Life + Arts

Me and Richard Linklater

Houstonian director Richard Linklater sat with The Daily Cougar and offered his thoughts on the film industry and his upcoming film.

Q: What attracted you to the novel (that the movie is based on)?

A: It was just charming, you know? It’s a great story; it’s a youthful novel. It’s kind of written for a teen audience, so it’s the best kind of novel to adapt. There’s a lot of dialogue, richly detailed, very accurate. Robert Kaplow wrote it. He’s a theater buff and a movie buff, and the era was wonderful.

Q: How long did it take you to put it together?

A: About four years or so. I think I read the book about four years ago.

Q: The film has a lot to say about the collective art of theater. Do you believe there are any parallels between this story and filmmaking?

A: Absolutely. I don’t necessarily have a film about making a film, like Day for Night. But to make a film about theater was very analogous and a little safer for me. Because when you are making a film it (can become) autobiographical while this story isn’t. It’s still really personal though. It’s the same dynamic:’ actors and hierarchy and the personalities. It’s all there in the creation of collaborative art like theater or film. But I see the film as kind of a valentine to actors, in the spirit of how brave they are and how tough it is to do what they do-to spin all these plates, hoping they won’t fall. Welles was the master of that, on the balance beam of disaster and genius. His whole life was like that. He liked that. If things were going too well, he would make it a little tougher. I think that was just his nature. To feel like he was up against it. He didn’t want it to be a smooth, easy experience like I do.

Q: As a director, what was it like making a film about another director?

A: Not just any director, Orson Welles! It’s like you’re a Christian making a film about Christ; it was daunting. Just the notion that we were presenting Welles -‘ it’s a scary idea on paper. I wouldn’t have done the movie had I not found Christian (McKay). We got so far, but I was like, ‘I’m not messing with this unless there’s an Orson out there who can be the best Orson ever, who will be magical. Christian emerged, so it was like, OK, I think the gods of film were with us here.

Q: Did your view of Welles change while you were doing this?

A: Yeah, I think. It’s hard to say. My view of Welles is always changing, like everybody’s. That’s who he is. Welles is Kane walking down the hall of mirrors. That’s Welles himself; he’s forever this mystery guy.

Q: How do you feel about (the Cinema Arts Festival)?

A: I think it’s really cool. I’m kind of proud of Houston and the people involved. These are old friends of mine involved in this. I like the idea of an arts festival. I’m happy for Houston. Any time you can celebrate the arts is great. It takes on the notion of film as art and all the different facets of what that can be. To me, that’s exciting, and that’s pretty Houston too.

Q: Toward the end of the film, you portray the actual theatrical production of Welles’ (Julius Caesar), complete with some really intricate lighting designs. Were those the actual lighting designs?

A: We’re basing it off of about 10 photos. Cecil Beaton took a series of photos, so we have those as references. I actually had the original stage design. Welles had brilliant lighting designs. The story is that Greg Toland went to this production, and when he heard Welles went to Hollywood, he called him up and said, ‘Hey, I want to work with you. I saw your Julius Caesar in New York, and I want to collaborate with you.’ Thus was born the greatest director/DP collaboration ever, with Citizen Kane.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers at UH?

A: Yeah, go Coogs! Advice, geez, that’s a tough one. It’s a great time to be a filmmaker, with technology. When I was first starting, it was really expensive. Film was an expensive medium. There was a prohibition just based on how much you were willing to go into debt. These features now that people are making for $3,000 to $5,000, you can do pretty well.’

It’s a good time to be a filmmaker, but it’s a tough time to get your film seen. There (are) 8,000 films made a year now, instead of a couple hundred like there used to be. Best of times, worst of times.’

Technology is helping, but the economy is tough.’

But screw all that, if it’s what you’re meant to do, you’ll just find yourself doing it. But I tell young people, to get there it’s harder than you would imagine. You have to dedicate yourself to it twice as much as you think you do. If you’re not willing to do that, it won’t work. But it’s a rare thing to get people to give you serious money to make your own films. It’s a weird industry that we all love and hate.

On the genre of the film:

It’s a genre Welles himself would have never done – and never acted in either – so it’s kind of fun to put him in a setting like that.

Who knows with Welles?

That’s the myth, you know. It’s like, where does the myth meet the reality? He’s the most unreliable narrator of his own life. I would think with Welles, he probably did that once maybe. Who knows? But then the story becomes he was so busy he rode in an ambulance all the time. But it was the kind of movie that you portray the legend. It’s not a debunking movie. It’s going with the myths.’

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