SIFF 2014: Centerpiece Film, Q & A, and Gala–Saturday, May 31

The most sought-after ticket in the festival.

The most sought-after ticket in the festival.

The film

Boyhood may be Richard Linklater’s best film.  It’s certainly his most ambitious.  Shot over a 12-year period using the same principle actors, the film follows Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) from 1st through 12th grades.  A full review will have to wait until it’s released in July.  For now, I will focus on the Q & A and the gala portion of the Centerpiece Gala.

I arrived at the Egyptian about 4:15.  The movie started at 5 pm.  This is what the line looked like ahead of me. It went around the corner, too:

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Waiting for Boyhood

Saturday was the warmest day of the week, and the line was in direct sunlight, so I threw my jacket over my head every so often so that I wouldn’t burn up.  Luckily, I had also filled up my water bottle before arriving there.

Once inside, Carl Spence introduced Richard Linklater.  He mentioned that Linklater’s first feature-length film, Slacker, had played at the festival in 1990 at the Neptune Theatre (now owned by STG), followed three years later by Dazed and Confused at the Egyptian.  In addition, Before Midnight was the last film to play at the Egyptian before Landmark closed the theater.

Save the Egyptian!

Then Linklater came out.  He remembered showing Dazed and Confused at the Egyptian because he went straight from the birth of his daughter (Lorelei, who’s in Boyhood as Mason’s older sister) to the screening.  After a short introduction, the movie began.  It ended almost three hours later to rapturous applause.  It was interesting to hear how this audience reacted differently to the film than the press people had.  There was more laughter throughout, but the scene that got the biggest laugh at the press screening did not get as big a laugh here (hint: it has to do with Star Wars).

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The Q & A

Afterwards, Spence and Linklater came back out to talk about the film and answer questions from the audience.  Linklater mentioned that in making the film, he wanted to focus on the cumulative effect of a life.  Therefore, he focused on small moments versus a linear path, since memory works in a similar way.  When he began making the film, Ellar was six and Lorelei was eight.  By the time shooting started, they were seven and nine, respectively.  In both cases, Linklater made sure he had parental support to shoot for 12 years, since kids aren’t able to commit to something that long and really have a sense of what they have committed to.  In the case of Lorelei, it was easy, since her father was directing and she had demanded the part, though Linklater said she went through periods where she felt differently about doing the film.  For example, in the scene where the characters dress up for the Harry Potter book launch, she didn’t want to dress up, so she asked her dad if he could kill off the character.  He thought it too dramatic.  Later, when she was old enough to realize that she was getting paid for starring in the film, she enjoyed doing it again.

The hardest bit of casting was finding the right kid to play Mason, Jr.  Linklater only screened kids who had some acting experience.  In the case of Ellar, he said he had something mysterious and ethereal about him.  His dad is a musician, and he ended up becoming a visual artist.  He also was the most consistent of all the actors and became more of a creative collaborator as he got older, incorporating bits of his life into his character’s life.

As for the script, Linklater said, “The architecture was set [from the beginning].”  What wasn’t set were the details.  Oftentimes, he would “just roll with it” where details were concerned, such as Obama’s run for President in 2008.  Also, the other actors were really into the idea of shooting a movie over 12 years.  “I’m convinced that the world is split into artists and everyone else,” Linklater said.  “Now you explain this [the movie idea] to a producer, and they’re like, ‘What the fuck?’  Their eyes glaze over.”*  Still, he said they were lucky in that they got consistent funding for 13 years.  Linklater had done Waking Life with executive producer Jonathan Sehring previously, and he was able to get them $200,000 a year on this film.  Plus, it was a “low-budget indie epic,” according to Linklater, and while shot on film, the shoot only lasted 39 days over that 12-year period.

Richard Linklater takes questions from the audience

Linklater listens to a question.

He then took some questions from the audience.  The first question was very similar to the one I had thought to ask him. Mine was, “While making Boyhood, you released Before Sunset and Before Midnight.  Did working on a film over a 12-year period influence your decision to check in on Jesse and Celine nine and 18 years after the first film?”  The actual question was if he subscribes to a longitudinal view of life (though Linklater corrected the questioner in thinking that the last two Before films influenced this one, since they were shot after he had started working on Boyhood).  He then answered what would have been my question, which is that doing Boyhood “emboldened” them to do the sequels to Before Sunrise.  Still, the films are different.  Those films are slices of life, shown at specific periods of the characters’ lives, while this one is incremental.

The next question was why he decided to shoot the film in Texas.  Besides living there and being surrounded by it his entire life, he said it was the cheapest place to shoot, and if you’re going to be stuck shooting in one state, Texas is good because “you can get lots of different looks” there, due to its size.  Still, it’s a universal story, so Linklater said it would resonate anywhere, even if some of the details (like getting a Bible and a shotgun for birthday presents) could only work in Texas.

