Richard Linklater on the Promising Future for Film Distribution:
It’s failure of the system to not meet people at the place they would want
Art & Experience: Richard Linklater has been making movies for over 20 years, but even as the business has changed a lot since he first started, he’s still watching movies in theaters. This week, the Austin Film Society — which Linklater himself founded 30 years ago — celebrates its anniversary by launching a series of films handpicked by the filmmaker. Earlier this week, Linklater shared his thoughts on the six titles in the program. In these further excerpts from his conversations with Indiewire, Linklater — whose next film, “Everybody Wants Some,” opens next year — spoke in broader terms about the future of the movie going experience in the digital age.
It’s no secret that more and more people watch movies at home. Yet here you are programming a film series with prints. What do you make of emerging platforms for distribution?
You know, this is what we always dreamed of. The films that you grew up on 30 years ago — it’s like, god, wouldn’t it be great to see those films? There’s that cinephile’s quest to see every film or at least have the ability to see every film. Not everything was on video. There was more on DVD, and there’s so much now. So I guess now that they’re all out there, all these formats, it’s frustrating to look for things and still not find them. When you hear that everything’s available, it’s true except for that one film you really want to see that you’ve been looking for.
I like that it’s almost all available. I’ve got a badass home theater situation, so I enjoy it. But what I really enjoy more than anything is like these film series showings of a 35mm print with an audience of a couple hundred, or however many want to show up to a special screening, and the sense of community in the darkened theater. That will forever be important.
Netflix’s Ted Sarandos has said that over three million people watched “Beasts of No Nation” on the platform. What do you those figures say to you?
Well, as a filmmaker, I like that at least they announced that three million people saw it. Because then you start putting in numbers and saying, “Damn, that’s a pretty good opening weekend box office.” If you attached $10 to each of those three million people, that’s a nice, successful hit for a film of that subject matter. That’s great. It’s hard. The theatrical marketplace is a challenge. What do you have to do to get someone to purchase a movie ticket to your movie? You have to do something that they’ve never seen before, you’ve got to enthrall them in a new way. I mean, look what you have to do to get anyone’s attention.
You must be really happy to be working with studio support for your next movie, then.
I really am. It is a very independent-spirited film, but we’re being distributed by Paramount. We’re not there yet, but it will be very cool when it’s out there in the world and people know about it. Like hey, this weekend, this big raucous college comedy is opening — if you’re in the mood, go see that. They just might. That would be cool, because there’s so many films where [the studios] are like, “I don’t know if the public is going to rush out to see that.” They’re not wrong. But if people will stay home on a Saturday night, they’ll load a film up and push play, and that’s a whole other thing. I think that’s great. There’s a kind of film for that. And I think that it breaks down, pretty simply, to movies that are about adults that are more serious. We all know it. A certain kind of film is a big theatrical film and a certain kind of film isn’t. It doesn’t bother me so much that you can pick your format.
So you’re saying it’s healthy for the future of the business?
When that was all heating up a while back, like, “Oh, it’ll be the end of film,” I was like, no. I remember when my own films opened in New York and L.A., that you knew were never going to make it to Ohio or a small town anywhere else. But I was that guy in that town where nothing played. You had to pick what you were going to drive 70 miles to see, and if I could have pushed a button and seen it the weekend that the rest of the world was seeing it, that’s kind of cool. We all forget that when you live in a town that has choices, a lot of people don’t have choices. So it never bothered me to meet people at the format that suits them best.
I think it’s inevitable — it’s where we’re going, and I don’t want to be too snobby about it. I remember when I made “A Scanner Darkly,” going, “I hope people see it in theater — but I think it’s going to be seen in someone’s room at two in the morning.” It’s that kind of movie. And I would have loved if it had been available on multiple formats at the moment it opened. That would have been great. But it just gets the indie release that kind of is and isn’t. And then it gets downloaded on BitTorrent a couple of million times, and then the producers don’t make any money. So it’s kind of a failure of the system to not meet people at the place they would want to see it.
At the end of the day, you just want more viewers.
Yeah, I think you have to adapt. I mean, you’re in a pretty privileged spot if you can sit back and say, “No, you can only see my film in theaters or on 35mm.” That hasn’t been the reality for so long. I can see where people are threatened in the bigger picture. I think the day that the big theatrical film, the sequel to the big hit — when they decide to go Netflix only, then maybe something is weird, maybe the theatrical thing is threatened in a way that might not be healthy. If everybody stays in their own sandbox, maybe that works.
This is why the insular world of the film festival circuit is such a comfortable place.
The real market realities are always kind of depressing and very rarely exciting. They’re just more of something to adapt to. But I think things are no longer caught in the undertow of ‘08, ‘09, ‘10, when it felt like everything had sort of gone away completely. I’m liking all of this even though I haven’t specifically made a deal or benefited from any of it. I’m liking the Amazon, Netflix, HBO possibilities out there. I think it’s exciting. I’m happy that people are watching “Beast of No Nation.” To me, that’s a huge success story.