Richard Linklater – Last Flag Flying

November 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

As divided as the nation is today on the political spectrum, five-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Richard Linklater (“Boyhood,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Slacker”) hopes his latest film, “Last Flag Flying,” finds a balance and shows audiences from opposite sides of the aisle that a majority of Americans love their country and that patriotism doesn’t have to be defined under one set of guidelines.

In “Last Flag Flying,” Linklater tells the story of three Vietnam veterans on a heartbreaking journey. After his son is killed in the Iraq War, Doc Shepherd (Steve Carrell) tracks down his two old war buddies, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), and asks them to attend the funeral with him. Plans change, however, when Doc decides he wants to bury his son in their hometown and not at Arlington National Cemetery. The trio set off on a road trip up the East Coast where they reminisce about their time in the military and attempt to exorcise demons from their own past.

I caught up with Linklater, 57, to talk about his new film, why there now seems to be a litmus test for patriotism, and the need for a transparent government.

Normally, movie audiences will get the war film, but very rarely the post-war film. Do you think it’s harder to sell heroism when you can’t see it on the battlefield?

Yeah, it’s a different notion, isn’t it? [Post-war films] don’t take the hero and sacrifice him for his buddies. I think we have to understand what went on [in these wars]. We have to respect what they lived through. They put their asses on the line. [“Last Flag Flying”] isn’t about traditional heroism, which I wasn’t interested in at all. I don’t really trust that. We know what heroism is. That’s what soldiers do. They’re there for their buddies.

Did you try to stay balanced with some of the more polarizing issues the film presents or did you want to take the opportunity to inject some personal opinions as a filmmaker?

It is kind of a balance — a tonal challenge. It’s a bit of a minefield of politics when you talk about war and committing American citizens to battle and the toll it takes on the people involved. It’s a tough subject. I think the film ultimately expresses that a lot of people come out of the military with their own love/hate relationship with it. Nobody thinks about the military more than the military itself. They sign onto this big, abstract mission and then they can’t predict what exactly is going to come out of it.

We live in a society now where people are defining what patriotism should be. What’s your take on these kinds of litmus tests?

Who are we to judge someone’s patriotism or what their experience is? I think from the start, everyone is a patriot and loves their country. After we realize that, we can have these kind of differing opinions about how to proceed through certain issues. Everybody wants to judge so quickly these days. They don’t even take the time to inform themselves. It’s always a typical discussion about freedom of expression and other people’s views about what it means to be a patriot. Patriotism has a lot of different forms. There’s a political divide — blind patriotism versus a more critical patriotism.

What led you to the trio of Cranston, Carrell and Fishburne? Did you cast for each character individually or was is more about the ensemble?

We just tried to get the best person for the part. You float a script out there and you hope you get a response. I was just blessed that these three guys were available and that they wanted to do it. They really wanted to work with one another. Working with three guys at the top of their game is what it felt like. I couldn’t be happier. They left everything on the battlefield.

We’re inundated with the 24-hour news cycle, however, we still don’t get the full story about what is happening in the wars the U.S. is fighting in. What is it going to take to get answers?

Honesty and transparency go a long way. Families need their answers and we need our answers, too. We’re paying for [these wars]. We have the right to know what our country is doing around the world and why. Then, we can decide if that’s really what we want to be doing. But once you find out you’re being lied to, it all changes. This subject deserves our deepest, truest inquiry and scrutiny. But there’s always a big force against that. It’s painful. Each life is very precious and everyone deserves full disclosure.

Everybody Wants Some!!

May 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Zoey Deutch
Directed by: Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”)
Written by: Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”)

On the heels of the Academy Award-winning masterpiece “Boyhood,” Austin-based writer-director Richard Linklater ventures back to his roots, crafting a spiritual sequel to his breakout film “Dazed and Confused” in “Everybody Wants Some!!,” a Lone Star Beer-soaked Texas hangout shot in and around Austin, Texas with a gaggle of 1980s baseball bros over a long weekend before the start of a new college semester.

