Saturday, July 30, 2016
The Auteurs #57: Richard Linklater (Part 2)
(Part 2: 2004-2016)
After achieving his most commercially-successful to date with School of Rock, Linklater decided to take a major risk on a project that he had been working on sporadically in a sequel to Before Sunrise. With Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy both agreeing to doing the project as well as take part in writing the script, the process took years before all three were satisfied on the final script. The story would be set nine years later where Jesse is in Paris on a book tour where he bumps into Celine as the two spend the afternoon talking to each other and reminiscing about the last time they met. With a $2 million budget and to be shot on location in Paris, the film would endure a 15-day shoot during one of the hottest summers in Paris.
Linklater wouldn’t just allow a sense of improvisation for the film but also have the entire film be set in real time which made it much more different from its predecessor. At the same time, Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel would use a lot of steadicams to follow Hawke and Delpy for the duration as they walk around Paris. Delpy would have her parents in the film for a day during a scene as they would make a cameo as Celine’s neighbors while Delpy would also contribute some original music for the film as well as perform one for the film. Another moment that Hawke and Delpy put into the script that was eventually filmed was its ending as the two and Linklater liked it but the film’s production company Castle Rock didn’t like it and want a re-shoot. Linklater fortunately stood his ground and left the ending as it is.
The film made its premiere at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival in February of that year where it was well-received as it led to a limited U.S. release in the summer where it managed to gross more than $15 million against its $2 million budget. The film’s commercial success was surprising yet it was the critical response that was overwhelming as the film was filled with several positive reviews as well as give Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay that also included Before Sunrise co-writer Kim Krizan for story.
Bad News Bears
Having achieved some clout with studios over two back-to-back commercially-successful films that also were hits with critics and audiences. Linklater was approached by Paramount to do a remake of the 1976 film The Bad News Bears as Linklater agreed where he would work get the services of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa of Bad Santa to write the script. The film would also get Billy Bob Thornton in the lead role of Morris Buttermaker as well as Greg Kinnear as a rival coach and Marcia Gay Harden as a parent. Though the production was set in Los Angeles, Linklater still wanted to create something that was down-home as well as get kids who can play baseball rather than have actors who don’t know how to play.
The production would occur in the summer of 2004 as Linklater and Thornton would help the young actors practice between set-ups just for fun. While Thornton knew he was playing a variation of the character he had played in Bad Santa, it was done in a more restrained way as he also used his time to work with the kids. Though the film had a $35 million budget, the production was relaxed as Linklater also wanted to make a few changes that differentiated itself from the 1976 film while also paying homage to it.
The film made its premiere in late July of 2005 where it received mixed reviews from critics as some felt it was too faithful and didn’t have the bite of the original. Commercially, the film was a disappointment only making $34 million just one million dollar shy of its budget. Still, the film did prove to be a worthwhile experience for Linklater who enjoyed working with the kids as well as with the adult cast who had fun making the film.
A Scanner Darkly
While working on multiple projects, Linklater had been wanting to make a sci-fi film as he had been a fan of the works of Philip K. Dick. One of Dick’s story that he loved in A Scanner Darkly that revolved around a futuristic dystopian world where humans are under surveillance during an epidemic involving drugs. Linklater knew that the film would be ambitious but realized that it would be very expensive to shoot the film in a conventional manner as he sought the help from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and actor George Clooney for funding as it would give Linklater an idea in making the film. The film would eventually become an animated feature but in an unconventional way.
With a cast that would include Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane, Linklater and cinematographer Shane F. Kelly decided to shoot much of the film digitally during the spring of 2004 just before Linklater was to do work on Bad News Bears. The six-week shoot would be easy as Linklater would once again hire Bob Sabiston to do the rotoscope animation as the process took more than a year. Much of the editing and post-production work on the animation was delayed due to Linklater’s work on Bad News Bears as the film’s original release in the fall of 2005 was pushed for a 2006 release.
