Richard Linklater Curated
CURATED BY :
You write that you had this amazing buildup toward Chef Michel Bras' visit, who you call Dr. Veg and the Chief One, coming to the restaurant and you reference it so many times: the ulcer you feel every time someone mentions his name, and the stress of figuring out what you're going to serve him. Finally, he's at Noma, you serve him the meal, he asks you to sit with him after, and the scene ends—you say no more. So how was it?
Oh, yeah. You know what, it was amaaaaazing. Everyone wants a piece of him so when he said, "Come and sit at my table," I knew that he was happy. I knew that if we weren't too nervous it would be good. It was special because we had been building up toward the visit: He had come to the MAD symposium, he'd been speaking, we'd been showing him around, we had gone to farms. There were so many big opinions about what to cook and I think he was very curious. He was really blown away, like genuinely, genuinely, genuinely blown away. It was a huge moment. I'll never forget it. And I'll never forget when I came to eat at his restaurant the first time this past summer. After the meal he said, "I'll see you at seven o'clock tomorrow morning. You're going to my garden." Yeah. We sat at his house, had an espresso. He's the most influential cook, if you ask me, of our time. There's no question in my mind.
With so little natural diversity in Denmark, why do you think Noma has become a phenomenon?
I think that we're good at what we do. I think we have a good, sound working place where we produce excellent cooks, excellent sous chefs who go out and are successful on their own. That really matters, to have people who have an affectionate affiliation with Noma, even though they're out doing their own thing. And then I think we just hit something in the zeitgeist. Suddenly there was this huge sense of belonging after 2008 and here we were cooking in the cold North—a place that people didn't expect. I mean how can you even cook when everything is frozen over for four months of the year? It was a real mystery to a lot of people five or six years ago. Today the world has changed so it's much more accepted and you know how to handle these cold periods through fermentations and pickling—that's happening all over now, but it was a weird mysterious thing not too many years ago. I think that inspired and fueled a lot of chefs and cooks to look around their backyards. I know that we are cooking up a new flavor for a region, but in essence we are doing things that Japan has been doing for 1,000 years: trying to cook and understand your landscape. The Danes are known for design, tables [knocks on table], glasses, plates—we're not known for what you put in them.
The food world is talking a lot about Latin America right now. Do you think Mexico is next?
I hope so, but you never know. People are talking about Peru and Brazil—Chef Alex Atala is a genius, truly special—but to me Mexico is unparalleled. I love Mexican food. To me Mexican food is this giant, waiting to be awakened. It's the most fantastically diverse, delicious cooked cuisine, on par with Japanese if you ask me, and I think that it's a shame that it's sort of known to be cheap fast food. Look at sushi rice: It's steamed rice mixed with sugar and vinegar. You have masters getting trained for 7, 8, 9, 10 years to learn how to make sushi rice. Some people will say, "This is boiled rice." We all have this sort of mythical idea about sushi rice and how difficult it is. Why is the tortilla just a pancake? They need to up their storytelling a bit: how it's really about the right variety of corn, how it goes through a very complicated chemical process called nixtamalization, and then there's the cooking. It's really complicated shit actually. To me from north to south to east to west, Mexican cuisine is like, whoa, from coffee to chiles to the Mexican Gulf to Baja California to the wines. They eat everything, not because they have to but because they find delicious ways of cooking everything. Oaxaca is the best food market I've ever, ever, ever visited in the world. In between the food stalls are little restaurants and then there are women, who are 1 meter tall, all carrying big buckets of wild dried hibiscus—it just keeps going. The diversity is immense. We don't have that in Denmark at all.
So keeping the Journal changed the way you work now. If you could read anyone else's journal whose would it be?
I felt so saddened about Charlie Trotter's death because I never met him and I felt that I had known him all of my life from afar. I read all of his books in the 1990s. Back then you were a nobody if you didn't read Marco Pierre White's White Heat and Charlie Trotter's books. He was trying to get a table at Noma when we were closed once unfortunately, so we emailed each other once or twice. I would love to have understood Charlie Trotter better. That's the guy who's been on my mind lately. He was a true icon who stuck to his restaurant and was just forgotten. Now everyone is like, "Oh my God, Charlie Trotter."
