Richard Linklater Talks BEFORE MIDNIGHT, Securing Financing, Settling on the Film’s Title, GROWING UP, Kickstarter, His 80′s College Comedy, and More
Opening in limited release this weekend is one of the best films you’re going to see this year: Before Midnight, director Richard Linklater’s follow-up to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. The new film takes place 18 years after Before Sunrise and 9 years after Before Sunset, and sees Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) navigating married life on a trip to Greece. Like the previous films, it’s a lot of walking and talking, but it absolutely works because of the intimate and lived-in chemistry between the lead actors, who also co-wrote the film with Linklater. I can honestly say this is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, and even if you haven’t seen the previous films, you should see it when it comes to a theater near you.
The other day, I landed an extended video interview with Linklater here in Los Angeles. During our wide ranging conversation we talked about the challenges of getting Before Midnight made, premiering at Sundance, his thoughts on Kickstarter and if would he use the service for a future project, an ‘80s comedy he hopes to shoot this fall, if he’s registered the name “Before Dawn,” if they’re doing anything special for the 20th anniversary of Dazed and Confused, the possibility of a “Before” Trilogy Blu-ray box set, the status of Growing Up (a movie he’s been working on since 2002 with Ethan Hawke), if he would consider making some of his projects on TV, some of the other scripts he’s been working on for years, and so much more. I promise if you’re a Linklater fan you’ll enjoy either reading or watching this interview.
Question: How are you enjoying doing the press day today?
RICHARD LINKLATER: The press day? Oh, it’s fine. Everybody seems to like the film, so it’s pretty good.
Every review I’ve read on the movie, including myself – I loved the fucking movie, sorry for cursing – every role I’ve read, people have just been very supportive and loving it. What’s it like for you sort of being in the circle feeling all of this positive energy?
LINKLATER: (laughs) Well, it’s such an unusual film. I feel the support is maybe people unconsciously wanting more cinematic choices. It’s such an odd duck of a film that these even exist, so maybe people are for it because, it’s the ultimate counter-programming. I think it’s so unusual to have a film that’s about what this film’s about. Maybe that contributes to people wanting to support it more or something.
Also, I don’t wanna make the argument that it’s European, but it depicts real people dealing with real problems in a non-hollywood kind of environment, you know?
LINKLATER: Yeah. You can’t get more non-hollywood than Greece these days. It’s beautiful, the Mediterranean and the coast there, it’s pretty cool. But yeah – it’s really a vacation from Hollywood. It couldn’t be farther away, and yet there’s something common about relationships but, all the trappings of the movie are pretty far from the mainstream. That’s for sure.
When did you first know you were going to premiere at Sundance? Was that your intention for a little while?
LINKLATER: Yeah. We finished shooting in late August and it just looked like we could be ready for Sundance. I showed them an early cut and, they decided they were going to show it, so that was good.
I would imagine they were very very excited to premiere the movie.
LINKLATER: (laughs) In strategy, we didn’t have a distributor, so John Sloss, one of our executive producers thought it would be a good place to show it, and hopefully find the right distributor for it. It’s just hard to do in this culture, and in this current cinematic landscape. So, I was lucky that the guys on Sony Pictures Classics came on board.
I definitely wanna ask you, and this is a crazy question but, how tough was it for you to get financing on this one?
LINKLATER: On one hand, we didn’t do the traditional route. The first film, Before Sunrise, was studio financed, by Columbia for a $2.7 million budget. Studios don’t make $2.7 million budget films anymore, and they haven’t for a long time. They really didn’t then. I think they were just doing me a favor or something. Warner Independent put the next one out. That’s kind of a smaller studio division. Now, we were off the grid with this one. We didn’t have any connection to anybody, so it was more equity financed. We got money from Greece, and 2/3 from the USA, so it ended up working out.
When I first saw the movie, what I noticed was a lot of producers with Greek names.
LINKLATER: Yeah, those Greek names stand out.
Did anyone in Greece come to you and say, “I’m a big fan of this movie and I’ll pay for the 3rd,” or was it like, “We’re making this movie. Who can we find that has some money?”
