November 5, 2019

Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke Reveal How They Made the 'Before' Trilogy

Richard Linklater's Before Trilogy is one of the most romantic film series of all time. It has honest characters, deep emotions, and a certain magic to it. So how did Delpy and Hawke work with Linklater to create three masterpieces? 

If you have read anything I've written for No Film School, you know that I am a huge fan of the Before Trilogy. I think the characters, story and setting are perfect. And so are the writing and direction. 

That's why I was so excited to read a new Guardian piece where stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke talk about working to create these films. The article is full of information and stories, and below are the best bits.

As you may know, the Before Trilogy started as a Linklater project. It was about how he met a woman one day and walked around Philadelphia all in one night. The script attracted actors Hawke and Delpy, but they had their own ideas on the romance. 

The cast and director sat in a room and made script changes together. This brought a reality to the story, but also balanced the perception of both characters. Instead of imagining what was in each of their heads, this collaboration let them know what was going on internally and focus on externalizing it through drama. 

Delpy: "Richard, Ethan, and I produced the script together, though Ethan and I weren’t credited for Before Sunrise. The process was totally collaborative: All three of us had to agree on ideas for scenes. That’s how we did Before Sunset and Before Midnight, too. If one of us hated something, it wouldn’t make the film. From the start, those guys wanted the balance of a proper female voice."

Respecting the voice and feedback of peers is vital in screenwriting. You want your story to be as authentic and emotionally honest as possible. If you're writing a character that's a different gender or ethnicity than your own, you need to take the time to get honest feedback from those people. Put in the effort, because it always pays off. 

Delpy: "Remembering that much dialogue was torture – and it was even worse with the longer takes on Before Sunset, which I had suggested doing in real time. I had been going through a bit of a difficult time in the early '00s, struggling to make films as a director and I’d had some health issues. But it wasn’t directly autobiographical: Like the director Krzysztof Kieślowski once told me, 'you take a seed of truth and make it a tree.'"

We may love writing or watching long speeches or walk and talks, but filmmakers also need to make their days and satisfy their shooting schedules. While the end result can be worth it, always keep your actors in mind and find the right way to do things. 

Not just the flowery one. 

Delpy: "These films speak to everyone, from adolescence to the end of life; they’re not just about Generation X. Really young people now even like Before Sunrise because they see their parents in Jesse and Céline. You see Ethan and I getting older as the series progresses. The films are really a study of time."

I was not able to see the first two Before movies in theaters, but I was able to see the third. It became a love story that grew up with me, and I find that I have different opinions on moments when I look back. It's funny to see such a natural trilogy spill from one perfect romantic movie. 

And its origin -- especially that of the second film -- seems so perfect, too. 

HawkeRichard turned up to a book signing I was doing in Austin and had a flash of an idea: What if Jesse had written a book about Céline, and she turned up to the signing? There’s definitely something autobiographical in that opening exchange at the bookshop about using your own life to create art -- and what the value of that is. You never really find the answers, but there’s a healthy healing process that comes from asking certain questions, and I hope the film asks them of me.

One of the most beautiful things about writing is that you can use it to tackle the deeper questions you have about life. It's enlightening to see how what Delpy, Linklater, and Hawke tackled how to translate what Jesse and Celine were dealing with on screen. Part of the reasons these movies work is because they feel so intimate and universal. But turns out they were not that easy to make.

HawkeThe third film, Before Midnight, was the hardest to make because the first two are about romantic projection. I felt it was important to do a corresponding film that was grounded in reality and the nature of love on a day-to-day basis. Could we make a film about a couple who’ve been together for years and raised kids, but still have it be romantic, without telling one lie? We weren’t sure the audience would like it -- you wouldn’t want to see a sequel to Titanic with Jack and Rose fighting.

This speaks to the leap of faith that is filmmaking. We often get wrangled into formulas that work, so we stay stagnant in them. 

But to make movies that resonate on the level that Before Midnight does, that comes from stepping far outside those stagnant and comfortable positions and reinventing what challenged us about the process in the first place. 

Still, there's grace in knowing when things need to come to an end. 

Hawke: "...There’s something about the trilogy that feels finished to me. Every time we make one of them, the stakes get higher. We wouldn’t want to pour any water in our beer. Which isn’t to say we couldn’t revisit Jesse and Céline; we muse on it sometimes. A fourth film would have to work in some way that broke the rhythm of this cycle, maybe to address mortality. But these three films have been a blessing in my life." 

What's next? Three Conversation Writing Tips From the 'Before' Trilogy

There is not a more romantic movie than Before Sunrise. Unless it's Before Sunset. Or Before Midnight. But aside from the romance, the conversations in these movies are what makes them sing. Click here to read more    

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