You're recognized as one of the best chefs in the world so it's surprising how self-deprecating you can be at times in the Journal 'A Work in Progress'. In your mind, what's the dumbest thing you've ever done in the kitchen?
Oooh. The stupidest thing you can ever do is shout. It happens rarely now but I used to shout in the kitchen. Keeping a journal actually made me change quite a bit. If I were to give advice to people entering a kitchen, it would be, Don't panic. In that moment where you're about to put everything out—the dishes, the food—just stay cool and everything will come together. Shouting just doesn't do any good. It just makes everyone feel less confident and make stupid decisions. You can be serious and fully concentrated without yelling.
In the Journal 'A Work in Progress', you write about your father cooking a lot when you were a child. So who's a better cook now: you or your dad?
We cook so differently. My father doesn't like Noma. He would never say it to me, but I know. He grew up in Macedonia after World War II, living in extreme poverty, eating stews, beans, and lentils all of his life, and going to bed hungry most of his childhood. To him he doesn't get Noma. He doesn't get it and I understand why he doesn't get it. For him, it's like, "I can't sit here for four hours and eat. I just can't do that." He would rather have a big bowl of that stew of lentils or beans. So he does that extremely well, better than I do for sure. But he can't do what I do at Noma.
What is it about your home town of Austin that makes it such a seeming hive of creativity?
If you grew up in the south in some small town it is the sort of place you escaped to, to get out of where you lived. It has a big college and it was primarily known for its music scene - Willy Nelson lives there. It is a kind of cultural oasis. Texas is a rather conservative state but Austin is a pretty liberal town. I moved there because I could not afford to live in Los Angeles so I decided to stay there and work. I was envious of the music culture so we decided to build up the movie culture. Austin has become a rather large city now and rather different from the place portrayed in Slackers. It was a smaller town then and there was nothing going on. Now there are huge skyscrapers rather than abandoned buildings. It is the 11th largest city in the States and it is getting bigger.
Can you tell me something about your new film with Cate Blanchett, Where Did You Go, Bernadette?
This is a large film for me, based on a best-selling novel by Maria Temple, but it was funded by an independent company Annapurna Pictures. We are in post production now and we shot it last Fall. I am really happy about it but it won’t come out until next year now. It is really a mother and daughter story, about a middle-aged couple drifting apart and about an agoraphobic artist who has stopped making art and goes missing. Besides Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig is in the cast.
What has your relationship with Hollywood been?
The studios seem a bit abstract to me now - even after the success of Boyhood they did not come calling for my next film. They know me too well. I get strange offers all the time but most of the time they do need a director like me. For many of the big action films the parameters are already set - they might as well get the stunt co-ordinator to direct it. Mostly I turn down everything that they ask me to do.
Are there certain types of films that the Austin Film Society look out for to support?
We try to support anyone who wants to express themselves and try to make cinema that means something to them personally. There is no specific definition. It can be anything. Independent film is anything and some people start that way and then Hollywood finds a use for them. Others not so much … People who love films love all sorts of films and we are in that category. We show all kinds of crazy stuff - a horror season to a director’s retrospective.
Do you have any advice to give to a young aspiring film-maker?
There is so much advice available that I am in a kind of anti-advice mode at the moment. If you discourage somebody then the test for the individual is not to hear that. When you make a film and it is turned down by every film festival then you have to get used to the rejection. It is incredible the amount of belief and (let’s call it artistic delusion) that you have to live under to get yourself through these years. It is a lesson to everyone. You have to forge your path. For instance there are so many strong women in the world who have come to directing movies later than they should. Why did they wait an extra ten years to pursue their ambition? You have to be able to plant your flag and you have to proceed. In the arts it is a specific and wilful journey for the individual. You have to be strong and single-minded, a little crazy and really driven. My advice is not to listen to any advice but to follow your impulses. The world will let you know at some point if they want you to continue. That is why I did not go to film school because I did not want anyone telling me what to do.
Have you ever done commercials?
I have never done commercials for money, but I have done political ads for a law they are trying to pass etc. They are called public service announcements. I love Texas but as I’ve said it is a very conservative state. The state government has been taken over by the Tea Party - the radical right. They thought they would pass a law called the Bathroom Bill which would ban transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. It is insane and incredibly discriminatory so we got together to make a one-minute protest ad. I made some anti-Bush ads when he was running for President and they came after me to check my taxes to try to get me in trouble.
