Richard Linklater on Netflix Movie Apollo 10 1/2 – The Hollywood Reporter

Richard Linklater was on a soundstage at Austin’s Troublemaker Studios finishing up filming on his latest feature, the animated Apollo 10½, when he heard that the 2020 SXSW film festival would be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when the severity of the crisis dawned on him. “I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is real,’” says the director.

He wrapped Apollo’s 20-day shoot, drove home just outside of the city and settled in for lockdown and a long postproduction animation process.

Linklater’s film career is a study in patience. After all, this is the man who made a trilogy that spans nearly two decades (the Before movies that began with 1995’s Before Sunrise) and shot one feature over 12 years (2014’s Boyhood). Far from lamenting the COVID-induced slowdown, Linklater welcomed it. He says, “It was a great time to have a long-term project.”

Apollo 10½, which follows a young boy on his imagined journey to space alongside the Apollo 11 mission, is a convergence of multiple threads from the Linklater canon. From the outset, Linklater has been dedicated to documenting his own little corner of Texas, crossing off the decades like a temporal bingo card: After tackling the ’70s with 1993’s Dazed and Confusedthe ’80s with 2016’s Everybody Wants Some!! and the ’90s with his Gen X classic Slackerhe’s now taking on the ’60s with Apollo 10½.

For a short but seminal period, the Linklaters lived near NASA’s Mission Control in Houston as the country readied for the 1969 moon landing. “Most movies make [it] about the thing and not the people watching it,” he says. “But I was thinking, ‘Well, there were three people on the mission and 600 million watching it.’”

Reminiscence is a tricky business. “With nostalgia,” he adds, “you can’t look back pure. There was a lot of unhealthy and crazy stuff.” Kids in his film are shown getting paddled by teachers and chasing after trucks spewing DDT. “I didn’t want it to be smarmy nostalgic or too goofy. It has dark edges.” And what better way to mark that contrast than by drawing it? Animation, he thought, was “the right [way] to process this movie.”

While certain sequences in Apollo 10½ may recall his rotoscoped films from the early aughts, waking life and A Scanner Darkly, the movie is a mashup of techniques, from 2D to CG to live-action performance capture. The pic was filmed entirely in front of greenscreens, everything from a little league game to the family living room. “I felt like I was making a Marvel movie,” says Linklater. Linklater and his animation head Tommy Pallotta pulled inspiration from a variety of contemporary places— Kodachrome, Saturday morning cartoons Cronkite-era newsreel footage.

And Linklater is staying put in Houston for his next feature, this time a present-day rendering of the city. He describes the project as “a very contemporary piece that leans true crime” and hopes to begin filming in the Spring. But before this Apollo 10½ will premiere at SXSW two years after the fest’s eleventh-hour cancellation, ahead of an April 1 Netflix debut. When asked why the streamer was the right distributor, Linklater, creative director of Austin Film Society, which runs local indie-focused theater AFS Cinema, laughs: “Because they wanted to do it. That is always the right partner.”

This story first appeared in the March 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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