Richard Linklater Talks Zac Efron, ‘School of Rock 2,’ Future of Filmmaking

When Richard Linklater directed School of Rock — the first truly commercial success of his career — you’d think he’d stay in the world of profitable, A-list comedy. After all, the paychecks are bigger than what you’d make for say, directing a film that features Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy discussing abstraction and truth, uninterrupted on the streets of Paris. But Linklater has always followed his own path, and despite making some of the most memorable films of the last twenty years (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life), the director still struggles to get projects off the ground. I recently had the chance to speak to Linklater from his home in Austin, where we discussed his latest documentary, his upcoming period piece Me and Orson Welles starring Zac Efron and Claire Danes, and anything and everything about the movie business.

Can you tell us about your new documentary, Inning by Inning: Portrait of a Coach? It’s a documentary that fits into the portrait subgenre, and it’s a depiction of a really interesting baseball coach who worked with the University of Texas Longhorns. He has an incredible career on paper, but that’s really not what he’s about. He’s a pretty fascinating cat. I think I was trying to transcend sports in a way. If you don’t like baseball, it still might have something to say about your life. Sports metaphors are always good for that. I just found out about this script that finished called That’s What I’m Talking About. It just got put on the shelf? Yeah, it’s definitely on hold. It’s pretty heartbreaking, but the industry is really bad off right now. Everybody I know, it’s like you think you have it bad, and then you hear their sob story. So I was like, gosh a low budget college comedy that’s kind of a follow-up to …

Dazed and Confused? You know, it just doesn’t make any sense. The industry is so shitty, it’s just beyond all comprehension. I had it financed, I was just in search of a distributor. It shows how much the industry has evaporated.

Are you hopeful that it’s going to get made eventually? Yeah, I’m pretty sure it will at some time, it’s hard to say when. It’s kind of like, when will the economy recover? Someday. It could be ten years, it could be 18 months. It’s a guessing game. It’s just a weird time. It’s one of those times that I think I pay for my outsider status, not really having that many friends inside the industry. When things tighten up, I fall off the list pretty quickly.

When you see a movie like Transformers 2 make $200 million in five days, how does that make you feel? That’s the tip of the industry that’s working just fine. We’re living in the age of big-budget success. Studios have really figured it out.

Is that a part of the business you ever want to be involved in, given the opportunity? What, to do Tranformers 5? No.

But there are a lot of directors with artistic integrity that have gone into the blockbuster business. Well, it’s not so cut and dry. There’s a real grey area there, but I think the bigger the film and the bigger the superhero, that’s what’s working right now.

Given that state, are you interested in making something like School of Rock 2? Um, yeah. My forays into comedies like Bad News Bears and School of Rock, I enjoy that. I like making a comedy. School of Rock 2 however, is its own very slowly evolving thing that isn’t there yet.

Is there a script for it? Well, I’m not interested in doing School of Rock 2. Jack and I do talk about it, and if we sort of cracked it, it might be worth revisiting, but you have to do it for the right reasons, you know?

Is there something recently you’ve turned down as a script and its was directed by someone else and it ended up being successful? Yeah, that happens a lot, but I don’t regret any of that because if I didn’t have a deep feeling for the subject-matter — at that level I’ve got to feel like I’m the only person, I’ve got to be at the quick end of the necessary self-delusion that I’m the only guy that could pull this off. You’ve got to feel like you’re perfectly cast for the subject matter.

I feel like something like Superbad would be a perfect kind of foray into the mainstream for you. Yeah, that’s kind of more in my comedy world, I can do that.

Your films were a precursor to those movies. In some ways. They’re definitely in the ball park, like Dazed is in that comedy universe that I don’t know if I’m exactly welcomed in. I don’t think I’m kicked out, but I’m not a full-time member. They don’t send you a memo or a membership card, so I don’t know if I’m welcomed, or if I’m a pleasant surprise. I’d like to think I’m welcome everywhere, but I don’t know. Maybe I’m unwelcome everywhere. In my own self-deluded world. I feel like I’m a free agent and I’m welcome everywhere. It’s important for me to think that.

