EXCLUSIVE: Boyhood, a time-lapse narrative feature film that Richard Linklater shot over a 12-year period, has been set for a July 11 release through IFC Films, which has stepped up and committed to a theatrical platform rollout and awards campaign. The film played Sundance and Berlin and its makers have positioned it for what they hope will be a long summer run as audiences watch actor Ellar Coltrane and his supporting cast actually grow up before their eyes, and adults Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette mature as his parents.
At Sundance, there had been some question of whether a large distributor would take the film off the table, but it only seems right that IFC stepped up. After all, as IFC President Jonathan Sehring told me back then, he was the one who wrote an annual check to Linklater for over a decade, and when his bosses would ask him to explain the expenditure and when they would see a payoff, he’d shrug his shoulders. Sehring’s a producer on the film, and so is John Sloss, who made this deal. “We went to Sundance with the understanding we would talk to other distributors,” Sloss said. “You have to understand when they committed to fund this, IFC didn’t have a distribution arm. So they didn’t have distribution rights, even though they are a co-owner along with Rick and the filmmaking team. This is a very special movie, and we wanted to make sure it has every opportunity for success. We’ve realized this film plays for a young audience and it will need word-of-mouth that comes from staying in theaters for a long time. IFC really stepped up.”
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The fact that IFC grew a distribution arm while this film was in production is just one of the absurdities in what makes this film such a singular, audacious effort. Back in my Daily Variety days, I revealed at the film’s start that Linklater was making it this way, and even then I wondered if the film would implode. Sure, documentaries have traced time, but there are so many variables in a narrative feature, it could have fallen apart for any number of reasons, which is probably why it hadn’t been done like this before. Now that he’s gotten to the point where he’s finished what seemed like an endless shoot and has his release date, Linklater was up for some questions.
DEADLINE: How long was the span between inception and execution?
LINKLATER: I conceived it in 2001, and we started in shooting 2002. So it has been limited to within this century. The film has been a part of my life for so long that it’s bizarre that people are finally seeing it.
DEADLINE: Could you really have not gone with IFC after they hung in all that time?
LINKLATER: It would have taken something exceptional, but there’s a lot to that old saying, dance with the one that brung you.
DEADLINE: What triggered the idea to try something so audacious?
LINKLATER: I was turning 40ish, I’d been a parent 7 or 8 years. And I wanted to try to express something about childhood. I couldn’t really crack one single element, and then the idea hit me. Tell this epic version of the maturation process, from first through 12th grade, that grid of public education. That was the architecture. It is a crazy idea, I guess, on the one hand very simple but on the other impossibly impractical.
DEADLINE: A lot can happen to your cast over 12 years. What element that is part of life was most challenging in making a movie like this over a long period of time?
LINKLATER: And don’t forget that executives cutting you the check switch companies, companies go away, they go bankrupt. It’s amazing we are still here after all these years with Jonathan Sehring. Not that we didn’t believe in the guy, but talk about a long term relationship. What are the odds? His run there is like five lifetimes in movie industry years. There was always a shadow over the film, the thought that, what if something happens? I always told myself to think statistically, that life doesn’t really change that much, beyond the kids growing up. Adults stay kind of the same. Ethan and Patricia, everyone thought it was a cool idea, it was just a matter of them wrapping their heads around this and then executing. We were blessed by the movie gods, and nothing bad happened. We cast these kids, before they could even be cognizant of what they were getting into. It was easier in my daughter’s case [Lorelei Linklater plays the main character’s sister]. Eller’s parents are both artists, and he was a headshot-resume, in the business actor then, so it wasn’t beyond the realm of what he might like to do for a few days every year. And that’s what it really felt like, summer camp, a family reunion where we would get together every year, and have fun. Crew people would fly in just to come back and work on it again. And it was like we rode the same car and it didn’t get wrecked in the journey. We didn’t have much money, no one got paid, but that’s the usual super low budget story. It did feel like a blessed project in so many ways.
DEADLINE: How much did you shoot each year?
