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Richard Linklater's Indie Epic

The director on his newest film, "Boyhood."

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If time were money, Boyhood would cost as much as any summer blockbuster. Its total budget probably couldn’t cover Godzilla’s hair and makeup costs, but director Richard Linklater took all the time he needed to shoot his film about a young boy coming of age in modern-day Texas. In 2002, he cast six-year-old Ellar Coltrane as his thoughtful protagonist, Mason, and Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and his daughter Lorelei as Mason’s endearingly fractured family. Then Linklater, now 54, filmed off and on for 12 years so that we would see Mason literally grow before our eyes in one long, time-lapse narrative.

Only Linklater (Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy) would see a decade-in-the-making movie as the simplest solution to an artistic problem: How do you make a film about childhood? “I couldn’t pick one moment, and all my ideas were spanning so many years,” he says. “I had just about given up when this idea hit me.”

With only his ending in mind, Linklater filmed in bursts, using the long downtime to see what inspiration he and his cast could draw from their unfolding lives. As a result, the film has a riffy, impressionistic feel. Still, Link­later meticulously crafted and rehearsed the scenes, insisting, “It wasn’t total free jazz; it was old school bebop.”

In the course of two hours and 45 minutes—and 12 years—we see Mason transform into the quintessential Linklater protagonist: philosophical, profane and effervescent. Not merely a film about childhood, Boyhood ends up as the story of an artist finding his voice. Boyhood opens in Los Angeles and New York on July 11.

Web Extra: Q&A With Richard Linklater

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