Writer and director
Born Richard Stuart Linklater, July 30, 1960, in Houston, TX; children: three daughters. Education: Attended Sam Houston State University, c. 1980.
Addresses: Contact—Austin Film Society, 1901 E. 51st St., Austin, TX 78723. Home—Austin, TX. Office—Detour Film Production, 3109 N. I-35, Austin, TX 78702.
Writer and director of films, including: It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, 1988; Slacker, 1991; Dazed and Confused, 1993; Before Sunrise, 1995; The Newton Boys, 1998; Waking Life, 2001; Before Sunset, 2004; Fast Food Nation, 2006; A Scanner Darkly, 2006. Director of films, including: SubUrbia, 1996; Tape, 2001; The School of Rock, 2003; Bad News Bears, 2005.
Member: Austin Film Society founder and artistic director, 1985–.
Awards: Silver Bear Award for best director, Berlin Film Festival, for Before Sunrise, 1995; "CinemAvvenire" Award for best film, Venice Film Festival, for Waking Life, 2001; best animated feature film, Ottawa International Film Festival, for Waking Life, 2002.
Self-taught film writer and director Richard Linklater hit the cinema radar in 1991 with Slacker, an offbeat film that followed the lives of a group of bohemians over a 24-hour period. Since then, Linklater has been toggling between making studio films and indies that mostly tap into real-life countercultures. In 15 years of filmmaking, Linklater produced more than a dozen films and earned legions of diehard fans. He is also revered by the actors who work with him. "He was the most laid-back, competent director I'd ever worked with," three-time Linklater film actor Ethan Hawke told the Houston Chronicle's Ron Dicker. "You know the stereotype of the director as mad man pulling his hair out, fighting for his dreams? Rick lets everything come to him."
Linklater was born on July 30, 1960, in Houston, Texas. His parents separated when he was seven and he spent most of his childhood living with his mom in the small, working-class Texas town of Huntsville, home to Sam Houston State University. His mother taught at Sam Houston and his stepfather worked as a prison guard at the state penitentiary there. Growing up Linklater played football, though his real passion lay in baseball. For his senior year, Linklater moved to Houston to live with his father so he could attend Bellaire High School because the school's baseball team had a great reputation.
Though he was young, Linklater easily discerned the differences between the small-town life of his early childhood and the big-city life in Houston, where his grandmother took him to museums and the symphony. Experiencing such different city cultures impacted Linklater and he later drew on those memories in his films. Linklater hit .400 his senior year and snapped up a scholarship to Sam Houston State to play baseball. Linklater intended to become a professional baseball player and writer. His baseball career, however, ended after two seasons at Sam Houston when he became bothered by an arrhythmic heart condition, which prevented him from running.
More than 25 years later, Linklater continued to play ball recreationally. Linklater is friends with the University of Texas Longhorns' baseball coach and each year, he takes time out of his filmmaking schedule to work out with the team. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly's Gregory Kirschling, Linklater described his passion for the sport this way: "I love baseball, I really do. I've talked to guys on the [Longhorns]. I said, 'You know, I've been all over the world, I've done all this s***, and I assure you, hitting a baseball is maybe the best thing about life."
Had he stayed in college, Linklater would have graduated in 1982. Instead, he quit to work on an offshore oil rig, commuting by helicopter from Houston to the Gulf of Mexico. During those two years working on the rig and having little responsibility, Linklater had the opportunity to find himself. "It was something good to do at that age, so unexpected, what no one wanted me to do," Linklater told Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert. "But that set a tone for the rest of my twenties. Maybe the rest of my life. Stay in school was the advice from everyone. I learned early on: Listen to all the advice, get a consensus, and then kind of do the opposite."
It was during this time period that Linklater first became interested in film. When he was not working offshore, Linklater spent his time at the theaters, watching up to four films a day and living mostly as a social recluse. He basically inundated himself with the film culture by watching and reading as much about it as possible. Linklater would watch movies, then go home and read articles about the directors, as well as reviews. In time, Linklater began thinking he could write movies and eventually came to believe he could make them. Linklater saved up his money and eventually purchased a Super 8 camera, a projector, and some editing equipment.
Linklater experimented with the equipment and made countless shorts. He shot lots of footage, then edited all night, sometimes blacking out his windows so he could edit his material for 48 hours straight. In 1985, Linklater moved to Austin and began working on his first real movie, It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. Released in 1988, the semi-autobiographical film follows a young man trying to find himself. Linklater's interest in film also prompted him to start the Austin Film Society. Founded in 1985, the society works to bring non-mainstream films to the area, particularly films from around the world. Each year, the film society brings in about 100 films. Over the years, it has also doled out more than $400,000 to aspiring Texas filmmakers.
In 1991, Linklater released his first full-length movie, Slacker, which he made for $23,000. A virtually plotless tale, Slacker follows the lives of some young adult bohemians as they move through a day in their lives. The movie, a hit at Sundance, touched off a 1990s renaissance in independent filmmaking and earned Linklater a cult-like following among Gen-Xers.
Linklater followed with 1993's Dazed and Confused, a playful film that follows a group of often-stoned high school students. Linklater is quick to admit the movie was inspired by his small-town Texas upbringing and that he did, indeed, go through a pot-smoking period. Linklater has noted that many facets of the film came directly from Huntsville, including the pool hall that was featured, as well as the high school initiation rituals. The film also showcased Linklater's uncanny ability to spot up-and-coming talent. Dazed and Confused helped jumpstart the careers of Matthew McConaughey, Renee Zellweger, Parker Posey, and Ben Affleck.