The film eventually premiered in May of 2006 at the Cannes Film Festival in its Un Certain Regarde section where the film was given a limited theatrical release later that summer. While it would only gross $7.7 million in the box office, it was a million dollars short against its budget but it still defied some expectations while also being well-received with critics. Notably as some felt it is the most daring work of any film based on Dick’s novels as well as being original in its approach to animation.
Fast Food Nation
Having lived much of his life as a vegetarian, Linklater had a fascination with the world of the fast food industry as he had shot a pilot in 2003 for HBO called $5.15/hr that never aired. Still, the project had Linklater wanting to do more research as he read Eric Schlosser’s non-fiction book on the industry as the two collaborated on a script that is based on Schlosser’s book. The story would be multi-layered as it revolve many different characters and storylines such as Mexican immigrants arriving to this fictional Colorado town to work in a meat plant while a marketing director makes a horrifying discovery at the meat plant. The project got the attention of the renowned British film producer Jeremy Thomas who agreed to produce the film with the legendary music impresario Malcolm McLaren.
With Linklater collaborators Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Greg Kinnear taking on roles, the cast would include Catalina Sandino Moreno, Luis Guzman, Wilmer Valderrama, Ana Claudia Talancon, Bobby Cannavale, Ashley Johnson, Lou Taylor Pucci, Kris Kristofferson, and Bruce Willis. Linklater would shoot the film partially in Austin and in Mexico though much of the production would be set in Colorado where Hawke and Arquette both took a break from another Linklater project to appear in the film. Linklater wanted to explore much of the dark realities as well as play into elements of realism as it relates to Kinnear’s character who could’ve been a whistleblower but has to contend with the bigger picture as it relates to his job and livelihood.
Like A Scanner Darkly, the film would also make its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May of 2006 where it played in competition for the Palme d’Or. The film divided critics as some felt the film was heavy-handed in its message while some praised the film for raising questions on the industry. While the film only did modestly well commercially in its limited release, the film did at least give Linklater the chance to do something different as well as help raise questions about the food industry.
Me and Orson Welles
Following a break from big projects while continuing work on the 12-year project as well as making a documentary on Augie Garrido of the University of Texas who was known for making the college win two College World Series titles in baseball while being philosophical in his methods of the game. Linklater decided to work on a project he had been dreaming about for years as he was a fan of the works of Orson Welles. Having read an adapted script by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo Jr. that was based on Robert Kaplow’s novel about Welles’ stage play of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theater in 1937. Linklater came on board for the project. Having seen the play version of the story that featured Christian McKay as Welles, Linklater wanted McKay to reprise the role for the film much against the advice of the producers who had already funded the film for a $25 million budget. With McKay on board, Linklater took another major risk in casting in then-teen film idol Zac Efron for the role of Richard Samuels who would the young actor joining Welles’ production. For Efron who was a lifelong fan of Linklater’s work, it was a completely different project as he immediately came on board.
With Claire Danes playing Welles’ assistant and an ensemble that would include Ben Chaplin, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, and Zoe Kazan. Production began in early 2008 at the Isles of Man where much of the film would be shot as it featured a theater similar to the old Mercury theater while additional shooting would be set in London. Linklater wanted to maintain that air of authenticity as well as capture every attention to detail about how things were. Even as many of the actors took the time to recite Welles’ adaptation of Julius Caesar as well as create that air of spontaneity that Linklater had been known for in his films. After filming completed in late March, Linklater went back to Austin with editor Sandra Adair on cutting the film where they would screen some footage of the film for Cannes Film Festival that May in order to find distribution as the film was funded by the independent CinemaNX company.
