It started out as a silly conversation between two friends recorded for our amusement.

It then snowballed into a strange, “what if” scenario that everybody had an opinion on. Within months there was a script, a budget, a cast; it was real.

It all unfolded before our eyes. Then it was released in theaters and put to the test where it did less than stellar box office (though it still could turn a profit thanks to home video revenue and its modest budget).

Kevin Smith’s “Tusk,” available this week on Blu-ray, is a film with a behind-the-scenes story integral to understanding the potential future of creativity and film content. It’s the first full digital release of our age, a movie that proved the Internet wasn’t just for improving the marketing and distribution of content. It could expand the inspiration behind said content and play a distinct part in its making.

 

After finding comedy gold in a web posting, Smith uniquely turned to Twitter asking fans to vote #WalrusYes or #WalrusNo. He wanted to know if he was crazy for believing there was a story hidden in the laughter. The posting itself, later learned to be a hoax, was allegedly written by an old man looking for a lodger to dress up as a walrus for two hours a day to remind him of an old friend he lost at sea.

Fans overwhelmingly gave Smith a greenlight to start writing his strange little horror movie. Maybe they said yes just to see if he’d do it. Maybe he did it for the same reason.

Within months Smith showcased to fans that he had a screenplay, and he immediately and very publicly began the next step: seeking financing. With the production of the film being documented and published, and hordes of fans already giving their approval, it couldn’t have been a hard concept to sell … once you got past the whole one guy turning another into a walrus thing.

Finding financing, Smith began work shooting his strange walrus picture and keeping fans informed through Twitter and many podcasts. Often expressing awe at how the picture came together, fans couldn’t have felt much different.

Was this how a movie was made? The answer is yes and no.

Smith may have publicly guided fans and wannabees through the steps of inspiration, writing, financing, etc. (something no artist has done to the same extent or could do outside of this day and age), but that wasn’t all he did.

He paved new ground for future artists like he had in 1994 with “Clerks.”

Films like “Snakes on a Plane” had used the Web to create buzz, while others like “Stretch” leveraged the Internet to find a new home and an audience. Even the recent Sony comedy “The Interview” managed to create not just controversy, but a small revolution, based partly on Web-based protests.

These creations and others have proven that the Internet and the digital age provide a fantastic landscape for marketing and finding new and loyal audiences. The gamble can sometimes work and can sometimes fail very publicly. However, “Tusk” went beyond marketing.

Inside the Mind of Kevin Smith

We got to see the magic of inspiration firsthand. Something usually not so publicly expressed; that moment every artist has that can last for a second or a minute, that feeling when everything makes sense and we have a purpose. It’s that moment art is always trying to convey to the masses. It’s that moment we witnessed with “Tusk.”

“Tusk” couldn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. Even its goofy concept could have been degraded in years past, but Smith let us see his intentions.

Even if a viewer doesn’t like “Tusk,” there is a distinct sense of originality to it. You haven’t seen this before and if you look behind the curtain, you haven’t seen that before either. It’s a movie about storytelling, love and nonsense all rolled into one crazy adventure someone made just to say they made it and just to show others.

“Failing” at the box office is just another piece of the pie proving “Tusk” covers new ground. Smith says “Tusk” helped him score financing for a third “Clerks” feature, and in a world where VOD, streaming and home video dominate, “Tusk” could live on and become profitable for years to come. A good theatrical run sometimes does little more than provide a good advertisement for VOD especially for low-budget fare.

Not everyone will like “Tusk.” Liking it is not the point. Smith himself acknowledges people can love it or hate it, and he understands both points.

In the same way that the influential “Clerks” proved a movie could be low concept, low budget and low skills while still wowing, “Tusk” shows artists that the digital age provides more than just marketing opportunities but a new landscape to inspire and tell stories – even if they’re about crazy old men and human walruses.