The plot, which there isn’t much of, kicks off when freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at the shared off-campus home of the Southeast Texas University baseball team, a group of fun-loving, prank-playing, beer-drinking guys out to get as drunk and as laid as they can. Over the course of the weekend before classes start, the guys, well, have fun, play pranks, drink beer, and get laid. They disco dance, kick to “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” and invade a theater party. Meanwhile, Jake falls for Beverly (Zoey Deutch, a much-needed female presence in a sea of dudes), an artsy girl that doesn’t give in to hormones and beer like the rest of the girls that orbit around the STU baseball team.

Where “Boyhood” overcame its gimmicky-on-paper premise to tell a story of how parents grow with their children in an engrossing, easy, almost three-hour run time, “Everybody Wants Some!!” wears its shagginess on its baseball shirt quarter sleeve, unashamed of running just under two hours with not a whole lot going on, for better or worse. Linklater makes no apologies for wanting to hang out with these characters – particular standouts being Glen Powell’s wiseacre ladies’ man Finnegan, Wyatt Russell’s stoner shaman Willoughby, and Temple Baker’s dimwitted Plummer – through the eyes of Jake. A bit of claustrophobia sets in from time to time, though, since we only spend time with one like-minded group of people – a bunch of good looking jocks – instead of bouncing between the different social stratum (and genders) that have made up any high school since the beginning of time as “Dazed and Confused” pulled off brilliantly. These guys are fun to party with, sure, but where’s the shy nerd’s point of view? And where are the girls? Asking for a friend.

Richard Linklater & Ellar Coltrane – Boyhood

August 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

While most people would call writer/director Richard Linklater’s new independent movie “Boyhood” one of the film industry’s most ambitious projects, the Austin-based, two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker describes it a bit differently.

“It was just such an impractical and crazy idea,” Linklater, 54, told me after “Boyhood” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in March. “It sort of defies typical, organizational thinking.”

Linklater, best known for films such as “Dazed and Confused,” “School of Rock” and the Before trilogy (“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight”), shot “Boyhood” over the span of 12 years with the same cast. The approach allows audiences to witness the film’s lead character Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) grow up right before their eyes. The film also stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s divorced parents who try their best to create a stable upbringing for Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), despite life’s mad curveballs.

During an interview with Linklater and Coltrane, we talked about what it was like growing up in front of the camera over the last 12 years and how the film evolves when the maturation process kicks in during Ellar’s teenage years.

Richard, “Boyhood” is sort of in the same vein as your Before trilogy except that you didn’t make three films out of this story. Did you approach the projects the same way?

Richard Linklater: You know, they are two very long, time-based projects, but they’re very different. The Before trilogy had some gaps in time. “Boyhood” was a constant thing. It demanded to be told this way and required constant attention. With the Before films, I didn’t have to think about the next one for seven or eight years.

Ellar, you were only six years old when you started making this film. When did you realize how ambitious Richard’s idea actually was?

Ellar Coltrane: (Laughs) There definitely was a gradual realization about just how massive it was and how important of a part of my life it was. I’m really grateful that I was given the chance to work on a piece of art like that.

Richard, the script was completed prior to shooting, but it seems like you were open to adding to it. I mean, you include a scene referencing Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run, which I’m sure you didn’t know would happen six years prior.

RL: Yeah, one year we were shooting in the fall during the Obama/McCain race and I thought the moment was worthy of adding in. Even if it didn’t end up being a huge cultural moment, it was real. We were just trying to be honest about that moment. The film wasn’t trying to reflect on too much pop culture. I wanted to reflect on what it’s like as a kid growing up and having everything coming at you—from the culture to the way you pick up on your parents’ politics. Everything is sort of in your face.

You know, most directors would’ve simply cast three or four actors to play Mason at different ages.

RL: I think I just have more patience. I thought there would be more beauty this way. I mean, it’s completely understandable to do it the other way. You cast an actor as a kid and then you cut to a new actor as an adult. It only makes sense.

Yeah, but then sometimes they don’t even look alike.