Have you been courted by Hollywood over the years, and if you have, have you ever thought why on earth did they offer me that?
It has been a kind of dance with them my whole life. After Slacker my next production was a studio film - Dazed And Confused was funded by Universal on a low budget. At that time studios would give film-makers six million dollars to go make a movie. They would have their big films and then medium range films. Now they concentrate on mainly on so-called blockbusters. So that has changed. I was one of the beneficiaries of that time when you could get personal films made in the studio system. It would not happen today. I had fun with a couple of studio comedies including School of Rock. You can still make them personal and bring your own sensibility in to play.
How has the landscape of Independent Cinema changed over the years?
Like so many things in life, the core of it has stayed the same. The world around that impulse of telling personal stories has changed enormously. The cinema landscape today is like science fiction compared to the time when I first got into it. It is so different in the 35 years since I became a film-maker. The idea that you can make a film on a computer and then post it online so everyone in the world can see it is now taken for granted. It is still a crazy notion for a filmmaker. Because of that it is the best time ever to be a communicator. The other side of that is that there are so many films. When I first submitted to Sundance Film Festival in the early Nineties there were 200 feature films submitted. Now there are 10,000 or so. It was such a big deal to make a film back then. With Slackers to get the money to make it and to have the film processed was such a rare thing. Film-makers would sit around staring into their coffee cups saying they had all these great ideas for films, but the System was not allowing them to get them made. Now everyone can make a film - I am not saying everyone should make a film - but everyone can. And that is incredible.
You always seem to have a European approach to your films. Where does that stem from?
I take that as a bit of a compliment being an American. We all watch the same films and are inspired by the same people. Godard and the French New Wave and the New German Cinema of the Seventies. I can just go on … national movements and times in history. I am a cineaste so I come out of that school. It is just that the notion of cinema is what you are inspired by in your own personality. I don’t think about it too much. I have just come back from a screenwriting workshop in Greece with film-makers from all over the world and it fell in to this cliché of American storytelling versus European story-telling - and I was like what does that even mean? I could see the point that Americans tend to get to the point quicker and tell the story faster. I don’t do that so much.
All of your films are extremely diverse. Where do you find your inspiration?
That is something you never have to ask yourself - where does your inspiration come from? You just follow your instincts. There are a million stories in the world which all of us encounter. if something does not make sense we make up a story about it. We try to make sense of the world. So something that would be worthy of a film would be something I am trying to find an answer to or some sort of exploration.
How did you eventually meet Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to play the key roles in Before Sunrise?
Anthony Rapp invited me to see a play he was in with Ethan Hawke in New York. I had never met Ethan, but at that moment, he was the biggest star in his age range. I ended up at a bar with him after the play. Julie was the second actor I met on the first day of our big L.A. casting session. I remember liking her, and her résumé was impressive. She’d worked all over Europe. She was just getting started in the U.S., but she immediately went to the top of the list.
How was your journey to find the perfect cast for the Before Trilogy?
That was the biggest casting choice imaginable. It wasn’t clear if it was going to be a European male and American female [or vice versa]. In the first draft, we named the characters Chris and Terry because both are kind of genderless. It was that open.
What was your logic behind getting Kim Krizan to help you write the screenplay for Before Sunrise?
In my previous films, I felt the male view overwhelmed. So my absolute goal was to have a strong female perspective. Kim was the kind of person you’d run into and within 30 seconds you’re talking about something substantial. I liked that.
How did you conceive the idea for Before Sunrise?
This girl was flirting with me while I waited for my sister [to finish shopping], so I wrote a little note like, “Hey, I’m in town for one night if you want to hang out.” Somewhere in the night I said to her, “I want to make a film about this. Just this feeling.” That’s really all it was trying to ever capture — that rush of meeting someone and that undercurrent of flirtation and romance.
You’re much further along in your career now, and Everybody Wants Some!! has a studio behind it—have you felt like you’ve had to compromise since the movies you were making in the 1990s?
