There are certain Holy Grail interviews in this business that if they come your way you do everything short of taking hostages to get yourself into the room. I once sent a bottle of Pacifique absinthe to a cat in LA just to get on the short list of media for a press event for Prometheus - which meant a Ridley Scott interview. Which also meant I'd miss a vacation my family had been planning that Summer. Alas, the event moved to London and 20th Century Fox wasn't about to send any internet flunkies overseas, but at least I didn't resort to taking hostages...
Richard Linklater however, wasn't so tough to get access to - through PR, and, as it turns out, in person. Dazed and Confused has a permanent spot on my all time Top 10 list. It's a movie that has been traveling with me most of my adult life.
Recently Richard's been traveling with young actor Ellar Coltrane through pretty much all of his childhood.
In a crazy exercise in patience and persistence Linklater filmed his movie Boyhood over a period of 12 YEARS - and managed to keep the project a secret from everyone in the business. Richard Linklater is most definitely one of those Holy Grail interviews. And he didn't cost me a single ounce of the green fairy to sit down and talk to...
Here's what we talked about last month at the SIFF premiere of Boyhood:
JR: So did you ever want to grab Ethan Hawke by the scruff of his neck and say: “Would you please age?” He looked the same age through this whole film
Richard Linklater: Did he? I’ll put him on the phone. It’s funny Well, you know, Boyhood started before a year before Before Sunset. I think the fact that we’d committed to this twelve-year thing kind of made it a little easier – though it was still kind of scary – to jump into doing a sequel. The idea for this film preceded that.
JR: Something about your movies I really love is the music, having always been a big fan of music. The stuff from that generation - Dazed and Confused - was your generation and with this movie, it’s Mason’s generation. So, was there a difference in the process of scoring this film?
Richard Linklater: Yeah. Completely different. I didn’t need a consultant on Dazed, because I could tell you every song and everything I loved. But this, it was more of a: “Well, I know what I like now, but I don’t pretend to know what a nine-year-old is hearing in their world." So, I had all these – actually Ellar and Lorelei, my two representatives of this generation, were actually not much help either because they’re so strange in their own way. Lorelei is listening to medieval music – the most modern she’d get would be Joanna Newsom, you know the harp – but she also plays the harp. Ellar was just really advanced. He was the eight-year-old listening to Radiohead and Pink Floyd. I’d ask: “What are you listening to?” And he’d say: “Oh, you know, Pink Floyd.”. You know, he knew what he liked. We had to kind of normalize them down a little bit for their parts, at least up to a certain point. So, I ended up with these – not in the first few years, but as we got into the second half of the movie– I got some older kids, roughly their age and a little older and go through all the charts and hits and listen to stuff I like and give them to people to hear. It was important to me that someone had an experience with the song and people would write notes or tell me about them like: "Oh that song was on all that Summer and it played at the pool we were at.” I wanted stories and you know that song at the end where he’s driving away? Hero? I didn’t know that – it worked so well in the movie – but one of my interns and music consultants, Ben, suggested it. I asked him: "What did it mean?” And he said he’d had a breakup– or something bad like that had happened and he was driving away and that song was on. I don’t know if it was from his collection or the radio. He said he felt like everything was going to be okay. See, that means something to me, that you have an emotional reaction, you know? But it wasn’t my own experience, but it was important to me that it was somebody’s. Everything in the movie, frankly, is somebody’s experience.
JR: So it wasn’t just picking off the charts and what happened to be popular at the time, but getting a consultant together?
Richard Linklater: Yeah. Some of them were like: “My sister, or girl’s love this song, but I hated it.” And that’s something . Maybe that fits. But, it had to be stuff I liked too.
JR: So, when you bring up that difference– obviously a lot has changed in the last eighteen-years when it comes to technology and music. I read about Ellar not entirely understanding what this project was at first, but then as he grew into an adult– how much his own life changed, I can relate to a lot of it and a lot of what he went through. I was curious, if someone came to you when you were six and started filming your life until you were eighteen, how different and how similar would the story be?