RL: They often don’t! I mean, I had to watch “Goodfellas” a few times to believe Henry and Tommy as kids grow up to be Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci since Pesci is older than Liotta in real life. But it doesn’t bother me. It’s all about the storytelling. But, yeah, “Boyhood” was just a whole different methodology. I was just trying to get in touch with that maturation process and make it feel very real and organic.

I really got a sense of that. It feels like it becomes more and more Mason’s story as the film moves forward year by year.

RL: Yeah, as the film goes on, it becomes less about Samantha and the parents. When you’re a kid, you’re just being dragged along by the family. You don’t have your own motor. I knew as they years went by, it would be his story and everyone else would become supporting characters.

The music you chose is such an important aspect of the film. Why did you decide to set “Boyhood” to a soundtrack rather than, say, a traditional score?

RL: I had to work through so many ideas to get this film where I wanted it to be. You couldn’t really impose anything on this film, so a score really didn’t work. I wanted songs that would evoke that period and make them from the characters’ point of view.

Ellar, watching the finished product for the first time, did you recognize all the songs Richard uses? I mean, you were only six years old when Coldplay’s “Yellow” came out, which is how the film opens.

EC: Not all of it. I think the music was chosen because it was popular and people resonate with it. It marks that time and might remind you of something. Later on, some of it is more of the things that I remember, but a lot of it is like, “Oh, that’s that song I heard on TV.”

Something that really struck me was how you capture how easily people come in and out of each other’s lives. One day they’re there, and the next day they’re gone.

RL: Yeah, I mean sometimes people move and you never see them again. I wanted this film to feel like a remembrance of the present. You mean to keep in touch, but you never really do.

Do you think that’s how things are going to be for you in real life, Ellar? I mean, people move on. Are you they type of person who signs friends’ yearbooks at the end of the year with things like “Keep in touch” and other phrases like that?

RL: Ellar is not the guy to ask about that.

EC: (Laughs) Yeah, my life has been very bizarre. Yeah, that definitely is the case. There are people who you spend all this time with and then suddenly you never see them again. It’s just how things are. It’s very different for me because I’ve lived in Austin my whole life and everyone I know lives here. Even if someone leaves my life in a direct sense, they’re still around.

Did you ever think as another summer rolled around, you didn’t want to work on the film anymore?

EC: I don’t remember ever not wanting to do it. As I got older, [Richard] made me more of a collaborator on the process. I just became more excited and less passive. I mean, when you’re young, even if you think something is cool, you really don’t know how to engage.

RL: Yeah, a film production is pretty overwhelming, especially for a kid. As you educate yourself and know what everyone else is doing, Ellar became more comfortable and a bigger part of it.

How does it feel watching yourself grow up on screen like that? It must be surreal.

EC: (Laughs) It’s unspeakably surreal.

RL: Yeah, not a lot of people have experienced this. People have been in documentaries like this, but not in [a feature film].

EC: Yeah, how does one witness one’s self aging? I get to do it to a certain extent.

RL: Ethan and Patricia have their own version of aging in the film. But you and Loreli have a full-on, growing-up, maturity thing that’s unique.

Ellar, do you see yourself in Mason. Is that you? Are you acting?

EC: It’s very much both. It goes back and forth a lot, especially as the character gets older. I’m more conscious and can craft my ideas. That’s the weird thing. There are moments that are very much me and moments that aren’t so much.

RL: Just like any actor, you’re creating a parallel character and finding your way emotionally into a character that is created that isn’t you. That’s what we wanted to do every year. Any good actor gives all of themselves to a role.

So, Richard, any chance you go into another 12-year production and return to SXSW 2026 and premiere “Manhood?”

RL: (Laughs) I don’t know about that. I was sort of on this grid for years 1-12 for this one – like first through 12th grade. I’m not sure what the next 12 years would look like.

Would you consider revisiting the Before series and making a fourth film somewhere down the line?

RL: You know, it would be cool to do something really conceptual and take 30 years off and then come back and do a fourth one. That just might be my fate.

