Boyhood Interview: Richard Linklater

2014 Seattle International Film Festival

Ellar Coltrane

I caught up to Richard Linklater‘s films a bit late in the game (for my own standards). School of Rock was the only film of his that I had seen until early last year. I love that film and it’s one I’ve watched with friends many times, but I had no clue who directed it. Last year, many critic friends were gushing over a film called Before Midnight, calling it the best film of the year, not even halfway through 2013. Perplexed by this film, I asked about it and discovered that two prequels existed; Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. So, as any curious film fanatic would, I immediately went to watch them to see what all the hype was about. Let’s just say that after watching all three films in a span of a few months, I had a new-found respect for Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy. Each film takes place 9 years apart (in real life and in the film) and it has some of the greatest dialogue you’ll find. The best part, is that everything is real, form the conversations, to the situations. After falling in love with the writing,acting, and directing of these films, I found myself leaping back in time and watching Dazed and Confused, the film that put both Linklater and Matthew McConaughey on the map. The High School period piece resonated well with me, seeing as I just graduated and it’s Summer now, and I loved the exploration of these diverse characters. Then, I found Bernie, a Black-Comedy that had me howling and admiring the smart dialogue. After that was Slacker, a portrayal of college kids, college towns, and the discussions that ensue.

Then came the big one; Boyhood. A film about a young boy’s life form grades 1-12 and all that happens in-between. The movie is a definitive masterpiece and for someone who grew up partially in Houston, this film gave me a lot to discuss with Linklater about, before we officially sat down to talk with a few other critics. We chatted about the divine dip that is Queso, the Astros when they were far better, the Texas lifestyle, and even my future college (University of Houston). Richard Linklater is as easy-going as they come and his profound outlook on life is inspiring. I could only dream to write as well as he can some day and this interview is proof of just how many light-years ahead he is than everyone else. He’s an extraordinary person and being able to sit and talk with him was an absolute honor, as he’s someone I respect the most in the industry. Enjoy this long and thoughtful interview, as I hope it convinces you to seek out this one-of-a-kind film!

 
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Let’s go! Fire away! I give long answers, so you might only get one or two questions in *laughs*.

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

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.

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?

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.

So it wasn’t just picking off the charts and what happened to be popular at the time, but getting a consultant together?

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 *laughs*.

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?

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 *laughs*. There would be some similarities for sure.

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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?

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 *laughs*.

People my age are concerned with the new layout for Facebook and Twitter

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!

My dad and I were just talking about this, because as you went around certain locations in Houston and Austin, a lot had changed and then the flashbacks happened. I’m curious, if you could have filmed this anywhere else, though I know Texas is a huge part of your films and just the areas where people can walk and talk freely, or the places they can go in the little coffee shops and whatnot– was there anywhere else in mind that, if not in Texas, you’d want to shoot this film?

It was definitely practical consideration being based in Texas. You could get a lot of different looks and we traveled to Houston, but it was kind of based on my own life. I mean, I never really left Texas growing up. We couldn’t afford it and we took one vacation my whole life. I never went to summer camp or anything, but Texas is such a big State, that you do get a lot of different locations within being geographically restricted. It’s not the worst state to be geographically restricted to.

Agreed. There’s also tons of diversity in the state and when he goes off to college, you’ve got a completely different landscape.

Totally! It’s another world. I mean, you’re halfway to L.A. at that point, but you’re still in Texas. Technically, I kind of liked that you really can film this movie anywhere. I mean, you can get dialed in to specifics, but it’s telling a pretty universal story, so I think you could make this film in France. You could make it in New York City and it would have a similar ring, I would think.

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?

 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, “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.

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Acting is the fun part. It lets you bring yourself and all your emotions and experiences in.

Yeah, 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.

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?

Well, not for this film. The tone of this– I mean that’s a director’s job and challenge [all the tonal aspects]. 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.

I think your filmmaking improves with each film.

Well, I wasn’t eighteen when I started doing this. I was forty. You know, I felt I had a visual plan *laughs*.

You know, you’ve done so many different films since and it’s astounding.

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.

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”?

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.

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?”

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.

It was a welcomed surprise for me.

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.

I have a question for you, concerning how organic things– life changes and life happens. 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.”

