25. April 2022 Johannes Wolters

The INDAC Interview with director Richard Linklater about „Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood“ [Netflix]

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[Die deutsche Übersetzung des Interviews wurde vom FILMDIENST veröffentlicht: https://www.filmdienst.de/artikel/54007/richard-linklater-interview-apollo-10-1-2]

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Richard Linklaters new animated feature film about  growing up in Houston, Texas in the late 1960´s near NASA Headquarters is a brilliant story about the magic of childhood and the power of imagination. In a 20 min Zoom Interview  I tried to find out as much as possible about the director, his film and his way of filmmaking.

As I am not a native speaker there will be some spelling catastrophies, please let me know, if you find some and I will try to fix those with your help! Please enjoy the interview! I would love to get your feedback – send it to info@indac.org

The film can be seen here: https://www.netflix.com/title/81161042

The animation studio is Submarine:

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood

Question: I love your film. I was born into a family with seven children and I was the youngest one. But I was born roundabout ten years later then Stan, the kid in the film. Still I was reminded of so many memories of my own upbringing while watching the film. And I laughed and cried through the whole film. – Are you familiar with Thomas Wolfe´s novel „You can´t go home again?

Richard Linklater: Sure.

Question: Wolfe wrote „You can´t go home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting.“  – Somehow you managed to do it in a brilliant way. How did you do that?

Richard Linklater: I definetely did! If I have one thing in this world I have a specific memory of everything, you know! I have a Thomas Wolfe-Memory of every detail. But I am a filmmaker. (laughs) But it is funny how memory works. Its serves you at a certain time, you know, I think, you are exploring it at any time you wish – for whatever current reasons that you have. And I just thought that was an interesting moment to have been a kid. An interesting time and place – I mean, it always is, when you are a kid – no matter where you are growing up. But I just happened to live near Nasa at this very historical moment – so I thought this is an interesting angle to tell this childhood story in the shadow of NASA and the Apollo programm. So, but it is not point by point autobiographical, like my father did not work at NASA, but lots of my friend´s parents did, you know, that kind of a thing. So I am still trying to tell an entertaining story. It is a memory movie film for sure, as well as a memory fantasy and a recreation, so it is a lot of threads to me weaving through the whole thing.

Question: How did you develop this form of narration?

Richard Linklater: Well, I wanted to balance the kid point of view with the adult memory also – to process it over the years. It seems so kind and innocent and one sided to do just the kid´s point of view – to me that is too naive, too childlike. I wanted to get whatever that is, but also with an adult irony and critique – because that is what my memory has to offer is to point out the ironies, how things change, you know. Because that is your memory, your present day take on your past experience – so I felt, I wanted to share that more then anything. Because that is the angle on which to see the events. I think. Like you are being told a story: you are never told a story in the present tense, it is always a story of something in the past – and then the narrator has the right, the obligation to slant that or to point out certain elements – from all the elements he could be pointing out he is pointing out these elements for what reasons only he knows.

Question: With that, you arrive at a certain innocent, impartial point of view of the narration. For instance, you show the familyroom, where everybody is sitting in front of the television. Vicky is sitting far left, the father is sitting far right, the rest of the family is sitting in the middle, there is no further comment…, all coming together in harmony to watch the moment when Armstrong climbs down to the moon surface.

Richard Linklater: Exactly. I liked that! [laughs] The left and the right! You got that! Vicky, the young generation gap, the budding hippie – the father, who is not super right wing, he is just status quo, like all those guys, you know. Back then we did not really know what people´s politics were.

Question: Being from Germany, I had to look up „Square“ I did not know that idiom.

Richard Linklater: Square! Yes, that word was a more fifities, sixties expression, it was gone by the Seventies. But if you see Marlon Brando´s „The Wild One“ : he calls the girls, that he is flirting with „Man, are you square!“ That was kind of an old beatnik, Fifties expression – „Square!“

Question: You are very kind to the father. You show him somehow as a child himself with short trousers and his very special enthusiasm. Could you have done this film without being a father yourself?

Richard Linklater: Oh no, I would not have done this. I think, the various movies I have done with kids I probably would not have been interested in, had I not not been a parent myself. Because once you are a parent, it kind of makes you look at your own upbringing kind of critically. it gets you thinking about your own childhood as you go through your kid´s maturation, you can help but place yourself at their age, when you are dealing with them and that kind of brings out the critic in you about your parents,about the culture, everything. So, yeah, I can´t imagine, I would have done any movies with kids… But, maybe, maybe… But it wouldn´t have been the same. Parenting… Its easy to make fun of parents. But once you are a parent you kind of realize, oh they are just bumbling through, they are trying to figure it out, doing their best, you know.

Question: Did you somehow rebel against your parents at some point?

Richard Linklater: Ahem, a little bit, Mine was kind of an introverted rebellion. It was more like an artistic rebellion not so much a physical rebellion. I was involved. in things so that I could not rebell to far, go so far, you know, I played sports. I was on teams, you would not quit school, or doing anything too radical. So my rebellion was more artistic. I am fortunate, that my parents if not outright supportive like my mom, they were both fairly supportive of what I had the ambition of doing – being a writer, expressing myself. You know, my dad was a little more practical – like, so I did not finish college – he was like „Oh, maybe you might going back to College“ – practical advise. Neither one ever like took me on and criticized me too much in my dreams. I think, that is all you need. Its one thing to not to have a lot of support, but to not have someone who is actively forging your ambitions – .I did not have that! I am thankful for all that!

Question: Does the boy in film differ from yourself ?