Richard Linklater: It would be… both. You know, I think it’s different– making a choice with Ellar, the kind-of ethereal, arty kid– both his parents are artists and I kind of thought he would grow up to be a musician or something, but he ends up being a visual artist. He went that direction with it and that was a part of me, when he realized he was taking pictures and he was that guy. That’s what I did. I was behind a camera and writing, so that expressed one side of me. But if you really put a camera on me, there would be that side– the kid who’s writing and reading and all that, but then I was also playing football, basketball, baseball and all that. So, there’s that. There would be some similarities for sure.
JR: I watched Dazed and Confused the other day, just to kind-of catch up on it again and because graduation is coming up, and I loved the notion of having nothing to do on the weekends. You didn’t have the technology we do. You didn’t have access to certain things that we do and now you’ve got Ellar on the weekends, playing video games. He’s on his cellphone and the kids are out all weekend. What were your thoughts as you saw that shift?
Richard Linklater: As an older person, you have to think about the differences and I don’t want to be the old fuddy-duddy going: "Wow, back in my day everything was better.” I mean, the world is so much better now in so many ways. That information and all that is good, but I do wonder about and always appreciate what comes out of nothing. You know, boredom. I think, my little peanut observation from this whole twelve-years is: “I really thought that there would be more cultural change.” My theory now is: “I think the internet satisfies something in the individual to be heard or to be felt.” I don’t see a lot of physical change in the world– like even in architecture and cars. Everything looks pretty much the same. I mean, you go back and it doesn’t look much different. But, if you jump back to 1959 and ended in 1971, look at the cultural change there! Look how different everything would be! If you started in 70′ and ended in 82′, look how different it would look! Fashion, styles, and everything. I think it’d be different for someone from your age’s perspective, because you probably see all that’s different, whereas an older person doesn’t pick up on that. But I still think that there’s a lot less in the culture– or I didn’t sense that there were any new movements. I didn’t feel like punk rock emerged during this twelve-years. I think it comes out of boredom, or frustration, or a feeling of impotence. That, you know, why would stick a safety-pin in and start your own band. No one has to do that anymore, because you feel empowered through all these devices. You’re not viscerally reacting to this oppressive culture in the same way. That’s my take, at least.
JR: People Ellar's age are concerned with the new layout for Facebook and Twitter
Richard Linklater: I know!There is a site that shows all the Slacker locations and that IS an example, in terms of looking at your work as a whole, where you see how Austin has changed and it’s reflective of changes we’ve seen in Seattle. So if you look at your work in a wider sense, you see particular examples of gentrification. People in Seattle are very similar to people in Austin, in the sense that people are really nostalgic like: “We had this coffee shop in the 80′s and now it’s gone.” Now it’s a Starbucks! They didn’t just build a condo there, they put a Starbucks on top of that!
JR: I guess what I admire about your movies, is you’re not afraid of normal people. You don’t always work with actors, but more people. Do you just tell them to act like themselves, or what’s the direction you give?
Richard Linklater: I think I involve them. Most people I work with are actors, but I’m not afraid of people who aren’t professional actors. I don’t know… I kind of have this methodology from a long time ago that I’ve always worked with and that’s just try to rehearse a lot and rework the script. To me, that’s the magic moment when people ask me what’s my favorite point - shooting or editing? And I say: "Well, I like working with actors.” The point where it really feels alive the most is when the ideas and the material go through the actors. I think my process of that is rehearsing a lot with them and re-writing the script, or making it work with who they are. I’ll tell them like– especially with one of these films - like: “It’s kind of like a document of you acting out this fictional situation that you’re trying to make real.” I try to empower them make them own their character. Acting is the fun part. It lets you bring yourself and all your emotions and experiences in.I want to capture who they are. I’ve always been interested in that. I’m not trying to impose my own ideas on to them, but I want to find the most interesting people for the part. You know, like the coach trying to bring out the greatness you see in the people around you. That’s what you’re most intrigued with, not just with what they represent in something else. They represent themselves. They’re human.
JR: As we watch the film, we watch them all grow up. Whether it’s a physical appearance or emotional change, we watch the actors grow on-screen. I’m curious as to how these last twelve-years filming this have affected you as a director and how you may see certain things now and have changed your style in any way?
Richard Linklater: Well, not for this film. The tone of this– I mean that’s a director’s job and challenge. So, when I had this idea, it was whole. It was the tone and the whole thing, so my job is to stick with that tone for the effect that I want. That doesn’t mean in other films I can’t do something very different, but I just tried to think in terms of this film.
