During this year's SIFF, I participated in a roundtable interview with director Richard Linklater while he was in town for the gala screening of Boyhood. Linklater has long had a reputation as a collaborative filmmaker, and that comes across here as he discusses ways in which he drew narrative inspiration from his cast and solicited music cues from his interns, which makes sense in a film that's as much a portrait of a blended family as it is of one boy, since it's filled with divorces, remarriages, and step-siblings, but he always returns to the central quartet: Mason (newcomer Ellar Coltrane); his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's sleepy-eyed daughter); and Mom and Dad (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke). Where necessary, I've noted when another writer, Nick Tiffany or K.J. Doughton, asked a question. And where I haven't been able to decipher the question, I've provided a facsimile. Warning: mild spoilers ahead.
Fennessy: Were you last here—the last time I saw you, and was it also the last time you were here—with Dazed and Confused?
Linklater: I've been here since, but not at the festival.
F: That was one of the highlights of SIFF for me.
L: The Dazed premiere was 21 years ago tomorrow, because my daughter had just been born. I left her birth in Mexico, and flew to the premiere in Seattle. It was that close, like two or three days. [this interview took place on May 31]
F: That [screening] was amazing, and I'm guessing a lot of that was from Slacker, because I don't think there was much advance word as to what Dazed and Confused was, but there was a huge line, a really good Q&A—people loved it.
Doughton:Dazed premiered at SIFF?
L: Because Slacker had been here a few years before.
D: So, things kind of came full circle?
L: Yeah. The studio [Gramercy Pictures] had given up on the film at that point, and I said, "Well, I'm gonna show it in Seattle." They said, "Yeah, do whatever you want." They didn't even come up and watch it.
Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey): "That's what I love about these high school girls..."
D: How did you choose the music for Boyhood?
L: I didn't need a music consultant on Dazed—I could tell you every song, everything—but with this, I realized that I know what I like now, but I don't pretend to know what a nine-year-old is hearing in their world. And actually, Ellar and Lorelei, my two representatives of this generation, were not that much help, because they're so strange in their own way, like Lorelei's listening to medieval musicians—the most modern she'd get would be Joanna Newsom and the harp. Ellar was just really advanced. He was the eight-year-old listening to Radiohead. I'd be like, "What are you listening to?" Ellar: "Pink Floyd." He knew what he liked. We had to kind of "normal" 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 probably to the second part of the movie—I got some older kids, roughly their age; a little older. I'd go through all the charts, all the hits, and listen to stuff I liked, and then give 'em to people. It was important to me that someone had an experience with the song, and they would write notes or tell me about, "Oh that song was on all that summer" or "It played at the pool." I needed stories, and the song at the end, when he's driving away, "Hero," I didn't know that. It works so well in the movie, but one of my interns—and kind of music consultant—Ben, he suggested it. And I said, "What did it mean?" He said he had a breakup—or something 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, but he felt like everything was going to be okay. I said, "That means something to me that you had an emotional reaction." It wasn't my personal experience, but it was important to me that it was somebody's. Everything in the movie, frankly, is somebody's experience.
D: So, it wasn't just about picking through the charts for what happened to be popular at the time, but getting consultants together…?
L: I needed to get it right. And some of them were like, "My sisters love this song—girls like this song—I hate it" or "I like some of it," and I was like, "Okay, maybe that fits here or there."
Tiffany: If someone came to you when you were six until you were a senior, how different would it have been? [Nick is 18]
L: It would be…both. You know, I think it's different. Making a choice with Ellar, the kind of ethereal, arty kid—both of his parents are artists, and I kind of thought he'd grow up and be a musician or something—he ends up being a visual artist. He went in that direction, and that was a part of it: when I realized he was taking pictures, because that's what I do. I was behind the camera and writing, so that expressed one side, 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 also I was playing football, basketball, baseball. There would be some similarities for sure.
T: What can you tell me about the use of technology in the film?
L: As an older person, you have to think about the differences. I don't want to be the old fuddy-duddy saying, "Back in my day, it was better." I think the world's so much better in so many ways, that information and all that's good, but I do wonder—I do always appreciate what comes out of maybe nothing or boredom or whatever. I mean, my little peanut observation from this whole 12 years is I really thought there would be more cultural change, and my theory now is I think the internet, it satisfies something in the individual to be heard or to feel engaged, but I don't see a lot of physical change in the world, like even in architecture or cars. If you go back, it doesn't look that much different, but if you jump back—if you started this in 1959 and ended it in '71—look how different everything would be. If you started in '70 and ended it in '82, look how different it would look—fashion and everything—but I think it would be different for someone your age's perspective. You probably see all this difference. An older person doesn't maybe pick up on all of it, but I still think there's maybe a lot less in the culture. I didn't sense there were any new movements. Punk rock didn't emerge in these 12 years, but I think it comes out of boredom or frustration or a feeling of impotence—why you 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.
T: Was there any place other than Austin that you considered setting the film?
L: It was a practical consideration, being based in central Texas. You can get a lot of different looks—we traveled to Houston—but it was kind of like my own life. I never really left Texas, growing up. We couldn't afford it. We took one vacation my whole life. I never went to summer camp or anything. Texas is such a big state, you do get a lot of looks even within being geographically restricted. It's not the worst state to be geographically restricted to, but like that in literature or anywhere—you get really dialed into some specifics, but it's, of course, telling a pretty universal story, so I think you could make this film in France. You could make this in New York City, and it would have a similar ring, I would think.
F: You did an amazing job at keeping this [12-year shoot] secret. I had no idea until, I think, the Sundance Film Festival or South by Southwest. I started hearing about the movie, and I thought, "How could I have not heard about this?"
L: Some people knew. Year one, there was a little article in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter. Someone heard about it or someone's agent told them or whatever, and 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, I'd say, the last six years, too. Only in those situations when someone really does some research before they talk to you or something, I've had to talk about it, but I was just like, "Well, it's in process," but it was trying to be a secret film.
T: It was a welcome surprise.
L: Those who did anticipate it, they seem to be really happy—they've earned it.
The song that plays in the trailer...and at a key point in the film.
Boyhood opens at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown on July 25 (it's already opened most everywhere else). I provide a personal overview of Linklater's career here.