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Mason Lorelei Patricia Patricia Mason Mason Ethan Ethan Patricia

Still Life


Dorothy Guerrero

photos by

Matt Lankes

A new photography book captures the aging process in the 12-year production of Boyhood.

Throughout the years he spent directing Boyhood, Richard Linklater kept finding himself in the same conversation. Someone would ask him about the plot of the movie, which was known in the early days as the Untitled 12-Year Project, and Linklater would describe its unusual concept: following a central character from kindergarten to his freshmen year in college, played by the same actor, who would age in front of our very eyes. As he outlined his groundbreaking idea, the person he was talking to would listen enthusiastically, nod his head and then inevitably say, “Yeah, but what happens in the movie?”

Linklater always had the same response. “Eh,” he would say, shrugging his shoulders, “nothing much.”


“There’s my life before I saw Boyhood and my life now, and it’s different. I know movies can do something that just last week I didn’t. They can make time visible.”

David Edelstein, New York Magazine

The Austin-based filmmaker behind Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Bernie told this story to a packed audience at the Texas Book Festival last October. He and a few members of the cast and crew were there for a panel discussion about a side project spawned by the film, Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film, a coffee-table book of photographs and essays recently published by UT Press.

As it turns out, plot is overrated. Boyhood, which was released last summer, was the best-reviewed film of 2014. It has a 99-percent “fresh” rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes and is now a rumored frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar. Some critics even seem to have a tough time explaining its powerful effect on them. “I’m not saying Boyhood is the greatest film I’ve ever seen, but I’m thinking there’s my life before I saw it and my life now, and it’s different,” David Edelstein wrote in New York magazine. “I know movies can do something that just last week I didn’t. They can make time visible.”

Mason Mason Mason Mason Mason Mason Mason Mason
Portraits of Eller Coltrane

Photographer Matt Lankes was hired early on in the production to take stills, but quickly realized that this was a rare opportunity to document the behind-the-scenes action of one of the most ambitious film projects ever attempted.

Each year the cast and crew would convene in Austin for roughly one week to shoot a new section of the script. At the book festival, Linklater referred to it as really “12 scripts, 12 processes, 12 films.” Legally, producers couldn’t ask the cast and crew to sign away their lives for 12 years straight, so the majority of them went without a contract. There was one critical exception: Ellar Coltrane, in the lead role of Mason, signed one contract for seven years and then another for five. It was a major creative risk, but year after year they kept coming back.

In the back of her mind, producer Cathleen Sutherland, BS ’04, was always a little worried that something might happen to completely thwart the production. It was her job to worry, but it was also her job to keep things moving along. “That’s one of those things you just put on a back shelf and try not to think about,” Sutherland says. “I focused more on the details at hand because we had a lot to do and not a lot of money.”

Set Pictures Set Pictures Set Pictures

Between takes, Lankes would pull aside the principal actors—Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Linklater’s daughter Lorelei, and Coltrane—and take black-and-white portraits of them in character. Over the course of the film, the art of digital photography evolved, but Lankes was a purist, using the same 4x5 field camera to keep the look “straight and simple.” Occasionally he would photograph members of the crew as well. The result was a library of more than 18,000 images, which was whittled down to around 200 for the book.

It’s hypnotic to watch the characters age in Boyhood. You can chart new lines on their faces and watch the look in their eyes change and harden as time drags on. Actors typically have only a few months to live with a role. Looking at these portraits, there is a strange time-lapse effect of watching character and actor blend indistinguishably into one another.

Patricia Patricia Patricia Patricia Patricia Patricia Patricia Patricia
Portraits of Patricia Arquette

“I think the book lets the viewer behind the curtain,” Lankes says. “It’s a glimpse at the reality of movie-making.”

A few weeks after the festival, at a party celebrating the release of the book, Lankes revealed that the project has gone on—long after shooting wrapped on the film. “Ellar and I are continuing to do portraits … once a year, kind of like we’ve done on the film.” He doesn’t know what it will turn into, or how long they’ll continue to shoot, but after spending so many years trying to make time visible—why stop now?

“There’s one thing I can promise you,” he said happily to the crowd, “whatever the project turns out to be, it won’t be called Manhood.”


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