The film made its premiere at September of 2008 at the Toronto Film Festival where it was well-received with critics yet finding distribution for the film proved to be very tough. Despite the critical support and a great reception from audiences at festival screenings including one in early 2009 at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. CinemaNX eventually decided to distribute the film itself in a very limited release where it only made $2 million following its release in the U.S. and U.K. in late 2009. Despite its poor showing at the box office, the film did achieve several accolades as it was selected by the National Board of Review as one of the ten best independently-released films of 2009 while Christian McKay would receive a British Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Like many who live in Texas, Linklater was aware of the infamous story about the murder of millionaire Marjorie Nugent in the hands of companion Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede as he read Skip Hollingsworth’s article on the Texas Monthly magazine. The story intrigued Linklater as he would team with Hollingsworth for years in writing a script that would be set in the actual town where the characters lived in as it was set in East Texas. After years of creating a script, Linklater realized that the film should be a mixture of a black comedy with elements of documentary where many of the locals would gossip or tell stories about what had happened in the small town of Carthage, Texas. Linklater decided to shoot the film in Carthage as well as other parts of Texas as it would be set somewhere at his home state as well as create something that is authentic.
For the main cast, Jack Black was chosen to play Tiede where he would meet the real Tiede with Linklater filming the meeting as Black would adopt many of Tiede’s effeminate mannerisms for the film. For the role of Nugent, Shirley MacLaine was cast though it took some time for her to get used to the sense of spontaneity that Linklater was known for once filming began in September of 2010 for a 22 day shoot. For the role of the attorney Danny Buck Davidson, Matthew McConaughey was cast marking a long reunion between him and Linklater as McConaughey would bring his mother to play a role as one of the locals in Carthage. Linklater wanted that mix of non-actors, non-professional actors, and such to play the people of the town as it played to all sorts of legends and such as well as create many possibilities into what Tiede did what he did.
The film made its premiere at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival in June of that year where it was a major hit though it would take time for the film to find distribution. When Millennium Entertainment picked it up for distribution for its limited release, the film would eventually become a box office hit making $10 million worldwide against its $6 million budget as well as receive rave reviews from critics. The film would give Jack Black a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical while the film would also be the start of a career renaissance for Matthew McConaughey following a period of high-profiled but poorly-received studio features giving McConaughey renewed acclaim from critics and audiences.
While working with Ethan Hawke on the 12-year project, the two discussed making a third film of Before series with Julie Delpy as the three began work on writing a new film. This time around, it would revolve the decision that Jesse and Celine made nine years before and where they’re at now with twin daughters and Jesse’s step-son while vacationing at the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece. The project would also play into Jesse and Celine both coming at a crossroads in their lives as well as question their own relationship and desires in life. After a year working and writing the script, production eventually began in the summer of 2012 with a $3 million budget.
With Greek actress Ariane Labed playing a small role as well as Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Jesse’s son from a previous marriage, the film would be a more straightforward but also playful approach for much of the film’s first half as it relates to Jesse and Celine’s time with their family. Then the film would follow Jesse and Celine in their own as well as a third act in a hotel room as it plays into something that is like a marriage breaking down. All of which play into Jesse and Celine both in different directions but also wanting to stay together as it was considered one of the most honest moments in the film.
The film made its premiere in January of 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival where it was given a rousing reception that was followed by a premiere at the Berlin Film Festival a month later as it drew massive acclaim. The film would be given a limited release in late May of that year before going wide less than a month later as the film was a box office hit grossing more than $23 million against its $3 million budget while garnering rave reviews and another Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay to Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy. The critical and commercial success was quite surprising for some though many wonder if another film will be made as Linklater remains mum on the subject.
Having been interested in the idea of what it is like to grow up from adolescent to the early stages of adulthood, Linklater conceived a project that would be about a boy’s life in the course of 12 years. The concept itself would be an ambitious as well as a daring project that would require a lot of time and a lot of work yet Linklater knew that it would take a lot of his time. With Ethan Hawke on board to play the father Mason Evans Sr., Patricia Arquette was cast as the mother Olivia Evans as she would do some of the work on the weekends due to her work on the TV show Medium. While Linklater would cast his own daughter Lorelei as Mason and Olivia’s daughter while the search for the protagonist of Mason Jr. was hard as it would eventually go to Ellar Coltrane. The project would cost $200,000 a year as Linklater also knew he had no script as much of it would be on the fly.
