Working on the same film for more than a decade would be taxing for any producer, but Boyhood’s Cathleen Sutherland says the 12 years she spent on Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age picture went surprisingly smoothly. Although more than 350 crew members worked on the project at various stages, Sutherland says getting the group back together again each year became “rinse and repeat,” though coordinating the schedules of stars Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater was challenging. The first-time feature producer says the best part of working on the project has been experiencing its warm reception. “It feels so good that it’s something that we can now share with everyone,” she says. The film’s recent best drama Golden Globe nomination can’t hurt, either.
How did you come onboard as producer on Boyhood?
I started the second year as production manager, and then the producer who originally started left and I continued. I stayed on in the capacity of production manager as well because we had a tight budget. Rick was like, “Well, you can do both.” Don’t ever prove how good you are at your job because you’ll end up with two of them is what it comes down to. (Laughs.) Working on this film was a reward. As much as I sweated and pulled my hair out—bit my nails at times—it was still a great project to be a part of. When it came to the end of it, what was really the shocker was, “Wait, we’re already here? Oh, wait, it’s been over a decade—that’s how we got here.”
Did you have a budget conversation each year with IFC Films?
I had that dialogue every year, but initially Rick went to IFC. But each year, we went through the same process of submitting a synopsis and a budget based on that (figure) and then just getting the same process going again. There was no script for the whole 12 years. Each year was a synopsis. Then, as we started working, the script would get formulated, and we’d have it by the time we started shooting.
Did you shoot entirely in Texas?
We did, and for the most part, we shot in Austin because we like it here. We didn’t want to have to travel far from home, but exteriors also were shot in San Marcos and Houston. The scene with the Butterfly Museum is in Houston. That’s a fantastic museum—we didn’t even have to cast any butterflies, they just came and landed on us all.
From a producing standpoint, was it like starting over each year when you had to ramp back up?
You get into a rhythm, but it was still starting over. It was still a new era—new scripts, new casts. Besides the main family, there was often more new casting to do, so it wasn’t like we were doing exactly the same thing. There were elements, of course; there was all that continuity. It wasn’t entirely from scratch, but it certainly was like a whole new year every year.
Were there challenges in working on a project for so long?
There’s always that level of stress in just getting through something that’s so long term, and, amazingly, nothing really did go wrong. We had hiccups here and there with locations. We got booted out of the National Park a few days before we were heading to go shoot our last scene because Ted Cruz shut down the government. We already had scouted the National Park, and we just had to throw all that out. I Googled some pictures of the neighboring State Park and got in touch with them and said, “Guess what? We’re going to come visit you guys instead.” They were really helpful and let us film there. We didn’t know where we were going to shoot, but we managed to swing it.
You have a daughter who grew up over the 12 years of shooting this film.
She was an extra for me several times, and I can spot her little cherubic face throughout the film. She’s six months younger than Ellar, and she left for college right as we were finishing up. That came to a head for me personally at the same time. It’s funny because, yes, I was a single mom, and right as I had started the movie I had gone back to school to finish my degree. But that storyline is about Rick’s mom, and Patricia’s mom did the same thing, and Ethan’s mom did the same thing. All their mothers were divorced women, and my mother is a divorced woman. The film is very autobiographical for Rick, but these stories are universal. It seems to strike a chord with a lot of people. There’s something for everyone in the film.
We had a hard time with the title because we really wanted something that encompassed the whole family, but it was hard to find that perfect word, and, as it was, it is told more through Mason’s eyes. We were sitting around the kitchen table in the office and batting around names, and we were officially The Untitled 12-Year Project, so we said, “What if we just call it 12 Years?” We finally had come to an agreement that 12 Years sounded OK. I pull out my phone, and I’m sitting there on IMDb, and I go, “Wait a minute. There’s a movie coming out called 12 Years a Slave.” So it became Boyhood. Boyhood was our company name during the course of the film, so it was on the call sheet and eventually we just went back to it. It stuck after all those years.
Cathleen Sutherland photographed by J.R. Mankoff