Richard Linklater wrote the following article for The Austin Chronicle. The article was originally printed in their issue Volume XIII, No 4, dated September 24, 1993. Additional materials provided by Film School thru Commentaries, “an incredibly illuminating, relatable and one of the most inspiring commentaries you’ll hear. I’ve cut out only the moments where Linklater talks about his twenties, and the 9 years he self-educated himself in filmmaking. The fact that he has become a success on a worldwide level, is all the more inspiring.”
“On the eve of the nation-wide release of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, we asked the Austin-based filmmaker to reflect on the experience. Although shot here in Austin last summer, the movie was produced with Hollywood money. Rather different, we expected, from the financing and production of Linklater’s last outing, Slacker. We were curious about his impressions and thought, comparative experiences, lessons learned and, really anything he wanted to talk about. In many ways he gave us more than we really expected. What follows are Linklater’s reflections based on a journal he kept at the time. We are happy to reprint them here.” —Marjorie Baumgarten
DAZED YEAR ONE
Late August 1991
The “Slacker press tour” won’t end. New cities more interviews. I could see how it would be nice to have a film that opens everywhere at once and then be done with it. I start lying or making up things to most of the “same twenty questions” just to not feel like a robot. In an interview with Gary Arnold, who seems to truly get the film, I shoot 100% straight with him. When he asks the “what’s next?” question, instead of talking about a film about a worker who goes from “one shit job to the next” or one about, say, a group of young would-be U.S. terrorists who seriously attempt to destabilize our government, I mention what I’ve actually been working on and I am determined to do next: a teenage rock & roll movie that takes place on the last day of high school in 1976. I’ve been thinking about it and taking notes for several years already. I tell him I want to capture the moment-to-moment reality and energy of being a teenager. Like Slacker, it will have a lot of characters and not a lot of plot but if I set it in the Seventies, everyone will at least think it’s “about” something.
EARLY SEPTEMBER 1991
I get a call at my sister’s house from a guy at Universal Studios, Jim Jacks. He tells me Gary Arnold is an old friend and had told him how much he liked Slacker and a little bit about what I wanted to do next. “Sounds interesting… last day of school… 1976… high school…” He wants me to come out there and discuss it further. “Oh yeah, I saw Slacker at Sundance and really liked it, it was funny… but it’s not the kind of thing where we rush out to, you know… but this high school thing sounds like a real movie.” I agree to go out there. This is the studio that funds Spike Lee after all, and somebody’s got to pay for this. The music alone is going to cost a small fortune. I figure I was going to finish the script and then start the begging process that could drag on for God knows how long. Maybe this will become something—I really have to shoot it next summer.
A WEEK LATER 1991
Los Angeles, CA.
The first-class ticket, the limo, the Chateau Marmont… I’m having lunch at the Universal dining room with Jim Jacks. We’re going to have a more official meeting with more people later but, for now, we’re just shooting the shit. Jim looks the exact opposite of what I thought a Hollywood executive would look like. He’s large, no tie, not well-dressed—my kind of guy. “This sounds like it could be fairly low-budget, like eight or so?” That’s millions. “Yeah, it shouldn’t have to cost more than that,” I say nonchalantly. “That’s good. At that price the studio can’t really lose money, but (glancing around the plush surroundings) the studio isn’t in the business of breaking even. Anyway, can’t wait to hear your pitch.” Uh-oh. My pitch. Of course it’s Hollywood—they’re expecting me to hop up on the desk, get all serious, squint my eyes and peer through the rectangular movie screen ratio I’ve formed when I put my thumbs to my index fingers and then declare, “I see…” I can talk forever about this film, I just can’t act like some goofy salesman or cheerleader. I end up not having to do too much of a song and dance as we just kind of discuss the story. We’re joined by producer Sean Daniel, who used to be head of production at Universal for many years (The Player position) and now has his own company within the studio. I sense what everyone wants to talk about is the film’s inherent commercial potential and then hear me tell them how much it means to me personally. That’s always the correct Hollywood order—money, money and then maybe a decent movie that might mean something to you too. We talk about teen movies we’ve liked—I soon have to drop Over The Edge, River’s Edge and certainly Los Olvidados from my list of favorite teen movies. Rule No. 1: never like or discuss in positive terms a movie that didn’t make lots of money. A great movie that, maybe, breaks even isn’t any good until a decade later. And never mention that you might like foreign films—you’re an immediate suspect. So, for now, it’s the obligatory American Graffiti / Fast Times At Ridgemont High / Breakfast Club references. I kind of like being in a genre. It’s working for me. These guys are probably about as cool as it gets here in this town and I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to shopping the project around endlessly. They seem like guys who could get this thing pushed properly through a studio—they were (are) the studio. Sean talks about how they did Animal House when they were all very young and the studio just gave them a little money and said “What the hell, we don’t really get it, but go do it.” Something seems like it’s meant to be. We decide to proceed. I’ll get them a finished script as soon as I can.