LINKLATER: Yeah, that was basically it. We were starting, and we were trying to figure out who could come in, and what the best financial situation would be for the film, to have the most autonomy. It worked great. It worked out fine. I had a very supportive Greek producer, along with his company. Not only did we get access to the whole country, anything we wanted, but he also came for third. Cristos Konstantakopoulos, I can pronounce his last name. But he’s a real serious film producer.
With the success of this film getting sold, finding a release, etc, have you talked about possibly doing any other projects together?
LINKLATER: Yeah. We’ve run by a few more, with other people too. Each film is sort of a patchwork of financing now. It’s not as easy as it used to be, where a company might come aboard. But I like that, because right at the moment, the companies who are turning certain kinds of films, a lot of the films that I do, I think that this way to get films financed – a lot of it is an international component – so that helps. It gives me hope that I can get some films made.
Lots of people are talking about Kickstarter. And Veronica Mars was this huge Hollywood thing. Zach Braff is making an indie movie via Kickstarter. Is this something that you’re even thinking about?
LINKLATER: Yeah. It’s a pretty great tool. It’s a pretty good way to do it. It could be used. I’d like to do something where, on Kickstarter, you’ll get a ticket or a download or something. You’re not getting a donation, but the product itself in advance.
Well, they do that, actually. There are things like that. I’m just curious because, the last time we spoke, you mentioned projects you wanted to do. It frustrates me because I’m such a fan of your work and I need more of it, and it seems like there’s always a gap that has to do with financing-
And so I’m trying to figure out, what can I do? How can I help Mr. Linklater get things going?
LINKLATER: (laughs) Yeah. Exactly. I think Kickstarter’s pretty cool. I might end up doing that on this college comedy I’m trying to make. I think I’ve mentioned it to you before. That could happen. The formula now is really cast-based, and if you’re gonna use unknowns, like a bunch of young actors, then the industry doesn’t really have a place for that right now. But I think an audience might. It’s sort of jumping over the middle people right to your potential fan base, so I think it’s great. I think Veronica Mars is smart, and Zach Braff’s project. It’s good what they’re doing.
Yeah, and here’s the thing. Some people get upset about money being donated to Veronica Mars when it’s going to a studio. But my opinion on this is, no one forced you to donate money. This is if you wanna do it.
LINKLATER: You don’t have to. You don’t have to do anything. You might say, “yeah they’ve got their thing going,” or “they’re rich,” but the studio’s not doing it. I don’t think the studios have made it a strategy to say “Oh, we won’t fund that. We’ll get fans to fund it.” That’s not a strategy. They’ll fund whatever they think they can make money on. If they’re not funding it, they don’t think they can. There are all of these in-between-the-cracks type projects – I’ve got a number of them – that, if you could go straight to the fan base, that would be great.
I think you said that. After Dazed and Confused, you had like an ‘80s comedy. Am I wrong about this?
LINKLATER: Yeah, I have an early ‘80s college comedy.
So this is something that you’d still like to make?
LINKLATER: Uh huh. Absolutely. I think I might. I hope to do that in the fall, actually.
LINKLATER: Yeah. I don’t know if I’ll need a Kickstarter or not, but I’ll let you know if that’s moving forward (laughs).
All you need to do is send me an email and I promise you there will be an article.
LINKLATER: I think it could be good. It could help marketing. Just going straight to who your audience might be, is a really smart way to cut out distribution, you know?
I’m gonna jump back into why I’m getting to talk to you today. Basically, eight or nine years, you make one of these films. Have you already registered the domain Before Dawn?
LINKLATER: (laughs) No, we have not. (laughs) Before Dawn. And that wouldn’t be them staying up all night. That would be them getting up early for some kid function. Yeah. (laughs) I’m afraid.
I’m just throwing that out there.
LINKLATER: Yeah. No, we haven’t.
Let me ask you a serious question, although “Before Dawn” is probably somewhere out there. How early on did you know that Before Midnight was going to be the title?
