, and I was like, 'I'm not fucking Octomom.'"

Humiliated, Smith was determined not to get on a plane again — and that decision unwittingly launched the boldest move yet in the evolution of podcasting as a business. Last summer, after traveling to his in-person appearances on a bus, Smith had the idea to turn his podcasts into a permanent live-theater experience. Within three days, his friend Matt Cohen, a production assistant on Smith's last movie, found a 50-seat black-box theater in the heart of Hollywood. They negotiated a lease for what has become SModcastle, the physical home of Smith's SModcast podcasts. "SModcastle is a place to go and try shit out," Smith enthuses from the set of his next movie, Red State, a $4 million horror flick about a crazed fundamentalist preacher. "It's the Little Rascals' backyard tent. 'Let's put on a show!'"

Although many podcasting pioneers, such as comedians Adam Carolla, Doug Benson, and Marc Maron, are experimenting with live shows as a way to create revenue from podcasting, SModcastle is one of the first-of-its-kind open-to-the-public headquarters for a podcasting network. It hosts six weekly hour-long podcasts — four of which have ranked in the top five in their category on iTunes — including the flagship SModcast 3D, where Smith talks about the week's news with longtime producer Scott Mosier.

For Smith fans, the live-podcasting theater is the sanctum sanctorum where they get to see the king of the comic-book geeks in action, regally decked out in his signature puck u jersey amid a hockey-inspired decor featuring mountains of sticks and red-and-black carpeting for his beloved New Jersey Devils. For a handful of Smith's friends who podcast with him and share in the profits, SModcastle is the saving grace that has freed them from living with their parents. And for Smith himself, it's the source of creative freedom and emotional solace he desperately needs. "All the fun that went away from the movies is here," Smith says. The 40-year-old feels like he's back in the Wild West of indie filmmaking, when he made Clerks for $28,000, before his movies became corporate Frankensteins. "No bosses saying, 'You can't do that,'" he says, "or, 'This is going to cost too much money.'" Or having to deal with difficult stars like Bruce Willis, who starred in Cop Out. "That'll kill your fucking soul," he says.

The SModcastle has also become the hub for Smith's expanding podcast business: "We don't have the balls to say, 'Pay what you will as you exit,' like the Little Rascals did. We like to get the money up front." That's 50 seats at 10 or 25 bucks a head depending on the show, one or two performances a night, four nights a week, in a place that rents for $4,000 a month. "We haven't advertised at all; we're selling out shows simply because of Twitter," he says, looking extremely pleased as he stands at the refrigerator of the bus he uses as his on-set trailer. Smith is holding a carton of low-fat chocolate milk, occasionally lifting it to his mouth, but he doesn't take a swig because he's talking too much. "It's shocking how self-sufficient you can be."

SModcast 3D commands roughly $2,000 for an advertising spot, with two spots running in a typical hour. "For as much as I thought, Wow, this is a brand-new world, it's really the same old world," Smith says. "Everyone tries to figure out how to keep it as similar to everything as possible, so this is like TV or radio ad buys."

But these aren't the usual TV or radio ads. "For us, it's like you can't reach out to the Nikes of the world or the Wonder Breads," Smith says. "You have to reach out to what our audience uses." Their primary sponsors: Adam and Eve (an adult novelties company) and Fleshlight (a sex toy). "Kevin's funny, and he's not afraid of what people think," says Fleshlight executive VP of marketing Chris Marcus, "so he's an ideal spokesperson."

The icing on the cake? Smith conducts wedding ceremonies at the SModcastle. It wasn't his idea, but fans suggested it and Smith is all about listening to his fans. At each wedding, Smith interviews the bride and groom for 45 minutes (or groom and groom; he's an equal-opportunity romantic) and then marries them before 50 of their nearest and dearest. The ceremonies are called "SMarriages," he charges $5,000, and they're podcasted for posterity. "I figure one of those a month covers rent, so everything is in the black, er, red," he says. "Wait, red is good, black is bad? Whatever. Everything's good." Smith smiles and takes a gulp of chocolate milk.

