From co-directors Louis Black and Karen Bernstein and airing on PBS, American Masters: Richard Linklater – dream is destiny is an unconventional and in-depth look at the fiercely independent style of filmmaking that emerged out of Austin, Texas in the late 1980s and 1990s, and the role that Richard Linklater played in it, as his career evolved. It features never-before-seen archival footage, early journal writings and new interviews with the writer/director/producer, along with some of the actors he’s worked with, including Matthew McConaughey, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Jack Black.
During this interview with Collider, filmmakers Louis Black and Karen Bernstein talked about how this documentary came about, why they felt the legacy of Richard Linklater was worth exploring, why he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, as a filmmaker, how his love of humanity comes through all of his films, what he’s like on set, the process of editing so many hours of footage and interviews, and what it was like to get Linklater’s feedback on the finished film.
Collider: How did this documentary come about? What was it that inspired you to want to delve into Richard Linklater, as a filmmaker?
KAREN BERNSTEIN: I had worked at American Masters for years, in the ‘90s, so when I go to a new place, I look around and think about the people I would be most interested in pitching to American Masters, as a documentary biography. When I originally started pitching, in early 2001, the older leadership of American Masters didn’t really look at this as having great potential because Richard Linklater was just too new. The legacy hadn’t really bloomed, as yet. But I kept the fire burning and I remember talking to Rick about it, and he had his trademark modest reaction to it. And then, I started talking to Louis [Black] about it because I thought this was a way of bringing a whole history of arts in Austin into the fold, to talk about that accessibility and the collaborative nature of Austin. That was in 2014, and it was great timing because Rick was doing what become Everybody Wants Some, which is sort of the sequel to Dazed and Confused. I thought there was a lot of potential there, thematically, and Louis agreed, so we just started filming.
LOUIS BLACK: I’ve produced films, but this is the first one that I’ve co-directed. It’s really interesting how many discussions we actually had about that. When you produce a film, somebody else is making it, but we were making this. Part of it was about, how much do we include and how much do we leave out, because there’s so much, but I thought it ended up working out okay. So much of it ended up coming from Rick, who decided to stay after Slacker. Tobe Hooper did The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and went to L.A. Eagle Pennell went to L.A. Robert Rodriguez did El Mariachi and went to L.A., but then came back. But, Rick stayed.
You’ve said that when you asked him about doing this, he didn’t say no, but that’s not necessarily saying yes either.
BLACK: We were being a little bit coy there. Rick doesn’t do anything that he doesn’t want to do, and he loves the idea that he never said yes. In Austin, you’ve got Terry Malick and you’ve got Rick, and they don’t like to talk about themselves. Rick does more publicity than Terry, and Terry’s not a recluse, but he really wants it to be about the movie.
BERNSTEIN: Especially by his own admission, his personal life is not really that interesting.
BLACK: Rick really wants to make movies. Some people make movies because they want to be powerful or get laid. They want that ride. Rick wants to make movies. He really wants to make movies. And his films seem so autobiographical because they seem personal, but that’s part of his art.
BERNSTEIN: One of the things I’ve always admired about Rick is that he could be a great documentary filmmaker because there is that love of “real people” and he brings that to each of his films. It may not necessarily be about him, but it’s about being a human, and that love of humanity comes through in all of his films. I think he really genuinely loves aspects of being human.
Why do you think Richard Linklater doesn’t get the recognition that he deserves, as a filmmaker?
BLACK: I think some of it is because of Austin. He’s not in L.A. or New York, so he doesn’t run in those circles. I think if he was less of a filmmaker, he would get more recognition. The fact is that he does so many things, and does them so remarkably well. If you look at Kevin Smith – and personally, I like Kevin a lot – he has a ton of books written about him because he’s easy to write about. With a lot of filmmakers, you know what you’re going to get. If I went into a theater and saw Last Flag Flying, I would not guess it was Rick. Knowing it’s Rick, you relish so much of it, but it’s not a standard Rick film, in any way. It’s amazing! He’s one of my favorite filmmakers. I used to say that Dazed and Confused was almost as good as American Graffiti, but now I think American Graffiti is artificial and not even close. Dazed was a masterpiece.
What’s it like to actually get to see him on set, doing his thing?
BLACK: I think the most surprising thing is how low-key he is. He knows what he wants and he’s going to get it, but he listens to everybody. He wants to hear everybody’s ideas, and then he picks the best ones. He knows what he’s going after. Rick always rehearses, and when he’s on the set, it’s collaborative, but he’s clearly the author. There’s no question. It’s a group effort, but there’s one guy creating the film.
BERNSTEIN: We spent so much time on the set of Everybody Wants Some!! and saw the evolution from script reading, all the way through. It was really fantastic to watch. One of the things that everybody said was that the actual filming was a real smooth transition. There wasn’t a point at which Rick said, “Action!” They just flowed into the filming, which was remarkable to watch. The other thing that really struck me about watching Rick on set is that he has that baseball player’s level of intensity. He is focused on the game. It was very clear to me that I was not to ask him to even pass the sugar. Maybe he’ll take a break and say hello to you, but you know that you’re not to ask him a question when he’s in the midst of filming.