I just got back from one of the most positive life experiences I’ve ever had.
I have the good fortune of living near the hometown of one of NJ’s greatest treasures, Kevin Smith. I’ve been a long time frequenter of Smith’s local comic book shop, The Secret Stash. I’ve been digging through bins finding rare Dr. Strange titles while AMC’s Comic Book Men filmed in the background. I heard Clerk’s III was dropping when a friend of mine accidentally jogged through the set. This proximity has given an air of accessibility to a certain corner of nerd culture that has always felt a bit surreal.
When I saw Kevin Smith announcing that he would be hosting a live conversation with fantasy titan George R. R. Martin at his new theater “Smodcastle Cinemas” on Instagram, I thought I must have misread something. It seemed impossible that for the admission price of $30, I could join a small theater-full of people for an in person sit-down with these two legends.
I’m still not sure if what I experienced was real or something from one of my more elaborate childhood fantasies.
Despite showing up early, I was surprised to see a line of fans adorned in baseball caps, flannel shirts, and high heeled Doc Martin boots down the block. As I waited to be checked in, I heard snippets of convos about good and bad portrayals of Hobbits, incredulity over the upcoming Netflix payment tier system, and the writing habits of the evening's guest of honor.
The murmur of Andor reviews and deep Game of Thrones lore was suddenly drowned out by cheers as a long coated Kevin Smith popped out of the theater to greet the sidewalk with two thumbs up and a yell of “We’ll get you all in super soon!”
“Hurry the fuck up!” A member of the hoard jokingly yelled back.
A few minutes later, Smith emerged again to walk down the entire block-long line shaking each person’s hand individually and thank them for coming.
“Don’t worry! Winter may be coming but booze is waiting inside!”
Smith told us before disappearing back under the old-school theater marquee and opening the doors.
We shuffled in with very little pomp and circumstance. I expected the theater to feature ten minutes of security procedures and the same cold modern interior that I’ve come to accept and expect as the setting for an event featuring a guest of this status. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Smodcastle Cinemas feels like the kind of local movie theater I’ve watched fade away with my hairline and youth. Pop-Culture figures adorn the walls. The ticket booth and concession stand are staffed by local highschool kids who just seem stoked to have somewhere to hang out on a school night. Grilled cheese is a featured menu item alongside theater candy. They were out of grilled cheese…But, I did manage to snag the last Poptart which they kindly offered to warm up for me. I declined. I’m not a man of such sophisticated taste.
I found my seat and before too long, the show began. Smith introduced the guest by reading a fan letter that Martin wrote as a child to the writers of The Fantastic Four which was published in the 20th issue of the comic. After taking the stage, Martin confirmed that this was most likely his earliest published work. In his typical down-to-earth manner, Smith continued in this fashion; teeing up stories from Martin's childhood, his early career, and discussion of his infamously slow writing habits. After each question, Smith would place his microphone back down on the table and become as rapt as the rest of the audience in Martin’s long-winded and delightful musings. The interview was an absolute treasure trove of rare insider info and hot-takes from Martin. While I initially intended for this piece to be a clickbait condensation of these bits, I think I’ll save them for the minute long social media video where they belong.
Instead, this is my own fan-letter to Kevin Smith. Better yet, this is a thank you letter to the man.
I feel as if an extremely valuable part of my childhood was restored. I had a fun night out at a theater. I still love a night at the movies as much as anyone, but I’ve sorely missed the communal nature of going down and hanging out at an independent local theater. Kevin Smith has built a beautiful little spot that seems focused on bringing together fans and nerds in a way that lets them feel like participants in the culture rather than just consumers. The evening was a celebration of fandom rather than an exploitation of it.
I will absolutely be returning for the promised foot races down the aisles and Q+A’s for movies that Smith had no part in making. Smodcastle Cinemas is a spot. It's not hip or chic or pretentious. It’s fun. It’s alive. If you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself nearby, do yourself a favor and stop in.