INTERVIEW: Dazed and Enthused; Richard Linklater Proves He's No Slacker
by Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE/ 10.18.01) — “I feel like they are so much a part of me,” says Richard Linklater about his two upcoming movies, “Waking Life” and “Tape,” but they’re very different. They are so not to be confused with one another.” As dissimilar as the two films are — an animated philosophical journey and a study of betrayal and revenge among three twentysomethings — both reflect Linklater’s eagerness to push the boundaries of cinema.
“Waking Life” (opening Friday through Fox Searchlight) is a wonder to behold. Created with new rotoscoping technology developed by computer whiz Bob Sabiston and filmmaker Tommy Pallotta (“Snack and Drink“), “Life” is a phantasmagoric trip, with Wiley Wiggins (from “Dazed and Confused“) as our guide through the looking glass of reality. At first glance “Tape” (opening early November via Lions Gate), set in a small hotel room, could seem like any other low-budget Amer-indie, but Linklater keeps the images alive with swish pans, quick cuts, and an assured, lively cast (Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman), ultimately bringing to fruition the potential of shooting on digital video.
Linklater spoke to indieWIRE’s Anthony Kaufman from his home in Austin, Texas about vibe, spontaneity, and making every film like it was your last.
indieWIRE: Though “Waking Life” has been likened to the wandering storyline of “Slacker,” it coheres in a really suspenseful way.
Richard Linklater: I agree. It drives me crazy when people say, “It’s non-narrative.” I’m like, “God, look a little closer. There’s a lot going on there.”
iW: How did you write it?
Linklater: A lot of it was created spontaneously from rehearsals. One third of the scenes, the actors wrote themselves. So it was a very creative experience with the people. The director is sort of the orchestrator, and I had a lot of confidence that I would be able to pull the whole thing together. Because it came from one place in me. I knew where I was going with it. I didn’t know exactly where it was going to end when I first started, but I had a vibe. And I trusted that vibe all the way.
iW: How do you describe that vibe?
Linklater: I don’t know; it’s personal to me. I just knew it when I felt it. It’s great to be able to create that way in the film world. It’s not often. Usually, you’re rendering a bigger, pre-designed thing, so it was fun to be able to move through it like a sculpture or some other piece, like a novel.
iW: How exactly did the animators work on the film?
Linklater: There was pretty much one animator to a character. My job, with Bob, the animation guy, was to capture who the person really was, not that the audience will know, but to me, that was their essence, that’s who I cast, that’s who I wanted — and that the animation reflects them in an interesting way. So it was really about me working with the animators and getting me to sign off on their character design. It’s a lot like working as a composer. You talk about the themes and the vibe and the spirit of the piece and then they bring their own skill set to it, and then you just work from there.
iW: You joked at Sundance about watching the movie on drugs. Do you feel like it’s a movie that people will go see stoned?
Linklater: I hope they don’t the first time. [laughs] If people are drug experimenters, and they see the movie and then think, this’ll be a good movie to see on, fill in the blank, that’s fine. I disappoint people when they find out I’m not really a drug guy.
iW: You have some important underlying themes in “Waking Life.” Do you feel it’s important to get these ideas out there in the culture at large?
Linklater: Especially the film culture. The film culture has no room for ideas. The literary culture has some room, but not less than they should, and the academic culture has a lot, but there’s no way to communicate it in a wide way. The pop culture tends to go to the lowest denominator, so cinema is in a weird place, due to its mass nature. It’s diluted down to very little: simple stories and simple politics. So this movie is really challenging in that way. I thought I was sort of a conduit to a lot of ideas and energies and I honestly spit it back out in an interesting way. One of the themes of the movie is that we’re all connected on some psychic level; we come back to that a lot of times in the movie. And so, I think humans really feel that and they explain it in different ways.
iW: In a different way, “Tape” also feels spontaneous. How much was it constructed beforehand?
Linklater: It’s an old idea of mine: to rehearse the hell out of a movie and then capture it as it’s happening, almost like a documentary. So this was a chance to exercise that. On my other films, I’m the guy who stays up weeks before and figures out all the shots. I didn’t want to do that this time. So we just went in as it was happening. Maryse Alberti, who was operating the other camera, and I, were just like, “What’s your shot?” “Here’s my shot,” and then boom, boom, boom. It was very spontaneous coverage of the whole movie, which helped the piece, because you didn