In 1995, filmmaker Kevin Smith said Eden Prairie Center mall represented a doorway to his future.
The mall was much different when the writer-director came to Eden Prairie to film the comedy “Mallrats.” This was long before AMC Theaters, Von Maur, Barnes & Noble, and Scheels opened for business there.
“Due to the Mall of America opening a mere few miles away, this unsung shopping center was then at half-capacity, which made them open to the idea of our production moving in for a few winter months,” Smith said last month to EPLN in a text interview.
For a “mere” $10,000 location fee, Smith said he had his own mall to play with at the age of 24.
“And considering what malls meant to my generation growing up, it was a personal triumph as much as a professional one,” he said.
Though “Mallrats” is now considered a cult classic, Smith has described it in interviews as a critically despised box office flop when it first opened in theaters in the fall of 1995.
It was Smith’s second movie after his breakthrough in 1994 with “Clerks.” After “Mallrats” bombed at the box office, Smith thought his career was over. He now realizes the film was ahead of its time.
In 2020 when “Mallrats” turned 25, Smith told Forbes Magazine the film was “almost like a fantasy, a world where people knew all the comic books and everyone knew who Stan Lee was.” That was not the world in 1995, but it became the world when Marvel began churning out movies in 2008.
Smith has fond memories of his time filming at EPC, as he calls it. After all, the mall, for a time, was the center of his universe. It was his first studio movie. He had a budget of $5 million, a cast and crew of 50 to 60 people, and the mall as his set.
“The decision was made to use the mall and the surrounding property not just as our location, but our production offices as well,” he said. “Hidden behind the facades of fake stores like Rug Munchers and Fashionable Male was the production design department, the wardrobe department, etc.”
“Mallrats” didn’t rent trailers for the cast, featuring such actors as Jason Lee, Shannen Doherty, Ben Affleck, and Michael Rooker (as well as a cameo by Stan Lee). Slacker movie icons Jay (played by Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (played by Smith) appear for the second time on screen.
Instead, crews built each actor their own room inside an empty store unit at the mall. A story on the filming appeared in the March 2, 1995, Eden Prairie News.
“So, essentially, we made EPC like they made movies in old-timey Hollywood, with the mall acting as our studio,” Smith said. “We shot an entire motion picture inside a giant cinder block, just like they did at Universal and Paramount.”
Smith returned on the “down-low” to EPC in 2017, airing his real-time reactions to how much the mall changed in a Facebook video shot on his phone. “(There’s) a lot more wood fixtures,” he said.
He did find a few familiar sites, including the escalator near the entrance to J.C. Penney, where the little boy sits in one scene as it descends up. (Brodie, played by Lee, laments to his friend T.S. played by Jeremy London: “I hope his pants get caught, and a blood bath ensues.”)
Smith comes across another discernible sight at center court: the elevator near Von Maur. As he boards it, he notes that the outside looks different, but the interior feels the same.
He should know it. In one scene, Silent Bob flies off it dressed as The Dork Knight (Smith jumped onto an air mattress; a stuntman did the actual swinging). Another scene between Lee and Doherty took place inside the elevator.
“Wow, this is crazy. It’s big,” Smith said. “It was always big. We had a whole film crew in here and two (actors) and stuff.”
Smith told EPLN that he was surprised at how crowded the mall was when he visited.
“And the only memorial to ‘Mallrats’ was a framed poster hanging in the sandwich shop,” he said.
Indeed, the Mallrats poster is on a wall above the door to the backroom of Potbelly Sandwich Shop. It’s within the sight-line of customers paying for their food.
On a recent stop at Potbelly, the two sandwich makers on the clock had no idea the movie was filmed there. One of them looked up at the poster and laughed. “Oh, that’s why it’s there,” she said.
If he can ever do a “Mallrats” sequel, Smith said EPC would “definitely be in the running.”
A mall official said they are proud of Eden Prairie Center’s starring role in “Mallrats” and would welcome any conversations with Smith or the studio regarding filming a sequel at the center.
“It’s home kind of, even though it doesn’t look like the mall I shot in and even though this wasn’t the mall I grew up in, or anything like that,” said Smith, a New Jersey native said in his 2017 Facebook video. “It’s in Minnesota. Obviously, this mall is way important to me. It’s nice to see that it’s still up and thriving.”