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Director Series: Richard Linklater

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Indie icon Richard Linklater
doesn’t make sweeping Hollywood
epics, or grandiose fantasy flicks.
He creates tight, character-driven
dramas that often take place in
less than 24 hours and rely heavily
on dialog. His debut Slacker,
a roving exploration of the antiwork
subculture of disillusioned
youths in Austin, was praised for
its unconventional narrative style.
It helped usher in the avant-garde
indie films of the ’90s.
The films that followed, the
stoner classic Dazed and Confused
among them, garnered cult followings.
In 2001’s Waking Life
Linklater used 3D animation roto-scoping, and is using it again in his
upcoming adaptation of the classic
Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner
Darkly.
His latest outing is rare in
American independent cinema: a
sequel. In 1995, Linklater’s smart
romantic movie Before Sunrise
introduced viewers to Jesse (Ethan
Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy).
Two strangers on a train heading
to Austria, they meet and spend
the next several hours flirting and
discussing the meaning of life, love,
religion, sex and politics. In the end
they make love and then go their
separate ways, vowing to meet
again in Vienna in six months.
Did the young lovers keep their
promise? Did they live happily ever
after? In the just-released Before
Sunset, Linklater reunites them
nine years later to answer these
questions. Jesse is in Paris promoting
his new book, which just
happens to be about that magical
night they spent together. He meets
Celine again and the next 80 minutes
follow the couple in real time
as they stroll around Paris and talk
about their lives, exploring whether
or not the potent connection they
once shared still exists. Below the
Line recently spoke with writer/
director Linklater about the movie
and the challenges he and his crew
faced filming in real time.
Below the Line: More than half
of your movies take place in less
than 24 hours. What attracts you
to such a condensed timeframe?
Richard Linklater: It must be
something primordial in my
thinking. I tend to think of
stories in this way. It’s also traditional,
going back to Greek
dramas—every story takes place
in a limited amount of time. Not
telling a huge, sweeping story
presents its own challenges, but
there is something inherent in
the real-time structure that is the
ultimate slice of life. In the case
of Before Sunset, the time thing
really works as a dramatic device.
It creates a ticking clock. It’s one
of the major dramatic elements
of the movie that is very unspoken.
It’s there and you feel it.
BTL: You filmed Before Sunset in
real time. What were some of the
difficulties of working in this way?
Linklater: Geographical and light
issues were the big thing. And
what the characters had to say
had to fit a place: here is a long
street and then here is a little
alley. We were painted into a corner,
technically speaking, both
in the performances and in the
cutting of the movie. Everything
had to be meticulously planned
and executed with really no
wiggle room. Most films you can
edit out things that don’t work,
make things longer or shorter.
You have leeway in the editing
room. We didn’t have that in
this movie. There was nowhere
to go. It was almost like a play.
BTL: The movie was made up
of several long tracking shots.
How did that affect the editing?
Linklater: We did numerous
takes, just like any movie. It’s
just that our takes were sometimes
as long as six minutes,
so we would often get eight or
nine takes and then pick the
one that worked the best. On
one level it is very simple, just
like any other film. There were
less set-ups but the one setup
would be pretty elaborate.
Upping the ante even more was
our attempts to match the afternoon
light. Not only did we only
have 15 days to shoot, but often
we would only have two or three
hours to shoot a particular scene.
BTL: With most of the movie
taking place outdoors, how did
you squeeze it all into 15 days?
Linklater: We had a morning session
and afternoon session. If we
were doing two different scenes
then we could maybe get two locations.
We had to shoot in different
directions at certain times and
then turn around to shoot again.
It seems like we were always
geared around the light and the
changing weather. Clouds would
roll in and we couldn’t shoot. It
was as rigid as you could get. We
were at the mercy of nature and
yet we only had 15 days to film
the whole movie. It was a big challenge
but we got lucky overall.
The weather was on our side.
BTL: What are the differences
in the look of Before
Sunrise and Before Sunset?
Linklater: The difference is
literally the difference between
night and day. The night had
this kind of romantic mystery
to it. Time was elongated and
more dreamlike. This one was
more the harsher light of day.
BTL: What was your experience
of filming in Paris? What type of
locations were available to you?
Linklater: Paris isn’t the most
film-friendly city. You have to
lock in your locations weeks in
advance. They are very bureaucratic.