What do you think about the future of film technology, in terms of the proliferation of 3D and IMAX? Do you think these benefit the medium, or are they detracting from its purity? It’s all exciting and good. You’ve got to push the technologies and see where they take you. It’s up to the artist to figure out what’s best. Hollywood’s always faced this, whether it was sound, color, or cinemascope. A gimmick to one person becomes color on another artist’s palette. Where you get in trouble is in absolutes. Like in the 1950s, studios were like, “absolutely every movie here will be in 3D, this is the future.” I’m for no rules at all, but endless possibilities. But look at some of the best films of the past few years, and the most interesting filmmakers, they’re filming at a real small scale and it’s not about technology.

You just finished shooting Me and Orson Welles with Zac Efron and Claire Danes. How was that experience? Beautiful. It’s coming out this fall. I couldn’t be more happy with it. And Zac is fantastic. He worked really hard. I know it’s always boring when people say how great everyone is they work with, but Zac’s the real deal and he’s going to have a really long career, because he’s meant to be here.

So he’s not just a song and dance man? He’s too talented, he’s too much a natural. I’ve never met anyone less conflicted about performing. He’s just born to do what he’s doing. And he’s really smart, and he works hard. He has a good family. I’d say his foundation is such that he’s not going to be a fuck up and sabotage himself.

What kind of person flames out? Usually people who do that are the ones who feel like they haven’t worked hard and really have had it hoisted on them. They’re picked out of a line, suddenly you’re in the public eye, and think maybe you don’t deserve it or something.

Was there any mobbing on set, because Robert Pattinson is getting it like crazy in New York right now. Yeah, Zac attracts that same mob, but he handles it pretty well. How can you take it seriously? The age range of that mob is pretty young. It just shows you there’s not a lot going on in the physical world for a lot of people. People like showing up and being excited about something. It’s kind of fun to hear that squeal of young girls, I never really heard it before in person. When they encounter Zac Efron, it’s just a pitch range that I haven’t heard in my lifetime.

Do you feel that Fast Food Nation didn’t get as much attention as it deserved, considering it was based on a bestseller, it had a star-studded cast, and premiered at Cannes? Well, I’m not sure about that word “deserve.” I don’t know what’s deserved or not in this world. But the fact is, the distributor that distributed it pretty much made sure that all that stuff never happened. So when it starts there, there’s pretty much nothing you can do.

Why do you think that is and how does that make you feel? It’s the trickle-down effect in the industry right now. The bar is so high even in the indie world. It used to be an indie film that grossed $3 million would be a huge hit. Now they won’t even touch it if they don’t think it can gross potentially $50 to 60 million.

When a movie like Juno or Slumdog Millionaire makes a lot of money, people say it’s great for the industry because its letting more of these films smaller films get made, but it sounds like it’s actually the opposite. It’s actually bad for the industry, because at the end of the day, they’ll spend so much on getting a film like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine to make all this money, that they’ll spend $40 million, just like a studio film. And then the bar gets raised to an astronomical level. What’s lacking is a bunch of new distributors who are ok with—to use the baseball analogy—a bunch of singles and doubles, rather than the proverbial $80 million home run. Fuck, I don’t know what I’m saying, whatever. I would be happy to have one of those indie successes, but Fast Food Nation was not going to be one of them. It was not the feel-good movie that people were looking for.

Out of all your films, is there one that you’re least proud of. or more proud of than the others? Believe it or not, not really. I feel remarkably similar about all my work, which is very kind of wonderful. I don’t have any antagonist relationships to any of my movies. I like all of them. I’m not saying they’re all the same or anything, but I have similar working methods on all of them, a similar approach, a similar vibe.

What are your favorite restaurants to go to in Austin? It’s this veggie Mexican food place, a healthy Mexican place, just about a mile on the East side on Cesar Chavez Avenue. It’s called Mr. Natural. It’s a healthy Mexican little buffet. It’s wonderful. It’s been there forever. It’s too good to be true. It’s a quick little buffet, you’re eating within like four minutes of when you walk in the door.

What about bars? I don’t know, I don’t go out so much anymore. There’s a lot of bars coming and going. I just go where I’m dragged.
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