In his 25-year feature career, Richard Linklater has consistently developed stories about transitional points in people’s lives, whether it’s the first inkling of a shift from adolescence to adulthood (“Dazed and Confused“), a couple’s shifts in relationship status (the ‘Before’ films) or the regular ebb and flow of many years of life in “Boyhood.”
Linklater’s latest film, “Everybody Wants Some!!,” could almost be a direct sequel to “Boyhood” as it begins with freshman baseball player Jake (Blake Turner) arriving at college, and continues through his first few days spent with new teammates. It’s a fond look at a type of masculinity during the summer of 1980, when, for a moment in time, young men like Jake seemed untouchable. Laced through with autobiographical elements, the film continues Linklater’s gently ambling approach to script and character as it observes the competitive and chest-thumping teammates in various social settings. Despite the almost exclusively masculine subjects and tone, the film is often gentle and reflective; there’s an undercurrent of awareness that this time is fleeting.
The Playlist recently spoke to Linklater about his method for threading a large number of pop and rock songs into his films, the parallel development of “Boyhood” and “Everybody Wants Some!!,” and his instincts for staying out of trouble when choosing and developing projects.
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Music is an important part of so many of your films. Where do song choices start to come in?
It’s constant. The songs start for me in the wiring process, I’m listening to hundreds of songs from the era, I’m gathering music. It helps jog the old memory. Music and smells are the most memory-recall, nostalgia-inducing things. It always kinda helps me. So I had all the music, a very deep bench of a lot of music. Some of it was in the script, it was very specific. A lot of those songs ended up not in the movie. When they first went into the disco they’re dancing to Prince’s “I Want to Be Your Lover,” and the very beginning of the film, where “My Sharona” is, was a Van Halen guitar solo. But I reconsidered the beginning a bit. A lot of those early ones don’t end up in the film, but it helps set the tone. And it’s always fun to see what songs the cast likes a lot or is responding to, it’s kind of an ongoing process.
Do you play music on set?
A lot of the sets required it. In the disco we’re listening to a lot of music, but I’m not one of those who keeps music going then turns it off right when I say action.
You used a Big Boys song (“Frat Cars”) which is a very Texas punk song, and there seems to be some relationship between the lyrics and the story, as the lyrics are dismissive of Jake and the characters.
[Laughs] I don’t know if they really are — the lyrics are about fraternity guys, and these guys are not frat. They’re student athletes. That’s kind of the irony, though, and the great thing about punk. Even if they were kind of attacking you, you didn’t feel it was personal. It was more of an attack on society. It was always kind of sad when your favorite punk rockers, like Jello Biafra or someone, would say they hate something you like. It was “oh, I thought we were on the same page.”
The Big Boys presence and the whole punk scene is kind of based on a moment when I was on a road trip to Austin, visiting some friends, actually a girlfriend, and I kinda wandered into Raoul’s, the famous punk club. It wasn’t the Big Boys playing, I would have remembered that, but when I moved to Austin a few years later I got into the local scene, and slowly got absorbed. So it’s my homage to the Big Boys. And the Riverboat Gamblers, the band playing them in the film, he’s imitating [Big Boys singer] Biscuit, he’s got the duct tape around his body, which Biscuit did occasionally.
You’ve worked with music supervisor Randall Poster several times —
Yeah, a lot over the years. Since “SubUrbia,” we’re coming up on 20 years.
He and Wes Anderson have a “vault” of songs they’re waiting to use. Do you do that?
Not really. I don’t have some “Oh, I’ve gotta get this into a movie some day,” but when there are songs I like… the soundtrack to this runs the gamut, it’s the really popular songs, and then you’re sneaking in the little ones that are kinda forgotten, a little more obscure or eclectic. I just think about whatever’s right for the movie, and then when I’m in that zone I realize I can use certain things. I did “Me and Orson Welles” a few years ago, and I happened to love that era of music. I like all those performers and that sound. My quirky big band knowledge meant I could pull all that music for the movie. You can end up in an era where you have a lot of fun.
There’s a progression of character from “Boyhood” to “Everybody Wants Some!!” — there’s a thing about the character exiting one movie and almost walking directly into the next.
It’s almost a continuation, yeah.
Do you ever return to characters in other films, thinking about what might have happened to characters in “Dazed and Confused” or a film like that?
It’s easy to do because most of my movies are a limited time, you could almost do that with damn near everything I’ve ever done. And that goes for so many movies. The only question is why would you? What story would there be to tell that is compelling about those people and have it not just be a stunt, or something for economic reasons.