I’m at the London film festival with Slacker but am a little nervous. I’ve brought along my 160-plus page first draft of the script. I’ve been writing and not looking back I haven’t read it yet but I’ll know after I do, even this early, rough draft, whether or not it’s going to be any good. The gist of it, the core, what you can’t create in even ten re-writes. Most movies spend so much time and money trying to be alchemists. But no amount of money or movie stars can turn lead into gold. I’ve sworn that I’ll never lie to myself when it comes to this. After staying up very late one night in my hotel room reading, I feel the exact way I would feel a year later when I watch a complex rough cut of the film: Cool, I really like this—this could be great. It’s important to be able to honestly think what you’re working on could be great—that you might actually be able to communicate the depth of what you are feeling in a successful way. There’s always a million things in your way, but you have to think that just in case everything goes right it could really work.
The reaction at the studio to the script is nothing but positive. When I ask if the pot smoking is going to be a problem, they say that “no one in Hollywood really considers marijuana much of a drug.” etc. Fine. I’ve got them positioned: I’m the independent guy and none of them want to play the role of the crass studio vulgarian stripping the film of it’s authenticity in a pathetic attempt to be more commercial. (I find out later they mostly save that shit for post-production). In the meantime, I’ve intentionally kept the script fairly long knowing they will have comments. As I continue to trim it down, I’ll let them think we’re making progress together—as one big happy family. Actually, almost everyone I’ve met in relation to this project seems pretty smart and has ideas that aren’t too far off-base. They seem to really like the project and think it will be fun… but why do so many of the movies that come out of this system suck so bad? I’ll find out along the way.
As the film is working its way through the studio maze, we basically proceed in Austin without them. Casting, initial location scouting, and research. Anne (Walker-McBay, co-producer) and I begin casting. Slacker style. She’s giving cards out to interesting looking teenagers, and we have some scouts in a few high schools handing out cards. We start having interviews with high school students, and it’s reassuring to discover that not much has changed since I was a teenager. “We hang out at the 7-Eleven parking lot until the cops come and then we go to this cul-de-sac under the freeway…” We’re basically looking for extras but feel some of the major roles will be discovered locally through this process. I remember months ago asking a casting agent in New York if there were any good teenage actors. She gave me a disgusted and adamant “No…None!” It must be a drag to get old, burned out, and out of touch. There’s no way there’s not tons of interesting young actors in this country—its just that not many are big stars yet and agents can’t make a big 10% off them. We’re determined to find them. Eventually, Don Phillips comes aboard as casting director, and we really get going nationally. Don is a madman who’s been in the business for years. He’s cast Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Animal House, Fast Times among others, and has just produced Melvin and Howard and more recently Indian Runner. He just loved the script, wanted to do it, and blew away the younger competition with sheer enthusiasm. He’s really jazzed about the possibility of us discovering lots of new talent, as he has done before. I love this guy. Anne continues to search Houston and Dallas, and eventually find several of our leads locally. I remember talking to Jim and Sean and telling them that I thought I had just met Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa) in an interview. Eight percent of the time you just know then when you meet them. Anne comes in the office all excited. She’s just handed out a card to a kid she’s flipping out over. “He’s great, he’s got long hair, he’s really cool. He’s 15 and he was walking out of Quackenbushs’s. I hope he calls back.” He does. She howls. “Guess what his name is? Wiley Wiggins! What a great name!” In all eight of our 24 major characters and the entire supporting cast are found in Texas. Most of the crew will be local, of course, with the exception of a few positions they have attitudes about (assistant director, certain department heads).
Universal has a deadline today. They have to officially greenlight the film or give it back to me so I can take it elsewhere. Paramount is interested if they aren’t. My lawyer and I negotiate an option, not a development deal (where they can fuck around for years and not do anything). They call in a panic and ask for an extension. The riots have broken out and they’re all running for their lives. I tell them that’s what they get for living in such a fucked-up town like L.A. but eventually let them slide a few days. Unfortunately, a few of them hirer Slacker. The chill is felt immediately. The dreaded art film word is everywhere now in relation to Dazed. I ask them if they’ve read the script lately. If I wanted to do an art film (whatever the fuck that means anyway), I wouldn’t be getting in bed with them.
