While many films can boast a lengthy filming and production process, Boyhood has them all beat. This movie, which was released on July 11, 2014, began filming in 2002 and didn’t stop until 12 years later. Director Richard Linklater and the actors, producers, and everyone else involved in the film wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Their method was deceptively simple, even if the execution was anything but. They set out to capture childhood, and the process of growing, up in its most raw and authentic way. Read on to find out how Linklater’s vision and practice unfolded into the acclaimed film Boyhood has become.
Born from Personal Experience
The idea for Boyhood came to Linklater in 1994 when he became a first-time father. Becoming a parent gave Linklater a chance to experience childhood from a new perspective, observing every gradual change from the eyes of an adult. While Linklater knew he wanted to capture these years and the phases and changes that took place in the evolution of childhood, it took him two years to pin down just how he wanted to do it. Once he finalized the details, Boyhood began its lengthy production.
One of the biggest hurdles for the film was finding cast members willing to commit to a film like this. Actors Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette (who play the divorced parents to main character Mason and his sister Samantha) eagerly signed-on to become a part of this unique movie, and Linklater cast his daughter Lorelai to play their daughter, Samantha. Finding the right child to play the main character, Mason, proved to be a bit more difficult, not to mention a significant risk, but few would deny they ended up making the right choice.
An Unprecedented Method
Linklater auditioned hundreds of boys to play the role of Mason, but once he discovered Ellar Coltrane, he knew that he had found the right actor to play the part. Linklater remembers Coltrane being different from the other actors, in that he wasn’t eager to please, but was instead a moody, mysterious, and enigmatic child. All of these were traits that Linklater wanted his character to have, adding to the authenticity that his vision required.
The way Linklater chose to go about filming Boyhood helped him to authentically capture every small, mundane, and ordinary piece of childhood he needed in order to illustrate the essence of growing up. In order to make sure the film stayed true and innocent, he made sure that Coltrane did as well; Linklater made it a priority to get to know about Coltrane and his life, and to only film events and experiences that Coltrane had already experienced.
So if, for example, Linklater learned that Coltrane had a girlfriend, then he would know it was time to film a kissing scene. The director also made sure that Coltrane didn’t see any of the filming until the movie was completed. He did this to ensure that Coltrane never became self-conscious of his acting and also never had an inflated ego, which can often happen to child stars when they realize their role.
When Does the Story End?
So where do you end a story like this? Do we follow Coltrane all the way through to his college years and beyond, when his childhood struggles give way to balancing checkbooks and worrying about worker’s compensation?
While there was an ending and a progression in mind for the film, the script and minor details changed along the way, as is par for the course for a 12-year-long filming experience. However, all of the actors knew that each year they would devote at least a month to producing the film: three weeks to rehearse and three to four days to shoot. After years of this schedule and process, Linklater’s vision was realized and debuted this summer.
As one of this year’s (decade’s?) most poignant and introspective films, Boyhood brings to light the evolution of childhood, from innocence to skepticism to eventual adulthood. The artistic compilation of the everyday, mundane parts of childhood that ultimately shape identity gives viewers the chance to think back on their childhood – or forward to their children’s – to gain a more thoughtful understanding of that period. While the process to get to the completion of Boyhood certainly wasn’t short, it was definitely worth the wait.