This film is as close as I would get to a sequel. And I thought, strangely, as a continuation to “Boyhood,” I wondered if a film could be two things, a sequel or continuation to two different films? It just became autobiographical, about that moment when you go off to college. If Mitch [from “Dazed and Confused”] had done that four years later, maybe. When I was filming the last scene of “Boyhood,” I was telling the actors I had a movie idea that started right there, with characters going to college, and I hoped I could make that movie. It’s funny, “Boyhood” in a way helped this get made. There’s a relationship between “Boyhood” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” that’s almost as strong as the tie to ‘Dazed.’ They start at the same time. I was thinking of “Everybody Wants Some!!” throughout this century, in the same time period as I was doing “Boyhood,” I was writing and rewriting this movie. It’s funny they end up back to back, as a continuation. Ellar in “Boyhood” is kind of the better angel of my nature, and Jake is the more carousing, extroverted, fun guy.
Did you ever consider using Ellar Coltrane as the lead in this film?
Not really, it was pretty clear from the jump that Ellar wasn’t really an athlete. That’s not where his energy went, and this was always going to be about being on a team, even though there’s not much sports in the movie, it’s all about a certain attitude.
That attitude is not a thing we see often in popular film lately.
Hardly ever! That was part of my motivation to make this, because so few movies are made about athletes. It’s usually “Oh, those are the guys who picked on me.” And baseball players aren’t bullies by and large. Not that they aren’t the same spectrum of male behavior as anyone else, but they’re no worse. Some of that behavior you’re less likely to see in baseball. There are really smart baseball players. It’s a thinking person’s game.
I wanted to show the competitiveness behind the scenes, and the more I thought about it, the testosterone of that environment. It sort of ended for me there. Looking back at my life, I was never in such a male environment again. I didn’t work on Wall Street, I found myself out of the uber-male testosterone environment. Looking back it seemed like an interesting time. These guys have a privileged little window our culture gives you if you’re an athlete. And then it’s over, boom! Something that could matter so much to you is suddenly over. Sports is cruel that way.
Thinking about the end of this film, the head goes down on the desk, and it’s potentially over for them right there. Sure. there’ll be a couple good years of college, but that blissful “king of the world” scenario is already fading.
Yeah, it’s short-lived. It’s gonna end. I told the actors they shouldn’t know that yet. They think they’ve got it figured out, they’re top of the food chain. People say there’s less conflict in the movie, and I think “what’s there to be conflicted about?” They’re at the top of the food chain, they’ve got it made.
What draws you to that particular sort of transition in people’s lives, as subjects for your films?
Hm, yeah, there are a lot of transitional moments, or moments of self where things are being defined, I see that. To me, it’s just that moment in your own development that has a cultural point, too. Sort of the end of an era. You didn’t know it at the time, but looking back you realize you got out just before… it’s almost the Last Days of Pompeii. (laughs) That’s a bit extreme, but the age is changing, everything is coming, there’s going to be a cultural backlash and everything gets worse. Looking back for me, that was a pretty good time to be young.
Prior to setting up “Everybody Wants Some!!” you had a whole variety of projects lined up — do you know how you’ll follow this?
I don’t know, it’s amazing any film gets made. You do so much work not making films, it’s amazing whenever it does happen. I have quite a few projects I’m sitting on and waiting for the perfect planetary alignment. I don’t have anything scheduled as of today, I have various things circling.
Do you have more interest in working on an independent level, or allying with a studio?
It depends on the film, what you need for it, and the origins. It’s all over the map. This film couldn’t be more independent, but it’s Paramount! I don’t make distinctions about who’s financing or what the deal is. It’s about what the story needs, what the scope is, where it wants to live. Not getting in trouble, staying out of trouble is my thing.
A little trouble can be good.
Well, I don’t want a bad creative experience, or to end up making movies no one wants… I don’t know. I try to avoid bad experiences.
Have you done a film you’d call a bad experience?
No! I think I’m good, I’ve walked away from things before they got bad. When I saw the writing on the wall, I thought “they’re not going to be happy,” or if I’m not set up to succeed. That’s when I try not to proceed. There’s always things to learn from. This one was probably one of the smoother experiences all the way down the line. Great relations with the cast, they were wonderful, and the production was very smooth, there was just enough time and money. Often everybody’s great, I just don’t have enough time, the schedule and budget is so tight that it’s really fraught. This was just enough, just enough time and money to do it right. ‘Dazed’ was fun, too, but it was just tough. It was a studio film, and my trial by fire. I had to kinda earn everything, amongst skepticism.
“Everybody Wants Some!!” is now playing. Listen to further podcast talks with Richard Linklater below.