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SXSW ’07 DAILY DISPATCH: Linklater (Reluctantly) In Austin Spotlight; And, Scott Frank’s “Lookout” O

SXSW '07 DAILY DISPATCH: Linklater (Reluctantly) In Austin Spotlight; And, Scott Frank's "Lookout" O

Austin’s own Richard Linklater was an unlikely honoree at the Austin Film Society‘s 7th annual Texas Hall of Fame Awards on Friday night, not because anyone thought the honor was undeserved but the director has typically resisted stepping into the spotlight at the largest annual fundraiser for the organization he founded more than 25 years ago. Over the past two days, though, at the Texas Hall of Fame event at the Film Society’s Austin Studios and on Saturday at SXSW in downtown Austin, the director received a rush of attention from a local community that clearly appreciates his tremendous contributions.

Get the latest from SXSW in indieWIRE’s special section, updated regularly throughout the festival.

“Richard is the reason you are sitting here,” praised fellow director Robert Rodriguez during the Hall of Fame tribute on Friday night, referencing Linklater’s legacy as the creator of AFS. And noting the group’s major initiative to transform an old airfield into the prosperous Austin Studios soundstage complex, Rodriguez added, “Richard is the reason you have a roof over your head and Richard is the reason I make movies in Austin.”

“I am just a surfer and I caught a wave at the right moment,” Linklater said while accepting the prize at an event that raised some $600,000 for the Austin Film Society. Later, he added, “Its amazing to me that I get to make these films that are very personal to me. I can’t believe they are letting me do this.”

While AFS was honoring Texas’ favorite sons and daughters, including the legendary Anne Margaret, producer Elizabeth Avellan, actors Bill Paxton and Betty Buckley, and musicians The Dixie Chicks, across town in Austin audiences jammed the Paramount Theater for the premiere of Scott Frank‘s “The Lookout,” kicking off the SXSW Film Conference and Festival where Linklater received more adulation on Saturday afternoon. This time, during an on-stage chat with recent Austin transplant John Pierson who shepherded Linklater’s “Slacker” back in 1990, the filmmaker took a trip down memory lane.

Pierson dug back into his archives to read aloud the first letter that Linklater sent him back in July of 1990, when the young director was hoping to enlist Pierson’s help in securing a distribution deal for “Slacker.” Pierson brokered a deal with Orion Classics, then run by Michael Barker and Tom Bernard (now of Sony Pictures Classics), jumpstarting Linklater’s career.

Reflecting on those early days, Richard Linklater recalled being inspired by a quote from French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, supporting the idea that, in Linklater’s words, “a day on the set is just another day in your life.”

“It wasn’t such a big deal,” Linklater explained, saying that his short films and then “Slacker” were made under that mentality. The change, he added, came quickly when larger studio budgets were on the line. He struggled, realizing the nature of a Hollywood production system that is based on efficiency with little concern for art.

“Why is it that films get produced and made just like houses and computers,” Linklater wonderered on Saturday in Austin. “It’s this efficiency model that our whole economic system has put out there…none of that really has much to do with art, you have to kind of sneak your art into that process somehow.”

“That’s what I think makes filmmaking so damn interesting for oustiders and people in it,” Linklater concluded, “It is that collision of art and commerce, potential art and commerce. How you manufacture what could be art.”

Frank on “Lookout”

Writer/director Scott Frank, whose “The Lookout” opened the SXSW Film Festival on Friday in Austin. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

Hollywood screenwriter turned director Scott Frank noted separately, in a chat with indieWIRE at the Four Seasons Hotel on Friday afternoon, that movies have become much more conceptual and marketing driven. While he has no bones to pick with the studios from his work as a writer of such films as “Out of Sight,” “The Interpreter,” “Get Shorty,” and “Little Man Tate,” Frank added that with “The Lookout” he was anxious to make a more traditional thriller at a time when the genre has become driven by action films.

With SXSW Film Festival opening film “The Lookout” from Miramax, Frank noted that he was aiming for a more character-based, emotionally driven sort of thriller. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as athlete Chris Pratt who is disabled in an accident. Chris exists as a shell of his former self in the film, working a night shift at a local bank and living in a rundown apartment with a visually impaired caretaker (Jeff Daniels). His drab life changes, however, when he meets a local troublemaker (Matthew Goode) who is fascinated by organized crime. Chris is further drawn into the circle by a beautiful girl (Isla Fisher) and soon joins a bank robbery plan.

“About ten years ago, I knew somebody who had a head injury and had read somewhere about these small towns that had a lot of USDA money (US government agriculture subsidies),” Frank explained on Saturday during a press conference at SXSW. “I then figured there was a movie there — actually two movies, but then I went to bed one night and woke up with one movie.”

Gordon-Levitt said his experience in preparing for his character was unique because of the lead time that allowed for the character of Chris to develop organically. “I was given the part eight months before shooting so I let the character grow a lot in my head,” the actor explained, “There was a long gestation,”

“The whole thing was really different because I tried to make [the role] as difficult as I could [on myself],” Gordon-Levitt explaind, “I made sure I didn’t get enough sleep.”

Get the latest from SXSW in indieWIRE’s special section, updated regularly throughout the festival.

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