BEVERLY HILLS, California — During the rare moments he isn't slaving away on a movie set, filmmaker Richard Linklater spends his days sidestepping comparisons to Stanley Kubrick.
Floating effortlessly between the worlds of romance ("Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset"), comedy ("The School of Rock"), cult classics ("Dazed and Confused") and even animation ("Waking Life," "A Scanner Darkly"), the affable writer/director is most comfortable when he's wearing his trademark T-shirt and shorts — and when audiences can't figure out how he'll come at them next.
Like Kubrick — and other movie masters such as Billy Wilder, William Wyler or Steven Spielberg — Linklater is more determined to leave behind a diverse body of work than a barrage of blockbusters. And while nobody can predict how history will remember him just yet, the 46-year-old director is making sure of one thing: People will still see his movies in the year 2013.
"I'm in my fifth year of a 12-year project," the "Fast Food Nation" director said recently about the ambitious project he and his small crew have been calling "The 12-Year Movie" or "Boyhood." It's a flick that could turn out to be unlike anything ever attempted before — and at a time when people are chronicling their own daily decay with YouTube montages, Linklater is aiming to depict the stages of life even more vividly.
Every year, Linklater has a quasi-family reunion with aging A-listers Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and, along with a skeleton crew of behind-the-scenes loyalists, shoots scenes that will someday be pasted together to create an exploration into adolescence. Alongside young actor Ellar Salmon (who is briefly glimpsed in "Nation"), the group gets together annually to film Linklater's script about a troubled young boy who will eventually grow into a college freshman.
"Every year, I get together with the actors and we film a little bit," he grinned, thinking about his annual ritual. "It's about a kid growing up — that's the gist of it."
Shot in a documentary-looking style, "Boyhood" will tell the story of two divorced parents trying to raise their precocious kid. Focusing mainly on the bond between mother and son, Linklater hopes to capture the unique dependence shift that occurs between an aging child and parent — and Salmon and his remarkably understanding real-life parents have been along for the ride since the director came up with the idea a half-decade ago.
"I haven't even put the math to it yet," he laughed when asked if we should anticipate a 2013 or 2014 release. "I just know that we have fun every year getting together and doing this."
Similarly, Linklater had fun casting Hawke and Arquette in "Fast Food" roles that might creep out future audiences. "Ethan and Patricia, they play divorced parents [in 'Boyhood'], but it's perversely fascinating that they play brother and sister [in 'Nation'], so in seven or eight years from now, if that film gets finished, someone could look back and be weirded out."
The closest a movie has seemingly come to anything like "Boyhood" is English director Michael Apted's "Up" series, which has been following the lives of 14 children since 1963. Following decades of marriage, divorce and drama, the series has revisited them loyally every seven years, from "Seven Up!" to last year's "49 Up." Coincidentally enough, Salmon was the same age as Apted's subjects when he began Linklater's project.
"It's a crazy idea, but it's been an interesting process," said Linklater, who somehow gathered financing from investors who won't see a return for nearly two decades. "I'm always looking for a different way to tell a story, and that seemed like a great way to show someone growing up."
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