With Richard Linklater’s fantastic new movie, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, now streaming on Netflix, I recently got to speak to the writer-director about making his latest animated film. If you haven’t seen the trailers, Apollo 10 ½ takes place in Houston, Texas, in the summer of 1969, and follows a kid growing up in the shadow of NASA.
Like many of Linklater’s previous films, Apollo 10 ½ is loaded with very specific time and place memories that makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. Linklater has an amazing ability to remember small moments, like how kids used to drive in the back of a truck with no seat belts on the highway, or what it was like for a family to watch TV in the living room when everyone had to share one set with no remote, and how the family dynamic was back in the ’60s.
While everyone remembers their childhood, it’s like Linklater filmed his and decided to share it with us.
During the interview, Linklater talked about how he manages to remember everything that’s happened to him, how things were in the ’60s versus today, how he originally thought of making this as a live-action film and why he changed to animation, why he loved working with Netflix, how they filmed the movie, recording Jack Black’s narration, and more. In addition, he talked about the status of a Before Midnight sequel, future projects (like one he wrote with Glen Powell during the pandemic), how he manages to film projects that no one knows about, and if he’s interested in telling a longer story on a streamer.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood also features the voice cast of Milo Coy, Lee Eddy, Bill Wise, Natalie L’Amoreaux, Josh Wiggins, Sam Chipman, Jessica Brynn Cohen, Danielle Guilbot, Zachary Levi, and Glen Powell.
Check out what he had to say below.
COLLIDER: First of all, congrats on the movie. I loved it.
RICHARD LINKLATER: Oh, thank you.
I’m super happy to be talking to you about it, but I have a few other questions first before we get into the movie. If someone has actually never seen any of your movies before, what is the first one you want them watching and why?
LINKLATER: Ooh, that’s a good question. I don’t know. It really depends on the person. If they’re 14 or 10, I would say School of Rock or something. But if they’re some hipster 25-year-old, I might start with …
That’s a good question. I don’t know, man. If you want to blow their mind in a certain way, Waking Life, maybe, or Slacker. When I do an artist that… I try to do chronological, just sort of start at the beginning, but that’s an easy answer, maybe.
Which of your films changed the most in the editing room versus what you expected?
LINKLATER: Oh, that’s actually easy. Almost none of my films have become something I didn’t expect, but the one I had the most malleability, I could move scenes around and kind of have fun with chronological order and stuff like that, is Waking Life. Scenes I thought would be summational at the end, I put early, and I was able to really … Because of the structure of that kind of allowed it. If you’re telling a more conventional story, you can’t really do that.
I’m a big architecture guy. It’s all set, it’s all outlined, and then the looseness is within the tight structure. That’s usually how my films are. There’s actually a tight structure there. But Waking Life, I found I could do that. I could float around.
With that material, that makes complete sense. What is the status of some of your previous films getting a 4K release?
LINKLATER: I don’t know. It doesn’t really come up much. I don’t know what precipitates that, if it’s an interest or the company. I don’t know. Nothing to report on that.
You manage to always be shooting things that nobody knows about. It’s like somehow, everyone involved keeps the secret. So, I just have to ask you, how many different things are going on right now that we don’t know about?
LINKLATER: The one that should be a secret isn’t, that I’ve started a long term… I mean, it would be a lot easier for me if it wasn’t a secret. I’m doing an adaptation of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, over a 20-year period. But I’m doing some press now on Apollo 10 1/2. And everyone’s asking me about it.
I was spared that largely in Boyhood years. People found about it at the very end, but there had been an article in one of the trades, year one, that I begged them not to do, but they had heard about the movie. It’s usually agents who are talking or something.
And so, they ran a story and we just said, “There’s nothing to say.” But it got published. So if someone dug properly, every now and then, one out of 50 interviews, and like, “What’s this thing you’re doing that’s coming out in 10 years from now?” Or whatever. But the Merrily thing, it’s more public, it’s a little more high profile. I couldn’t keep it a secret, so I get asked about it. I just say, “Come back in 19 years.” You know?
I know what it is, know all about it. Wasn’t going to ask you about it.
LINKLATER: But that’s the only one that it should be secret. I’m not really shooting nothing else secret, I wish. I’ve been able to do other things under the radar, but it’s not that I’m paranoid of anything. It’s just easier to work in a vacuum.
I’m not that guy who has signed confidentiality scripts with … I’m not that precious, really. I’ve done low-profile things that no one notices. That’s the ease. If you’re not that big a deal, you can get away with stuff.
Right now, it seems like everyone is looking for content right now, all the streamers. All my filmmaker friends, it seems like it’s a little easier to get things made right now, if you have a good idea. Is doing a longer series for a streamer, or for someone, of interest to you? Telling a longer story?
LINKLATER: I put my toe in that water a little bit in the last couple of years with a story I’m going to tell, but everything about the experience brought me back around to making it as a film. That was my experience with the… I’m not that impressed with…That’s the problem, content. I’m largely unimpressed with how they view production. It’s just too TV. There’s something about a film. You get more respected and more …I like one single work. Once you start talking series, they start talking cliff hangers and all these kind of fake things that they think that keeps the viewers going. It’s just not the way my brain works that well.
I have a couple stories that would work. Basically, I think of them like a four-hour movie. Maybe that could be a three or four-part thing, but nothing’s set. Nothing’s gelled. I’m still trying to make movies. I don’t know. I know that’s the thing that’s going on, but I just like the feature film format. I think it’s concise and it tells a story.
