One of the joys of a biopic is to tell a story of unearthly triumph over adversity; overcoming or succumbing to drug addictions, deaths in the family and difficult backgrounds are often all shown in their most extreme forms. However, this depiction about Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before Sunset, School of Rock) stays remarkably steadfast to his discussing his work and by being so focused, conveys an uplifting and hopeful message of how this particular man has literally realised his dreams.
The consistent message from those around him is that hard work and passion are the key to his success. Actors that have worked with him testify to his empathy and a terrific ability to include everyone inside his vision in order to produce the best version of it. It’s described as a kind of unwitting manipulation of those around him. He manages to use people to create what he was looking for. That isn’t to say he’s Machiavellian, it’s just the way he works, the symbiosis just skews to his advantage.
Jack Black (acted for Linklater in School of Rock and Bernie) describes the process of shooting Bernie, being asked what he would do in that situation, being asked to contribute to the formation of the character and how few directors ask that from an actor – that usually you are just a vessel to facilitate the words on the page. McConnaughay (acted for Linklater in Dazed and Confused, Bernie and The Newton Boys) goes further and says that he knows if he works with Linklater it will be a rewarding film and a rewarding experience. He explains one of Linklater’s techniques whereby the director would give the actor an album which he thinks that character might be interested in. The genius of it for McConnaughay is that it allows the actor to believe that all the associations they create are their own as they make their own personal connection to the music when In fact they are actually dancing to Linklater’s tune and better becoming his character.
Alongside these testaments to how hard and the way this director works, are more detailed looks at more complex film such as Before Sunset and of course Boyhood with their added difficulty in becoming realities with the way the film industry funds ideas. Linklater never begs to be part of Hollywood but has no qualms accepting money from it if the opportunity arises. Money is an important issue as the filmmaker explains that the closer he got to any studio system, the less control and the more diluted his vision would become. That is something he can’t comprmise on and why he has made the films he has. With the accomplishment of Boyhood he may finally have the freedom to create new, challenging and commercially risky cinema he longs for but has trouble convincing others of. As a major player in backing Boyhood recalls, ‘the finance guys were asking when and if we’d get our money back on this’ which was after all, a 12-year project and while he was a massive fan of the project he adds “these are the right questions” that “we are a business, we can’t say we’re ‘in it for the art’”.
The scenes that show how emotionally invested the actors are in these projects is refreshing, it genuinely affects their lives. Ethan Hawke (acted with Linklater in Boyhood, Before Sunset, After Sunset, Before Midnight, Tape, Waking Life and The Newton Boys) speaks of After Sunset as a “happy bubble” of safety and community that he was able to return to during a hard time in his life. While the final shoot on Boyhood sees everyone hugging Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as the enormity of finishing such a big part of his life, both inside and outside the film, comes to an end.
Past and present footage portrays Linklater’s love for writing and filmmaking. Having the man himself is a huge asset for the makers of this film about his work because it allows them to show his personality first-hand. Often these types of homages arrive too late and poignant archive footage must serve. This brilliantly depicts one of our most innovative and dedicated directors working in independent film. The co-directors shrewdly show that ‘Rick’ is the story and let it tell itself.
Review by George Meixner