LINKLATER: I don’t know, about a year. Maybe it happened at the outline phase. Once we were into it, we kind of settled on that. It’s interesting that sunrise and sunset are these naturally occurring solar phenomena, or orbital whatever. But midnight is human. That’s time. We’ve jumped to time, and that’s kind of where they find themselves. Now that we’re into the human construct of time, there’s a lot of options there. I don’t think there’s any shortage of titles.
As a filmmaker, how do you think, if at all, you’ve changed over the last 20 or so years since making Dazed and Confused?
LINKLATER: I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve changed much. The working methodology is still the same. I still work with actors the same way. I’m still kind of going for the same thing. I’m fairly set in a lot of ways. That being said, I think more experience is a good thing, because it gives you confidence that you know what you’re doing. You’ve seen more, you’ve overcome more obstacles, and so you’d like to think that you’re getting better. Yeah, but the working methods haven’t really changed much.
I believe this is the 20th anniversary of Dazed and Confused.
LINKLATER: Yeah, absolutely.
Are there any plans for this summer or anything?
LINKLATER: Yeah, it would be in the Fall, because it came out in September of 1993. We had a mini reunion at South by Southwest this year. Some of the cast came in and that was fun. Other than that, I don’t think there’s anything currently going on. Universal owns that film, and I don’t think-
You would think that they could do something in September.
LINKLATER: Yeah they should. They should do something. I don’t know what.
(laughs) I wanna touch on a few things. You’ve talked about Dazed and Confused a ton over the last two decades. Is there anything left that’s hidden just for you? Or have you exposed everything? Do you know what I mean?
LINKLATER: Oh, in Dazed? No. There’s a ton left for me. That’s how it was. I’ll take it to my grave (laughs). But no, it was a very personal film. That was my high school.
When I told people on Twitter that I was gonna be talking to you, they suggested me asking something that I was gonna ask anyway which was, will there be Blu-rays of the first two Before movies?
LINKLATER: Yeah, it’s funny that people are going back and getting Blu-rays. I just got a thing from Criterion today about how they’re doing a Blu-ray of Slacker, which isn’t an obvious title, but I’m glad they’re doing it. I think they’re doing all of their titles. We’re in this phase now that reminds me of when films were on VHS, and they were retrospectively going back and doing DVDs. Now, we’re going back and doing Blu-rays of the titles, so I think they’ll get to them all eventually. I’d like to see a triple boxed set of all Blu-rays at some point.
That’s what I was gonna ask, since they’re all from different companies. Is there a way of doing that once this one hits home video?
LINKLATER: I think they can work that out. Yeah, hopefully.
I’d like to own that. I’d like to tell them “shut up and take my money.”
LINKLATER: Yeah, yeah. Let’s do that. We’ve never really done a lot of extras and stuff, so we probably could do one correctly.
The last time I spoke to you, you had been working on something for a while, which I believe is called Boyhood maybe?
LINKLATER: Or Growing Up. Yeah.
How has that been going?
LINKLATER: Good. It actually predates part of this trilogy. I started that in ’02, before we shot Sunset in ’03. So maybe the idea of an experience in time infused it a little bit. Ethan plays the divorced Dad of a kid who’s growing up. It starts with him in first grade, and, he’s in 11th grade now.
Do you have a target date for when you wanna be done with it?
LINKLATER: Yeah. We’re kind of stuck in a chronology of age, so I think I’d like to be done with it next year.
LINKLATER: Yeah. I think it would be great if it came out in 2014. I’m not totally sure, but that seems about right.
How did that project turn out compared to what you thought you were making way back when?
LINKLATER: Pretty close. Believe it or not, every project is basically as designed. When people ask anything like what you said, of course. To me, film is all about structure and planning, and trying to get it exactly the way you’re thinking of it. The process was what it was about, so I’m not really surprised that it’s pretty much an exploration of what I thought it would be.
What was interesting about that is that I would imagine you’ve shot a lot of footage. With something like that, do you envision it as a 90 minute or 120 minute run time?
LINKLATER: Yeah. It’s one feature film. It’ll be a little longer, like over two hours, but it’s not five hours or eight hours. It’s feature length.
You recently did a little bit of TV-
LINKLATER: Up to Speed.