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  • Tyler Tesla

    So hie hit his glass ceiling, and realized that he wasn't that talented a director. At the very least he is doing something now where his talent level is obviously sky high. I mean even though Ralph Garmin in Hollywood Babble-On, is the obvious professional on the show, Kevin kind of big body's his way (no pun intended) and uses his former celebrity and aura and charisma, to come across as a person that can deserve to sit with Ralph, and anchor the show, and in a number of ways and for a number of reasons he really is a good anchor. Personally I can't stand to listen to an episode of Hollywood Babble-On that has guest announcers, and I've listened to about 75 of them in completion at the moment, working my way through the other 70 or so that are left for me to watch, so you won't get me claiming that he isn't a talented podcaster. I know for a fact that he wouldn't be as successful in his podcast network without Hollywood Babble-on, and especially without the genius that is Ralph Garman. But he does have Garman, and the only thing I see becoming a problem is when Garman gets the chance at a bigger gig, like he definitely deserves. I can see that being a major problem, so Kevin better figure out how to start making seven figures from his business because Ralph is going to need seven figures in the future as his own fanbase grows.

    Kevin is now doing what he is good at. He was the "Rudy" of directors, but just like the story of Rudy gets old, his own lack of directorial talent got to be an old story, once he hit his forties. People live in the HD age, where they need great visuals, not necessarily special effects, but just great on screen visual imagination and clarity. Kevin can't do that, but at least he can be a great podcaster for as long as he has to, to really make some serious money from Smodcast. I've also found him to actually have some interestingly solid business skills. In some ways he is obviously not a good business man, but in other ways, like when you consider that he survived the film industry for about 2 decades, he had inherently implicit business sense, about how to get things funded. I don't like him as a person, for a number of reasons, but as a personality, the guy is pretty funny; at least when he is podcasting. He has a piece of every single podcast on his network, with many to still come. He's going to make a shit load of money, as long as he is smart about it. People underestimate how much money is in the podcasting business all the time, much like they do the same with the porn industry websites like Brazzers, etc. I think Kevin picked up a few more lessons from pornography than just how to use a fleshlight :)

  • Tyler Tesla

    Either way though, I feel that it will all sort itself out because the best thing about his decision to just do podcasting is that I feel he will eventually be able to deal with the fact that he just wasn't a very talented director. People can claim that he didn't have to be to make his films, but after a while, he could only hold up that "punk rock" mentality of not having to be good at your craft in order to engage in it and be successful at it, but times have changed and progressed, and ironically even punk rockers have to know how to play very well these days. Much the same can be said of directors because the 90s and early naughts are gone, since those were the days that every actor wanted to make a cheap independent movie, and they usually did awful jobs on them. Kevin wasn't a successful actor, so the lack of box office success hurt both him, his brand, and his film legacy. He hit an obvious glass ceiling where it was obvious that directors that came up out of the blue like Zach Snyder were becoming major successes and able to deal with thier success by capitalizing on it with bigger projects. I think he became a bit delusional and actually considered himself a real director, but he was obviously Busch Leagues compared to those cats. My point is that guys like Zach Snyder piss off an strangely large amount of people, but Kevin Smith also was putting his hat into the ring to have his Superman script made into a movie, hopefully directed by him. My point is that he was very delusional in thinking that this would or could ever happen, and that he was capable of having to skills to helm a project of that style. Even though Zach Snyder is primarily good at being successful with special effects and shots parked with strong visuals, the fact of the matter is that in this generation of high definition, that is literally about 60 percent of the battle with movies like this. Kevin wasn't equipped with the skills to deal with a 60 percent handicap in personal directorial talent.

  • Tyler Tesla

    I believe he is going to be worth about 10-100 million dollars by the time he really gets going with his Smodcast "empire", and the only reason I put that in quotation marks is because it is too disorganized right now, and the thoughts behind the content are all over the place. When the site is organized better, and people can download and stream anything they want without having to tediously find it they will really get going. It reminds me of a porno site like Brazzers or Bangbros or Naughty America, the way the series are organized with banner buttons. Those websites are organized by "MILF" "My friends hot sister" "Big booty bit tits" and "Big Mouthfuls", and categories like that. Smodcast does a similar thing with banner buttons like 'Hollywood Babble-on", "Fatman on Batman", and "Comicbook Men." This concept can only balloon higher and higher, and it can become extremely profitable with more advertisers (The Fleshlight sponsor is so genius in that way that fuzes Kevin's perversity with an actual product that many guys, who are tired of just masturbating, can buy, and it dcesn't even feel like a cheap money grab because Kevin successfully either uses it himself, or convinces us that he uses it, in his "I'm Kevin Smith, just a normal pervo like any other married 40 year old man" schtick. Eventually he will have all sorts of similar products to advertise similarly successfully, and he will then get access to big time money. The addition of revenue from people paying for the premium version of the podcasts will work in the long run when they can afford to lower the prices in a similar way that porn does. In my opinion, they are going to have to keep being creative in figuring out ways to get people to pay for either membership or individual videos or packs of videos.