Richard Linklater’s 12-year odyssey “Boyhood” is the film to beat in this year’s Oscar race, racking up critics group awards and distinguishing itself as “an epic of the intimate.” But for longtime editor Sandra Adair (winner of the LA Film Critics’ prize) and camera operator turned DP Shane Kelly, “Boyhood” represents the ultimate in Linklater’s brand of fictional vérité.
“The film taps into some very core things about what makes us human and our experiences dealing with the disappointments in life, the unexpected little moments that seem so inconsequential at the time but add up to the fabric of our lives,” Adair says. “And I think that’s what audiences relate to. They see themselves, they see their parents, they see their siblings. It’s the cumulative effect of all of these little moments that become a little stunning.”
If we thought Linklater’s “Before” trilogy was bold, this realtime rite of passage is even more ambitious. We actually get to witness the actors age as the characters do, especially Ellar Coltrane as Mason, seen from age seven to 19. Imagine if François Truffaut made the first two Antoine Doinel movies in such a fashion.
In total, they compiled nearly 100 hours of footage. And the biggest technological consideration was which editing package to use. Originally, Adair planned to use a combination of Final Cut Pro and Cinema Tools, but decided on one system—Avid Media Composer—and kept updating it.
Meanwhile, Kelly served as DP Lee Daniel’s operator for the first two-thirds of “Boyhood” and then took over as DP for the last four years when Daniel became unavailable. “The transition was seamless as the crew stayed the same and I had been working with them since the start. If you think of the movie as a series of 12 short films, then you can see that I was not really taking over in the middle of production but rather taking over a yearly installment,” recounts Kelly, who just finished shooting Linklater’s forthcoming baseball saga, “That’s What I’m Talking About.”
“Lee’s best advice was to let the moment happen in front of the camera rather than forcing the actors to serve your lighting. As a DP, you try to accommodate the way Rick works. He likes to have the actors find it. He rehearses heavily and he shoots heavily, so you visually create a space for the actors rather than being very strict in placements.”
Kelly echoes Adair in describing the essence of “Boyhood”: “You expect all these good things to happen and they never really do happen for the majority of people. It was a huge risk and there was a collective sigh after it was finished.”
They shot on film because Linklater wasn’t satisfied with the way early digital cameras performed and he figured you couldn’t go wrong with film. Throughout the 12 years, film stocks came and went and they didn’t always get the best cameras, but Panavision was very supportive and during the last couple of years they got the benefit of the best cameras, when film was supplanted by digital.
Kelly thinks Arquette was very brave to take on this role. “She knows she’s going to be getting older and she just went through that. For an actress, it’s a scary proposal, but an amazing proposal, to age on screen. But she’s a beautiful woman, and you don’t let that stop you. So I always tried to treat her with respect in the way I photographed her. I learned to not force my style and let it develop, and to explore who you are along with the actors.”