Richard Linklater on 'Before Midnight' & Not Bothering Studios with Small Films
Richard 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 reviews, and 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?