Exactly. How did you enjoy that, and, right now, in my opinion, TV is as good as it’s ever been. Is there anything that would compel you to do more TV?
LINKLATER: Yeah, I would like to. I did a Hulu series, but we treated it like a TV show. It was a total, low-budget, side project. It’s not a major undertaking. It’s more like a little documentary thing. We poured everything we had into it, and I’m really happy with it. I’m interested in it as a storytelling medium, in the idea that you can have this novelistic thing. I like what Todd Haynes did with Mildred Pierce, with a five hour movie, or five, one-hour episodes. One of my favorite films of Fassbinder’s is Berlin Alexanderplatz. It’s 15 ½ hours, but it was done for TV in these hour-long segments. I could see us working with a subject matter that could warrant that. But most of the ideas I have for films don’t warrant the four year, the five year, (laughs) or the endless exploration of the idea. Some do though, so it’s finding that right one that would be worth that tremendous effort.
It seems to me that the networks are talking about getting back into the mini series, with the success of The Bible and all-
LINKLATER: I didn’t even hear about that. There was a Bible mini series?
Yeah, there was a Bible mini series by-
LINKLATER: Hasn’t there always been?
Yeah, but it did incredibly well in the ratings, like, crazy well. Because of that, the networks are now saying, “maybe the mini series can come back.”
LINKLATER: Yeah. I like the mini series.
I was gonna say, the thing about you and your films is that, you have a lot of just honest dialogue, honest people, and honest situations. I would imagine that that could work really well.
LINKLATER: That would work really well, and I like the attention span that TV audiences tend to have, where movie audiences don’t. 12 minutes in they’re like “Eh, I don’t like this.” Whereas, in TV, you hear people saying things like “I didn’t really warm up to that until the 2nd season.” I’m like, “Wow! You went through a whole season and you didn’t even like it?!” People walk out of movies so quickly, or they don’t like them or they’re quick to judge. I like the way that’s received, but again, I just need the right story that warrants that.
I’m also curious about other scripts you’ve mentioned you have. Is there a pile or something where you have five or 10 scripts that you’re really passionate about?
LINKLATER: Yeah. I’d say I have about eight.
That you’re really passionate about?
LINKLATER: Yeah. Scripts that, if someone said they could finance it, I could go there.
Are they all character dramas or-
LINKLATER: Yeah, some of them are historical. They feel like films I would do, probably.
What’s the biggest one you’ve written that makes you think, “This is gonna cost me a lot of money to get?”
LINKLATER: Well, I haven’t finished it. There’s this one I’ve been working on for over 10 years, but it’s a lengthy historical epic (laughs). It takes place in the 19th century among the Transcendentalists, like Emerson and Thoreau, and all the people of that era. I see it as being about the birth of American individualism and thought, or the American philosophy.
Does it have a title?
LINKLATER: No, no. It’s a big sprawling subject. I’m still trying to break the narrative back of it-
This could be the TV Show.
LINKLATER: It really could be. It’s a 10 hour thing.
(laughs) That’s what I’m saying!
LINKLATER: But I don’t know. Is it one movie? Is it a bunch of one hour episodes? I’m still thinking about it, but I wanna do it someday.
You need to do some meetings. I gotta get you doing more stuff. I really do.
LINKLATER: Well, I had a film come out last year. I think I’m being pretty-
No, that’s true.
LINKLATER: If I wasn’t five years in between projects or anything, but yeah, I’m trying to keep busy.
I’ve gotta wrap this up, but real quick, what’s the last two films that you’ve seen that you’ve loved?
LINKLATER: In the theater? I think I enjoyed Spring Breakers a lot.
James Franco was amazing in it.
LINKLATER: Yeah, I just liked the view. I thought it was such a well-made movie. Interesting. What else? I’ve been so busy that I haven’t seen a lot. I watched The Man Who Loved Women. I’m a big Truffaut fan, so I hadn’t seen that in a while, so I’m thinking about it. I’ve had this kind of sex comedy I’ve been taking notes on for a few years, so I might do that. That’s one of the best ones.
I gotta go. Sir, it’s always a pleasure.
LINKLATER: Yeah, always.