They’re killing us on the budget. Cut it, cut it, trim, squeeze. That’s the way of the industry. Instead of giving you what you need to make the best film you can, they take it down to the “virtually impossible” level and ask you to make major compromises. Oh yeah, and still make that great film you talked about. Forget that in the big scheme of things we’re nothing, that the budget for Dazed is half of Tom Cruise’s salary or the amount that many of their films go over budget. Everyone at Universal is scared shitless of losing their jobs because they’ve cranked nothing but one big-budget turkey after another for about the last year: The Babe, Dr Giggles, Far and Away, the list continues. So they’ve determined to do their little jobs all the better and tighten their belts. Experienced directors with track records would tell them to get fucked, so it’s easier for them to focus on Dazed and the new kid even though that film has less than one-quarter of the budget of their average film. Cut scenes, defer your wages, do it in less days, cut the music budget. By the time we’re in production, we’re at war. It seems that once a studio commits to a project, they quit thinking qualitatively altogether. It’s a product. To them who don’t have to create the product or ultimately answer for its quality, they think it will be the exact same product regardless of how long it takes or what it costs or in what environment it gets made. They’re incapable of equating quality with maybe a film that does better at the box office. I feel they are treating me like I’m Michael Cimino doing a sequel to Heaven’s Gate. They’re naturally suspicious and paranoid about the director because he’s the one who can really fuck it up for them by being unreasonable or dragging his feet. But I’m like, hey I’ve made two feature length films for $3,000 and $23,000 respectively. I can’t believe it when I hear they think I’m being difficult. It seems I’ve made nothing but compromises. Plus, I don’t have a naturally indulgent or wasteful approach. I thought I was giving them what could be a commercial film on a very frugal budget, especially considering it’s a period piece. The lines are clearly drawn: all they care about is money and all I care about is wresting my movie from the jaws of their compromised, mediocrity machine.
After a two-week rehearsal period (I told them I needed three), we’re in production. Our ridiculous schedule means basically having to do a day and a half’s work every day. I go in with my shot list and get to spend lunch hearing how we can’t get all of it because we can’t have any overtime or meal penalties, etc. This kind of shit is the most obvious difference between this production and the making of Slacker. On this, time is money, and there’s not time to think or go very far with new inspirations—you better have it all going in. On Slacker, time was our least expensive commodity, and there was more room for variations on the original plan if it was an improvement. It’s not that I’m not happy the cast and crew are getting paid decently, it’s just that there needs to be room to go with what feels right at a certain moment and not feel like I’m stealing from someone. I tend to just go ahead and do it, and this drives the administrator-types nuts. The first assistant director is used to working on special effects movies where nobody gives a shit about the performances. This film lives or dies with the acting, and I need an atmosphere where everyone can do their best work. After three or four takes, I can tell he thinks I’m being wasteful if I do any more. Lee (Daniel, director of photography) hates the Ads and the few other ‘studio ass-kissers” who are sprinkled throughout the power chain and basically ignores them. This is bad because I need all these people communicating and working together. We’ve all been put in a pressure-cooker, and it’s interesting to see how everyone reacts. My job is to only give these unpleasant aspects a little of my real psychic space and concentrate on what the camera and the actors are doing. This is the fun part, this is what it is about. Trying to shield the actors from whatever bullshit restrictions are being placed on us and stay inspired and attuned to what the movie is and what it isn’t. I love this cast. There’s a real camaraderie among them and a sense that what we are doing is important. They keep me energized and optimistic, anything might happen—there are tons of talent ready to explode. It’s exciting to cultivate that. Matthew McConaughey (who plays high school has-been Wooderson) shows up a couple of weeks into the shoot (when we start nights), and I can feel the crew completely catch a groove that will be with us the rest of the way. “Alright, alright, alright,” I hear them start repeating after an inspired bit was improvised on his first night. The guys in the cast start doing these “rebel yells” before the big scenes with a lot of characters in them. It feels like we’re all on the right wavelength making the same movie.
Another two nights in one. At lunch, I get the typical lecture and opinions about what to cut out of the rest of the day, what we “don’t really need.” As is anyone other than myself should even be allowed to have an opinion on that—this is a perversion of filmmaking. Jim, whom I’ve learned to pretty much ignore when he’s on the set, is suddenly on a producer power roll. He has singled out as expendable on of my favorite shots, in which all the boys line up after the game and tell each other “good game”, over and over. It’s a fairly complex set-up and just one of those things I’ve always had in my mind for the sequence. And then he thinks we can do a super-rush job on what I have planned for a music montage of shots of all different angles and speeds in which the senior students catch Mitch after the game and paddle him in the brutal initiation ritual. And now it looks like I’m supposed to make these major compromises for both scenes. Then there’s the call from the two executives at Universal on the film. Everybody’s suddenly freaking about the language in the film—too many “fucks” by the boys, they’ve decided. Even the junior