May 25, 2013

Richard Linklater on 'Before Midnight' & Not Bothering Studios with Small Films

SONY-BDOS-01_Onesheet4.16.13_Layout 1Richard Linklater may be the only filmmaker in history to have written and directed three films about the same two romantically involved characters, with each film documenting a single day's time, and with each film occurring nine years from the last -- Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013, released yesterday). And, as it happened to turn out, the industry climates surrounding the creation of each film were unique, even though the style (and size, in dollar signs) of the films themselves has stayed pretty much consistent. Read on for Linklater's thoughts on the industry that changed in a process right alongside the characters -- and why, to him, not bothering with major studios can be a time-saver nowadays.

Before we get to some material from The Huffington Post, here's a clip with the three writers of Before Midnight -- who also happened to be its leading lady (Julie Delpi), leading man (Ethan Hawke), and director (Linklater). The clip shows how comfortable these creative talents are with each other after collaborating on these stories over the course of two decades:

From the sounds of things, the characters were pretty much the only things that changed about these movies, while the style of production stayed much the same. What did change on the production side of things was where such films fit (or didn't fit) in the big scheme of the industry. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Linklater discusses the industry trends changing around the consistency of the Before... trilogy.

It's hard to believe that when "Before Sunrise" came out in 1995, it was a studio production.
It is a statement of how the industry has changed. Nineteen years ago when we were headed off to Vienna to do that, we were financed from Columbia Pictures through Castlerock with a $2.7 million budget. The fact that a studio would even bother with something like that now is just laughable. Nine years later, we were at Warner Independent, which is the indie division of a studio. Same $2.7 million budget, by the way, nine years later, but it was kind of an industry indie. Now, we were completely equity financed. We didn't have any industry connection in the financing of this movie whatsoever.

Are you shocked how much the industry has changed?
Not really. In its current form, of course, it has changed so much. What happened somewhere along the way -- and I lived through this, because I got films like this made... They've figured out these bigger films are the smartest investment of their time and energies. That's freed things up. You used to spend a lot of time trying to get studios to say yes or no. Now, you don't even take certain kinds of films to the industry. I don't waste anyone's time saying, "I have this small film about this." You don't even bother them with it because you know they're not going to be interested. It's not their business. There are a couple of different businesses here within the realm of film.

There's much more to the full interview regarding Before Midnight over at the Huff Post, but I found this (slightly abridged) section to be particularly interesting in a more general way. Major studios avoiding very small, quiet productions is nothing new, especially in recent years. Linklater's attitude towards this present state of affairs, on the other hand, is fantastic: instead of looking at it cynically, Linklater accepts it rather freely -- and pleasantly -- as a mutually beneficial time-saver for big studios and independent filmmakers alike. After all, why bother beating around the bush pedaling a product to a totally uninterested market? Instead, why not get straight to looking for private investors who may actually be enthusiastic for such material?

So far this method seems to have worked out for Linklater on Before Midnight. The film was made, after all. It has also already received overwhelmingly positive reviewsand was still picked up by Sony for distribution -- all of which lends a lot of credibility to Linklater's optimistic outlook on things.  The film is in the process of expanding to a progressively-less limited release, and if it is able to make back its budget, Linklater will be vindicated even further. On the other hand, if you're looking to be the director of "Trans4mers," you may have to do things the old-fashioned way through a major studio -- and in such a case that's probably for the best anyway.

What do you guys think of the Before... trilogy's tour from one side of the industry to the other? Is studios' apathy for small films an advantage or disadvantage for the independent filmmaker?

Link: Richard Linklater, 'Before Midnight' Director, On Studio Origins & The Most Intense Scene Of 2013 -- The Huffington Post

Your Comment

15 Comments

Studio blah blah studio
Is that the only thing people talk about?
We can shoot for virtually nothing now.
F the studio system

May 25, 2013

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Carlos

That's pretty much what he's saying above....

May 25, 2013

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Yeah, pretty sure this article pretty clearly states that as time has passed, going outside of the studio system is becoming a more and more viable option for smaller films.

I also think the first comment states that less and less idiots on the internet read a full blog post, even when it is only a page long. The fact that people can't even afford that much attention to detail does not bode well for their filmmaking abilities.

May 26, 2013

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Brett

Just because you can doesn't mean you should!
You can complain all you want about the studios making only big franchises that appeal to the largest audience
but without them (atm) there would be not a single blockbuster or movie theater around.
Yes there are new ways to make and distribute a movie but for a lot of reasons the studios are still viable.

May 28, 2013

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Tony

Again, Trans4mers

May 29, 2013

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Dave Kendricken
Writer
Freelancer

FatRick says, Carlos...you CLEARLY did NOT read the article. As Joe "Looks, what's over there!" Marine said, that is what the f'ing article is all about!

But importantly the article does all this in a rather, polite, pleasant, and affirming manner.

Unlike your comment and my reply to said comment!

