As a writer and director, Richard Linklater has attempted to the most honest stories he can about, for lack of a better word, life: the romance and evolving relationships in his Before series, the process of growing up in Boyhood, the boredom and teenage angst in Dazed & Confused—and even the bizarre small-town murder of a crotchety old lady in Bernie.
On September 1, PBS’s American Masters will air Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, which turns the cameras on the filmmaker himself. During a break from filming his latest movie, Where’d You Go, Bernadette with Cate Blanchett, Linklater and the directors/producers of Dream Is Destiny talked to journalists at the documentary’s Television Critics Association press day at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
This documentary covers his love-hate relationship with filming in his beloved state of Texas.
“Austin, I found very pleasant,” Linklater said. “Some cities are harder than others…Texas is hard at times. There’s this competition state-to-state with [filming tax] incentives and everything and Texas has chosen to dial back significantly. I think our government has shifted slightly.”
He referenced a recent New Yorker article that explains these politics some more.
Has Texas’s current political climate provided fodder for any new characters?
“I have a script I’m working on now that touches into Texas,” he said. “It’s a true story that will be somewhere down the line that touches on demagoguery and a con-man, let’s say. To me, that’s apt for our times.”
Although there is certainly a company of actors who appear in his films, Linklater likes working with new talent.
“I work with new actors on every film and they come in and I hope to get them to settle into the process I’m offering them,” he told us. “I want to treat them as a participant because I want them to help me make the best movie I can.”
Trained as actor early on, he said he’s “not afraid of actors. I just want to pull out of them everything they have to offer to this one part that I must think they’d be good at, otherwise I wouldn’t have cast them.”
That said, Linklater isn’t interested in working with people who only want blockbusters.
“I don’t really think about movie stars that much,” he said.
Louis Black, co-director and one of the producers of the film, as well as a long-time friend of Linklater, said, “In our experience, people who want to be in one of Rick’s films want to be working with him again.”
“I saw almost immediately this clamor to have any kind of place in Rick’s movies,” said Karen Bernstein, the film’s other director-producer. “We watched while he was making a film and to watch these young men who were all part of the cast and crew…all of those guys are utterly devoted to Rick. I think if he were doing a home movie somewhere, they’d clamor to do it again.”
Linklater is glad he got to do movies that he calls “experiments.”
“They’re close to how we work and how we think,” he explained. “Certain stories play with the human reception…If you had characters that are compelling and interesting, then you can tell stories in different ways.”
Linklater knows he’s known for stretching film budgets.
“People used to be obsessed with how low you can go,” he said. “Back when I first started on Slacker, $23,000 was the exact amount we had spent. That’s what I’d spent to get a print to show at its first film festival on 16 mm.”
He added that he doesn’t “really care what the budget is” as long as it’s enough to “tell the story you want to tell.”
Does that mean Linklater has some trepidations about Hollywood?
“Hollywood’s never been one thing to me,” he said. “I’m a proud member of the film community and that can mean a lot of shifting things to all of us. I think I’ve made what would be considered five studio films. But is Dazed and Confused a studio film? Most people think it’s an indie film, but it was funded by Universal.”
He does think some “studio and larger films want to have indie spirits. And the studios have their own game. They’re making really huge movies that make a lot of money…I think there’s room for a lot of movies.”
Linklater is honest about his film’s failures.
“I do accept all of them,” he said. “If people like a film, that’s great. If they don’t like it as much, I accept that. I have my own relation with each film and a lot of it’s just personal. I do feel like I’ve achieved what I set out to do in all of them.”
Why is this documentary being made now as opposed to toward the end of his career?
“We didn’t want to make a film about Rick when he was 86 years old,” Bernstein said. “We wanted to do it when he was very much alive and present.”
How did he become the subject of this film?
Linklater called it “subtle manipulation.”
“I would rather talk about other filmmakers than myself, but every now and then you just have to,” he said.
But, he says he’s been “asking the actors to trust me, so as a person that this is about…I trusted Karen and Louis that their hearts were in the right place.”
He said what they came up with by digging through archival material and journals “was kind of interesting. It’s like looking in your own diary.”
Linklater’s family also appear in the film.
“It’s always bizarre when you get other people’s views of yourself,” he said. “I know a lot of other people don’t get that in their lives…There’s always a big gulf between how we go through the world thinking who we are and who we really are, but I accepted that a long time ago. And, in the Checkhovian sense, we’ll never know ourselves completely.”
About that title: Dream Is Destiny…
“It embodied Richard’s philosophy,” Bernstein said, adding that the biggest argument the production crew had was over the title. She also likes it because it references his film Waking Life.
He has done more mainstream films occasionally.
“On Bad News Bears and School of Rock, I came aboard a film that I didn’t originate but was probably going to get made either with our without me,” he said. But: “I felt like I was the best guy to do it and I was in the mood at the time and I’m usually not.”
He resonated with Billy Bob Thorton’s character and the baseball aspects of Bears and the music parts of School of Rock.
“I wasn’t ready, I guess psychologically and personally in my early career,” he said. “I wasn’t confident enough to risk that failure and that it could be a bad experience…but I was willing to take on the bad in both of those cases if that would happen.”
He’s not involved with the School of Rock TV show on Nickelodeon.
He is an executive producer on the TV series, but said fellow producer “Scott Rudin and I have given it our blessing.” He is glad it got an Emmy nomination last year and that “they did a good job with it.”
He is considering doing episodic TV.
“I have a couple [projects]: One, in particular, is longform and it’s so many hours and is so big that it can only exist as a TV program sometime in the future,” he described. “I’m grateful that we are in this era where you can tell a four-hour, eight-hour story…I’m looking forward, when it comes together, to using that medium.”