high boys are cursing now, they complain. Junior high boys curse quite a bit, I tell them. Not in ’76 they answer. Oh really? Must not have been the same ’76 I lived through. Theaters in the South won’t show the movie, they say. Oh, I forgot, people in the South don’t use bad language. I walk back to the set after lunch in a daze, as depressed as I’ve ever been in relation to this project. What could have been an interesting film is going to be a compromised piece of shit, and then at the end of the day, I’ll get blamed for the underachievement. Fuck ‘em all. I have a very frighteningly real urge to just keep walking, get in my car, and leave. If they have it in their minds how I should make a film, then maybe they should just do it themselves. Since we’re at a baseball field, the proper analogy hits me: they are sending me up to the plate with a size 28-inch bat and with two strikes on me but still expecting a homerun. As I walk by, I notice Wiley is on the pitcher’s mound working on his wind-up and pitch. Unlike his character Mitch, Wiley’s never really played baseball and can’t throw or catch at all convincingly. I’ve told him that through the use of a stunt double and close-ups of various details, I’ll have him looking like Roger Clemens before it’s all over—he just has to have a tough competitive expression. But he still looks fairly awkward and I know most actors would be embarrassed and have a horrible attitude about being the focus of the set and to not be good at what they’re supposed to be doing, take after take. But he’s nothing but professional and positive. I hear Wiley tell one of his friends, “If we have to stay out here all night, we’re going to get this right!” This sends a chill through me and brings me back to life. I’m moping around, ready to quit, and then I realize the people who matter are busting ass, for the film, for their commitment, and I owe my absolute best to all of them. Things have a way of turning on a dime. My script supervisor, Catherine Jelski, has convinced Jim why we need the “good game, good game” shot—important information, we can’t jump such geography without this shot as a transition, it won’t cut, etc. I know what she’s doing, and it works. My saying I need something to make a sequence work means nothing—I’m just being indulgent. But if a professional like her says it, they throw in the towel, thank God. I feel I’ll only have to put up with this kind of shit once in my life. Woe is me and the production—I end up getting all the field shots the way I want and a couple of weeks later, we have time to do the paddling shots properly, rock & rolling along.
As what seems like a hurricane waits for hours on just the other side of the field, we get our last hurried shots of the coach leaving and the gang taking off to get Aerosmith tickets at dawn. As soon as we get the last shot, it starts raining. A day later, we pick up a few shots and it’s a wrap. The Film Gods were on my side all along. We’re on time and under budget. Alma (Kuttruff, production manager) had socked it away in various places. Maybe this fact will help me when I have to ask for more money at some future point. I wish I were somehow more elated at the close of principal photography. I have mixes feelings, though I know there’s a good film here and can’t wait to get in the editing room. I think about most of the crew and what a great job everyone did and how I didn’t get to spend much casual time with them and must have seemed pretty aloof and unappreciative. I worry that everyone didn’t have a good time. Lee looks pretty beat up—he felt the brunt of it as much as anyone. I don’t have much to say to anyone at wrap. I never really got proper introductions to 40% of the crew, I know I’m supposed to initiate everything, but I’m kind of shy in that way. I don’t scream and criticize much, but I don’t lavish a lot of praise either. Some people do a lot of both. The Hollywood way is to be a total asshole and then send flowers or a nice gift after you’ve totally decimated someone. Great. Everyone really just wants to feel appreciated when they do a good job. You can bet I don’t get one “congratulations, thanks for coming in on budget, we’re all excited about the movie” type of call from anyone In L.A. I still feel badly about those whom I didn’t thank personally when I was actually so grateful, every day. I’ve learned a lot and plan to do a short, but important, list of things differently next film.
SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 1992
Austin Editing Room
Editing is a pure joy in comparison to the pressures and unpredictability of production. It’s strange but nice to be back in the normal world that has regular hours. I can go to movies on weekends, read a newspaper, or call old friends. The atmosphere in the editing room is cooperative and creative, I really like everyone I’m working with: Sandra, Don, Sheri, Wade and our interns Rob and Wendy. We’ve only been seeing each other in passing at dailies for the entire production—it’s good to finally get going together on bringing it to life. There are no daily or weekly deadlines, but Sandra sets goals for us and we tend to get everything done. I’m having fun with the music—I wake up most mornings with new ideas for song placement or new songs altogether. It’s satisfying to see certain sequences come together exactly the way I had in mind before production even started. The film is long, however, and will be painful cutting down to the right length.
Most of the song clearance are going fine. I’m talking regularly with my music supervisor in L.A., Harry Garfield. He’s a musician, knows a lot of people, and tells good stories of hanging out with many of the bands we’re trying to clear songs from. He’s been to Frank Zappa’s house twice and tells funny stories about a chimpanzee the Black Oak Arkansas guys had for years. Anyway, we know our toughest battle will be getting Led Zeppelin to give us a song. They never let their songs in movies, but we’re going to give it our best shot. I go out and meet the ZZ Top people and really like them a lot. I’m hoping to get several songs from their Fandango album.
