Welcome to the Larry411.com Guest Columnists! April 27, 2013
In my travels to the best film festivals in…
On Monday, June 16, 2014 I attended a special screening of the landmark coming of age film Boyhood in Los Angeles. The event was held at the legendary Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood.
Boyhood is a monumental achievement in filmmaking for writer/director/producer Richard Linklater. It's truly in a league of its own. This epic two and three-quarter hour movie chronicles 12 years in the life of young Mason (Ellar Coltrane), beginning at age seven, along with his divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) and sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Yes, it's a concept that's been done before -- but in documentary style, not as a narrative shot in real time. Such an ambitious project hinges on the film's subject being there every year, physically and emotionally, and that one casting choice may have been Linklater's winning lottery ticket.
Although he was only six when cast, Coltrane was not some random kid plucked out of a video arcade -- he'd done some work in and around his hometown of Austin, Texas. Linklater told me that he definitely wanted someone who knew his way around a film set, a young actor with enough professional experience and desire to be a performer -- and parents who were supportive of that -- that he would be taking less of a risk that the boy would drop out along the way or, even worse, be difficult to work with and uninteresting onscreen. He even gave the boy a small role in Fast Food Nation along the way. Linklater now believes casting Coltrane wasn't just an incredible leap of faith -- it was also the single most important creative decision of his life.
Filming began when Ellar was seven. Linklater would return every year, for just three days at a time, to film that year's roughly 10-minute segment -- at a modest annual budget of $200,000. He would then have a full 12 months to edit those scenes and attach them to the previous years' footage, essentially locking down a complete movie each time they were prepared to move into the next year's portion. Hawke and Arquette were free to view the footage at any time, and did, but Linklater kept it away from the younger actors. But they told me they really weren't interested in seeing it anyway, even if they could. Along with Hawke and Arquette -- and Coltrane, more and more, as he grew older -- they'd craft the settings, situations, and dialogue for months, being ready to go when that critical three-day period rolled around. This continued for 12 years, wrapping up when Coltrane was 18, as he literally grows before our eyes. The result is the 165-minute film we see today -- and Linklater told me there really wasn't much left on the cutting room floor -- compiled incredibly efficiently from less than 40 actual shooting days.
Now 19, I asked Coltrane if he ever considered dropping out, and he shook his head no with a very matter-of-fact affirmation that it never crossed his mind. He was in it for the ride, loved every moment of the process, and became more and more engaged as time went on and he took ownership of his own character's development. Linklater's generosity, and passion for authenticity, gave Ellar free rein to contribute his own dialogue. Mason's anti-Facebook rant was one of Coltrane's own creations. Lorelei, the director's daughter, did ask dad if he could kill her off at one point. She stated that she felt uncomfortable having an audience witness those most awkward moments of girlhood. Dad prevailed -- fortunately for all of us. Coltrane was admittedly "pained" seeing himself enter adolescence onscreen -- he's now watched the film many times -- but had no such issues during filming, unlike Lorelei, and was comfortable enough in his own skin that he enjoyed the annual shoot immensely. I asked him if, as time went on, Mason was a reflection of Ellar or Ellar was a reflection of Mason, and he smiled in recognition of the inescapable, saying that it was probably a little bit of both.
Linklater was even more nonchalant about the chance he took in casting a six-year-old with the knowledge that he'd be doing this every year for 12 years. It didn't take long for Coltrane's inquisitiveness and "old soul" personality to show themselves even at that young age, convincing Linklater he had his boy. What Linklater didn't, and couldn't, count on was how he'd be transformed physically -- and emotionally, for that matter. He told me that it was truly just good fortune that Coltrane turned out so attractive and charismatic (a "hunk," in his words). "Are you going to be one of those cool teens?" he wondered at the time. The answer turned out to be an emphatic "yes." As far as taking a chance on someone encountering some great misfortune along the way, Linklater simply played the odds. The most difficult aspect of the annual production was timing -- being able to complete the few days' shoot around Arquette's and Hawke's schedules. That was critical, and Linklater pulled off some minor miracles in that department, as well. The two shine onscreen in every scene they're in.
At the end of the night I found myself with Coltrane on one side of me and Arquette on the other, and asked them if they began to see each other as family. I asked Arquette, "Did you start to think of him as the secret son you saw three days out of the year?" Similarly, I asked Coltrane if he saw her as another mother, in this parallel universe they created. The two laughed and told me that, coincidentally, Coltrane had just met Arquette's real son the day before (who's 25 and only a few years older than Coltrane), and it was a bit surreal as the two young men could both claim her as their mother, to some extent. Coltrane certainly got to know her pretty well over the course of a dozen years. The chemistry between them was electric. There was a degree of sadness among the lead actors when the project finally ended. They've all shed some tears over their "breakup." On this night, though, they were a family once again.
After the screening, director Richard Linklater was joined by Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, and Lorelei Linklater for an informative and entertaining Q&A session.
Below are some pictures I shot during the Q&A (click to enlarge) along with my audio recording of the entire Q&A (29 minutes) and the official trailer.
NOTE: IFC backed Boyhood from its inception, financing its production and staying with it for 12 years. They are releasing the film theatrically in select cities beginning July 11. Connect with the film on Twitter, Facebook, and the Official Site.
Since this article was first published, the MPAA gave Boyhood a rating of R. See my comments about that here.
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In my travels to the best film festivals in…