FatRick say, have a nice day! :)

May 25, 2013

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FatRick

It's all good... filmmakers like Linklater and Ed Burns are leading the way to the new indie cinema world of the 21st century. As stated, anybody with the requisite talent can make a theatrical-quality feature now on inexpensive equipment. And the digital and other (like VOD) distribution platforms are finally gaining critical mass. Meanwhile, the old Hollywood system is fading away as it continues to lose its almost century-long monopoly based strictly on its control of distribution via theaters. The studios will be left with their tentpole model, with movies based on comic books, video games and best-selling books, which does indeed make more sense for them from a BUSINESS point of view. And meanwhile, we will see an unprecedented democratization of cinema and entirely new outlets for high-quality original content that's viewed on more iPads and iPods than movie screens, but still builds an audience and makes money. It's all good for those of us who love movies and want to make movies -- good movies, with heart and humanity in them instead of explosions and VFX/CGI.

May 26, 2013

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John B.

Linklater made his name in the old system.
Otherwise no-one would pay attention or give him 2.7 million.

Like any oldies band with no new material
he comes out to tour and re-make his old 1990's #1 novelty song
every 9 years.

May 26, 2013

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sammy

good movies, with heart and humanity in them instead of explosions and VFX/CGI.

These are not mutually exclusive concepts.

May 26, 2013

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There are movies that are great AND require big budgets. This is why "indie" will never be able to replace the current system. Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Space Odyssey, Amadeus etc all require budgets that indie cannot provide.

May 27, 2013

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Pianohero

Nobody is saying that Indie will replace the current system... did you also not read the article?

May 28, 2013

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Brian

Soderbergh's comments you posted recently explain the problem. Your movie costs "X," marketing in the U.S. costs $30 million, marketing for Europe costs $30 million, for a total of $60 million in marketing, and the theaters get half the box office, so to break even you have to do $120 million plus "X" (the cost of the picture). Very few movies make that much, which has driven the studios to do almost entirely blockbusters. Without the full-court, very expensive marketing push, non-blockbusters frequently drown in lack of attention. One solution is to self-distribute, like Carruth's Upstream Color, which is closing in on one-half million in box office and -- given how cost-conscious he is -- probably cost less than $100,000. The thing is, would Upstream Color be doing so well if Carruth hadn't been a previous Sundance winner with a lot of anticipatory buzz? (It's a very good film, but lots of really good small films make close to nothing.) This is a very difficult problem. Keep posting articles on attempts to circumvent the distribution conundrum.

May 30, 2013

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Dan

So, I'm opening myself up for some major flaming and shut-the-hell-upping, and that's cool. I'm sort of playing devil's advocate here. Sort of.

My problem with everybody being a [insert film making craft here] is that job opportunities and financial resources are spread more thinly. Now, I'm not being a cry-baby. Working in the film industry is and has always been an extremely competitive choice of vocation. But assuming one could compete adequately, there was a reasonable expectation that one could steer one's career in this direction or that over the long haul. I think this wide open "Great Leveling of The Playing Field" is awesome - I wish DSLRs and Final Cut Pro had existed in the mid nineties when I started out - but the notion that there is no longer reliable system for ensuring financing and distribution (read: earning a living) is a little hard for me. I don't love studio "product" by any stretch. I've worked on some truly horrendous movies, but..ya know...I worked. I got paid. It's hard to raise kids and pay the bills with hustle and passion.

Anyway, maybe I'm just being a Luddite. Maybe writing my own job and paycheque is easier than I think. Maybe I need to think of my job as creating "content" for whomever can pay rather than "movies" for a wide audience....

May 30, 2013

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Patrick

No, I fully agree with you: it is more difficult to make a living. But that's nothing new: before filmmaking, I was in graphic design (I still make more money from art direction than I do from films). The advent of desktop publishing killed hundreds (maybe thousands) of design firms in the 1990s. Same with recording studios and the democratization of professional recording tools. And yet those industries haven't died -- they have simply evolved. And will evolve even more, because technology isn't finished changing our world yet...

I'm hopeful that, as the dust settles, the filmmaking industry will sort itself out in a similar fashion to graphic design and music. Not everything needs to be made for $0 budget, but not everything needs to be Trans4mers either. It will be our job (like it or lump it) to make a living that supports our families, while navigating the evolved/evolving world of high- and low-budget filmmaking.

June 1, 2013

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What the studios want today is for a filmmaker to find their own financing, and when the film is done they might be interested. Studios are focused on 'ten pole's - not films, but events, that will create income streams outside of viewership, through product sales, product tie-ins/placement. Like the new Superman that pulled in $125mil in the first week just from products, not form B/O.

The real growth will be the indie filmmakers, and we need to keep pushing the government to create tax credits that will help that industry grow. We need to keep/expand/improve Section 181 to help encourage private equity, and we need the JOBS Act 2012 to go fully active, to allow the indie filmmaker find potential investors outside of the friends/family circle.

June 25, 2013

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