Of all the great filmmakers to emerge from the 90s independent film movement, Richard Linklater was the most…human. The era of flannel clad 20something auteurs tended to be driven by cynicism, cinematic violence, pop culture references, and an aesthetic that combined art with trash. Linklater on the other hand was (and remains) fascinated by conversation, lazy n’ hazy human interaction, college philosophizing, and cinematic experimentation. In his first film Slacker, Linklater’s camera abandoned narrative convention to roam freely around the streets of Austin and observe the wayward eccentrics that passed by. The experimental feature essentially defined how Linklater’s career went from there, freely dipping out of genres and tones to study various oddball characters in titles as varied as Waking Life, the Before Sunrise trilogy (and counting), School Of Rock, A Scanner Darkly, Bernie, and his recent 12-years-in-the-making coming of age masterpiece Boyhood.
Linklater’s latest feature Everybody Wants Some!! (both exclamation marks intended) is a somewhat natural follow up to Boyhood, as the college comedy picks up where that uniquely moving life journey left off. However, it’s more of a direct companion piece to his 1992 classic Dazed And Confused. That slice of life high school comedy has endured far longer than ever expected thanks to the almost anthropological honesty and sneaky melancholy that the filmmaker snuck in between the bong hits. Now Linklater has given the same treatment to college. Once again the director roams around a spiralling ensemble of talented unknown young actors, but the mood is decidedly more cheery. College is of course a time of individuals choosing friends, worlds, and identities. It’s exciting and fun, rather than the prison-esque setting of high school and Linklater treats that world appropriately in one of his most breezily entertaining movies in years. Plus, there’s the music that adds to the fun. An epic mixtape of late 70s and early 80s classics across all genres certain to cause an explosion of mp3 downloads (legal and otherwise).
With the joyous and insightful Everybody Wants Some!! hitting screens this week, Dork Shelf was lucky enough to get to sit down with Richard Linklater and pick his brain about his latest creation. We covered everything from the challenges of creating a film defined more by characters than plot, the difficulties of assembling a sprawling soundtrack without album sales to cover costs, and, of course, how he managed to convince a group of attractive young actors to grow rather unappealing (if period appropriate) moustaches. You know, all the important stuff. Read on for the details and do yourself a favor and see the movie immediately. If it doesn’t charm you, nothing will.
I know that Dazed And Confused made you very melancholic to work on because it brought up so many unpleasant high school memories. Did that happen this time? It certainly didn’t feel that way.
No, no! Just the opposite actually. I was amazed what four years difference in your memory can do. I just have to say that more than anything, college is more fun than high school. Something is wrong with you if it’s not. So yeah with high school, I just had much more mixed feelings about it. It’s probably part of my rebellious attitude. The constriction of school and home in that time. With college, you’re there by choice. If you don’t like it, fucking quit and go get a job.
And then culturally it was a fun and interesting moment to look back on. I saw my cast disco dancing and they’d say, “Wow this was fun. You did that?” and I’d say, “Yeah, we really did.” I’d see them getting into it and realize, “Yeah that was a pretty good time wasn’t it?” By the time I was shooting the movie I was just determined to get that across. Through rehearsals I was thinking, “There are not any clouds in the sky here, this was a pretty good time.” No matter what happens, it was all pretty good natured. I think there was a real cultural backlash as the 80s changed. It was kind of apocalyptic on a certain level. The Reagan era was really negative in a lot of ways. So this was really the end of an era. You never think that things are going to move backwards, but they really did. It felt like that anyways as a young person.
You really seem to enjoy recreating the eras that you lived through.
Well, it’s personal with these two movies. I was in high school in the 70s and I was in college at this moment. As a little amateur anthropologist, you start thinking, “Well ok, what was cool and interesting about that era? How do people change? How do they stay the same? And how does the culture shift?” It’s part of the magic of cinema. Films can be very powerful that way. You can really recreate a moment in time and get it exactly right or close to it. I remember seeing movies that were period films growing up and thinking it must have been filmed in that era. Time helps because movies can become history. Like Shakespeare’s plays. Julius Caesar was written so long after those events, but our sense of history tends to go there. I keep telling Quentin that’s going to happen with Inglourious Basterds. I think 150 years from now, someone is going to see his movie and think that’s how World War 2 ended. That’ll be the payoff. You know, “Wasn’t Hitler killed in a movie theater? Yeah, I think that’s what happened.” It’ll be a while. It won’t be in our lifetime, but maybe one day.
From a writing and editorial standpoint, it must be difficult to build a movie around an ensemble and a mood like this. You don’t have conventional narrative arcs for structure. That seems daunting.
Right. Yeah, it’s tricky. You need to create your own little collage of energy and environments and personalities. It was sort of written that way. There were little subtle throughlines, mostly through Jake. It’s kind of his trajectory and everything sort of swirls around him. But yeah, it really hinges all on the time frame and that sort of moment-to-moment reality. When you do away with plot the way that I have largely, I’ve kind of favoured more time structures and pure character throughlines instead. It’s tricky, but it works for me.
Are there any college characters that interested you, but you couldn’t fit in?
No, actually. It’s pretty specific. These roommates and teammates, they’re all part of the same group. It’s a little different from Dazed in that way. With Dazed I was really going for more multiple perspectives. In this, I wasn’t really. It was more monolithic. The world he finds himself in is, you know, this bunch of athletes living in these houses. College can be kind of segregated that way, whether it’s through your major or your roommates or the girls dorm and boys dorm. In high school it always felt like you were all on top of each other and not necessarily in a good way. Whereas college brings more freedom, even if that makes the social groups were more specific. So in a way, that brought in some different storytelling mechanisms.
