If your dedication to the medium isn't complete, you'll never survive.
Richard Linklater is one of the most successful, prolific and hard-working directors in the independent film space. Yet, if you ever have the chance to see him talk, you may be struck by just how laid back the native Texan's demeanor really is.
Sure, we get a glimpse of his personality in such cult classics as Dazed and Confused, Slacker, and Waking Life. But there's no way a guy who's made over twenty films could possibly be as relaxed as the protagonists in his films suggest. Right? That kind of output clearly demands an intense work ethic.
It's entirely possible that Linklater may, indeed, inhabit this carefree, existential hippie cowpoke persona throughout most of his everyday life. His film work, however, is clearly the exception.
"You dedicate your life to it," Linklater proclaimed to an eager audience of aspiring filmmakers at the New York Film Festival. "I’ve talked to people and they ‘kind of like’ films and they ‘kind of’ want to do this, or they’re ‘thinking about’ that. Any artistic medium, you can’t just dabble and be ‘kind of’ interested. You have to dedicate your entire life to it. Really let everything else go to whatever degree you can responsibly do that. You gotta go all in.”
"You wanna make films? You’re not gonna make it. I can tell you right now. Go do something else."
That's not to say that any young person interested in making a film must dedicate themselves to the medium through an expensive education at a private university. Linklater certainly didn't. He didn't even know what he wanted to do with his life when he entered college. “I went from wanting to be a novelist, to wanting to be a playwright and somewhere in probably my sophomore year of college, I started thinking about film," he admitted.
Once he got a grasp on his true calling, he dropped out as soon as he could. He knew it wasn't the best way for him to be pursuing his cinematic education. He describes his ascension to filmmaking quite casually, "I bought a book on the technical aspects of filmmaking; that was a couple years of just reading. I dropped out of college and then started watching three or four movies a day, bought some equipment a little bit later. After that, started the Austin Film Society, kept making films, and here I am.”
The best way to learn about film, in Linklater's mind, is to watch as many films and shoot as much as you can. “I think the big jump for me was that films were always kind of a social thing," Linklater remembered. "At some point, you just gotta make the decision, 'well no one is going to keep up with me.' I’m going to a 12 o' clock show and then a three o' clock show...five thirty. You get used to buying that ticket alone, getting your seat wherever. And it's fun because you tend to meet those other loners. Like, you always notice there's that other guy who sat over there and about six months later you finally go ‘hey man.’ You’ve seen 75 movies together so you just start talking about cinema. For me, through that, these weirdos and I kind of started a film society.”
"It’s kind of like joining the priesthood, without those prohibitions."
If you're not doing that, then you're not going to have the type of career you've been dreaming about. “I meet film students at the Film Society in Austin and they’re like ‘I haven’t been to any new theater, I haven’t seen anything.’ And I’m like, ‘You wanna make films? You’re not gonna make it. I can tell you right now. Go do something else.’ Because you don’t love movies enough, you just think movies are fun. You can’t expect anything but what you give it.”
“Your dedication has to be complete. Particularly when you’re getting started," Linklater advised. "You have all this passion for it but you don’t really have the experience within the medium, so you need to be more all in. I found more of a balance when I got older. It fit into my life, I could have a life outside of it to whatever degree. It’s kind of like joining the priesthood, without those prohibitions.”
Ultimately this is the biggest piece of advice we can take away from Linklater's comments. If you really want to turn your filmmaking into a career, then it can't just be a hobby. You have to live and breathe cinema. Go out and see as many movies as you can and treat them as seriously as you would any piece of great literature. Many directors who went to film school say the best part of the whole experience was meeting like-minded collaborators. If you aren't in film school, then be like Linklater and go start up a community of your own.