JR: I think your filmmaking improves with each film.
Richard Linklater: Well, I wasn’t eighteen when I started doing this. I was forty. You know, I felt I had a visual plan.
JR: You know, you’ve done so many different films since and it’s astounding.
Richard Linklater: Yeah, I’ve got quite a wide variety. It’s just– it’s storytelling. It’s: "What’s the most effective way to tell any story?” That’s what I spend most of my time thinking about in this world; how to tell a story. Not just what story, but how to tell it.
JR: So, has this experience then,with the Before trilogy and filming those nine-years apart and the response they garnered, opened you up to trying crazier things that the studios might claim are kind-of risky?
Richard Linklater: No, it’s just like– what’s the story? I know my ideas don’t fit into any kind of studio idea of what a film is, but you can get em’ made. I’ve been lucky to have gotten all these strange notions made into films. From the very beginning, I’ve been lucky. But, you’ve gotta sacrifice some things sometimes. You work twelve years for nothing and you put your own money in and you’ve gotta be dedicated to it.
JR: Did people sign any documentation, because they did an amazing job keeping this project a secret? I had no idea, until Sundance and SXSW. I started hearing about the movie and wondered: “How could I have not heard about this?”
Richard Linklater: Nope. In year one, there was a little article in Variety or Hollywood Reporter– you know how someone heard about it and someone’s agent told someone. I begged them not to mention it, but they put it up. So, over the years I’ve talked to people who’ve been asking me about it. It increased in the last six years too. Again, only in these situations where someone does a lot of research before they talk to you. I’ve had to talk about it, but I was just like: "Well, it’s in process.” It was trying to be a secret film, because I thought the idea worked better that way.
JR: It was a welcomed surprise for me.
Richard Linklater: Yeah, but those who did anticipate it seemed to be really happy– I mean, they earned it. They’ve been waiting for this movie for nine years! The build-up was like: "Wow!” Some people don’t even finish projects of that nature. That doesn’t always happen, but this one did happen!A lot of things can go wrong. It only works one way and because of that, it can all go wrong in a lot of ways.
JR: I read an article recently on documentaries and the fact that sometimes documentarians have a certain– they assume the film is going to take a certain arc and it doesn’t. Like the Queen of Versailles made this big change. I just wonder if there was something that greatly shifted the direction– and you went: "Oh man, this thing happened and I’m going to have to revise it.”
Richard Linklater: Not really. I mean, documentarians are used to working that way. A lot of them come in and they have something they want to express, using elements of the real world. Others, who just are filming, just let the wind take them and that’s beautiful too. I’m not really in that category as a fiction narrative– you know you can really plan and achieve what you can achieve. Twelve years is a long time, so it’s a collaboration with the future and time. It had so much looseness around the contours of what this could be. This film was gonna go where Ellar goes, to whatever degree. If he would’ve been a very different person, it would be twelve years in the life of this kid here. It’s a different film. You take a leap of faith into the future and you hope– I was confident with whatever came our way. You know, because it’s so incremental– the changes in his life or their lives. They’re small, but important. They just take you there. Which is like how life unfolds and follows us. Everything I’m talking about has its own life analogy. It’s how we all proceed through life. This film is about trying to portray that and how time goes through our lives. That’s how time actually went through our lives - you start here and arrive there. It all started wherever.
JR: It’s that sense of randomness.
Richard Linklater: Yeah, you can’t predict. But, that was the fun part. Actually having that gestation time each year to think. It’s like: "Hmm, this Obama election… I think it’s something that’s going to be memorable.” I was filming a period film, in the present-tense. You don’t really get to do that very often. I think this film is and I wanted it to feel like a memory. This is something a kid can– I remember elections in my youth and I was going all: "Yeah, this’ll be that.” Regardless of what happens, it’ll be a memorable moment in a kid’s life. I was kind of looking for some of that from the kid’s perspective. Why do you remember this and not that?
JR: I just wanted to tell you that I appreciated your nods to your previous movies. I liked that the old guy from Dazed and Confused was in Boyhood, and he was still selling crap to kids that they shouldn't have.
Richard Linklater: (Laughs) At the end?!
JR: Yeah. That was very fan service to me and I loved it.
Richard Linklater: Still selling crap to kids… (Laughs)
Boyhood opens across the country this weekend. Definitely check it out.