We have our first obligatory preview to a half-full theater in some Dallas shopping center. The audience seems to really like it, but, of course, the critics emerge when it’s time to fill out those stupid cards. Everyone’s a Siskel or Ebert. Later, the company conducting the preview writes a letter to Universal trying to cover their ass for not filling up the theater. Instead of rightly saying there was a Cowboy game going on at the same time and maybe they shouldn’t have scheduled a suburban Dallas preview right then, they blame it on the film: no one thought it even sounded interesting enough to want to attend for free—there was nothing appealing about the Seventies, and no stars in the movie, so they were unable to even give the tickets away. Furthermore, when trying to explain why they didn’t get a response card from almost everyone in the audience, they, of course, don’t admit they forgot to tell everyone to wait after the show to fill out a card. Instead the audience “bolted” from their seats after the screening, apparently completely disappointed with the film. Welcome to an industry that’s all about not looking bad no matter who you have to fuck over in the process. And for this kind of bullshit Universal throws away about twenty grand per preview. It’s completely ludicrous—a total waste of cash. I don’t even bother to look at the cards—I don’t want to give them that power. I’m only concerned with how I feel watching with an audience and in that was it is helpful. You’re forced to confront your material in a big way when you know others are watching. You can no longer tell yourself something is working when it isn’t or that the film can’t be any shorter when you feel it dragging in spots. The worst thing now is, they want us to come to L.A. to keep editing and to prepare for the next preview. “It’s in the best interests of the picture.” Hmmm.
They’ve put us up at the “corporate living at its best” Oakwood Apartments in North Hollywood near Burbank. It’s like living in a hamster habitrail. Most people staying there are either lengthy visitors in the biz or people having marital problems. Their only market-niche is it’s a place you can move into and have “all the comforts of home” immediately: an answer machine, VCR, silverware, dishes, etc. It’s rare to ever have a conversation with anyone there—people just have these dull distant stares as they pass each other in the halls like ghosts in the night. The inside of this apartment is like being on a television set: rental-type furniture, fake plants, hotel-like art on the walls. I’m told Tim Burton answered the question “Where do you go when you want to be alone?” with “The Oakwood Apartments, because nobody will come visit you.” He’s right. The bigwigs at the studio whom I’ve basically never met want to see the movie. I keep hearing they’re thinking about the film being a Gramercy release. Gramercy is a new distribution company created by Universal (and co-owned by Polygram) and is to handle their more “specialized” releases. I hate this idea because after all the shit I’ve been through, I want it to go out big, like a typical studio release. I’ve always been driven by some perverse joy at the thought of the films playing all the malls of Bumfuk, U.S.A. Actually, the film is made, for those kids who live in Bumfuk. But Universal really wants to give a film to Gramercy to help them get started and Gramercy has been lobbying them for the film. I don’t want a specialized film release for Dazed. It’s not some marginal thing. They assure me Gramercy is set up so they can go “wide” with a film if they want. Basically, they say we’re getting the muscle of Universal for the screens and the special handling of Gramercy for the film. They all say how bad and unimaginative Universal’s marketing is and how they just wouldn’t “get” the film. Whatever, the powers-that-be have apparently already made up their minds, so that’s the deal regardless of what I might think. After this 10a.m.-Tuesday-morning, five people in attendance, executive screening, I’m told the reaction is: “There’s a really good film in there somewhere, keep working.” I realize this is a kind of brilliant Hollywood response. If the films turns out good (ie a hit), you knew it and were with it all along. If it ends up being not so good (ie not the big box office), you guys never quite got it to work right. Studio executives used to stand up and speak their gut responses—“this is awful” or “we’ve got a winner here.” It’s now all about playing all sides and covering your ass. To commit to something is to become vulnerable. I sense in the others who have been along at various points. They can’t really tell yet if Dazed might hurt or help their studio careers if they are fully aligned with it. I find out that the general feeling at the studio was not so good about the dailies (as if these people could judge very accurately what they are even looking at) and most of them put whatever weight they had behind other projects. Now that they’ve seen it with an audience, they’re trying to cautiously creep back on board, just in case…
After our latest Canoga Park preview, we have our first marketing meeting. Somewhere early on, somebody looks up and asks, so when should this film come out? I can’t believe these people about the obvious time this film should be in theaters. Since the film takes place on the last day of school and has that end of school energy, maybe it should come out a little before schools out? Russell Schwartz (Gramercy) says that’s not enough time, and the others seem to agree with him. He’s absolutely right—it isn’t enough time, if the first fucking time you’re thinking about it is here at breakfast in February. I was under a huge delusion. I thought these people actually did things in relation to the film when I’m not around. Maybe had meetings about such things and got that huge machine of theirs in gear. I know what I’m doing on this film, but what are all these people doing? I’m pissed. You can bet every other film they make has a release date practically set when they start production. I thought we were part of this process. And our subject matter is actually tied to a time of year. Unbelievable. The emperor has no clothes, or even a clue. Is this going to be the same wall of indifference and outright incompetence I encountered at the end of my Slacker journey (via the Orion Home Video idiots)? I guess that’s how it goes: at the end of all your years of hard work on a project, there is an incompetent (supposedly with your same interests) who is basically oblivious. It’s decided it should come out in the fall when school is back in session. The worst thing is that now whatever work we would have done to have the film come out in May will be spread out over a few more months. I’m underwhelmed.