Boyhood

August 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”)
Written by: Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”)

On paper, the idea of producing a film with the goal of shooting it over 12 years, following a child actor as he ages and telling the story of a boy’s growth from kindergarten to high school graduation might sound crazy, or at the very least daunting and difficult. In fact, it might even be considered the ultimate creative risk, in a world where people discuss and value risk-taking in Hollywood. Leave it to Austinite Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight,” “Bernie”) to not only attempt this project, but to produce such stunning results.

It is difficult to pin down a proper synopsis for “Boyhood,” as it is more of a longitudinal character study than anything else. That isn’t to say it is without plot. While people might assume the film is solely about the process of growing up, it is far more than that. The film is at its most fascinating when it explores family dynamics, especially with how parents and children deal with divorce and newly blended families. The film centers on Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, who began filming when he was seven years old.

In the scenes or vignettes throughout the film, we see Coltrane slowly age and encounter new issues and experiences as he begins to mature. The growth is also seen in Coltrane’s talent. Audiences will get the opportunity to literally see an actor grow before their eyes. As his relationships with his parents become more nuanced, so does his performance and by the end of the film Coltrane is a veteran, commanding the screen with a wealth of personality.

The film also follows veteran actors such as Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke and their characters growth through the course of 12 years. Hawke’s character is particularly fun to watch as he evolves from the young, cool dad into a mature middle-aged adult. There are so many details that Linklater brings to the table in “Boyhood,” none better than an incredibly smart use of music from the time period the film was shot to clue the audience in on the year. This serves as a gentle reminder that the film was shot over more than a decade without being aggressive about it.

What Linklater pulls off in “Boyhood” is nothing short of astonishing and it is easily one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen. It is a fascinating meditation on growing up and is likely to strike a nerve with many audience members. Funny, moving, and oozing with personality, “Boyhood” is a film that is incredible beyond just its technical and logistical feats. It feels more like an experience and an epic journey as it instantly becomes a hallmark coming-of-age film. While there are a thousand reasons why “Boyhood” shouldn’t work, it excels in myriad ways.

Richard Linklater – Inning by Inning

June 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the documentary “Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach,” director, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, and self-proclaimed college baseball fanatic Richard Linklater (“Before Sunset,” “School of Rock”), takes us deep into his game of choice with an intimate look at University of Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in NCAA Division 1 baseball history.

During his interview with me, Linklater, 48, who is originally from Houston, Texas, talked about how baseball and filmmaking are similar and what he hoped to accomplish by taking viewers to places only coaches and players usually get to see.

“Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach” was released on DVD June 5.

Coach Garrido was quoted as saying this past season was “a season of survival.” Would you agree with that?

Yeah, I would agree, but isn’t every season? You’re sort of hanging on. But they really have a lot of great guys on that team.

How did you come to meet Coach Garrido?

I followed the Longhorns a bit in [Garrido’s] era starting the 2000s. I was becoming a little more of a baseball fan. I used to be a long time ago but I didn’t pay much attention to sports for a long time and just got back into it. I met him and we hit it off. He loves movies and loves what I do so we found a common ground. I talked to him about how I like the process of making movies and he’s kind of like that with baseball. It’s not about the results, it’s about the process. We’re both involved in really long-term undertakings. A baseball season is a huge undertaking as is making a movie. Augie has a big circle of friends. I’m just one more.

Talk to me a bit more about how your directing philosophy is similar to his coach philosophy.

I think it’s what you put into it. There is a similarity. It’s kind of a cliché, but as a former athlete I sometimes see myself as a coach on the set of a movie. You’re recognizing the greatness in others and then bringing it out. You’re bringing out the potential in others even if they don’t see it. You’re try to cultivate that and create an atmosphere where they can do their best whether it’s sports or the arts. You’re sort of the orchestrator behind that.

It sounds like you might have learned a lot about yourself as a director while making this movie.

Yeah, I told Augie early on that these portrait documentaries end up to some degree being self-portraits. I don’t know if that really made sense to him but it’s kind of true. You can’t help but grab onto things that resonate with you personally. Augie flattered me when he said he liked this view of himself. I told him it was a view of him filtered through me.