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 *laughs* and you start “here” and arrive “there”. It all started wherever.

It’s that sense of randomness.

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?

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You also kind of expand on it, beyond what you just said, which is one of the things I liked best about the movie, is that you mention Obama and you mention McCain and all that. I thought there was a lot of Red State-Blue State, not just within Texas, but within this country, in that you also introduce a family that likes guns and they like the bible. They’re not cartoons or caricatures though and I thought that was really nice to see that for once, because you do get a lot of those for people in Texas and here they’re shown as people. It’s funny, but they’re still human. You don’t see that much in a movie that’s mostly liberal, like a lot of us probably are.

We all are *laughs*.

You can’t caricaturize these people who don’t agree with you. It doesn’t help things and I think they seemed really likable and their intentions seemed good. Here’s a gun and here’s a bible.

It is a good thing, because they’re going to teach him to be safe with it and that’s why, growing up in a rural place, those issues aren’t really a problem. People are shooting and they go recreational shooting. I don’t do it in my life, but I don’t mind them doing it. As long as they’re being safe. I mean, their intentions aren’t really bad. I’m not going to dehumanize them for doing something I don’t. I never had an accident with any of that.

Someone in their twenties might not have been able to navigate that so well. But, when you steal some McCain signs, that’s cute *laughs*. Who’s not going to enjoy that?

When we see Ellar going through his high school transformation, that was a part that wrung true for me too. Figuring out where you fit in and what you really want to do. Depending on what you do, you get “oh, you want to do that? Have a fun career acting.”

So, you’re going to school for drama?

Yes sir. I know you went to Bellaire High School with a lot of prestigious film persons. I also know you went off to Sam Houston and then went to work for a while, but then you came back and started writing and filming. I wanted to know, for you, when did you realize that this is what you wanted to do and that you had these stories that you wanted to tell?

I think really early on, when I was a teenager. But it’s such an impractical– the whole world when it starts in your family who weren’t in the arts and they say “that’s cute, but what are you really going to do?” At some point, you really plant your flag and say “no, this is what I’m going to do!” Just get ready to have a tough 20’s or however long it takes. There’s something about following your passion in this world, wherever it leads you, in a responsible way… It’s tough.

School Of Rock 10-Year Reunion - Cast Reception

Any college advice for writing or acting?

Yeah! You just gotta love it. I mean, at that point I was a writer and hadn’t even discovered film. I found my medium somewhere along the way, that that’s actually how my brain actually worked. You’ve got to give yourself that room to even discover that. That’s the important thing and do what you love. You have to be so passionate– you know the darkroom speech that the guy gives him is really me giving a speech to myself at that age. The world’s really competitive and you can’t lollygag around. You kinda need that kick in your ass.

There are always more people who can do what you do.

Exactly. I think Ellar and Lorelei are actually both good actors, but I don’t know if they’re going to pursue it. I don’t think that they have the personality and that maniacal drive that is required. Anything in the arts, you’ve got to think professional sports. You’ve got to be that good AND kind of crazy focused and need to do it, for whatever shadowy reasons. You NEED something. When I hear about the young actor Linda Manz– I showed Out of the Blue the other night– one of the great teen actors of all time (Days of Heaven, Wanderers, Out of the Blue) and I wonder “whatever happened to her?” “Why didn’t she keep going?” But, she’s a mom and I’m so happy for her. If she didn’t want to live in L.A. and go on a bunch of fucking auditions and have that life– or whatever happened because I’m just projecting– well good for her! Maybe she’s happy and her life is reasonable now. In the end, you have to be crazy and ambition isn’t even the right word. You need to be driven. All performing arts are kind of like that. I don’t necessarily wish it upon anyone, but you have to do it.

I’m just glad that you’re driven to do such awesome projects. *laughs*

I just wanted to tell you that I appreciated your nods to your previous movies. I liked that the guy was still selling crap to kids.

*Laughs hysterically* At the end?!

That was very “fan service” to me and I loved it.

Still selling crappy to kids… *laughs*

Thank you so much for a wonderful interview and hopefully I’ll see you down in Houston!

Thank you for the great questions and you can plan on it!

 

Boyhood Trailer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiDztHS3Wos

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