A coming-of-age movie shot in 12 years

BIG GAMBLE: Linklater (right) took a risk, casting Coltrane (left) as his star for 12 years in the movie Boyhood.


    Jul 07, 2014

    A coming-of-age movie shot in 12 years


    BOYHOOD has been received with rave reviews and tears at film festivals.

    When it was screened at BAMcinemaFest last month, A. O. Scott of The New York Times called it "one of the most extraordinary movies of 2014, or, for that matter, the 21st century so far".

    But director Richard Linklater's initial pitch was not nearly so well received.

    To dramatise the development of a young Texan from age six to 18, from first grade to his arrival at college, Linklater proposed a 12-year shoot: There would be no bad make-up or wigs, no computer graphics, no multiple actors playing a character at different ages.

    Every year for a dozen years, Linklater filmed scenes as the actors playing the boy and his family aged in real time. For the divorced father and mother, he cast Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette; for the older sister, he cast his daughter Lorelei.

    And for the role of the boy, Mason, who would be on screen for every scene, the director gambled on a seven-year-old unknown: Ellar Coltrane, discovered at an audition in Linklater's hometown of Austin, Texas.

    While many film-makers use star power to buy leeway for creative risk, Linklater had no bankable name.

    Coltrane, a home-schooled son of musicians with shaggy hair and holes in his jeans, would be his star for 12 years - no matter how he changed, or what puberty wreaked.

    Instead of hedging his bet with a dynamic narrative, the director promised no pyrotechnic plot twists.

    "People would ask, 'So what happens?'" Linklater said. "And I'd have to say, 'Not much.'"

    Hawke said that Linklater never minimised the risks at business meetings: "A financier would say, 'That's fascinating, but what's going to make this movie great?'

    "Rick would say: 'Oh, it might not be. We'll have to see.'"

    Most coming-of-age films are replete with sex and crises like deaths, overdoses and crimes, but in Boyhood, Hawke said, "the event is the non-event".

    The boy just grows up.

    Asked to describe his work on the film, Coltrane did not talk about it in terms of specific scenes.

    "Being seven, you know, 12 years is almost twice your life span," he said. "It's just kind of more like a life experience, spread out over such a long period of time."

    Certainly, the story could have gone another way. As Arquette put it: "Mason could have been strung out at 16, maybe spent a few years in prison.

    "But, no, there's no third-act twist. We don't even see him lose his virginity. Rick had 12 years to overthink it, but he also had the faith that life was enough."

    To Linklater, the film is "a kind of flowing time sculpture", which is not exactly a bankable genre in Hollywood. And he doubled down on his concept.

    "Let's face it, we bet the farm on the cumulative effect of identification, on the idea that you would care about this family and be invested in them, not because their dog died, or some fake plotty thing," he said.

    "Execs are like: 'Why should we care about this guy? Let's give him a flaw.' No. You like him because you're familiar with him. Why do you like your friends? Because you know them."