How Lionsgate has sold the third entry in a key Gen X comedy series
It’s been 16 years since Kevin Smith last went “back to the well” with Clerks II, the sequel to his 1994 debut Clerks. Now the writer/director returns to the world of convenience store employees and their hopes, dreams and minutiae in the aptly-titled Clerks III.
As usual, the story pulls heavily from Smith’s own life and experiences. Now in their 40s, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson) are still working at the Quick Stop in suburban New Jersey, which they bought in the last film. When Randall survives a heart attack he sets out to do something meaningful with his life. Specifically, he enlists Dante and others in his plan to make a movie about their experiences as clerks at a suburban New Jersey convenience store and the people who frequent it.
Smith himself returns as Silent Bob alongside his hetero-lifemate Jay (Jason Mewes). Also coming back are Marilyn Ghigliotti as Veronica Loughran, Dante’s girlfriend from the first film, along with Rosario Dawson as Becky, his love interest in the sequel and Trevor Fehrman as Elias, who worked at Mooby’s with Dante, Randall and Becky in the previous movie. Ben Affleck, Sarah Michelle Gellar and others also appear in supporting/cameo roles.
So let’s take a look at how this one stacks up in the marketing department.
announcements and casting
News that Smith was once more working on the movie came while he was promoting Jay and Silent Bob Get Rebooted in late 2019, with the director sharing details on the story he had in mind and more. Of course that had come after Smith spent several years hinting at what he had in mind for a third installment, offering occasional updates on his podcast, at speaking appearances or elsewhere on how the script was evolving.
Lionsgate acquired rights to the movie in mid-July 2021, just as filming was about to start.
Smith then gave fans an update when he called in to “Late Night With Seth Meyers” in August of that year flanked by Mewes and O’Halloran.
the marketing campaign
“They’re too old for this shift” reads the copy on the first teaser poster, released as part of the countdown to the trailer. None of the actors themselves are shown, but what we do see is an old lock that’s had gum jammed in it.
Additional teasers showed a familiar hand-written sign hanging from the front of the Quick Stop, Randall and Dante standing across the street from the store while others are hanging out in front of it, Dante in his exasperated state behind the counter and finally he and Randall ready to service their customers while Jay and Silent Bob mug for the camera through the window.
After all that preamble, the first trailer (392,000 YouTube views) came out in early July. As it opens we see that the lives of Dante, Randall, Elias, Jay and Bob haven’t evolved much, at least not until Randall has a heart attack at the store. Determined to not waste another day doing the same old things, he sets out to make his own movie, offering us a glimpse at some of the cameos and at the movie’s meta humor, as Randall’s film sounds very much like the original Clerks, his description of Jay and Silent Bob is the same as Smith has offered and more. Capping it off, his choice to kill off Dante’s character mimics Smith’s original plan for the first film.
At this point Lionsgate announced their release plans for the film, which amounted to a two-night special event in partnership with Fathom Events.
Smith also announced The Convenience Tour, a roadshow beginning in September and running through November that included screening of the film itself along with the director doing what he does best, which is talk about the movie and whatever else occurs to him.
San Diego Comic-Con provided a moment for Smith and others to promote the film to an interested audience. An exclusive and very cool poster was created for SDCC attendees and Lionsgate recreated the Quick Stop counter at its booth on the show floor. A Mooby’s pop-up shop filled with merchandise from this movie and others was opened near the convention site.
Many of the cast and crew appeared at a Hall H panel to talk about the film and show off footage. And Smith of course along with Mewes and the others did lots of press and other interviews while there.
The first clip, released at the end of August, shows the moment Randall has been taken to the ER and is informed by a very unconventional doctor he’s in the middle of having a massive heart attack.
Many of the cast and crew members turned out once again for the film’s red carpet premiere in New Jersey. There Smith talked a bit about the evolution the movie’s script had undergone over the years. At the Hollywood premiere a short while later he offered more details on getting Affleck back for a cameo. Dawson was also interviewed about how important it was for her to come back and see where Becky was after all the years. Another conversation with Smith had him talking more about Affleck as well the status of some of his other long-gestating projects.
Look, you’re never going to get the same gonzo attitude the first movie had. Nearly 30 years have passed, Smith has done a lot more work in that time, and so many other things have changed that it would be unfair to judge the campaign for Clerks III based on whether it conveyed the same feelings and emotions as a self-financed black-and-white movie from 1994.
So with that caveat in place, I will say the campaign for Clerks III brings me lots of joy. It is exactly what I want from a sequel: The same characters in slightly different situations. It’s nice to see so many of Smith’s regulars return, and his stories about how his own heart attack prompted him to revisit the script he’d been working are personal and charming.
More than anything, those stories – and the campaign as a whole – offer an example of how impersonal so much moviemaking has become in recent years. Not that no director ever took a job just for the paycheck, but so many filmmakers are working with IP that they’re not allowed to do anything interesting with because those characters and situations are needed for future franchise usage that everything about their own style gets pulled out.
But Smith here has made something about (and for) himself and his friends, and that’s increasingly unusual. In its own way, it’s still as revolutionary as the movies that came from him and others like him in the early 1990s.
And it just looks funny.