Richard Linklater, “It felt like we were getting away with something,” on Filmmaking

Austin based director Richard Linklater was honored at the 2013 Houston Cinema Arts Festival with the Levantine Cinema Arts Award. The award is given annually to an artist who contributes to the enduring spirit of independent film. Linklater has directed films as diverse as the drug-laced teen comedy, Dazed & Confused; the trilogy of films, (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight), about an adult couple who connect on an intellectual as well as romantic level; and the animated philosophical film, Waking Life. His acceptance speech contained nuggets of advice about filmmaking and anecdotes about the process.

“The art is about the life you’re living while you’re doing it. Every film is like getting a Master’s thesis in whatever world your film is in.”

After the screening of Dazed & Confused, Linklater discussed his experience making the movie. His inspiration for the film was to share what his life was like in Huntsville and Houston, Texas in the 1970’s. Cruising on the weekend, open house type parties and drug use were a huge part of his experience. There’s a scene in the film when a character throws a bowling ball from the car window. This is one element of the story that came right out of Linklater’s experience. The characters aren’t directly based on any single individual, they’re amalgams of people that he knew, except for the gym teachers who are almost exact replicas of teachers from his high school.

In writing the script he knew that music would play an integral role in the film because as a teenager music is the most expressive part of your life. Some of his largest battles came in getting the music rights that he wanted for the film, but in the end he got almost every song that he had wanted.

The first draft for the film came in at a whopping 180 pages, a traditional script is about 105 pages in length. Because it was Linklater’s first film with a major company, he was paranoid throughout the filming and all the way until the post production screenings. At the post-production screenings when audience members were given questionnaires the scores were incredibly low. He was always surprised by the quantifications because as he would look around the theater, it seemed as if everyone was enjoying the film. Because of the low scores in test screenings, the production company stepped back, basically writing the film off and allowing him more freedom than he had anticipated. He looks back at the film now and is shocked that he got away with as much of the language and drug references as he did.

“It felt like we were getting away with something.”

When asked if he ever looks back at his work and wishes that he would’ve done something different,

“I accept my work for what it is. It was the best I could do at that moment. I always try to give it everything that I have at the time. I leave it all on the field so I have no regrets.”   

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