MARCH / APRIL / MAY 1993
The Oakwood Apartments
Things are puttering along with us now on the back burner. Another Canoga Park preview, a few minutes trimmed here and there, a Pasadena preview, lots more money wasted. They sure are spending lots of money in post-production. There have been post-sound and music editors on for months. And they get paid a lot, and there’s not that much for them to be doing. I’m not getting paid shit—just my per diem of $75 a day of which I usually spend about $8. I save up the remainder and usually blow it on movie posters or put it towards the beautiful ’68 GTO I bought after production. I can kind of justify the indulgence if I see it as a payment to myself for being miserable in L.A. for so many months. I can watch movies (I screen Fassbinder’s 15 ½-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz over a three day period), read or maybe shoot some hoops up near the tennis courts, but I can’t write. I haven’t had one new thought or inspiration since I’ve been here. I can have conversations and my body basically functions, but for all practical purposes I’m a zombie. It’s all part of their plot to wear me down so I’ll let them do anything to the film. But no, there’s a part of me that is still functioning. It’s fuelled by a basic disgust and loathing that have become my constant companions. Even though they are wasting tons of cash, I’ve been assured that we can put our record advance toward our being able to pay for all the music I need. We’ve got 30 songs in the movie and it’s about $200,000 over our official budget figure (but $200,000 less than my original budget figure). In my mind, we’ve gotten good deals on most of the music and I’m under what I said it would cost. When they cut the music budget just before production started, they all assured me the studio routinely puts up additional money for music in the post-production phase, especially if music is a major element of the movie. Absolutely, no one would argue that music isn’t perhaps, the major element of the movie. It looks like the soundtrack deal will be an inside job and go to MCA Records. I’m disappointed when I’m told by the head of the soundtrack division, Kathy Nelson, that not only can they not put out a double CD, they can’t use more than 11 tracks on the soundtrack because of some royalty situation.
This is a drag because I had such high hopes for what the soundtrack could be. Though she didn’t mention it to me, she’s mentioned something to Harry, our L.A. music supervisor, about wanting to re-record a new band doing a Seventies song so that could go out as a single. I almost laugh but basically react in the same negative way I did to the notion of re-recording when someone brought it up long before production started. A big fat no way—the style and feel of the movie is that I want it to seem like it was made in 1976, and that would mean only songs from that period or before. No more discussion on such obvious, clear-cut aesthetic rules for the film. On another front, Jimmy Page says yes! After months of going through different channels and obligatory “no’s”, I finally get a package to him directly. It includes the clip from the movie where “Rock and Roll” is used and then a five-minute plea from me, personally (I put a video camera on myself and started begging), about how important Zeppelin is to the movie. I tell him I don’t blame him for not letting his songs in movies, they wouldn’t do them justice, but if he were ever going to, this would be the movie. It’s about his music in a way, and a tribute to an era in rock history that he ruled. It’s sincere and it works. Pleeeese, Jimmy. When the “yes” comes back, I feel like God has spoken. He told Harry that he saw how the song was important to the artist’s vision. Jimmy Page called me an artist! Jeesus… Now we have to get Plant and Jones to say yes but I’ve been told Page was always the difficult one and Plant is more of an industry kind of guy. In the meantime, we do our final mix with the song in, knowing that we can always go back and change things if necessary. Then we have a totally kick-ass preview in Marina Del Rey. It’s not that the others haven’t gotten good responses, it’s just that this one had the extra little energy that comes with a good sound mix. Everyone from the studio is there and comes up to me afterwards and congratulates me. The entire experience feels like a confirmation of something I have known all along but now the people that can actually make things happen are officially onboard. I leave L.A. feeling great for the first time. Maybe it’s because I’m leaving, maybe because everyone seems to be jazzed about the film. Anyway, I almost feel like kissing the ground at the Austin airport—I’ve been so happy to be back in town. I can think again…
No fucking way. I don’t believe what’s happening. They seem to be proceeding with this cover version thing. Apparently, some big cheese hitmaker-type guy at Geffen Records (an MCA family member) loves the movie and wants to piggyback one of his up-and-coming, lame metal bands with the film. Over the closing credits, they want their version of Grand Funk’s “We’re An American Band.” I like the song okay, but uggghhh. They send me this band’s CD somewhere along the way, and it’s like they just stepped out of Spinal Tap. There’s actually a song on it called “She Loves My Cock” without a hint of irony. Ohmigod, this isn’t happening. I’m sending daily faxes explaining in a nice way just how bad a thing this would be for the film. It’s not so much because it would be over the closing credits (even though the thought of that is unbearable to me), but rather that there would be a video with images from the film that would send out a completely wrong message as to what the film is about. Why can’t we just release an authentic song from the movie a la “Bohemian Rhapsody” if a video and single is what everyone wants so badly? I’ll help, my company will produce this video, just get off the re-recording idea. Please. But they’re set in stone. “It’ll be good for the film. It will help bring in the kids. It’ll be good for the album. The studio will get more excited about the project. Blah, blah, blah.” The unbelievable thing is that five people in on this deal from a corporate standpoint think it is an excellent idea. As my protests continue more loudly, spurred on by everyone I know and absolutely everyone outside this small corporate marriage who knows and is appalled by such an idea, I hear nothing back. No one’s returning my calls. I think they’re thinking that maybe I’ll just forget about it. Yeah.
