Go Into Debt and Optimize for Happiness - 3 Business Lessons from Director Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith is the director and writer behind Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma, and a bunch of movies from the early 90s.

He also has a motivational story; he started from nothing, funded his movies himself with no connections to the film industry and eventually turned from filmmaker to podcaster, before jumping into indie film again.

In this blogpost I want to break down 3 lessons from his life, pulled from interviews with him and inspired by his book “Tough Sh*t

I’ll warn you that there’s probably going to be a lot of language in this post, but hopefully you’ll feel inspired and ready to start your own thing after reading this.

To get started, let’s go over Kevin Smith’s first rule:

1.     Go into debt as long as you bet on yourself

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Kevin says the following:

Don’t go to people for money, man. You don’t need that much money unless you’re making some kind of underwater epic (…) You don’t have to wait for somebody to tell you “Yes, you may proceed”, you don’t have to go out there with your hand held out.

There’s IndieGoGo and Kickstarter; you can raise a budget that way and you will not be essentially begging for money or pre-selling all your DVDs in advance to help you finance your dream.

Get that thinking out of your head. You don’t need to wait or ask somebody, you don’t need to approach a financier.

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After the successs of Clerks, Kevin Smith went through a bunch of different studio films, like CopOut, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and other films with large Hollywood budgets. He says his goal is to make a hundred-million dollar film, but he dropped all of that to go and make the type of movies he wanted to make.

2.     Once you make it, optimize for happiness

In the video above, you can watch a clip (2:36) where Kevin talks about how the encouragement and support from his wife allowed him to “go back tom the starting point and bet on himself again”.

The other things Kevin Smith is good are marketing stunts to help his movies get funded. One of the ways he’s ben launching his indie movies recently is touring around the country and selling tickets to live shows.

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By doing this, he’s been able to score some of the highest revenue per showing numbers in the entire film industry, including selling out Carnegie Hall.

3.     Go for cheap press over Ad spend

One of his biggest stunts was auctioning his movie Red State, to the highest bidder in a fake auction at Sundance Film Festival.

Saying he was going to auction the movie before the festival started, caused a lot of buzz and filled the room with some of the top people in the film industry, and then something happened at the auction, which you can see in the video above (4:30). If you can’t watch it, well, Spoiler alert: he bought the movie himself.

By doing this, Kevin created a bunch more news after the initial story, and ended up creating a lot of free press for the movie, to the point where he ended up profiting on it.

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