Richard Linklater on His Unlikely Career, Indies Today, and Reuniting with Jack Black (Video)
This Fall, I have had the opportunity to spend a decent chunk of time with the writer-director Richard Linklater on the occasions when he left his home in Austin, Texas and traveled to the coasts to promote his most recently released film, Bernie. The dark comedy, which was released back in June, earned some of the best reviews of any film this year, generated considerable box-office for a low-budget indie, and is now considered to be on the bubble of scoring a nomination in the Oscar categories of best actor (for Jack Black, in the performance of a lifetime) and best adapted screenplay (for Linklater and co-writer Skip Hollandsworth, whose 1998 Texas Monthly article served as the basis for their script). I recently sat down with Linklater, one of the more unassuming guys I've encountered in this business, for a half-hour chat about his life and career, which you can watch at the top of this post or read about below.
FILM REVIEW: 'Bernie'
Linklater, 52, was born near Houston, Texas, but grew up in a small town that he likens to the one in The Last Picture Show (1971). Growing up he loved going to the local drive-in to watch movies, but, he says, "I can’t explain to anyone how far away the idea of making a movie yourself was to my consciousness … They were just these things that came from Hollywood.” He knew he loved movies, and realized in junior high school that he was a talented writer, but it wasn't until he went to Samuel Houston State University and started seeing independent films for the first time that he realized that it was possible for even someone like him, far removed from Hollywood, to become a filmmaker.
The kid who was inspired by the indie-minded films that were made within the studio system during the 1970s (those by people like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Bogdanovich), and the young man who carefully studied the true indies that began to be made outside of it in the 1980s (those by people like Jim Jarmusch, John Sayles, Spike Lee, and the Coen brothers), ultimately became one of the central drivers -- along with Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Robert Rodriguez -- of the indie boom that hit in the 1990s. Unlike previous generations of independent-minded filmmakers, he says, “I didn’t have to go to L.A. I didn’t have to make an exploitation film to prove I was a filmmaker and had some value. I made a film from my own backyard that actually got a national audience. That would have been unthinkable 10 years before, 20 years before.”
Most of the film world first heard of Linklater when his film Slacker started to stir up discussion upon its release in 1991. But, as he recalls, “By the time I was being treated like an overnight success, I had been making films for eight years, had a closet full of short films, and had done a feature on a Super-8. So, by the time anyone saw Slacker, which was the first film that got national distribution and people were paying to see, I felt I had already put in my decade, practically." He adds, "I felt ready to go to whatever new level.”
The next level, it turned out, was working with a studio. Dazed and Confused (1993) had a small budget and was distributed like an indie, but it was, Linklater emphasizes, "the whole studio experience -- cards, notes, committees." Having gone "through the system” once to see what it was like, he says, he now felt ready to do anything and everything. And that was exactly what he went on to do.