Kevin Smith Fights to Keep His Childhood Movie Theater Open With Famous Guests and a Proposed Reality Show, Because ‘Exhibition Is in the Toilet’

Kevin Smith could have bought the Quick Stop market he made famous in his first film, “Clerks.” But when the opportunity arose, the indie director instead put his hard-earned cash into his childhood movie theater in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., reopening it in 2022 as SModcastle Cinemas.

Now he’s fighting to keep the 103-year-old non-profit theater going, even if “exhibition is in the toilet,” as he likes to say. In other words, local audiences sometimes prefer to watch big hits like “Avatar” in modern multiplexes, and keeping a repertory theater vibrant without the help of a pricey beer and wine license is not for the faint of heart, he has found.

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No matter: The “Chasing Amy” director is leveraging his pop culture brand to focus on bringing the New Jersey community classic cult movies, family films, merchandise sales and super-fresh popcorn.

“It’s a big walking community, and people can just walk their kids down to the movie theaters,” he says. “‘Barbie’ and ‘Super Mario Brothers’ were absolutely huge for us.”

The cinemas even served as a location for Smith’s most recent film, 1980s coming-of-age tale “The 4:30 Movie,” which rolls out this summer through Saban Films.

Kevin Smith’s “The 4:30 Movie”
Kevin Smith’s “The 4:30 Movie”

He’s also shopping a reality show set in the cinemas, for which he’s already shot a sizzle reel. “It tells a pretty human story about people struggling to keep the lights on,” he says. The show could feature some of SModcastle’s frequent celebrity guests, Smith says, such as the Russo brothers, George R.R. Martin, Jason Lee, Joey Lauren Adams and Justin Long.

While some first-run films draw family crowds, Smith says SModcastle is focusing heavily on nostalgia and repertory films: “What draws them in here the most is when we do our own programming” — including classics like “Jaws,” “The Big Lebowski” and “King Kong” and cast-member appearances.

“We’ve had a lot of horror premieres,” Smith says, calling SModcastle the “warm home” for independent films.

Naturally, the programming leans hard on the Smith oeuvre, with plenty of marathons and fan events, from an all-night “Clerks” marathon to the Vulgarthon — eight Smith movies for $69.

Amid a landscape of anonymous mall multiplexes, Smith is all about capturing the magic that kids of his generation felt going to their neighborhood movie theater.

“There are very few places left that I used to go to with my dad,” Smith says. “This is our church, this is our cathedral.”

Keeping an indie theater alive is not easy, but Smith feels it’s worth it. “There’s not a moment I leave this building where someone in town doesn’t stop me and thank me for saving the theater,” he says.

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