Not at all. I’m very blessed to have made nineteen films without feeling compromised at all. Any compromises I made were ones I did myself. Sometimes you have to accept reality, like making School of Rock for a studio on a $30 million dollar budget. It went well, there weren’t any conflicts, but I accepted the world I was in. If it had tested badly, if the ending hadn’t worked, I would have been reshooting to try and make it work on a commercial level. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. I have friends with horror stories about creative problems and bad experiences where the final film wasn’t what they wanted, and I’ve never had that. If you don’t like one of my films, it was the film I wanted to make. I have no excuses. It’s not like it was taken away and re-cut or anything like that. It’s my own fault. I think I have a good instinct for self-preservation. I can see those train wrecks coming early, and before agreeing to make the movie or casting, just starting down the path… when I’m making a different movie than the power structure around me wants, that’s when I just back away. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also been smart about it. I’m also often working on low budgets, where the stakes are kind of low. Paramount barely knew this movie was being made. They have so little money in it themselves. Megan Ellison, who has a company, Annapurna Pictures, she’s wonderful. She liked the script and wanted to do it. She has a couple of million dollars in it.
How do your films manage to work so well with an ensemble cast?
How did Dazed and Confused come into existence?
What is your take on the virtue of patience while developing a film?
Do you rewrite your scripts if you find it necessary?
You've said in the past that human beings tend to focus more on their failures than their successes. What do you mean by that?
When you have success, you act like that’s just how it’s supposed to be. It worked; we won. But when you lose, it’s like, “Okay, this, that, or the other could’ve been.” It’s as if the human mind is more geared toward trouble. It assumes a certain success. There’s a part of our brain that is looking for threats and trouble. It can get you in trouble, but it also kind of keeps you on your toes. When it works, there’s a reason it worked. It’s because you systematically approached it in a certain way. That sounds boring but it’s just working methodology.
Do you think hard work and having a dream is enough to succeed?
Sure isn’t. You see it in sports a lot growing up. Some kids work really hard, but they’re never going to be at that level. Innate ability means everything. In sports, hey, if you ran the fastest 100 meters, you’re good at it. It’s pretty obvious. There are other worlds where it’s much more subjective. You could be developing at a different rate than everyone around you. It’s hard to know what anyone has in them. It’s very mysterious, but I’m fascinated with it. I find that, the more I make films, I’m less encouraging to people who want to be writers, directors, actors. I’m like, “Well, if you could do something else …” I got plenty of discouragement, and I didn’t hear it because I was so passionate. I knew I was going to do something in film. If I didn’t end up a writer and director, I was going to run a theater or distribute films or write about them—something. I was all in. So, if you can discourage someone, you’re probably doing them a favor.
What is your thought process behind never making your films emotionally melodramatic as most dramas in Hollywood are, and always focusing on the smaller moments?
When you think back, the essence of your life is the little stuff, the little things you remember. I’m really counting on the cumulative effect of all this adding up to something, a feeling, an experience, for it to really mirror the ebb and flow of life. I’ve never really been that plot-y. Plots are artificial. Does your life have a plot? It has characters. There is a narrative. There’s a lot of story, a lot of character. But plot? Eh, no.
Boyhood had this line in the ending "You know how everyone’s always saying, ‘Seize the moment’? I’m kinda thinkin’ it’s the other way around. You know, like, the moment seizes us.” What do you mean by this line?
Everybody just wants to appreciate time as it’s passing, to be in the moment. It’s the hardest thing to do. You’re either in the unknown future that you’re working toward, or you’re in the past that becomes a little abstract. How to just be in the moment? On a philosophical, religious spectrum, it is a little Eastern, Buddhist, but it’s a pretty nondenominational quest. It’s almost like personal therapy—how to get through life, how to appreciate your moments.
Why didn't you keep prominent markers to define the change from a certain age to another in Boyhood?
I wanted it to work the way life does. It just flows from one thing into the next, kind of like a memory. The dynamic was such that I knew I was filming a period film even in the present tense. It was like, “By the time anyone watches this, this will all be past.” I sometimes think that way even in the biggest moments of real life. Like, “This will all be a memory, even while you’re having it.“ This is how quick everything is in the past tense. This whole film felt like that. It was like a memory, even though it was very much of-the-moment while we were shooting it. So I didn’t want to put those markers—a year or a date or an age. But for the most part we filmed a little bit every year, about three days a year.
How did you convince the cast to work for 12 years on Boyhood?