Richard Linklater: Not much difference. He is closer to me then let´s say then the kid from „Boyhood“! That kid did not play Little League Baseball, had no sportive side. That kid is more like an artist´s kid. Whereas this kid is a little more sports and outdoor. Here I wanted to portray a kind of free range childhood before adults supervised everything kids did. You were just left alone! Kind of the exuberance of being a kid without a lot of supervision at that time was pretty much fun! Stan represents that to some degree!

Question: The way you start the film is brlliant. You start with the idea, that NASA build the spaceship much too small and then after around five, ten minutes into the film you stop and start with this documetary-like narration about your childhood. I loved it. Its fantastic suited for the medium of animation. When did you decide to do an animated feature film?

Richard Linklater: Good Question! It started of… I think when I first started the film years ago, it was live action. The film I was making in my head, the film I was imagining, was not really working. I think Live Action somehow belittled the movie, made it seem kind of silly. I don´t know, it seemed to far fetched. Whereas Animated is closer to kind of fantasy. Fantasy, reality, creativity – it all meets in the head somewhere. I think people would be less critical and more likely to believe the story. As much as it even demands to be believed. It would be experientally kind of interesting to take it in from that perspective. So, I do not know. Once I thought of it as Animation, it became really cool! Animation has an upbeat feel. Its almost like Saturday Morning Cartoons. There is something buoyant about animation and Jack Black´s narration. I wanted to keep it kind of on that pitch of fun, I guess . Because the film does cover a lot of ground, its not all fun. But memories could be like that. If you are in a good mood. I just felt, this is right way it should look and feel.

Question. How hard is it to do a film with out an antagonist, a nemesis?

Richard Linklater: [Laughs] You know I never think about that. I was thinking, life is the antagonist in a way. Because there is danger everywhere. From a kid´s point of view at this time, the Sovietunion could drop a hydrogen bomb on you, or you could get a bone broken. There was always danger and punishment around,so I felt that is plenty of antagonism. Because when you are a kid there is plenty of antagonism in the world, even if you are not bullied. Stan is powerless, he is the youngest, he is neglected, he is not complaining about it. – it is just so hard to be a young human being in the world, so you do not need to add on a bully, an immidiate threat. Everything is a threat!

Question: When did you reach the final edit?

Richard Linklater: Well, you know, you shoot it, you have a script, which to me it was like writing music or something. What scene flows from what scene and what comes next? I had thought about it for a long time, I had a lot of scenes in mind. And I don´t remember feeling it was difficult. Because in addition to my own memories I was also doing a lot of research on the specifics of the Apollo 11 mission. So a lot of the script is actual transcipts, when it comes to the NASA mission side of the movie. A lot of that was almost documentary realism. I was taking exact words from newscasters and mision control or astronauts. That part was more of a historical research project. And then all that personal stuff in the family. again that was pretty easy: because it was largely my own memory just kind of put into a form, that i felt, that it flowed properly. But then it was like any other movie: You cast, you rehearse, you rewrite, you shoot – we shot it on a green screen for about twenty days, it is a pretty simple shoot in a certain way. We then started editing. And editing is probably the trickiest part, because that is the part where you add music and Jack Black´s narration. But you know, we are still sticking with the script. And trying to make it work and shape it. I don´t know.

I don´t think, any part is difficult, Its very much like each part is a process that you have to master, you have to maximize your potential in every aspect. It took a while, for sure. And then the animation – that is a 20 month process of 150 people and 100 000 hours of human labor… For me it is a communication. How do you communicate with so many people, to keep anybody making the same movie. But it was great challenge and a fun film to do during the pandemic.

Question: You seemed to have many, many memories, I would have liked to listen more. But in the end you had to choose some memories over others. How difficult has this been?

Richard Linklater: Right! Well, you limit it to a time. This is a very specific time. I can jump one year into the future, and I would have a whole other movie of memories of that year. I could do this forever. It would be some kind of proustian novel. But I am a filmmaker….

Question: It seems so alive the way you are telling it…

Richard Linklater: Oh, thank you very much! I wanted it to be alive.I wanted to tranport people to a certain place and feel what it felt like to be alive. I think that is the goal. Just to make it feel what it was like… I mean, isn´t this what we are all doing with art? What it felt like to be human at a certain time and to communicate the expierence, what we are perceiving and experiencing. I get that out from all art – from one vantage point, from one angle, telling one story, you can imply the world, but it is still within the confints of a time and a a place and a viewpoint, I guess…

Question: While watching it, I had the feeling, the film was made just for me! Who is your targetaudience?

Richard Linklater: You know, I showed the film to a bunch of people who are over 80 years old the other day at an assisted living facilit- they all had walkers… They loved it. That was the time they had lived through. They all had very specific memories… And I showed it to younger people.who, . they were nowhere near being born near this time – decades, decades away. And they had a different look at it. So I think, you put something into the world…. To answer you question: I am making it for everybody! Truly everybody! I hope, I think, everyone can maybe find their way into it. And yet I know for a fact. People are gonna have very different points of entry. And points of view based on their own experience. Your advantage, you found connecting tissue. You are in a large family, you are the youngest. For me that is art. you find your way into stories and art. you are looking for an entry point. So I think that entry point. culturally, historically, and then from a family viewpoint: It is there, if people choose to jump into it! For me it was a universal story. Because it is so layered in specificity of a time and a place, that I thought, its been proven to me over and over in films I have done that the more specific I get, the more honest I get about a time and a place, an event that people relate to it, even if they could not possibly been there themselves. I believe in the power of art and communication!

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