The Richard Linklater Approach to Filmmaking: Tips from His Searchlab Lecture

Richard Linklater is a DIY filmmaker hero for many reasons. He's self-taught, completely obsessed with cinema and making films, and his approach to telling stories is one that I think many can relate to. And if you were just thinking about what an experience it would be to actually be able to sit in a room and pick his brain about all of this, you're in luck. Linklater answers a bunch of questions from a small group of folks for one of Fox Searchlight's Searchlab lectures, which gives us an inside look into how the director goes about writing screenplays, rehearsing with actors, and working on-set.

The lecture is about 40 minutes long, so if you don't have enough time to check out the videos below, scroll down for a few takeaways that I found particularly helpful for my own screenwriting/filmmaking endeavors.

Spend a week in rehearsal, save a day in production

Linklater spends 3 weeks rehearsing scenes with his actors on every project he does. He does this for several reasons:  discovering new things about the project through this creative collaboration and preparing not only the actors, but himself for production. But one benefit to rehearsal he mentions is that every week you spend in rehearsal saves a day in production, and since, as he says, rehearsing is free, that could mean saving a lot of money in the end.

The director in you must fire the writer in you

Ask any screenwriter and they'll tell you that they never actually finish a screenplay, they just kind of -- give up. They relent. I'm sure most of us could spend the rest of our lives rewriting and refining our stories, but if you're planning on directing the script you're writing, Linklater says that the writer in you who fell in love with the words and ideas on the page has to eventually concede to the director in you who needs to find out what works on-screen.

Write your screenplay like you would run the 10,000m -- one lap at a time

Not all writers do things the same way. Some can sit down and bang out a script on the first try -- I don't happen to know any, but I do know they exist. Some Most writers, however, need quite a bit of prep before they ever write a single word of dialog. Though he says that your approach to screenwriting should be "loose," Linklater suggests approaching each story element, the characters, the structure, etc., like you would if it were a long distance run around a track -- in laps. So, for example, determining who your characters are, their backgrounds, their goals, and everything else would be one lap. This helps organize each piece in your mind, which helps with keeping your sanity, but it also helps to keep you focused on the goal without feeling overwhelmed at how far you have left to go. One lap at a time.

What do you think of Linklater's lecture? What stuck out to you? Let us know in the comments below.

Link: Fox Searchlight Searchlab Lecture Series playlist -- YouTube

[via FoxSearchlight]

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Your Comment


A filmmaker that continues to go under the radar for most. That will probably all change with his latest film Boyhood.

April 15, 2014 at 11:16AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


In the end he's the reason I started making movies. Slacker unlocked me in ways I can't explain.

April 15, 2014 at 1:06PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Micah Van Hove

as obsessed as me. I admire his visions and ideas

April 15, 2014 at 6:18PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Dazed and Confused is basically the best movie ever made about a bunch of teenagers doing what teenagers do.

April 16, 2014 at 3:39AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Spend a week in rehearsal, save a day in production - great tip as filmmakers just want to get shooting but the more prep work done the less time on a stressful set using all of those expensive equipment rentals! Practice makes perfect!

April 16, 2014 at 7:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Linklater's great - thanks for posting this.

Currently doing one rehearsal a week (for the next couple of months) for my first feature - and at the end of every session I think 'glad I didn't do that on set!!'... We're getting key (dialogue heavy) scenes to a point where we've figured out what they're really about, had some freedom to explore different approaches, and ended up with something blocked and (if this makes any sense) is about 75% 'there'. Should save a fortune when it comes to the actual shoot!

April 16, 2014 at 8:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


this is awesome. this also reminds me of the opening to Before Sunset, including his mannerisms.

April 16, 2014 at 10:52AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


(full disclosure: I haven't watched these yet)

When he says "rehearsals are free", is he being literal? Because unless your actors are non-union or doing you a HUGE favor by waving their fees, rehearsal days cost money. Sure it's not so bad when it's a handful of actors but rehearsing with a large cast for 3 weeks? No way that's affordable unless you have studio money.

April 17, 2014 at 12:05AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

John K.

I've never met an actor (SAG or not) that refused to do rehearsals of some form due to not being paid. Actors care about their performance.

Otherwise, maybe you're hiring shitty actors.

April 19, 2014 at 11:07AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


If you have an out of town actor, rehearsals will definitely not be free as you would need to cover their travel. If they're SAG that requires a certain level of insurance for them to fly in as well.

Actors will most likely never charge you to perform, that's why they have agents who handle their bookings.

July 30, 2014 at 9:14PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Jack Marchetti

Even if you are paying the a-listers, it's still generally cheaper than once all the gear and personal are there. Also, the bigger names in the film, the more people are on working on the film (generally), so it's definitely saving money.

April 22, 2014 at 5:28PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Daniel Mimura