When I come out to California these days, I fly coach, have to rent my own car and beg for reimbursement for the next six weeks, and when I get to my hotel, I usually have a reservation but no method of payment. It’s a long way from my limo-and Chateau Marmont days. I find out in a meeting that not only have they already gone into the recording studio and cut this song, but it’s a done deal, always has been. It was the terms of the album deal all along and our needed record advance is predicated on it. As Henry Hill narrates in Goodfellas, “this is the bad time.” So I’m trying to put this all together in my head. The people closest to me in this deal, acting in what they probably sincerely think is in their definition of the film’s best interests, have sold me down the river, big time, in the only way they could have. I’m numb, I have a meeting with Kathy Nelson. She feels she’s paid too high an advance for the soundtrack and wants this additional hook. It’s hopeless—the impenetrable corporation always wins out in the end. I used to think it was a photo finish, but now I’d have to say the music industry is at least 30% more slimy than the film industry. At least most film people at some point early on actually loved the film and wanted to do something good. This impulse is lost rather quickly, of course, as they soon give in to the ways of the corporate ogre they work for. I leave town with what I know are percolating stomach ulcers.
LATE JUNE 1993
A new thought hits me somewhere along the way and without further thought, I follow through on it. I send a letter to the band members themselves. I tell them it’s nothing personal, but this entire corporate takeover of my film has gone on totally behind my back and I just don’t feel re-recording a song is right for the movie, regardless of what band it is. I honestly, don’t know what the effect of this letter might be, but it feels right for the two creative entities involved, who are under similar corporate power, to have contact. I get a phone call from a neutral party several days later informing me that “everything has fallen apart.” They got my letter, pulled out of the deal (which I can only respect on an integrity level), and then the album deal collapsed. I know this is going to be a huge mess, but I don’t care—my budding stomach ulcers practically disappear instantaneously. No one will ever admit that MCA was looking for a way out of the deal all along. No, according to all, I apparently took it upon myself to try and back out of the deal I had agreed to (they tell this lie to everyone except me to my face), and the album deal has fallen apart as a consequence. I try to get another album deal that will cover the costs of the songs the film needs but it’s really late in the game.
Robert Plant says no. That’s a final no, after all the months of effort and going through every possible source or connection. I sent a similar video to the one I sent to Page. I’m not sure if Plant ever saw it himself. His “keepers” are much more negative and less helpful than Page’s. I’m even making desperate calls to his manager’s next-door neighbor in London. We’re out of time, so two days before the absolutely final mix, I throw in the Zeppelin towel. I’ve never worked so hard for something like this and not gotten it. I’ll boycott Plant for life. Even if he never really was too much involved with the decision, he’s responsible for the assholes around him he’s empowered to do this thinking. The official reason is that “it is in direct competition with his solo career.” Plant doing lame covers of old songs and uninspired new garbage is not much of a solo career. But, hey, by not having a Zeppelin tune in this movie, everyone will naturally forget that Zeppelin and Mr. Plant’s only viable blip on the music history’s scene ever existed. Then they will all run out and purchase this pathetically aging rock star’s (who still wants to look and act like he did 20 years ago) illustrious solo album. Yeah, right. It’s always the lesser talents who have the major attitudes. Everyone knows who the major architect behind Zeppelin was. One’s a musical genius, one’s a construction worker with a good voice. Lifetime boycott. But this is the least of my problems. The record company that wants to pick up the soundtrack, for not anywhere near what we were getting as a previous advance, has just cut their puny offer in half. More salt in the open wound. The reason they cut their offer? It seems Kathy Nelson herself got on the phone and bad-mouthed the project to the new label. I desperately want another company to pick it up for even one more dollar, so I can personally tell these criminals to bite a big fart. No takers. Cowards all. Oh God, let me never deal with the music industry in this way again. So we’re still plenty short in the money we need to pay for the songs. I’m banging my head against the wall asking what the fuck happened to all of our money (a few hundred thousand) in the contingency that was untouched by the film coming in under budget? Long gone in the wasteful post-production black hole. It’s amazing. When I had some control over spending during production and in our Austin editing phase, we were nothing but under budget. We move the film to L.A. and they start wasting so much money it’s unbelievable and completely out of my hands. We sit around for a week (with L.A. post-production costs running about thirty grand a week) waiting for a couple of executives to work it into their schedules to see the movie. They add additional previews and rent equipment and editing rooms and sound stages to themselves (what they refer to as “soft money”) and, of course, I never see what amount is being charged to the production. Now that we’re completely out of money, they are basically handing me the bill by telling me to cut songs out of the movie. I think studios are microcosms for our very own federal government in that they are brutally anti-human in their priorities. I was ashamed to have my name attached to the film as one of the producers when it was studio accountants and policies that enforce such bullshit.