Everybody got the idea, this desire to bite off the whole thing—to go with a kid from first grade through 12th grade. I called up Patricia [Arquette], who I had only met once, and she jumped aboard. I sat down with Ethan and told him what I was thinking, and he wanted to do it. Then I started casting, looking for kids. Lorelei, my daughter, demanded to have the part. I had the luxury of, every year, just tapping in. I would hang out with her and Ellar, the boy, and just try to pick up where they were at their age, what I felt they could do that year, and then work stories around all that. But pretty soon Lorelei was the sullen teenager who did not want to do it anymore.
Considering that most of your films are extremely personal to you, how was Boyhood personal?
I was hitting 40. I had been a dad for about seven or eight years, and I wanted to express something about childhood. You know this now: when you have a kid, it puts you so much in the present tense with their lives, but you can’t help but churn through your own life at that age. It’s such an interesting refraction. So I was thinking a lot about development and childhood. I wanted to do something from a kid’s point of view, but all the ideas that I wanted to express from my own life were so spread out. I couldn’t pick one year, one moment. I was going to maybe write a novel—some little weird, experimental novel. And it hit me, this film idea: What if I filmed a little bit every year and just saw everybody, this family, age? The kids would grow up, the parents would age. In a way, it’s a simple idea, but so damn impractical.
What is your opinion on the Hollywood ideology that pre-production can be a waste of money?
To produce natural conversations between your actors do you do long rehearsals or do you keep it spontaneous?
What is your opinion on the categorisation of films on the basis of its production? Like, Independent or Studio produced?
What is the role of narrative in film?
What is the role of narrative in film?
Why do your films tend to focus on the little things in life more than the intricacies of your plot?
How did you end up starting Austin Film Society?
How old were you when you started watching movies?
Was making Boyhood cathartic?
Yeah, every film is. This one goes beyond that. With every film, you’re excising a story that you’ve been obsessed with. This is still revealing itself to me. I don’t have any answers now. But I did have a wonderful deepening of everything about life: growing up, parenting. Every movie, you’re getting a degree in whatever that subject is. This couldn’t be more life-affirming. It was a great way to spend 12 years.
Boyhood isn’t called Childhood. Is it about becoming a man?
It could be called Parenthood or Motherhood or, for the first part, Girlhood. But at the end of the day, the point of view is his. You notice slowly that the older sister and parents start to take a backseat. I’d say to Ethan [Hawke]: ‘No, we don’t really need you to shoot. You’re gonna be on a Skype call.’ It’s like parenting. ‘Drop me off at the party.’ They slowly leave you. Mason would emerge into his own story. The older you get, the more complex things get in his own life. He’s getting his heart broke. Welcome to it! To full human agency. Earlier it was things happening to his parents. And a lot of them off-screen. The bigger things you’re just having to deduce from repercussions. As the youngest sibling, you’re the last to know. You don’t have any say. Kids are incredibly vulnerable to atmospheres. You just don’t have any power.
Considering that you shot 'Boyhood' for 12 years, did you have a lot of confidence in your initial vision?
Yeah. I bet the whole farm on the idea that this collection of intimate moments would add up, would mean something. I would occasionally get these insecure flashes. Is it enough? Should I be telling a bigger story? Should someone have cancer? I wanted the film to feel like a memory of some kind. I didn’t want to get trapped in a story that felt dramatic – ie plot, or manufactured. Even the score didn’t work. Any authorial thing just pulls you out. We didn’t use words to demarcate the years. Your life just flows. I was hoping to capture the way time feels, passing.
What aspect of your directing process do you wish you could develop more? Is there one thing that you wish you could work on more, that you want to be stronger at?
Gosh, no, I don’t really think of it that way. It’s almost like your personality. Is there an aspect of your own personality you want to work on? Well, we all would say yeah, but the fact is you’re not. That’s how you fell off the truck. A lot of it is who we are inherently once you grow to accept that. You can consciously shift yourself in a new direction. You can become interested in other things. I mean, you do it very subtly. Everything you do, you learn a lot. A different film takes you in a different direction. You’re gaining all that knowledge, whether it’s technical—you’ve shot something, you’ve learned something technically. But I don’t think I would ever be able to remake myself or even change that much. I no longer feel restricted that way. I felt restricted early on. I was sort of like, “Ah, shit.” I had all these great films in my mind before I ever touched a camera. And the world got a little narrower when I realized, okay, here’s what I can do and here’s what I can’t. Looking back, especially my first eight or 10 years of doing this, I was very conscious. I got in acting classes, not because I wanted to be an actor, but because I wanted to be a director who could work with actors. I bought all this film equipment and taught myself. I would do entire films, not based on content, but just lighting, or editing, or camera movement. It was very, very, very systematic. I gave myself a lot of leeway to fail.
