clerks iii – marketing recap

How Lionsgate has sold the third entry in a key Gen X comedy series

Clerks III movie poster from Lionsgate
Clerks III movie poster from Lionsgate

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.

Cutdown versions of the trailer started running as online and preroll ads and promotions in early September.

overall

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.

Jay And Silent Bob Dancing GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot – Marketing Recap

Kevin Smith brings cinema’s favorite stoners/slackers back to have some fun with franchise reboots.

jay and silent bob reboot poster 4It’s been 13 years since writer/director Kevin Smith last visited one of the first major shared cinematic universes of the internet era, The Askewniverse. In that time he’s taken a few side jaunts into crazy horror comedies as well as directing a handful of superhero TV show episodes.

Now he’s back to the characters he introduced in 1994’s Clerks. This week’s new movie Jay and Silent Bob Reboot brings back the popular Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) in more or less a direct sequel to 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Where that movie had the pair heading to Hollywood to try and stop a movie based on a comic inspired by them from being made, this one has them heading to Hollywood to stop a reboot of the movie based on a comic inspired by them from being made.

The first film poked a bit of fun at the super hero movie genre that was barely learning to walk at that point, certainly nowhere near the heights it would reach several years later. Now he wants to tweak the tendency of studios to reboot franchises ad infinitum. To help with that, Saban Films has run a campaign that’s heavy on humor familiar to Smith’s fans as well as those who have enjoyed all the comic book adventures on the screen in the last dozen years.

The Posters

jay and silent bob reboot posterJay and Silent Bob are shown in a very familiar setting on the first poster (from marketing agency BOND), released in July. The two are propped up against a gray concrete wall, indicating they’re still very much committed to their personal brand. Copy tells us “Weed love to tell you a story.”

Two more posters came out in September. The first uses the same “arrange all the main characters around a few key elements from the story” design approach found on many action and sci-fi movies. The second has Jay and Silent Bob back to back like super heroes in a design reminiscent of that used on the character posters from the Avengers: Endgame campaign. That latter one was created as a special giveaway for fans attending select screenings of the film.

A final poster puts drawings of all the characters from the movie – a whole universe of major and supporting players – in the image, all in front of hand-drawn blueprints like Jay uses when planning pranks in Mallrats.

The Trailers

The first trailer (696,000 views on YouTube) – released in July during San Diego Comic-Con – is full of so much meta humor it’s almost overwhelming. We get the message that this is the same general idea as Strike Back and is filled with many of the same jokes, just slightly updated for the nearly two decades since then. Only now everything has an even more meta twist and a whole new series of stars doing cameos in some form or another. A green-band version came out in October.

Online and Social

The official website has lots of information on the roadshow Smith is taking the film on, with screenings at individual theaters across the country, many of which include appearances by Smith and others.

Advertising and Publicity

Smith first teased the project in mid-2017 but it wasn’t until over a year later at the start of 2019 that he announced pre-production had officially begun. Just a short while after that Saban Films announced it had acquired it for distribution.

Beginning in late February Smith launched a series of behind-the-scenes videos tracking production. That’s similar to what he did during the filming of Clerks II, but something filmmakers have gotten away from in recent years after being a popular tactic in the mid-2000s.

A panel for the film was announced for San Diego Comic-Con, a natural setting given Smith’s love of all things pop culture. That panel included the debut of the first trailer.

Fathom Events put out a promotion in September for the roadshow screenings at Regal Cinemas locations.

EW shared a clip in early October offering an extended look at the scene where Jay is introduced to the daughter he never knew he had.

Media and Press

Smith was interviewed at the same time as Comic-Con about the geek-friendly cast he assembled to do cameos and how making the movie lead to him rekindling a friendship with Affleck.

In the last couple weeks both Smith and Mewes appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about returning to the roles and more. The two also made a number of other stops at various media outlets to talk up the movie and generally chat with hosts and sell the return of the Kevin Smith brand.

Overall

So…this is what a Kevin Smith campaign looks like without the help of long-time patron Harvey Weinstein backing him.

I’m a little surprised a movie like this isn’t going straight to streaming. The roadshow release Saban is giving it plays to Smith’s strength as an in-person storyteller and helps generate word of mouth to hopefully warrant a more traditional release.

The movie being sold in the campaign *looks* like a Kevin Smith movie, warts and all. Smith has always been a stronger writer than director, and you see that here. Adding a few actors known well for their super hero work is a nice bit of stunt-casting, but nothing Smith hasn’t done to various degrees in the past.

It’s not going to light the world on fire, and it’s certainly not going to compete against major releases coming out this week. But it does look like a return to form for Smith, and it’s nice to see him back to having fun after his recent health scares.

Picking Up the Spare

Smith spoke about how making the sequel allowed him to update and “correct” a plot point in Chasing Amy that hasn’t aged well but which was well-intentioned at the time. A profile of the writer/director also (rightly) categorized his entire career as an act of sheer will.

Saban Films released another short trailer as the movie was beginning its screening tour. It’s not drastically different than the primary trailer, just shorter. That tour was the subject of another interview with Smith where he admitted a massive marketing campaign would have wasted a lot of money chasing a very niche audience.

It’s Back to the Askewniverse for Kevin Smith

After a couple (largely unsuccessful) forays into horror comedy, Kevin Smith is moving forward with production of what’s being called Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, a belated sequel to 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which at the time was meant to put a bow on the Askewniverse. That universe had started with 1994’s Clerks, with related characters weaving in and out of many movies, Jay and Silent Bob acting as connective tissue for the whole world.

 

The story will reportedly get Jay and Silent Bob back together as they once more head out to Hollywood to stop a movie from being made. This time, though, it’s the planned reboot of Bluntman & Chronic, the fictionalized version of the two that featured in the first movie.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of those first six Askewniverse movies than me. I also liked Jersey Girl and Red State, though some of his other attempts to break out of that particular mold have worked less well for me. Yoga Hosers in particular was almost painful to watch. And Strike Back did work as a bookend to the first story, signaling that Smith had moved on.

But moving on has proven harder to do than it seemed at the time. Smith’s feature films in the last few years haven’t been great but he’s become a constant and apparently beloved presence behind the camera on shows like “Supergirl” and “The Flash.”

So while I certainly will look forward to another Jay and Silent Bob movie, it also feels like an even more desperate return to his old persona than Clerks II did in the wake of Jersey Girl’s failure. I want Smith to succeed but wish he could find something new to say.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.