Then someone asked how he chose the songs for the film.  There is a lot of music in the film, and it plays an integral part in placing scenes within a certain year (though, as Linklater pointed out, there are classic songs in the film, as well).  He said that he chose music that felt like a memory and that would give the feel of that time, as he was basically shooting “a period piece in the present year.”  He also shot different takes with different music in it, just in case he couldn’t get the rights to certain songs.  As it turned out, “We could get Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Arcade Fire, but we couldn’t get Weezer,” he said, to laughter from the audience.

In the film, Ethan Hawke plays Mason, Sr., and gives his son a compilation of songs by the Beatles post-breakup called The Black Album.  Someone asked if that album actually exists.  In fact, Linklater said, it was something that Hawke had made for his daughter — just one of the real-life touches that made its way into the film.

Another question was when he wrote the dialogue.  Linklater said he used time in between shooting to write the dialogue, sometimes not finishing the scene until the last moment.  Like the details, it was an ongoing process.  Then came a snarky question asking Linklater when he was going to shoot the sequel, called Manhood.  Linklater said he hadn’t thought about a sequel, as he was focused on making a movie about first through 12 grades.  In fact, he still hasn’t processed that the movie is finished.  “I probably won’t realize it’s over until the first year of not shooting,” he said.  “It’s like your first year out of school, when you realize , ‘Wait.  I don’t have to do any more tests.'”*

Then someone asked what got him legally involved in the Bernie character.  He said he considers Bernie a friend, but really it was a lawyer who saw the film who asked for his involvement (I’m assuming this was Bernie’s appeals attorney, Jodi Cole).  In the end, it was actually Danny Buck (played by Matthew McConaughey in the movie) who was the hero.  Though he prosecuted Bernie, he looked at the new evidence and sided with Cole in giving Bernie a lighter sentence.

Only two questions remained.  The first was what became of the GTO that Mason, Sr. drives (it’s Linklater’s and also appears in Dazed and Confused); the second was if Linklater felt he evolved as a filmmaker while making this film (since the tone was set long ago, so that it would be consistent, he felt there was no evolution from the beginning to the end of the film).

On a final note, Linklater mentioned that he always likes coming back to Seattle because of what happened when his first film played here.  At the time, Darryl ran the festival, and while the movie had gotten tepid reviews when it played elsewhere, Darryl had called up Linklater and told him that two people on the board had told him that if he didn’t show Slacker at the festival, they would retire.  Then, when he arrived here for the premiere (in the early 90s), he saw that the people attending the film were just like the people in his film, as it was around the beginning of the grunge era.  Seattle ended up being the first place where the movie got good reviews, and they continued from there.

*These quotes are as close to the original wording as I remember, but may not be exactly what Linklater said.

 The Centerpiece Gala

Staff had been asked to arrive at the Centerpiece Gala at around 9:30, since DAR Hall is not that big.  That meant I had an hour to kill.  The good news was, I got to kill it with Kenji Fujishima, whom I had met at Ebertfest and was visiting from New York City.  He had done pretty much everything I was going to show him in Capitol Hill by the time we met up, so we leisurely made our way to the Centerpiece Gala, stopping at Dick’s Burgers for a small meal, and then again at a record shop.

DAR Hall

DAR Hall

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We ended up timing our entrance perfectly, as we arrived right at 9:30.  As we had just eaten, we weren’t really that hungry, though I did try some of the appetizers.  I also ran into one of the events staff, who told me that there was plenty of food left.

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Wish I had tried these!

I remember the food being amazing last year, and while it was good this year, the food selection didn’t blow me away.  Also, there weren’t any plates this year, perhaps in an effort to not run out of food.  Being that five trays of fruit kebabs went past me in a 10-minute span, I don’t think that was a problem.

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There were two bars: one downstairs and one upstairs.  Upstairs was also where the DJ was, and he had actual records!  Still, not many people were dancing when I went up there.

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A couple of brave souls

Of course, once I put my camera away, the real dancers came out.  Even the women behind the bar started dancing.  Funny thing is, the dance floor was pretty much empty up until the last 20 minutes of the party, which ended promptly at 11 pm.

Last year, SIFF didn’t show a three-hour movie as the Centerpiece, and so there was more time to socialize, eat, drink, and dance.  Most of the people stood outside this time, but it also seemed as if fewer people opted to do both the gala and the film.  I remember last year being a bit more packed, while this year the first floor was almost empty for the 90 minutes I was there.

Still, it ended early enough for me to do my first midnight screening, which Kenji also went to.  All in all, an enjoyable evening.

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