Improv in Kevin Smith Films

Kevin Smith is known for telling his actors to “stick to the script.” Watch the making of Clerks documentary The Snowball Effect and you’ll learn that this goes all the way back to his high school days.

And so, it was very interesting to me to hear, way back when, that Kevin had cast Seth Rogen as the lead in his next film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the same Seth Rogen whose “You know how I know you’re gay” improvisational bits on the 40 Year Old Virgin DVD had me roaring with laughter. How was that going to work?

In an MTV Movies Blog article I found through News Askew, Rogen explains exactly how it worked:

I made it really clear before I went anywhere near committing to the movie that I needed to be loose… I feel like [improv] is the way people expect comedy to be like now. In its time, the very-scripted kind of conversation was really new and revolutionary, but I feel like audiences have moved on from that, and expect more of a conversational, naturalistic kind of improvisational feel… I told [Smith] I’m not going to change everything, but if everyone just knows they can change things, I find that it makes all the actors seem more real, like it’s actually a conversation that’s happening

I think Rogen definitely has a point, but I think I would go even further. I think the “very-scripted kind of conversation” that he references was at its best when it felt conversational and naturalistic (despite the language maybe being a bit elevated). I think that’s why there are moments in every Kevin Smith film that have felt like actual conversations I’ve had with my friends and other moments where I am painfully reminded that I am watching actors reciting lines from a script. My hope for Zack and Miri is that, by allowing Rogen to become more of a collaborator than he has ever allowed one of his actors to be, Kevin Smith will rediscover the most authentic parts of his own voice.