Richard Linklater's 'Boyhood' a 12-year labour of love

Richard Linklater (Reuters files)

Richard Linklater (Reuters files)

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:02 PM ET

Richard Linklater, the Texan who champions independent filmmaking in America, is enjoying his greatest career triumph. Linklater’s epic-length Boyhood, the story of 12 years in the life of a boy passing into manhood, is universally acclaimed.

This allows the 53-year-old writer-director to joke before getting serious in a telephone interview from his home in arts-minded Austin. I mention to Linklater that he has often made films covering 24 hours, including his Before Sunrise Trilogy. So it is crazy that Boyhood is stretched over 12 years — and took 12 years to film. With the same core cast: Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as the parents, the astonishing Ellar Coltrane as the boy-to-man and the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater, as Coltrane’s sister.

“The length of it, in terms of the story, brings my career average back to normal, I think,” Linklater says with a chuckle. “But that was just the way to tell this story. I mean, time is just a really powerful structuring device when you think about film and you think about life. It is the essence of cinema and every film has its own needs.”

The needs of Boyhood required a near-revolutionary approach. Linklater constructed it out of a dozen shorts shot in yearly increments. On a technical level, it is remarkable that the footage in this 166-minute film looks uniform, despite the rapid evolution of digital filmmaking. But casting Boyhood was even riskier. Linklater chose Coltrane as a six-year-old. Coltrane is 19 as the film expands its release schedule now. On Friday, it opens in Toronto with more Canadians cities to come.

“You take leaps,” Linklater says of his casting, which mirrors the success Chris Columbus and company had populating the first Harry Potter. “Look at the Harry Potter kids,” Linklater muses. “Were they molded into the Harry Potter kids they had to be in their own lives or were they already the Harry Potter kids they needed to be? Who knows?

“How did my film affect Ellar’s life? I don’t think anyone can answer that. But he was this very thoughtful, sensitive, young six-year-old when I met him. And he is the same kind of mysteriously interesting, thoughtful 19-year-old now.”

The adults were another challenge. “Ethan just reminded me: ‘You were reluctant in casting me because you thought I’d be too busy and you’d never be able to coordinate schedules.’ I said: ‘Well, yeah, now that you mention it, it was kind of an issue.’”

Ditto with Arquette “because we were everyone’s side project,” Linklater says. “It was a very big part of our lives but it just couldn’t be in the foreground. I was making other movies. Patricia was on a show. Ethan was always busy with theatre. The practical considerations were off the chart as far as the pragmatic, grind-it-out, get-it-done element of filmmaking was concerned. That was always the challenge: But you just get it done!”

There was a reason to overcome obstacles. Linklater felt inspired to tell this story about father-and-son, mother-and-son, the effect of their divorce and the subsequent turmoil.

“There is something universal about this story,” Linklater says. “I wanted to show how life unfolds, how we age, how we grow up, just something about how time works in our lives. It has bigger ethereal thoughts about life and death and art and expression and communication and relationships and institutions. I mean all of it!”

That is why Boyhood is 166 minutes long. “I just kept trimming and working it in post. I spent two years editing and, at the end of the day, I said: ‘This thing isn’t one minute longer than it wants to be and not one minute shorter than it needs to be.’”

From 'Slacker' to 'Boyhood': Richard Linklater's five best films

Filmmaker Richard Linklater’s career began in 1988 with a little-seen and quirky film called It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. Now, 26 years later and after some Hollywood missteps, the Texan could earn his first best director nom at the Oscars. Plus his third in a screenplay category. All thanks to Boyhood. Here are Linklater’s five best, ranked by quality:

Boyhood (2014): This is Linklater’s triumphant masterwork. Daring in both its filmmaking and in the emotional depth it achieves, this drama was 12 years in the making and is inspiring rapture in audiences. Cue the best picture Oscar nom.

Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013): It is no longer possible to separate the parts in this remarkable trilogy, which grew in stature with each new film adding depth to the core relation at its heart. Linklater’s collaboration with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is selfless and remarkable.

Dazed and Confused (1993): Building on the breakout success of Slacker (1991), this is the film that suggested that Linklater would endure and prosper.

Waking Life (2001): This is Linklater’s first adult animation. It was digitally rotoscoped, capturing the motions of live actors on his set. The surreal results suited the existential philosophy explored in the dream-like story.

School of Rock (2003): With exuberant Jack Black crafting one of his best performances, Linklater’s musical comedy is his only real Hollywood success, both commercially and artistically.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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