Were you interested in sports as a teenager?
Yeah, I was always the team-sport kind of guy—baseball, football, basketball. I think because of the team efforts I had been involved in, I realized that I like being a part of a team.
How would you define the director’s job?
For me it’s different on different movies. I mean, it’s your taste, the vibe you lay down the visual and the working rules, that you lay down for everyone that you’re working with. So I think you set a tone for everything. Even if I’ve written it, once I’m directing it, my job is to make the film work, and I don’t care who wrote it, whether it was me or someone else. I’m more collaborating with the actor than the writer at that point. I’m trying to make it come to life in some way. You’re trying to bring something to life along the way and tell the story you’ve set out to tell, so whatever it takes. And a lot of it’s who you’re collaborating with, what department heads, what creative people you’re working with. I love it, because it hits on everything. As a younger person, I think I wanted to be a writer. That seemed to me my only area I could express myself in. I didn’t know other mediums were even open to me. But once I realized I was a filmmaker and had films in my head, I realized that was so my calling because it answered the need in me to work with others, to collaborate. When I was young, I was kind of left on my own, and just reading. I’m pretty solitary. Film got me actively engaged with others in a collaborative, creative way. That’s what I find probably the most rewarding, the collaboration aspect. It’s perhaps one-sided, because I kind of have veto power and ultimate say, so there’s a certain amount of dictatorial power in the structure, but I think within that structure you can make it work in a lot of different ways.
What made you think of shooting a film for 12 years?
I wanted to make a film about childhood, but I couldn’t figure out how—one little section, like The 400 Blows, or a couple days or a couple years, but then you have all the practical things about aging. So it hit me that I could just depict a life over numerous years and make it a much longer-term project with the prospect of the people getting older. You just jump on at one point and jump off at another, and a bunch of years will have gone by.
Most your films employ some kind of structural device, usually related to time. What makes you go into that direction?
Yeah, I don’t really know. Isn’t there something kind of primordial about it? Go back to the Greeks where all the stories were in very limited time frames. I think it’s pretty old, that impulse to close in your narrative. But I don’t know why. It worked for me. Part of my thinking about film was always trying to get down to what I would call real time, carving out real time. I joked back then when people were going like, “Hey, all your films, they’re like 24 hours,” I always joked, “Oh, someday I’ll do a Winter Light–type of movie where it’s all real time.” I didn’t really have the story at that time, but then it just came to be that I’ve done that twice, with Tape and Before Sunset. I’ve done two actual real-time movies.
Do you sometimes feel like stepping out of the 'verbally-driven' cinema that you're the best at?
The handful of movies that I feel like I’m doing probably don’t go back there. I’ve stepped out a couple times, like The Newton Boys, I felt was the one time I got away from introspective characters. They were very active. It didn’t have a lot of subjectivity. It was all about acting. It was a very aggressive, outward approach. But what was leading them to that was the same ethos that a lot of the other characters in my films would have, that kind of disdain for authority.
Why is it that your movies are so verbally driven? Almost all of them are built around conversation and speech. Do you see language and verbal expression as the place where we really see who people are?
Well, I always thought so. If you look at the world around you, we define ourselves more by speech. I remember Sam Fuller saying, “You don’t talk about things. You show it.” And I said, “He’s right. That is cinema.” But when I turned on the camera, it really was about people talking. That was the world I had experienced. I hadn’t been to a war. I hadn’t been a crime reporter. I was always intrigued by what people said, what that meant about what they were saying, and what that betrayed about them—regardless of whether what they were saying made any sense or not. I had done that first film [It’s Impossible to Learn to Plough by Reading Books] that’s very much a kind of structural thing that was about a lack of communication. And in Slacker I wanted a world where the interior was brought forth—kind of like in theater. That’s just the way it came out once I really started to do stuff that felt personal to me. It was people just rapping, talking a lot, with not much going on, technically speaking. It wasn’t really conscious. I’m not that verbal. I’m more of an observer than a talker. So I was as surprised as anybody, really, that that’s how it came out.
