“How do you shoot a movie in 16 days?” That is the question director Richard Linklater posed. For his film Before Midnight, certainly a part of the answer is having a fantastic below-the-line crew. Before Midnight is the third film in the series that began with Before Sunrise (1995) and followed by Before Sunset (2004) for which the director/writer garnered an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay that he shared with stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, along with Kim Krizan.
The director never meant for the story to become a trilogy. This was pure happenstance. “Ethan and Julie and I wondered, what if? Maybe Jesse and Celine would be at a new place. You can sense them hitting a new station at life where maybe there is something to express unique to them. It just happened,” he said. Once the trio felt it was time to make another episode in the story of Jesse and Celine they took their time molding the story to be the way they wanted. “We had the luxury of having a couple of years to talk about it and think about it and cultivate it.”
Before Midnight picks up on Jesse and Celine’s story nine years after it left off in Before Sunset. The couple have been together this whole time, living in Paris and have twin daughters. The set up of this film wasn’t inspired by true life events like the first film Before Sunrise, but the details that make up what transpires in the story certainly were. “Things within the film are so much inspired by real stuff in our lives – real thoughts, people we know, or conversations in our own lives,” explained the director. The film is not so much plot-based as much as character-based. It was Linklater’s goal to make a film that unveiled characters who continued to mature and had something new to say. “What we were trying to do is communicate what it was like to be alive at this time.”
The setting of Jesse and Celine’s escapades is Greece. Art director Anna Gorgoadou, who was part of the all local Greek crew, had a lot of beauty at her disposal to feature. Instead of creating sets, Linklater and Gorgoadou shined a spotlight on the already existing sets of the city itself. “Ancient Greece is pretty great. It was a unique time to be in that country,” Linklater remarked. “Greece is both an ancient country and a modern, new country too.” The country is captured in all its glory and is featured in most of the scenes. “It was never conscious but once we were there, there were nice metaphors to be felt in Greece about the timelessness of a romance.'”
This time around, Jesse and Celine find themselves at a writer’s retreat and one of the main settings is the lovely writer’s house they are staying at. The house perched on the coast belonged to the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who just passed away. The house is a telling setting for the state of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. “The writer’s house is the key. I thought of them in paradise. The setting in Greece at this writer’s retreat. It’s the kind of thing you fantasize about. We find Jessie and Celine having gotten pretty much what they wanted, what they ever wanted in life. That’s not much of a conflict. You think, what’s a story when you get what you want? Nine years earlier they signed up for being together, they have fairly satisfying careers… beautiful daughters, everything, but they’re still people and there are things that are never going to be perfect,” Linklater said.
The beauty of the writer’s house bringing to light the flaws in Jesse and Celine’s story is only the beginning of their spiraling conflicts. After the writer’s retreat, Jesse and Celine wander through old towns discussing their relationship, their disappointments, and their hopes. They bare their vulnerabilities and this is highlighted by the stark agelessness of the ancient towns they walk through. As their evening unfolds, they move on to a hotel, which was originally a much larger resort, but it was designed to appear smaller and more quaint as the couple finally decide the fate of their relationship.
Usually when a director makes a film outside the US, he brings his own cinematographer, but Linklater took a different approach. “I wanted to make a Greek movie. There’s a pretty interesting Greek renaissance going on right now, New Wave. There’s a lot of talent there and I just tapped into that. I wanted to go local, starting with the DP.” Christos Voudouris was enlisted as director of photography. Voudouris studied the first two films in the series to get a feel for the look of this film. A particular challenge was the natural light in Greece. “The light in Greece is pretty intense. People talk about that a lot- ‘The Greek light’ so we talked that, how to deal with it,” explained Linklater.
The costumes in the films are by Vasileia Rozana and are particularly representative of the characters’ identities. It was an extremely collaborative process for the group. The director, the costume designer and the stars/ co-writers, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy all had a say in deciding on what the characters would wear. Jesse and Celine primarily wear the same costume throughout the scenes; for Jesse this was a printed t-shirt or a casual chambray shirt with jeans, and for Celine- a polka dot navy dress. Jesse’s costume aptly describes him and his “last gasp of youth.” Many choices were pondered over before the polka dot navy dress was selected for Celine. “Ethan and Julie are both really brave in that they weren’t trying to glamorize or flatter themselves. Some people say that t-shirt makes Ethan look like an aging rocker dude but he liked that. Julie realized that the costumes we selected was what a 40-something year old woman whose had kids look like.” Realism played a big character in establishing both the wardrobe and the film. “That’s the good thing about getting a little older, you just get comfortable with yourself. You don’t care so much about a lot of things you used to. You just let go of so much. And so the film tried to depict that in a way- the comfort you would have with a long time partner.”
The biggest challenge in the film went back to the story. “How do you make this stage of life interesting or worthwhile?” asks the director. “The two earlier film had this discovery and will they or won’t they element to them. This film doesn’t really have that. Once we realize they’re together, they’ve been together, they have kids, it’s the middle ground people don’t depict much in movies. It’s about how two people can cohabitate. So that’s inherently a challenge because it doesn’t have a bite, it doesn’t have a grab. And we thought the way to even potentially tackle that is to depict brutal honestly about the big issues, the little issues, and how people argue.” Another momentous task Linklater set out to do is redefine love. There’s many questions to ask when it comes to love and the stages of an enduring love relationship, the stages of life. “What is love?” he asked. At one point Celine declares that she doesn’t love Jesse anymore. “Does she mean it or has she not yet reconciled herself to what she does feel which is not the same kind of love she felt earlier. And how about the stages of your life? What are they? Are you disappointed? Are you adaptable to yourself?” The film attempts to answer these very human questions.
“Conceiving and doing a film in 16 days is plenty of a challenge but part of that is being prepared.” Having an excellent below-the-line crew was a delight to Linklater who found that it was a marvelous experience to work with the all-Greek crew, and that the preparation simply involved spending his time on locations and letting everybody know what he was doing. His version of the film’s success is as honest as his film: “It’s mainly getting good people, creating a good vibe amongst everyone. It was fun to create such a good creative atmosphere.”