As always, the kitchen/dining table is the center of activity…here Mom/Olivia [Patricia Arquette], with Mason [Ellar Coltrane] on her left and Samantha [Lorelei Linklater] on her right, winces as her new husband Professor Bill Welbrock [Marco Perella] dispenses rules to their combined family…
"To me, the whole movie is about self…a growing awareness of self..."
—Director/Writer Richard Linklater
Filmed over 12 years with the same cast and crew, Richard Linklater's BOYHOOD is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason [Ellar Coltrane, age 6 through 18], who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason's parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, BOYHOOD charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent. BOYHOOD is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting... --IFC Films
“There’s nothing documentary about it, but the film seduces you into believing these characters are real,” Ethan Hawke observes. “That’s why even the tiniest minutiae of their lives is so engaging. Rick’s openness to letting life and fiction merge into one fabric is what kept the flow going so strongly for 12 years. He was incredibly receptive to whatever happened, so, in hindsight, things might look lucky, but there was something more going on. He was working patiently with what reality gave him.”
“It became a bit like getting together every year at camp,” Linklater laughs. “We had this core group of people who united every year for 12 years and it really did become like a family in its own way. But it also kept growing, and we ultimately had 143 cast members and over 400 crew.”
Prefaced each year by the work of Production Designer Rodney Becker and Set Decorator Melanie Ferguson, the film was shot over 45 days from May 2002 to August 2013 which, roughly speaking, is spanning more than 4,000 days.
“It did seem to get a little tougher every year to pull it all together,” Linklater acknowledges, "but I think we all felt increasingly that we were in a creative groove together.”
“It is a bit longer than I had originally conceived -- I had originally thought 10 minutes per year, adding up to 120 minutes. But I realized after the first year that wasn’t exactly how it was going to work. I decided to let the film be what it wanted to be without imposing that kind of restriction. Ultimately, it’s kind of an epic and yet, at the same time, very simple and intimate.”
The director talked with SET DECOR by phone, followed by a tribute night at LACMA highlighting his body of work.
SET DECOR: At an early screening of the film, you said that BOYHOOD was one story made up of a lot of little pieces. That is a perfect description of a film set. Could you talk about the importance of the sets for this film?
Linklater: Sure. In this film the challenge was, of course, the longevity…to get a realistic look that always reflected the character at that given moment, and that was always changing!
Patricia’s character, Olivia’s situation was shifting around quite often, particularly in the first half of the movie. So it was important to get the set just right…the right furniture, the right look, the right artwork. There was kind of a wonderful collaboration, and even Patricia would weigh in, “Well, I think I could maybe be doing….” And we’d go from there. We’d talk about where she would be shopping, like Goodwill in the beginning, and as time went on, where she could find something that was more her price range but better than before. We’d have these discussions with Rodney, our production designer, and Melanie, the set decorator. It was fun!
The challenge, every year was, in a short amount of time, doing quite a number of scenes. The movie has over 140 scenes and each one was its own piece of work. To hit a look that seemed effortless, like we just showed up, was key…and they did that every time for multiple scenes year after year!
Then there’s the added complication of putting stuff in storage for a year, again, year after year, then bringing it out...just logistically, it’s pretty taxing. It was nice though, just as the way everybody loved seeing each other every year and the kids growing up, “Oh, you’re older. Look how much you’ve grown," this was, “Oh, and there’s that! Look at those pictures, or this toy…” It was always kind of fun.
SET DECOR: As the film progresses, we notice toys that may have started off on their beds, but then were tucked away on bookshelves or stuffed into spaces with other things.
Linklater: [He chuckles] They’re working their way slowly out of the kids’ lives…or in, you know.
Time is a character in every movie. I was trying to make a film about childhood, but which part? Through the school years 1st-12th grade, you’re a prisoner of your parents, so I thought that would be a good place to start. And it was an opportunity to see adults evolve as well as the kids...the film could be called “Motherhood” or “Fatherhood”, really. To me, the whole movie is about self…a growing awareness of self.
SET DECOR:Patricia Arquette says, “It’s not so much about the big moments. It’s about the little moments between.”
Plot isn’t really missed if you have something to grab onto, moments between people, where your audience can find their way into the characters. My movies are not full of plot. I’ve replaced that with time structure, because that’s how we see life. I’ve thought about time as a more valid structural device. And the sets establish it first…
SET DECOR: The film starts with the tight little apartment they were in, and ends with her new small apartment, but in-between there were several larger homes…
Linklater: Yeah, and the question always was, “What would she have held onto? What would she have discarded? What was the previous husband’s and what was hers?” I mean, at one point she and the kids pretty much had to leave everything behind. That was like a clean getaway. We don’t see anything…it’s kind of a fresh start.
SET DECOR: Yes. It’s like they had to walk away from their history.
Linklater: Yes, then it’s about holding memories. It’s funny how memory works, I’m kind of obsessed about it…BOYHOOD is a memory movie. I wanted it to feel like memory.
SET DECOR:Were there specific pieces that were used sort of as totems…that were held onto in some way?
Linklater: Sure. Stuffed animals from childhood, a bedside table or a bed or a couch…yeah. All that stuff, the utter familiarity of it makes you feel attached to it, especially when it’s not there. You go, “Wait!” Every year, the challenge was for them to feel, “Oh, I’m back in my room.” Or “I’m back in my living room.” So it was about getting that going again.
SET DECOR: How much time did Melanie and Rod and their crews have to put these sets together before you shot?
Linklater: Sometimes very little time. Maybe we’d get the week, it was sort of like making a new film every year. There was the location to deal with, that was often new. We had these intense 3-day shoots, but what went into that might be a couple of weeks of gathering up, depending on what the needs were. It was a very challenging budget, so I was always, always super impressed and grateful for what they were able to pull off in often a very short time with such limited funds. I think of the art department as kind of magicians…they make stuff work. There’s an artistry, of course, to every element of filmmaking, but this is what you’re looking at -- it’s totally visual for the audience and visual and tangible for the actors.
SET DECOR: Did you have any specifics in mind for any of the sets? Or did you just give them the overall feel you want and just let them run with it?
Linklater: Well, that’s my impulse always, to start with that and then there’s some tweaking. Often you’re pleasantly surprised. I put a lot of faith in my collaborators, especially somebody you’ve worked with before and who are really dialed into the story that you’re trying to tell. I really do trust them to a large degree, and they worked so hard! The amount of dedication that was required to come back year after year, especially in this business.
SET DECOR: They did each time? You didn’t have to replace someone along the way?
Linklater: No. Every year, they did somehow work out their schedules that they were there for the movie, and that was really special. I think they sensed how important it was for the movie itself. I have an unending appreciation for the people who put in all those years. The cast is obvious, but behind that is a large crew that kept coming back every year. That was an amazing part of the overall film.
SET DECOR: Was everything done on location, or anything on stage?
Linklater: All location. Budget, again.
SET DECOR: Are there any secrets we should know?
Linklater: [He laughs] Well, we discovered in the process, it’s a good way to make a very exacting period piece. Just shoot it over 10 to 12 years, and you have a period piece, kind of perfectly decorated for each moment!