“I was just doing the math on the plane,” Richard Linklater says in his sleepy Texan drawl. “I came here 25 years ago. Twenty-fuckin’-five years ago was my first Sundance. It’s crazy.”
Yes, and with $23,000 and a six-person crew, Linklater had made the feature film Slacker—a love letter to the weirdos of Austin, Texas, including a UFO expert and a hippie woman hawking a Madonna pap smear. It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival and became a cult hit, grossing $1.2 million in limited release.
Linklater’s returned to the snowcapped mountains of Park City, Utah, as the subject of Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s documentary Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny. It’s a monument to the modest Austinite’s vast and varied oeuvre, from Dazed and Confused to the Before Sunset trilogy to his 12-year magnum opus Boyhood.
“I think Rick is one of the truly great filmmakers, and I think as much praise as he gets, due to the diversity of his body of work, he gets overlooked,” says Black, the longtime editor of The Austin Chronicle. “There are four or five books on Rick and 60 books on Quentin Tarantino. I’m not knocking Wes Anderson or Quentin, but the ones who do the same thing over and over again are the ones who get the most press.”
There’s also a special event that’s summoned Linklater to Sundance: a special screening of Dazed and Confused with commentary courtesy of Linklater and Jason Reitman.
“It doesn’t seem to go away, does it?” says a smiling Linklater of Dazed.
When I ask him what his favorite line in the film is, he pauses. “Man, I can give the origin story to every line in it. I had this friend up in Montana who you could ask anything and he’d answer, ‘It’d be a lot cooler if you did.’ That was from the ’80s, so I knew I’d use that in a movie someday. And then the line, ‘I get older, they stay the same age,’ that was said by another friend of mine. Like any writer, you remember things and file them away.”
Despite its cult-classic status, Dazed was no walk in the park. “It was a really difficult movie to get made, because [Gramercy Pictures] really didn’t want to make it. I think they got forced into it. They had their doubts. And if you talk to some of those people today, they still think it doesn’t quite work. I’ve heard it. Or that it’s an ‘underachievement.’ It was tough.”
On top of the lack of confidence, actors Jason London (Randall “Pink” Floyd) and Shawn Andrews (Kevin Pickford) were at odds during filming, even once coming to blows. Andrews proved to be quite the troublemaker. After filming wrapped, he ran away with Milla Jovovich to Vegas and the two got married. She was just 16 years old.
“Oh, Shawn,” recalls Linklater. “That was after production. It got annulled. It was brief. Sixteen-year-old Milla and 20-year-old Shawn. But the mother stepped in, I heard.”
Dazed went on to gross just $7.9 million against a $6.9 million budget, but it became wildly popular on VHS, and its ’70s-infused soundtrack proved to be a best-seller. It’s now known as one of the most celebrated films of the ’90s, and Quentin Tarantino listed it as his No. 10 film of all time. And its long-gestating sequel, Everybody Wants Some, will premiere at SXSW in March before opening wide in April.“It’s four years later, and the true sequel to Dazed,” says Linklater. “I was like, ‘Why is this so much less stressful? Oh, it’s college.’ Everything is chill, everyone’s got their own space. In high school, you’re thrown into a cage match of territory and you don’t really have a place of your own. In high school you’re stuck together, but in college it’s your freedom, your choice. So to me, Dazed was about trying to create something within a lack of freedom, while college is what to do once you’ve stepped into all that freedom.”
One of the central characters in Dazed and Confused is Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), a freshman baseball pitcher who, when he’s not gripping his nose in frustration, is dodging getting his ass paddled by a gaggle of rowdy seniors, including asshole Fred O’Bannion (Ben Affleck).
“People call Everybody Wants Some a baseball movie, but there’s no more baseball in it than there is football or baseball in Dazed,” says Linklater. “It’s about it, but it’s not the season; it’s a first weekend of college movie. But it’s as if Mitch, four years later, went off to college and he’s still a baseball pitcher. It’s a different character, but it’s the same thing.”
The timing of a Dazed sequel is curious, given that it comes right after Linklater completed Boyhood, which took him a dozen years. Or not.
“I’ve been trying to make this one for about 10 years,” he says. “I had that idea in ’02, ’03. I just wanted to make this college movie about what it was like to be the newness. It wasn’t really a reaction to anything, just a movie I’ve wanted to make for quite some time.”“It’s always been that story, but Boyhood ended up touching it. Where Boyhood ends Everybody Wants Some begins,” he adds. “There’s a little overlap with Boyhood in that it’s a completely different guy, but the same kind of environment.”
On the subject of Boyhood, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker insists “there are no secret projects” brewing on the side with pal/frequent star Ethan Hawke—this includes another Before film. “I don’t know. We’re only in year three,” says Linklater. “We always have a five-year hiatus where we don’t even have an idea. But you know, I think it… we just don’t have any idea yet.”
It’s hard to believe Linklater is 55—he looks about 20 years younger, and is making the best work of his career.
“Forever I felt like the young, new guy, but you reach a point where you can’t deny that you’ve made 19 films and are sitting here in your 50s,” he says with a shrug. “I have to accept veteran mid-career status now. That’s where I’m at. I don’t actually feel any different, though. I actually feel better, and more relaxed in what I’m doing.”