LINKLATER: We tried to cover one year, one grade. A lot of it was done in the summer. The tough part wasn’t shooting three days each year. You pre-produce for that like you were doing a whole movie. You had to get permits, you had to cast, get a crew, edit. It was as involved as making a movie every year. It was wildly out of proportion of what you would do on a low-budget film, which don’t spend a year in preproduction, or two years in postproduction, which we did if you add it all up. It had to happen that way to capture the incremental aspect of the story. To have that kind of time to sit with it, to think it out, it really is a cool sculpture at this point, because I had ten years to buff it. I’m spoiled now. I want to spend that long on every movie.
DEADLINE: When did you know this was going to work?
LINKLATER: I always felt it would, but confirmation came in year three or four, when I put the episodes together and saw their age unfolding into another section of life. I said, okay, that works. During the last four or five years, it really gained a peculiar momentum and it started to feel really special. By the time Mason got to high school, we’d say, wow, this is our best year yet. We said that every year until the end. Even the last scene we did, when he’s there with the young woman in West Texas, there was just something mystical about it and we said, wow, this is the best scene in the movie.
DEADLINE: You made School of Rock at Paramount. Didn’t anyone tell you they can age actors with VFX, as was done with The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button?
LINKLATER: Yeah, but probably a studio would never have done this. The maturation process is our story, no one would have faked that. If you were telling another story you might use effects, but this is our story and there is a discipline to it. It became a meditation on time and aging. Not only is the film about that, but we all had to think about and process that as we made it. Eller and Lorelei had to get used to the idea that each year they were participating in this art project that had to do with aging and maturing and growing up and it left a real mark on them. It was fascinating to see the awareness of it growing in the kids. We got lucky. They are both really special.
DEADLINE: Some filmmakers tell me they have trouble looking back on their early work because they see missed opportunities, things they would have done better as they got better at their craft. You made a bunch of films while shooting this. How was it, cutting together a film that melded current Rick Linklater with the filmmaker you were 12 years ago?
LINKLATER: I had to make peace with that, I just couldn’t indulge myself by thinking that way. The tone, the style, everything was set pretty early and a lot of thought and theory went into the movie at that point. On a conceptual level, I just never let myself second guess it beyond that. And I never looked back and said, I wish I would have done this or that differently.
DEADLINE: So this is a record of a filmmaker maturing, as much as the story of a boy growing up?
LINKLATER: Yes, but we all face that in life. Everything we do here is a metaphor for our own lives. You have to be accepting of yourself.
DEADLINE: First cut at Sundance played at a Scorsese-esque nearly three hours. Where will that end up?
LINKLATER: The movie is two hours and 41 minutes, so it’s closer to two and a half than three hours. This is my 18th feature length work, and only my second that has broken two hours. I don’t indulge in epic for epic’s sake. If it’s this long after we spent this much time on it, that whole process has become this film becoming what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is exactly how long it is. I don’t look forward to a movie being any longer than it has to be. An 80 minute film can be interminable, and a 3:40 minute film can go by fast. I don’t make those, but I can tell you, nobody is complaining it’s too long. People have asked if we might keep shooting and keep the story going.
DEADLINE: I could have done with a longer version of Dazed and Confused. Speaking of that, how did it feel to see Matthew McConaughey win the Oscar?
LINKLATER: It seemed inevitable to me, but it was special to be there in the room. I was nominated for Screenplay for my movie Before Midnight, and while it was clear we were not going to win, it turned to be fun to be there anyway. Matthew is a great guy who has put in the time. The acknowledgement is nice, but he’s not the kind of guy who takes that stuff too seriously. I don’t think it’s going to change him too much.
DEADLINE: I recall breaking the story of Boyhood in Daily Variety when you first started, and John Sloss said you were shooting in secret and it was going to ruin everything. Did it?
LINKLATER: Well, Mike, you condemned me to ten years of talking about this every time I promoted a movie and every time the journalist looked on IMDB to prepare. They’d say, and what about this movie that’s supposed to come out in 2015? I’d say, I hope you are this interested in the movie when it’s actually done. I did nine or ten films in the interim, the same people coming back again and again, asking about this film, thanks to you. It was exciting to finally have them see it.
DEADLINE: Is it too early to start talking about the sequel, which would take you through to Social Security age?
LINKLATER: Now you want me to start having to answer questions about Manhood, the sequel?