Since none of the four actors signed contracts as they would work independently and on a small salary, they would appear whenever they’re available as well as hire other actors Marco Perella as Olivia’s second husband and Bill Wise as Mason Sr.’s brother as well as musician Charlie Sexton as a friend of Mason Sr. Over the course of the twelve-year production, Linklater would find new stories to tell as some of it is based on real-life experiences from both Hawke and Arquette who played variations of their own parents in the film while Hawke offered to be a stand-in director in case Linklater somehow dies during production. Even as it plays into some of the realistic aspects of the way growing up occurs as well as the challenges adults face as parents. Linklater would shoot the film on 35mm from its inception as well as keep doing despite the fact that many filmmakers had changed to the digital format as Linklater called on his old cinematographer Lee Daniel as well as Shane Kelly to shoot the film during the course of the production.
The film finally made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2014 as the much-anticipated film lived up to its hype and more as it was a big hit at the festival. The film would get a limited release in the U.S. through IFC Films while Universal did the film’s international release in July of that year. With its final budget of $4 million, the film did become a major box office hit making more than $44 million while receiving great reviews from critics as it won several critic’s prizes as well as receiving six nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for Linklater, Best Supporting Actor for Hawke, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing to Sandra Adair while Patricia Arquette would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The scores of accolades that also included big prizes from critics in New York, Los Angeles, as well as a few BAFTAs that included a Best Director prize for Linklater was huge as it gave him the biggest artistic success of his career.
Everybody Want Some!!
Linklater’s most recent film is a completely different project from his recent work as he described as a spiritual sequel of sorts to Dazed and Confused as his 18th feature film would mark a return to comedy. The film would revolve around a weekend in the life of a young freshman baseball pitcher attending a college in Texas as he socializes with his teammates into a wild party where they would venture into many of its social circles. The film was partially based on Linklater’s own college experience but also in the way a lot of different scenes were emerging during the 1980s in Texas as there was a lot of different cultural scenes such as the world of punk, disco, hip-hop, and country music.
With the aid of producer Megan Ellison and her AnnaPurna Pictures company, Linklater would $10 million for the budget while he would also cast actors who weren’t known as well as some unknowns as it would include Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Tyler Hoechlin, and Ryan Guzman in key parts. Much of the production was shot in Austin, Texas as Linklater wanted to maintain something that was loose but also carefree while using its studio facilities to create different clubs from a disco club and a country music club the guys would hang out at as much of the production was shot in the fall of 2014. For the climatic costume party scene, Linklater got many locals to appear in costumes for the party as it created that air of spontaneity and authenticity into the film.
Though it was originally going to be called That’s What I’m Talking About, he eventually changed the title after a Van Halen song as the film made its premiere at the 2016 South by Southwest Film Festival in March of that year where it was given a rousing reception. Following its limited release through Paramount later that month, the film would garner rave reviews from critics but its box office take at over $3 million was disappointing. Still, the film’s success with critics and art-house audiences did help cement Linklater’s status as one of the best American filmmakers working today.
Having been in the business for 30 years with 18 feature films, some shorts, and various projects as well as create a viable community for the city of Austin, Texas. Richard Linklater has a special place for the world of cinema as well as being someone that is willing to make movies that Hollywood wouldn’t do where audiences can find a story or characters they can connect with. Even as the films will talk about many things but always find a way to make it engaging and accessible as it’s all part of what Linklater does as a filmmaker. In many respects, Richard Linklater is pretty much the best American filmmaker working today not just in the stories he tells but also in being this very unlikely and engaging philosopher on life.
© thevoid99 2016