It’s a beautiful city, but it’s
not one of those cities that bends
over backwards to accommodate
you. You have to have everything
well in advance, and we had a very
short prep. I had gone in early
and scouted the locations but
ultimately we only had about five
weeks, so we had to commit to
things. We liked lots of locations.
Sometimes we were not sure
which scene would be shot where,
but we had to commit to some
locations first. It meant we had to
shoot out of sequence more then
we would have liked. But that said,
you really can’t go wrong in Paris.
BTL: Can you talk about some of
your crew and their roles in the
film? For example, your Steadicam
operator Jim McConkey.
Linklater: When we filmed Before
Sunrise 10 years ago in Vienna,
it was actually easier because
night lighting is more controllable.
Before Sunset was altogether
different, with the challenges of
filming in the day, and we had to
have it all very planned. I brought
over Jim, who was the Steadicam
operator I worked with on School
of Rock. He is a great operator.
We were lucky to have him on
board, as it was very demanding.
We had to be meticulous
and thorough, and yet the goal
was to not draw attention to [the
technique]. If everyone is doing
their job, you don’t noticing how
tough the steadicam shot is.
BTL: You’ve worked with
cinematographer Lee
Daniel since Slacker…
Linklater: Lee and I go way
back. We were roommates for
several years. He has shot a lot
of my work and we have worked
together a bunch. It was time
to do it again… spiritually. He
had done the first one, and got
what I wanted. He shoots a lot of
documentaries; he likes the down
and dirty and is very effective in
that world. He understood the
lack of lighting and my wanting
it to seem like an eloquent documentary,
and he captured that.
It was kind of impossible to
use the same crew as [in Before
Sunrise]. Lee was one of the only
ones. In the original we had a
large Viennese crew and in this
one we had mostly Parisians.
We could only bring people over
selectively. It was important to me
to bring Lee, and Jim [McConkey]
and also Ferrell Shinnick, the
key grip. He has a lot of experience
and he and Lee have a sort of
shorthand understanding for getting
things done very quickly. And
he speaks French, so that helped
with the language barrier. It’s nice
to have people you know and have
worked with. It’s a comfort zone.
BTL: Your editor Sandra
Adair is another crew-member
you’ve worked with consistently.
What was special about
her job on Before Sunset?
Linklater: I have worked with
Sandra on every movie I have
made except maybe two. I used
to do the editing myself but
now I work with her exclusively.
The style of this film—the long
shots—on one level makes the
editing easy. You simply take the
best six-minute scenes and piece
them together. On another level,
however, we were all reined in
as far as the latitude of what we
could do. We couldn’t rewrite the
movie in the editing. We couldn’t
save scenes—put the beginning at
the end or look for a new punch
line or cut out after a joke to keep
the scene moving. Fortunately
though, thanks to Julie and Ethan,
it works as it is and there was
very little trickery involved. With
Sandra, it gets easier every movie
we do. She has seen my footage
for so long now, she knows
what I want out of a scene. We
have kind of a shorthand; it’s
almost a telepathic thing. My
films fit together like a puzzle.
She understands the puzzle.
BTL: Given that you were filming
almost exclusively outdoors,
what type of issues were
there with exterior sound?
Linklater: When I went to
Paris I picked the best sound
guy I could find, Bernard
Bats. He has credits going all
the way back to the ’70s. He
barely spoke English and was
very old school. His boom
operator didn’t even use headphones.
He was so the right
choice, though. This guy was
great. My mixer wanted to
send him a note telling him it
was the best field recording he
had ever heard. Even in the boat
scene, which could have been a
monster, with the boat motor,
the water, the wind. We didn’t
loop any of that. It was really
unbelievable how little looping
we had to do. With sound you
can’t screw around. You have to
go with experience and this time
I got a really good recordist.
BTL: You’re currently in postproduction
on your next movie,
A Scanner Darkly. What is the
difference in post between the
live action Before Sunset and A
Scanner Darkly, which makes
extensive use of rotoscoping?
Linklater: Surprisingly not much.
It all feels the same. The editing
is exactly the same and then there
is an extended animation period,
but that’s about it. Animation gets
easy for me. Once I sign off on a
particular character design and
the general aesthetic, I just check
in occasionally while they animate.
I don’t need to be staring
over their shoulder. I set the tone
like any director does, and then
everyone I am working with follows
that vision, and it becomes
an ongoing collaboration.

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