Did you think of it as genre piece at all?
Yeah, I think in narrative storytelling traditions and genre expectations. So this is a college comedy. I get that, but there aren’t really a lot of those. The traditional, set something up and pay it off style of writing doesn’t mean much to me. That’s not really how we go through our lives. So I’ve always tried to mirror that somehow in the storytelling. To me it all hinges on believable performances and dialogue. What else is there? You can find your way though a narrative that’s highly plotted, but then that asks the actors to spend half the time explaining the plot. Just describing what they are doing and why, which you know, you don’t have to explain too often in your life. A little bit, depending on what someone expects from you, like, “Why weren’t you there at ten o’clock when you said you’d be?” But rarely.
Was it difficult to convince so many actors to grow so many moustaches?
(Laughs) Well, you start casting early and you say, “Ok if you’re going to be in this movie don’t shave. Stop right now.” And had fun with that. They were a funny looking group. You’re making the movie for a couple months and they still have to live in the real world. So that group of guys, when they’re out at diner at three in the morning or whatever, people are coming up to them going, “Wait a second, who are you guys? What’s going on here with the hair and the moustaches?” It gets kind of pervy. The second the movie was over, boy those moustaches went fast. They were gone! On the night we wrapped we were at a diner at five in the morning and all the guys had taken those things right off. I was like, “Aw, I kind of liked that moustache. You should have kept it.”
Did you shoot on film as part of the period aesthetic?
We shot it on the Alexa, which is digital. The good thing about that is it doesn’t look too artificial. I was a film purist for as long as I could be. But I found this one camera that I like and I’ve used for the last three movies. It’s not a big deal. It happened slowly and I went back and forth a little bit? Boyhood was on film and Me And Orson Welles. It depends on the movie. All of the technological elements to me are just tools to work on your storytelling. Some people can be too adamant about one form or another. Film’s always been a practical medium. For people on low budgets just trying to make it work, whatever’s practical for the time period that you’re working is what it’s always been. You look back at the movies of the 70s and they are kind of blown out and that’s just because they didn’t have any money. They are lit a certain way and it’s the film stock of the era. Sometimes you’ll talk to those filmmakers and they’ll just say, “I couldn’t afford anything else. The studio gave us $800,000 and that’s all we could do.” But sometimes you look at it years later and think, “that was a cool choice,” even though it’s just people working within the limitations of their reality.
Movies have always adapted and if it’s technological, great. That stuff should all just be a way of helping you get across your vision as a filmmaker. I love CGI and how inexpensive some of that is. I saw that coming. You know, if you’re making a period film and the water tower in the distance is the wrong period, you can just tweak later. It makes it so much easier. In Boyhood I had a joke where I’d say, “12 years from now when I’m in post production on this film, no problem I’ll be able to erase that reflection in the mirror.” People laughed, but then it happened. By the end, all those flaws that I knew we could deal with later were very easy to take care of.
I found it really interesting looking back how so many of the films that you made while working on Boyhood kind of sync up with it. The year you started that experiment you did Waking Life and Tape which were two other projects hinged on a big technical experiments. You did School Of Rock and Bad News Bears while you were still in the childhood era of Boyhood, then Me An Orson Welles while you were working through the teen years. You went back to the Before Sunrise characters twice while you were going back to Boyhood every year. And now this movie essentially picks up where Boyhood left off in the first days of college. Was any of that conscious or just a coincidence?
There is some kind of odd chronology there isn’t there? I don’t know how aware I was. I always trying to tell very different stories. I mean, Scanner Darkly and some of the others are pretty far from Boyhood. But it’s funny, some of them really did line up. Boyhood and this one have a very long relationship together. I was thinking about this for the first time at the beginning of the century when I was starting on Boyhood. And then Boyhood came to the finish line right as I was hoping to do this next. I remember even telling the actors during the last scene of Boyhood, “You know I have this other movie that I’m hoping to do next that kind of starts right here. Guy goes off to college.” And you know, I had this script written before we got to the ending, so maybe that influenced how Boyhood ends somehow. At the very beginning I felt he would be going to college, but I had no idea. And then here I had this script written about halfway through Boyhood that’s about that first weekend of college. So they are kind of related. They’re cousins. And this one sort of picks up right after that one ends. This is a continuation in a way.
Was it difficult to put together another period jukebox soundtrack like you did on Dazed An Confused now that soundtrack sales are no longer strong enough to cover the costs of the rights?
Yeah, it’s really hurt that soundtracks don’t sell anymore. The Dazed soundtrack went something like double and triple platinum. It was huge. But people don’t really buy soundtracks anymore. They killed the genre in the 90s by kind of overdoing it. Plus people just don’t buy music the same way anymore, obviously. I could be less picky this time because I had so many tracks. I think I started with something like 200-300 songs that were in our atmosphere. So when I was trying to clear a disco song, if they wanted too much money or it was too hard to clear, fine there were plenty more where that came from. It was kind of the same way with all the tracks. If The Eagles want too much money or don’t want to be in the movie, fine. There was always so many other options. So I didn’t have to be too precious or beholden to any one song. Except for Rapper’s Delight because they do that in sync. We cleared that before the movie started. So there was a little bit of that. It’s still expensive and kind of a pain, but you know, you gotta do it.