The new film Boyhood takes the concept of aging and maturity to a level never seen before onscreen.
Director Richard Linklater took a big gamble on a quartet of actors (two adults and two kids) and filmed them in different situations a piece at a time over the span of twelve years, all culminating in a touching and engaging storyline. A lot could’ve gone wrong with this experiment but instead Boyhood is a study in time and technique that makes for one of the best films of the year.
Boyhood centers on Mason, who at the beginning of the film is played by six year old Ellar Coltrane. Over the course of the film, he along with his parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) and older sister (Lorelai Linklater) will have progressed through a story that uses natural aging and life experience instead of makeup tricks. Director Linklater admits pulling this off was no easy feat and on his recent promotional trip to San Francisco we discussed many things, including his passion to make Boyhood over a twelve year frame and his love for the Criterion Collection.
The following is a transcription of that conversation.
Richard Linklater: I just realized I’ve had my last three movies come out with the letter B. Bernie, Before Midnight and now Boyhood. I’m in the B phase of my career, the B movies. (laughs)
Q: Are you a fan of Michael Apted’s 7Up series and did that inspire any part of this film?
Linklater: Everyone’s seen those but this is the difference between a documentary and fiction. We’re not taking off every seven years but I think that is a powerful reminder of capturing a moment in film.
Q: As we see Mason grow from year to year in the film the audience has to play catch up with each scene. Did you consider putting in title cards to signify time passing?
Linklater: I never wanted that. To me I was looking back. I wanted people to look at the movie and see everyone getting older but from their own observations. Nothing from outside the film should tell you anything.
Q: There’s a lot of music for the many diverse periods in the film. Did you always have these songs locked in or did you experiment with other popular music of the period in the editing process?
Linklater: Always. A lot of the music we did toward the end anyway. Smells and music are the two things that can easily transport you to the past. It’s funny how our brains process memories, what triggers what.
Q: How much professional training did Ellar have prior to shooting?
Linklater: He was a mid-range professional. He had been in one movie and some commercials before he started this. As much as a six year old could, he seemed to like it. He also had the parental support, that was the key. He seemed like he’d be able to endure and he’s certainly a professional now. Twelve years of working on this. (laughs)
Q: Was there a point when he was going through puberty that he felt he didn’t want to do this anymore?
Linklater: Never. He never waivered. I never got any attitude from him, once. When he’s a little kid it’s more of a manipulation but as he gets older it’s more of a collaboration.
Q: Did you always have this project set up as a twelve year process from the beginning?
Linklater: Yes. I wanted it to go from first through twelfth grade. That was the structural device. I never questioned it.
Q: You also seemed to have some outside events guide the storytelling. With the Ethan Hawke character, he starts out as a very firm John Kerry supporter and later he seems more ambiguous.
Linklater: Not so much. I think his own life has taken over. He starts out as this youthful guy with all these opinions and a muscle car. He hasn’t been worn down by life and parenting so much but you see that slowly happen.
Q: The Criterion Collection has worked with you before putting together special editions of your films. Is there a Criterion edition of Boyhood coming in the future and if so, can you talk about some of the special features we might see on the release?
Linklater: Yeah, we’ve got a ton of behind the scenes stuff. We made this in the era where everyone has a digital camera so we unearthed an interview from year one with Ellar, Lorelai, Patricia and myself, Patricia interviewed me in 2002. I hadn’t seen this since we shot it, Ellar had forgotten quite a bit of it but he got to see himself as a wide-eyed six year old. For people who like the movie, I think there will be a lot of cool little treasures.
Q: Are these video diaries only from the first year?
Linklater: No, we did interviews throughout.
Q: Have they talked to you about when they want to release it?
Linklater: I don’t know yet but it will be cool.
Q: I think the last time you were here you were wearing a Criterion shirt.
Linklater: (laughs) Was I?
Linklater: The New Yorker just did a profile on me and I just happened to have that Criterion shirt on. I thought I would change the shirt but they liked it so I kept it on. So then I told Peter Becker, the head of Criterion, hey I got my Criterion shirt in the New Yorker. Give me that Jacques Demy boxset. He told me it’s on its way. (laughs)
Q: Have you been to the Criterion office to put together the Blu-Ray yet?
Linklater: Not yet.
Q: They have that segment on their website where they bring in directors and they take a handful of whatever Blu-Rays they want.
Linklater: I’ve been there plenty just not lately. Before they were putting it up on their website I was the guy who was always saying, I’ll take one of this. One of that. (laughs)
Q: Most of my Blu-Rays are Criterions.
Linklater: Bless Criterion, without them where would we be? And it’s magical the stuff they dig up. The Persona Blu-Ray had this making of a Bergman film. It was fascinating. It’s incredible to see what it’s like to hang out on the set of Persona. (laughs)
Q: Which of your films do you feel is the most underrated?
Linklater: The Newton Boys, hands down.
Q: You’re going from city to city answering a lot of questions. Is there one question you wish would go away?
Linklater: (laughs) Not really, they’re all very natural to the process. I guess when people ask me if I see myself continuing this film into manhood, it feels like an immediate sequel. The same thing happened with the Before movies, now every interview I do is going to beg that question. Patricia said the correct answer to that question is you don’t ask a mother who’s giving birth about her next kid. That’s where we find ourselves today, still in the birthing process. (laughs)
Boyhood is now playing in limited release.