Duo 'Jay and Silent Bob' on tour at Oaks Theater with animated film

| Thursday, June 6, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith — aka Jay and Silent Bob — aren't for everyone. They're two smart guys, who specialize in making movies that wallow in low-brow pop culture, bad taste and gross jokes.

They also may represent the future of filmmaking.

Mewes and Smith are touring with their new movie “Jay and Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie,” made on the cheap (an almost-unthinkable $69,000), with big names doing voice-overs (Eliza Dushku, Neil Gaiman, Jon Lovitz), and are bringing it to theaters themselves. They'll be at the Oaks Theater on June 9, doing one of their famous Q&A sessions after the film — which can last for hours, often involving ridiculous games, long-winded stories, quasi-standup comedy and lots of audience participation. The screening is sold out.

In the trailer for the movie, Smith introduces Mewes, now several years sober, like this: “He used to be on drugs. ... Instead of doing dope, he became a Hollywood movie producer!”

“Which is pretty much the same thing,” Mewes cracks.

The project didn't start as a movie at all, which is not uncommon for the pair. Between the two of them, they have an extensive presence in Internet radio (www.smodcast.com), TV (“Comic Book Men,” shot at Smith's Red Bank, N.J., comic shop) and even video games. Smith also directed two movies in Pittsburgh — “Dogma” in 1999 and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” in 2008 — in which Mewes had roles.

The brief run of Jay and Silent Bob as lucrative Hollywood property is long over — from their indie debut in Smith-directed films “Clerks” (1994) to “Chasing Amy” (1997) — but enough of a hardcore fanbase remains to let them do pretty much whatever they want.

In this case, Mewes wanted to make some cartoons.

“When (the movie) first started, I was paying for it out of my own pocket,” he says. “We were first going to do it as webisodes — 10 six-minute episodes, released monthly. I felt like for the price, I could afford to do it, and I still didn't know how much it would (cost).”

Eventually, he settled on a possible number: $69,000.

“I wanted to stick with that number, because I thought it would be funny,” Mewes says. “But I didn't plan it from the beginning — it was all coming out of my own pocket.”

He didn't have to look hard to find the ideal filmmaker. A Canadian animator named Steve Stark had already tweeted a YouTube cartoon that he had created to illustrate a story from SModcast, Smith's podcast. It was perfect.

“He took a two-minute story from Kevin and (Scott) Mosier's podcast and animated it, and it was hilarious,” Mewes says. “We didn't have a lot of money, and I liked his style — he knows the movies and the characters and knows how to do facial expressions, to bring the story to life.”

As for what the movie is about — well, what are most of Smith and Mewes' movies about? Themselves, of course.

Or at least their alter egos, Jay and Silent Bob. Those alter egos create superhero alter egos, Bluntman & Chronic, who also should be familiar to fans. They arise to battle a super-villain crime wave that threatens their beloved New Jersey town, in various disgusting ways. Further elaboration is probably unnecessary.

Smith took his last film — the much-bigger-budget (and very un-Kevin-Smith-like) horror movie “Red State” — to theaters around the country himself, without going through the Hollywood distribution system. He'd be there to answer questions and talk with fans after the show, giving some added value (and charging much more than a typical movie-ticket price).

Smith and Mewes are taking a similar approach with this low-stakes animated movie, aiming at already-converted fans, rather than building a mass audience from scratch. This approach poses a question — is it better to have a bigger audience of fickle, passive viewers, or a smaller, ultra-dedicated group of fans?

“I don't know if I want to say it's better. The bigger is better. For people to come out and see your stuff, you want as many as possible,” Mewes says. “But I definitely think for us — for me, personally — I think our fans are awesome, the people who have been watching us for years. The questions and comments we get are amazing. ... Sometimes, it's like, ‘I was in Iraq,' or ‘My mom was sick and in the hospital, and this movie got me through it.'”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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