The real trick to Boyhood is just how simple it is. Sure there’s the catchy filmed-over-twelve-years gimmick; but the movie defies such attention grabbing theatrics by it’s mater–of-fact approach to ‘growing up’. This has been the trademark of Richard Linklater’s entire career: exploring the seemingly minute moments of life and revealing their underlying importance. A chance encounter on a train, the last day of high school, a random day in Austin, Texas – all become the catalyst for much more than the sum of their parts, a tableau of sorts of Americana daily life. The irony here: that by making films about the mundane, Linklater has become the most important figure in the independent film world. It’s impossible to imagine the mid 90s indie boom or (more recently) the ‘mumblecore’ movement ever happening sans Linklater’s indelible mark.
Last night, the LACMA & Film Independent held an event honoring the prolific filmmaker’s work. Linklater was on hand to discuss his collaborative process with Ethan Hawke, Boyhood’s beginnings as a novel, and his aversion to heavily plotted films. For highlights from the event, hit the hump.
The event opened with Linklater discussing his first meeting with go-to collaborator Ethan Hawke. The two have worked together eight times, five of them with Hawke as the lead. Linklater first saw Hawke perform in Jonathan Marc Sherman’s play “Sophistry”, after which he approached the then 20-something star about potentially appearing in some little movie ‘about a couple walking around Europe. ‘We haven’t stopped talking since’, Linklater opined.
Ethan Hawke in the early 90s was incredibly in-demand and could have chosen to star in any number of Hollywood blockbuster films. The fact that he chose Before Sunrise shows Hawke to be the furthest thing from “a careerist”. ‘He’s an artist’, Linklater espoused, ‘He came to work with me on a movie we both thought was impossible.’
The collaboration between Linklater and Hawke extends far beyond the realm of the typical actor-director relationship. Hawke and Linklater will even talk about scenes the actor doesn’t appear in. ‘[Hawke] called me about the final scene [of Boyhood, asking] what’s this scene about?’ Linklater didn’t have an answer. ‘Well – why did you make the movie?’ Hawke inquired, forcing Linklater to rethink his approach.
‘We all have a hard time processing [Boyhood’s] over’ Linklater sighed. The twelve-year-in-the-making film was borne out of Linklater’s nostalgia not for the big life altering events but the smaller, less-quantifiable moments of his past. ‘Why am I remembering that, these small moments as opposed to the major life altering ones?’ The filmmaker never thought Boyhood would be possible due to the impracticality of shooting all the decade-spanning vignettes. ‘If you cast an actor as the eight year old version and another as the ten or twelve year-old version, it just won’t work.’ Linklater had instead thought about reimaging Boyhood as an experimental novel; but just as he sat at the keyboard to write, he came up with the notion of having one actor play the boy over the course of twelve years, proof (Linklater joked) that he just doesn’t have the chops to be a novelist. ‘Boyhood is a memory’, Linklater surmised ‘It’s about how time passes and how that informs the way in which we process the world.’
Sandra Adair is without-a-doubt Linklater’s most important collaborator, having edited the director’s work for over twenty-two years since Dazed and Confused. Linklater joked ‘It’s probably the most stable relationship I’ve ever had.’ Boyhood though transcended Adair’s usual editorial contribution. ‘I’ve never spent so much time talking about editing’, Linklater stated ‘Adding up all the time [we spent through the years], it was about a year total editing [Boyhood]’. Linklater praised the ability to ‘write, shoot, edit, take two weeks off and think.’ Typically films are like ‘a runaway train. You’re just trying to keep up with it all.’ You’re not typically afforded the luxury to shut down production and re-think your film. On Boyhood, though, Linklater had the opportunity to rethink the movie each year. As such Adair became a key collaborator in the direction of the picture. ‘The film was always in editing. [Adair’s] participating before we’re even shooting.’
The inevitable question of a sequel to Boyhood was (of course) brought up. Surprisingly, Linklater seemed more than open to the possibility. ‘I never thought much beyond the twelve years,’ he stated ’But now I’m beginning to think back on a bunch of things in my 20s. What did [all those little moments] really mean?’ To be fair Linklater noted he ‘could probably make a sequel to every damn movie [he’s] made. There’s not much going on in them [plot-wise] anyways. [I] could just keep doing that’.
This, in turn, led to Linklater commenting on his ‘allergic reaction’ to over-plotted films. He’s replaced plot with ‘time-structural devices because that’s how [people] perceive the world. ‘Exposition takes away from performance’, Linklater continued ‘Plot isn’t really missed if there’s something else to grab you… [You’re just looking] for that relationship the audience can find their way into.’
Boyhood is currently available on Blu-ray & DVD.