This interview, for me, is a true sign of personal accomplishment. I have been a huge fan of what this guy has done with film for many years. The way he has brought the conversations we have all had, to the screen, time and time again, is amazing. Most film makers attempt to snag a piece of life to tell a story, they attempt to portray events through dialogue and actions. Unfortunately, most fail. For this reason or that, the majority of celluloid out there is just wasted time and wasted space. That sounds harsh, eh? The majority of films that attempt to be real just come off as contrived or fake. Mr. Linklater’s films just cut deep into life experience. Whether it is a story about high school party kids or about twenty-something expatriates, the films are convincing. They hit close because they seem like memories, real or fabricated. While I realize that his works are mainly fiction- I don’t know, it just seems that his films somehow tap into and comment upon the reality that I know. What follows are the words that Wendy and I shared with the man. Enjoy.AD: So you quit college to work in an oil refinery- and then what happened?
RL: An oil platform, not a refinery, thank god- offshore oil rigs- a little better…Refineries sound very depressing.
AD: So what made you decide to be a film maker?
RL: Well, I was always a writer, you know. I’m an English major, who’s interested in all kinds of things. I think I was involved in the theater more at that point- I was only 20, so that was just a job, but that wasn’t who I was really. I just did that for a couple years and saved a bunch of money before I moved to Austin.
AD: What made you choose Austin?
RL: You know, at that time, this was in 83-84, there still was cheap rent, they were showing a lot of movies on campus, I had a lot of friends that had gone to school here… it just seemed like a good place to hang out.
AD: More of a college town-
RL: Yeah, I was just ready to get back in the swing of things. I had been kind of isolated in Houston just working and going to movies, so I bought some film equipment and moved to Austin. I thought I might get into film school here, but I never did- I got ahead of myself.
AD: Is it easier or harder for you to make a film now that you’re an established film maker?
RL: You know, for a while it was harder, now I’d say it’s easier. It just depends, you know- it’s easier to get people to work with me. Some things about it are easier, some are harder, but it’s ever-changing- it’s never been that hard. It’s just like an art form- people obsess on the economics of how hard it is to make a film, but it’s really not- it’s like, when a film’s time has come, you can get it made. People will always be able to get their first films made- if they’re meant to. It’s a struggle, but, you know, what isn’t?
AD: Did you study philosophy in school or is it what you have acquired?
RL: I remember I signed up for one philosophy class and I dropped it after 2 weeks. I couldn’t stand it- all they talked about was ethics- you know, it was about, should you make people wear motorcycle helmets or not? I couldn’t take it, so no, I never really studied formally; I’m just a weekend reader or whatever.
AD: I have always been a great fan of your philosophical dialogues- how do you come up with them?
RL: I don’t know- all of that probably stems from reading the philosophy or the history ofphilosophy. I don’t know, there’s really not a place in most films for it. You almost have to create a form for like, thinking people, you know, cinema’s not that geared for it, so it’s not a natural thing for cinema to have a bunch of thinking, contemplative people in it. I’ve had to create sort of formats for them, but I’ve always liked the monologue or the thoughtful character who can kind of philosophize a little bit. It’s always a struggle to get that in. But I think if you create a format where people can just talk, then they can talk about anything.
AD: How were some of the things you talked about in Waking Life stimulated? Did you get a group of people together in a room or did you write them down?
RL: Well, it’s different with different things. In Waking Life, I would say a third of that is stuff I wrote, a third is stuff that the characters themselves- that came from them, usually with me editing and rehearsing- it’s a lot of rehearsal, but I like sitting down with intelligent people and just kind of working up scenes. That’s a lot of fun. A lot of times, I would write a sample and then they would rewrite it with me and put it in their own words or add to it. I’ve always worked that way- Slacker, Dazed….You start with the idea- I am not so obsessed with the exact words, mainly just the ideas, and those can kind of take a real form. That’s the great thing about collaboration with someone, is you can both end up at a place you couldn’t have got to on your own. That’s why you collaborate, like a band, you build on each other’s ideas and so far surpass where you could have gotten alone- and I enjoy that, you know, if I didn’t, I would be doing something else. I am kind of by definition collaborative, and it’s fun.
AD: What’s important to you and what’s the most real thing about your life and your work?
RL: Two different things, maybe, life…. but I don’t even consider this work or a job or anything. It’s just something lucky to get to do. The more I do it, the more grateful I feel to get to do it. It’s not like a tough life or anything. It’s intense work, and it takes up a lot of time, and it kind of dominates your life, but it’s not anything you can complain about. I have this apparatus at my disposal, I get to articulate all these dreams and ideas…But the most real thing? I mean, working is real, it’s the way you spend your hours of your day, working with people you like. It is your life.
But, I mean, I have another life, I have 3 kids now. I just had twins; I’ve got an eleven year old daughter, that’s real. That’s like real real,
and this creating fiction in making a film… it sounds weird to say that’s real, but, I don’t know, it’s as real as anything else. Life’s weird, you just kind of go with it. You just sort of roll with it- like my personal life, I never wanted much of a personal life. I really didn’t. I just wanted to be lost inside of movies, so that’s come to me later. But I appreciate it, like the real world- I didn’t go looking for it, but it kind of crept up on me. The whole notion of a personal life…I think film is a good alternate life for those who don’t want the real world. The real world seemed like a drag- I remember seeing, even as a kid, just waiting for the bus to go to 3rd grade, just seeing people go to work in ties, and I was just like, “I’m never going to do that. I’d rather live in a hole in the ground.” I could never see myself fitting into the real world. I just feel lucky that I have something that…it’s a parallel world to the real world. But I’m lucky, I’m not hustling in the traditional way outside the economy. So, it’s a good place for people to hide, the arts in general. You create your own world, but that’s great. A lot of people could create their own world….Follow what you’re passionate about and if you’re lucky and a little smart, you can kind of make it work to be your life, and everybody is the better for it. With your paper, your readers are happy, you’re happy, there’s an exchange going on there. It’s kind of great.