In “Inning by Inning” you get right in the middle of the game where only coaches and players usually get to go. What did you want to show from this perspective to outsiders that have never experienced what it’s like to be on a team?

It’s truly the most unique aspect of this film. I think that happened because Augie and the UT program trusted that I wouldn’t do anything too crazy. I think Augie trusted me on some level. They allowed us open access. We mic’ed him for every game and every team meeting. I knew what that would reveal and thought it would be interesting for fans. All you see from a fan’s perspective is a coach on the mound talking to a pitcher or the coach talking to an on-deck batter. People always wonder what he is saying. You just imagine. This movie takes you there and you actually get to see that. It’s often surprising. I could have devoted a whole movie to arguments with umpires, but I give just a taste of that. It’s just unprecedented access that you never get.

Well, the NBA mics the coaches during the game but it feels very edited.

Yeah, it’s censored. I mean, I saw Augie going off a couple of times. [NBA games] are filtered. They’re interesting though. You see it in the NFL, too, when they go into locker rooms, but it feels stagey like the coaches know they’re being filmed during the pregame or post game. They are very aware of the cameras. The guys at ESPN told me they’ve seen a lot of these [documentaries] over the years and they’ve never seen anyone less aware of a camera or acting for a camera than Augie. It was like we were never there.

As a baseball fan, would you like to see the MLB or even the NCAA do something like mic up more coaches and players? I mean, I’d pay extra money to get an inside track on basketball games and hear all the trash talking on the court.

Yeah, like an extra couple hundred bucks a year for a subscription! You could use that against people like, “We’re going to throw to this guy low and inside.” But yeah, that would be fascinating. We’re living in an open-access media culture where people want to be behind the scenes of everything. I’d pay for it. It would probably be more interesting at a college level because you do get that element of coaching. It’s a purer game of baseball.

Are you a fan of any other sports?

Yeah, but you only have X amount of time to watch them. I know I have more time when I catch myself watching all of SportsCenter. This is about the time of year I get interested in basketball. I’d be more apt to watch an entire college basketball game than the pros.

I like watching SportsCenter, too, and maybe it’s because I’ve lived my whole life in Texas, but I can’t stand watching the hockey highlights.

I’m with you on that. That’s a good time to take a bathroom break. From another Texas perspective, you’re always going to get the Boston Red Sox and Yankee highlights but you might not get the Astros. You get used to it. It’s pretty New York/L.A.-centric. I spent some time in New York making a movie and I would always see guys going to hockey games. I was like, “Really? People go to those?” It’s so not our culture.

With all the negative press pro baseball is getting most recently with Manny Ramirez, are you ever surprised when you hear something else happening in that league?

I kind of wish it would become a non-story already. I’m still mixed. It’s an interesting issue. It’s a different world we’ll never truly understand. We’re talking about the most competitive people at the highest competitive level. Did you see that documentary last year called “Bigger, Stronger, Faster?”

Yes, it was one of my favorite documentaries of the year, actually. Great film.

It was amazing, right! It was the most level-headed exposé. There’s this new film on Tyson that I’m interested in seeing.

Yeah, I got to see it a couple weeks ago. Funny you should bring it up because there is one obvioius parallel between your film and “Tyson,” which is how close the directors are to their subjects. In “Tyson,” director James Toback is really good friends with Mike Tyson like you are with Coach Garrido. Since you are such good friends, do you think this gives you an advantage as a director?

Sure, because you have their trust to begin with. The athlete and coach have to be a little guarded with the media. What I was trying to do is make a portrait. I had no agenda to try to portray [Coach Garrido] as I knew him. Augie is not a hot subject like Tyson is. But I was trying in some general way to show the world what I felt like Augie shares everyday with the people he is close to.

After “Inning by Inning” came out at the end of 2007, Coach Garrido was arrested for DWI in January 2008. As a friend, what do you think he learned from that experience?

It put him to another level of thankfulness and appreciation for his job. I think it has made him a better coach and a better person. I think people understand that frailty exists no matter what you’ve achieved. Everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses. I thought if anyone was going to turn that situation into something positive it would be Augie and I think he has. I’m proud of him.