Next came 1995's Before Sunrise, a more light-hearted tale that follows a man and woman who meet on a train ride and have a one-night stand in Vienna. Linklater's first flop came with The Newton Boys in 1998. The movie was a Western gangster film starring McConaughey and Affleck. It flopped at the box office and suddenly, Linklater could not find any financial backers for his films. Not to be discouraged, Linklater went back to his low-budget, self-produced movies. He grabbed a digital video camera and shot 2001's Tape, a movie that features three friends sitting around a hotel room discussing a date-rape incident from their distant past. During that time period, Linklater also shot the footage he would later animate and turn into Waking Life, also released in 2001. Speaking to Time's Joel Stein, Linklater recalled those dark years. "I was back to square one. There I was with my little videotape walking around the streets of Austin with my friends. I'm sure I'll be there again. Life is cyclical."
After its release, Waking Life garnered Linklater further critical attention, creating a buzz for both its content and style. To make the film, Linklater taped monologues and conversations with a digital camera. Next, he animated the film using an innovative technique called rotoscoping in which artists took the digital film and used computers to color over each frame, giving the film the appearance of a photo-realistic comic book. The movie itself follows a man through both his waking and dreaming states as he contemplates life's deepest mysteries. The animation technique gave the film an authentic dreamscape quality.
Both Tape and Waking Life rejuvenated interest in Linklater and he was called upon to direct the studio film The School of Rock. Released in 2003, the film tells the tale of a slacker musician named Dewey Finn—played by Jack Black—who gets kicked out of his band and finds work as a substitute teacher in an uppity prep school. The kids become interested in Finn's music and together, they put together a song for a Battle of the Bands competition. The comedy was highly popular and, with studio backing, was his biggest-budget film. He made it for less than $30 million, though it grossed $81 million. After School of Rock, Linklater was tapped to produce a remake of the 1970s baseball comedy Bad News Bears, starring Billy Bob Thornton as the team's drunken baseball coach. The movie received lukewarm reviews upon its release in 2005.
At the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Linklater became the first director in the history of the festival's 59 years to showcase two films during the event. Even noteworthy directors such as Martin Scorsese had never accomplished such a feat. Linklater showed Fast Food Nation and A Scanner Darkly. Fast Food Nation, based on a non-fiction book by Eric Schlosser, highlights the darker side of fast-food manufacturing. The vegetarian Linklater filmed some of the footage inside a slaughterhouse. The film takes a look at mass-produced food through the lens of worker exploitation, environmental destruction, and animal cruelty.
The other film Linklater previewed, A Scanner Darkly, was considered an artistic victory. Based on a 1977 novel by Philip K. Dick, Scanner tells the dark side of the drug world. Dick, whose science-fiction writing inspired such films as Blade Runner and Minority Report, struggled with drugs before dying in 1982 at age 53.
Scanner is a fun but darkly cautionary tale about drug use. Speaking to the San Diego Union-Tribune's James Hebert, Linklater said a goal of his for the movie was that it would show how good people could get involved in the drug culture in the first place. He hoped to give outsiders a glimpse into the complexity of the problem. "You can have fun for a while, but the cost … it can go so paranoid, so dark, and so tragic so quickly," he said. The film also delves into government surveillance, a technique employed in the drug war the movie chronicles.
Like Waking Life, the production of the movie involved rotoscoping. The animation technique helped create the surreal, messed-up mindscapes described in the book. Animated stars included Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. The movie opened in Los Angeles and New York City in July of 2006, earning $23,000 per screen its debut weekend, though it opened against the most-hyped movie of the summer, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Starring Johnny Depp, Pirates' per-screen earnings were $32,800.
As a director, Linklater is known for being reasonable and open to suggestions from everyone involved. "I'm just sort of the ringleader of a lot of creative energies," Linklater told Reverse Shot. "Inevitably that's what a director does. I think that's why I'm doing this in the first place, why I'm not sitting in a room writing alone. What I live for is mixing it up with other people and artists, having a good time and expressing ourselves. It's sort of like I create the sandbox, but I'm inviting people to come and play in it."
As far as the future is concerned, Linklater intends to make many more films. He has plenty of ideas swirling around in his head. Linklater is considering a jazz movie set in the 1950s. He is also interested in producing a college comedy, or perhaps a movie about a group of Vietnam vets, one with a son in Iraq. He is also interested in doing a prison film.
Whatever he decides to do, Linklater will do it from his home base of Austin, Texas. Linklater has his own production company there, called Detour Film Productions. He has no intention of getting anywhere near Hollywood. Speaking to the Australian's Sandy George, Linklater put it this way, "Not living in L.A. means I have less awareness of the industry and don't think about per-screen averages every weekend. I like not to think about the industry, or film as a product. It keeps the delusion alive that it is about art, not commerce."
Australian, October 11, 2006, sec. Arts/Film, p. 12.
Entertainment Weekly, July 22, 2005, pp. 28-32.
Houston Chronicle, May 24, 2006, sec. Star, p. 1.
San Diego Union-Tribune, July 14, 2006, p. E1.
Time, July 18, 2005, p. 64.
Washington Post, July 16, 2006, p. N1.
"A Conversation with Richard Linklater," Reverse Shot Online, http://www.reverseshot.com/legacy/summer04/linklater1.html (October 5, 2006).
"Richard Linklater," Texas Monthly, http://www.texasmonthly.com/preview/2005-12-01/whereimfrom6.php (October 5, 2006).