What was the nature of the collaboration with them on the Before scripts, which is mainly their dialogue?
We'd get together in Austin for a long weekend, sort of reconnect, go through ideas, talk, discuss the movie's goals, and then get in a room for three weeks or so and write and rewrite, and try things—hand-written notes, no laptop. [Then] I would go back to my hotel room and enter everything into my computer. In Vienna, we worked in a little hotel room and then in a little house owned by our Viennese producer (Gernot Shaffler). They were writing and also verbalizing things, which I would write down. We would all rewrite things. Anyone could say anything—that's where our collaboration really started. Someone might have an idea. "Hey, what if we did that in this scene?" They were 23 when it started and were so smart and funny—actors who were really good starters. They didn't need a lot of nudging and to be told what to do, and they were willing to give a lot of themselves. I didn't feel any limits with them. They wanted to work hard and express themselves, and I was giving them an opportunity.
Over time, you've shown an intense interest in actors and performances, which can range from near-documentary to highly theatrical. How do you work with actors?
It probably started when I wrote little plays for student actors, and then later taking acting classes where I did these dramatic monologues. I really fell in love with the idea of the monologue, and you can see that a lot in the early movies like Slacker, Dazed and Confused and SubUrbia, which is based on an Eric Bogosian play. With actors, it starts with talking with them about their character, letting them explore the character, and then preparing with three weeks of rehearsal, which I think is essential. After that, the process can be a little different depending on the movie. In Before Sunrise, which I originally wrote with my writer friend Kim Krizan—who's in Waking Life—most of it was there on the page. I never told Julie (Delpy) and Ethan (Hawke), "This is what it's about," and that I didn't care if they did the lines word for word. I even had a scene, in a Vienna café, where their relationship goes to a whole other level, without written dialogue. I told them, "I can't tell you exactly what they're going to say, and we've got to earn it." And it has to be one of the movie's best moments, since both start "here," and they get "there," and they earn it.
How do you achieve this quality of what might be termed an "invisible" camera, where it feels that we're just watching real people in real and authentic situations?
I appreciate an invisible, or subtle camera. I'm (usually) going for that, though not always. There are times to be more aware of the camera. Overall, it's probably a personality thing. I really love more traditional cinema, and this relates to that scene in Me and Orson Welles. I like design cinema like Francois Truffaut, Preston Sturges—masters of the designed long take. Look at a Minnelli musical: It's unbelievable how long and graceful some of those takes are, how they focus your eye not on what the camera is doing.
What did you learn from shooting Slacker (1990)?
On Slacker I learned to actually collaborate. My biggest leap wasn't from Slacker, a super low-budget indie movie, to Dazed and Confused, a studio film, but from Plow, made completely alone, to Slacker, communicating with seven people who aren't getting paid and like why should they make my film and listen to me? Who am I? What motivates them? You get their trust. They showed up on time. Several of them were skeptical by nature so I would have to say, "No, here is the shot. Start here, we're going to do this all in one shot." And my DP Lee Daniel was like, "OK, let's do it." So, he was with the cinematic challenge of what I wanted it to be and we got that. He was with my plan.
Was Slacker (1990) your debut film?
When Slacker first came out, the story was like I picked up a camera yesterday. But I had made probably 15 shorts and a feature before that. I didn't just go from being a college dropout, never seeing a movie. I watched thousands of movies. There is no overnight success. I know that's a good story. Like I was this guy on the street, this idiot savant filmmaker. But it's really not the case.
What was your experience with making exercise short films before you had earned recognition?
I was so systematic and conscious about what I was doing, since I was making up for lost time. This was '83 to '85. It was like my own film school. I'm going to do this editing exercise, then this lighting exercise. I'll make this short from beginning to end and finish it, but this is what I'm trying to focus on. They were experimental, not narrative, strictly technical. Hitchcock said that, at first, your directing skills aren't going to be up with your ideas. I had so many ideas. My thinking was the day I felt technically competent, I'll start on a bigger work that will express a bigger idea. In '85, I started on my Super 8 feature.