Linklater on Boyhood

Remnants of a conversation with Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater did not disappoint. Affable, engaged, reflective. I would’ve spent a whole night with him in Vienna if he would’ve asked. After finishing the part of the interview that would be incorporated into the Sight & Sound video essay, we spoke a bit about the current state of cinema and his latest project, Boyhood, which he had just finished shooting a couple of weeks prior to our phone call. In light of tonight’s Sundance screening, I give you the remnants of this conversation.

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Linklater: I don’t feel like indie films are having the same kind of impact on culture as they used to. I don’t know if that’s some weird self-reflection or if that’s the real thing. You might say that kids today would rather watch YouTube videos for 90 minutes than watch a new piece of cinema.

Me: Why do you think this is the case?

Linklater: Cinema has been given to them. It’s not something they had to work hard for. It’s everywhere. But then that’s just some kind of generational talking… So i don’t know.

Me: It’s startling what’s available now… instantly.

Linklater: Yeah, my thoughts on this drift in and around, but I think my core thinking is—and it has to be—that this is still the medium for our time, and it’s the most important medium, you know? I have to feel that way. And every year there are a ton of films that confirm that, whether people see them or not, they’re out there. You know, I think that’s the challenge. People are not seeing it at the theater at its relevant moment, but they catch up eventually.

Me: But not in the theater. Does that seem important?

Linklater: I do hate to see film become a kind of information to be taken on your laptop or your iPad, in between other things. I still believe in the experience of presentation. You know, that’s what we all fight for… the theatrical experience. That’s more important than ever. I don’t think that that’s changing. There are no absolutes, and there’s definitely an upside with technology, you know? I remain mostly optimistic.

Me: Well, I appreciate you giving me so much of your time—

Linklater: You know, this conversation about time… Everyone usually asks me about the project I’m finishing up: my 12-year film. Do you know about that?

Me: Yes, yes, I do.

Linklater: Okay, because that’s my most interesting time experim— or time film ever. It will be out next year, but I just finished shooting it two weeks ago. Narratively speaking, that’s my most interesting attempt to sculpt time in that way. I’m really excited about it.

Me: Yeah, I don’t think it’s ever been done in the history of cinema, right?

Linklater: Yeah, I honestly don’t think so. I mean, as soon as it’s out, someone will point out an instance, but I’m not aware of it. Not in a narrative context over this amount of time.

Me: It’s such a feat… but it doesn’t seem gimmicky. I mean, per our discussion, it seems so significant and vital regarding the medium of cinema… and time. It’s like fulfilling a dream.

Linklater: Yeah, it sort of feels like a scientific discovery in a strange way. I notice that all the filmmakers—my friends and the people that I run into that have heard about the project—they go, “You know, I’ve thought of something similar…” People have felt on the cusp of it. You know what I mean? They were like, “Yeah, I thought of that…” It’s not that far off of a concept. It was sort of on the tip of a lot of people’s tongue.

Me: Right, but to actually execute it. That’s the rub. You’re the right person for it.

Linklater: Yeah, that’s the difference… the execution. But I think a lot of people had been thinking that way. Who knows?

Me: So the actual passing of time is a critical element in the film. The actors actually age.

Linklater: Yeah, it’s a family, but primarily the young man, who just ages. Ethan likes to say that the kids grow up, but they age. He plays the dad. The boy was 6 when I met him. The first time we shot on this movie he was 7, and two weeks ago today we wrapped, and he was 19 with a little scruffy beard. You know, he went from a kid to a man. It’s pretty amazing. An amazing journey. And it’s trying to be a seamless movie. You know, it’s not a documentary. It’s not a TV series. It’s one film. It’s been a crazy thing to work on.

Me: What do you think is significant about capturing the passage of time in this way?

Linklater: The power of it, I think, will be in the potentially accumulative effect of being invested in somebody’s life. You were talking about Jesse and Celine, and people who know these three films. It’s kinda an, oh wow, I know these people. I’ve known them for twenty years. There’s a certain power there… like a family member or something. While this film is bookended by 12 years, within that you really get… a life. A maturing life. You remember how much it changes in those years.

Me: That process seems inherently existential and profound. Can I ask you what the impetus was for making it?

Linklater: Like a lot of narrative experiments— Actually, I don’t like to use the word “experiment” because it’s something I put a lot of thought into, obviously, but it’s… well, the idea just came to me. I thought I was going to sit down and write a novel. I wanted to bite off childhood, the maturing process, but I couldn’t. My dilemma was— what point of childhood? So I wanted to write about various phases. But then I sat down and immediately upon sitting down to outline and work on the book, I had this film idea. This is where I know I’m not a novelist but a filmmaker. I had what I felt was a breakthrough film idea. It just zapped into my brain. One of those flash moments.

Me: And what was it?

Linklater: It was… well, you know, you could, or why couldn’t you film a little every year and tell the story of childhood that way? When you’re making a film about childhood, you’re always confronted with picking one section. Unless you get different actors, you’re stuck in that one moment, and that felt kind of false for the level that I was gonna go for. So it was solving a narrative problem of how to depict different points in childhood and the idea just jumped out of that. Then there’s the practical crazy thing about how to get that film made. How are you gonna do that? But at the time, it was really just a core idea. That was the big one though. You have one of those every now and then. It reminded me of those ideas I had in my early twenties when you’re thinking about film. I was always asking, Why can’t you just…? That’s where my idea for Slacker came from. How come you can’t just make a film that goes…? You know, it’s one of those crazy ideas and again it was something I hadn’t seen either. We’ll see…

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