Unlike every other director who works for Universal, I never had an assistant during the entire post-production period (“not in the budget”) so I get to spend my free time organizing and making phone calls that anyone could make in my behalf. But hey, a couple of hundred thou down the tube, no problem. They give me a list of songs they think I should cut—they’re either too expensive (Dylan’s “Hurricane”) or are “background songs” (Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do?”). My lawyer and I sit there for two days trying to get the studio to discuss alternatives to this proposed hatchet job on the film. No response other than either “pay for them yourself” or “cut them.” It’s obvious this is simply my punishment for the album deal. When I bring up their promises from before post-production (as they were cutting the music budget to an unrealistically low figure just so they could make a certain budget) to kick in more money for the music at this point, they return it to the fact that they had the money and I fucked up the deal. I say they should have told me before production that the additional money would only come at the price of the integrity of the film. They don’t understand this at all because they can’t really relate or believe in such things. It’s the bitter end, and they want some of my flesh, I can tell. We’re going into the final touch-up mix tomorrow and they are threatening to record some studio “Seventies-sounding guitar licks” to fill the background over six songs. Where the images are so carefully cut to “Hurricane” they are proposing laying in some “Seventies guitar licks” in its place? They actually go into the studio and record this music. They are serious, though I’m not so sure they don’t all get together in another room and laugh at this crude initiation ritual they are putting me through. I’m living through an abuse of power that is in every way analogous to that depicted in the film. That’s it, if they’re going to be terrorists and extortionists, I have but one card that can compete. How much would this film suffer if the writer/director was doing absolutely no publicity and perhaps trying to take his name off it? They don’t think I will do that. I inform them that I’m not mixing in those stupid instrumental bits and if they want to, I will consider that taking the film away from me and if that happens, I will be compelled to do what I had outlined previously. It’s a blinking contest and soon there is talk of my backend participation ultimately covering these costs. I think they think if the film ever makes money, I’ll be paying for these music costs out of my share. I guess it’s enough for them to feel I’m going to receive some “deferred punishment.” The gist of my thinking is now maybe what they wanted all along: I’m saying fuck the money, I don’t care if I ever make a fucking dime off this movie, just don’t mess it up for all time. It’s like being robber – take anything you want, just don’t hurt my family. I never sign anything regarding whatever we just agreed to, but I figure if it ever becomes an issue, we can go to court someday and compare lies all the way down the line. The important thing is that we get this final, final mix without cutting any songs or including any lame “Seventies licks” in the background. “Slow Ride” works fairly effectively in the credits, which saves us another song. Because of the nature of “Slow Ride: and its continual acceleration, it sounds as much like the ending of a concert as I could think of to have rolling over the final credits. Sloooowwww, riiiiide…
Flight Back To Austin
Though I don’t quite get a large percentage of what’s going on with the marketing of the film, I just want to think about the film itself, which now seems secure for the first time. I find some Zen moment in here somewhere—there will be rather lame marketing and then there will be film for all time—ready to reach whatever audience feels disposed to find it. I know everyone thinks I’m the snotnose who got everything he wanted and was a real jerk in the process, but they’ll never really know, nobody will, and at the end of the day it won’t matter. As I leave Los Angeles for the last time in relation to the production of Dazed And Confused, my thoughts drift to the words at the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s most recent masterpiece, Full Metal Jacket: “I was in a world of shit, but I was alive, and I wasn’t afraid…”
These are subjective, completely one-sided and personal impressions from various points along the Dazed and Confused path of the last two years. I know this one piece of venting brain-snot in no real way credits the many people who made Dazed what it is, it isn’t meant to. It probably isn’t even very accurate, depending on who you might talk to. I was merely trying to drop into this Dazed odyssey at certain points along the way and convey a little of what it’s been like. —Richard Linklater
This Actual Reality Pictures original documentary (directed by Kahane Corn) reunites the cast of Dazed and Confused and features behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the film. A decade after the hit comedy’s 1993 release, director Richard Linklater reunited the cast—Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg—to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the film that helped launch their careers. Now you can watch the cast look back on the movie that changed their lives and on the decade that has passed since.
Screenwriter must-read: Richard Linklater’s screenplay for Dazed and Confused [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available from the Criterion Collection in a new high-definition digital transfer of the director’s cut, supervised by Richard Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
The making of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. Photographed by Gabor Szitanyi © Gramercy Pictures, Alphaville Films, Detour Filmproduction. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.
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