AD: We saw Slacker last night and we were wondering- Austin has changed so much since then, that what do you think of the build up?
RL: How long have you guys lived here, what’s your Austin history?
AD: 5 years and 7 years.
RL: I’m in my 20th year, that’s not quite enough. There’s still some old guys that have been around forever….I never even saw Armadillo World Headquarters.
Certainly, physically, Austin has changed, but I don’t ever want to be one of those people who say “Oh, you missed it; Austin’s not what it used to be.” ‘Cause I like Austin more now,
I mean, there’s certainly things I miss. Certain details…I really miss some of the local locations that are no longer, but that’s the history of the world. Things go away. That’s painful, but that’s just like losing friends or loved ones. Les Amis…all these wonderful locations that you have a personal attachment to…Pretty soon, you just can’t look backwards. I remember when a place is going out of business, it’s sad, it’s like someone dying with a disease. It’s horrible, but what can any of us do? You can sit there and complain about it or you can get on with what is positive. Austin to me is a much more interesting place right now, or it has been for the last ten years.
I just think there’s more energy, there’s more going on, there’s more support for things. For example, the Austin Film Society- we were just this little organization showing films on a wall and now we’ve got a lot of support. That’s the good thing about the growth- we’re doing more than ever, we’re giving out money to film makers, we’ve got a newsletter, we’re showing more films than ever and most of them for free. So, we’re able, because of the new Austin, to do more. That would be the other side of the coin. It’s more commercial now, but there’s a lot more activity. So to me, it will always be a special place. I think the spirit’s the same in a way. You can lament the traffic all you want. Well, you know what? Avoid it! Gear your life where you don’t have to deal with it every day. That’s all you can do. If you have an 8 to 5 job and you’re going the wrong way, then you’re living in the wrong place.
AD: What does the Austin Film Society do?
RL: They show a lot of movies and support filmmakers. We’re doing more educational outreach. It’s your basic non-profit. We’ve kind of been in a real parallel with the Austin film culture that’s sort of been here all along. I’m proud of that.
AD: What do you think of Bush?
RL: (He laughs)…Of Bush? As we speak, I’m doing a move on .org spot or two- you know that anti-Bush organization- so I’m doing my part, or I’m trying to. It’s a crucial time right now. I could go on forever. I think we all have to do our part, those who aren’t happy with the way the U.S. is right now. And it is worse than it’s ever been in my lifetime. I’m 43 now…I’ve been in Europe recently and I’ve been around the world a lot in the last few years and it’s palpable how much we’re hated in the world right now. I’ve never felt that before and people are afraid of us and for good reason.
It’s just sad to see our country go from, you know, kind of charmingly dumb, but likable- like the popular football player who hosts the party and that you like, basically- to being just a bully. What happens to that bully? Eventually everybody gangs up on him and kicks the shit out of him- there’s no weeping for him.
I think that’s where our country is at right now. It’s horrible, I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams that it could shift so abruptly, quick….it seems like the worst thing you could ever do- to lead a country into a war, it’s a huge thing, even if it’s for a big cause, it’s a big deal…we’ve always been real hesitant. America entered WWII very late…we think we saved the world or something, but we came years after everybody else and we didn’t go into it until we were bombed. Hitler was taking over Europe and that had been going on for a while and we stayed out of that. And now? That was a demonstrable evil in the world, taking over countries, under a pretty rabid ideology and we didn’t do anything then until we were bombed into it and then we joined and did our part. We’re so far gone from that. We’re going to invade a country that has never done anything? Nothing? They’ve never raised a hand against us.
AD: So do you believe the situation in Iraq can be boiled down to dollar signs?
RL: Yeah, of course, at it’s fundamental core. If that place wasn’t floating on a sea of oil, obviously we wouldn’t be there. So it’s dollar signs and of course, control, too…let’s not forget- ideally, for those guys, it’s two-fold- it’s oil and power in that region. If it could be both a military base and an oil exporter, then that would be great. We’ve all woken up in Dick Cheney’s ideal world, his dream. We’re living in Dick Cheney’s dream; I want to be in my own dream.
AD: What do you think of Michael Moore?
RL: I’m really ready to see this new movie. I’ve known him a long time, actually, just here and there. I like him; he’s fighting the great fight, that’s for sure. It’s an important time, everybody’s got to do their bit- what I like about it (Fahrenheit 9-11) is that they’re putting it out there pretty boldly.
AD: What about by SXSW? It brings money to our town but it alienates the very artists it was set up to benefit in the first place. What do you think of SXSW?
RL: I think that there will always be that dynamic. I remember, even Ed Hall, a great band before you guys were here, in the 80s and early 90s…I remember that they were excluded from the early SXSW. They were one of the best true Austin punk kind of bands and they didn’t get in. They put signs up everywhere, Ed Hall did, SXSW sucks, Ed Hall doesn’t. You just want to go like this (fuck you) to the established order, so I kind of like that vibe. And there are always the anti-SXSW shirts. They’re a really interesting parallel to the event…that’s the true expression of everyone that’s not into that world. My heart goes out to that, but they don’t intentionally set out to do that. The people who organize it have to think in the big picture…like, it’s good for the general vibe…in the big picture, it’s always good, but you’re always gonna alienate and hurt people.
AD: Some are the haves and some are the have nots,,,,,
RL: Yeah, I haven’t been in that situation, but I would know what it’s like to be in a band that is not getting invited. It’s like , I’ve been turned down by a bunch of film festivals early on – I know the feeling.