I watch all the shows like everybody else, but I’m rarely blown away. It doesn’t feel like much original going on. It’s good writing, good acting, but nothing gets my cinematic nerves atwitter much.
You have this unbelievable ability to remember these tiny moments that happened in the past, whether it be in Dazed and Confused, or whether it be in Apollo. But when you’re doing stuff in the past, you just remember these tiny moments that are so true and real, but everyone forgets about. How the do you do this?
LINKLATER: I don’t know, I’ve had to think about this. I think if I have one gift in this world, and it’s maybe a curse too, in my own life, I do have this very, very exacting memory of everything that’s happened to me or everything that left an impression on me in my own life. That didn’t mean I was a good student.
I couldn’t memorize the science textbook, because it wasn’t happening to me. But I remembered every conversation, every impression, every person, every detail of life. I really do have this kind of recall.
So, when I do a movie like this and just unload, I slather the audience with specificity. A lot of that’s just my own therapy of downloading stuff that’s been floating around in my brain forever, that I think is either funny or significant or something or might mean something if I’m still remembering it. You’re just trying to tell a fun story based on a head-full of stuff, about a certain time, maybe.
There’s a moment in Apollo, where the kids are all in the back of the truck, they’re all on their way to Astroworld. And it’s a moment where you realize, in today’s society, you would never have eight kids in the back of a truck on a highway.
LINKLATER: It’s against the law.
100%. But in the ’60s, you could get away with so many different things. But most people would forget that moment.
LINKLATER: I didn’t. I think being a parent dredges up how you were treated as a kid. So the second I was a parent, I was like, “Wait a second. We were flying down the freeway in the back of a truck.”
I was just thinking how dangerous childhood… all the beatings we got, all the broken bones and skin. I kind of see it ironically, I guess, but some of it is kind of potentially close to tragedy. Just because, like I say in the movie, we were more expendable kids. There were a lot of kids. Everyone had like six, seven kids. You could lose a couple to some stupid accident.
I believe this was a tough project to get financing on. Or am I mistaken?
LINKLATER: Yeah. It went through a couple incarnations, but thank God, Netflix came aboard.
What I wanted to know specifically about Netflix is, when they came on board, did they ask for certain things. Or did you sort of give them the script and say, “This is what I’m making”?
LINKLATER: Yeah. It was great. And to be clear, I had conceived of this as live action, and I developed it somewhere. They didn’t get it. And the truth is, I didn’t totally get it either. The film wasn’t totally working. And it wasn’t until I jumped to animation, which was…I conceived of this movie a long time ago and thought about it, but it just wasn’t working live action. I think it engaged the critical brain, which made it like, “Well, what is this? Is this fantasy?”
I just thought, “If I make it animated, it works in the brain the way I want it to work with people.” I did this on a couple other films. It’s just like, oh, memory and fantasy and history all collide in the brain and be the right place to see this movie from.
So once I did that, once I made that jump and started, I got my old collaborator, Tommy, his company. We were all on board. And then I took that to Netflix, and they liked it. They just say, “We like the script. We like you.” They say, “We have these three categories. We have big animations, and we have this middle category, and then we have this other category. You’re in that category. We call it prestige, or whatever.”
It’s like, okay, there’s a place for adults, weirdo, whatever. I was saying, “I think this is kind of a family film, fantasy, if you grew up … ” I was kind of pitching it, and they’re like, “Yeah, yeah.” But thank God, they took the risk. But my hat’s off to them.
I guess, because animation’s so damn expensive, the way it’s done typically, that they can only think of huge kid-friendly family films. But Netflix, they let me do this kind of odd period piece film that happens to have a family in it and kids. So I think it checks a box there. But it’s a more unusual-looking and feeling film. But bless them for coming to board. And they were just wonderful to work with. I mean, no kidding.
I never got script notes. And it was an unusual script, heavy on the narration. It was a huge leap of faith, and they took with me. So, I’m forever grateful. I was never more grateful to be working on a movie at the time we were working on this. We wrapped our live action part right before the pandemic kicked in and everything went away. So I got to spend the whole pandemic working on this film, which was so fun.
How long was the live-action shoot?
LINKLATER: It was only 20 days.
For people that don’t realize, or don’t know when they’re watching the film, how much is actually filmed and then animated upon? Could you sort of talk about that aspect?
LINKLATER: It’s easier to look at it like, this isn’t… We’re dropping down characters into a 100% animated world. Everything in this movie’s animated. We recreated everything in the design and animation. Pretty traditional too. It’s like 2D, 3D elements.
Our live action shoot is 100% green screen. The only props we have are if an actor is interacting with something. But other than that, everything’s created in the animation. So it’s a little more traditional. It’s kind of a throwback. The look of the movie we were going for a little bit of a… It’s kind of a challenge to through digital means, make something that feels analog. But it’s a period film. I wanted to have the cinematic qualities of maybe that time. So it wasn’t really the technology. It was the ideas that we brought to it. So it’s very different than my two previous animated films. This is much more like traditionally animated. I would say.
What did you learn making those two previous films that you applied to this one?
LINKLATER: It was a similar impulse to capture what I like about the reality of the characters. I know animation struggles with that, with humans, to have realistic human portrayals. What I was going for was a realism. So I like the performance capture element, so that’s what I brought forward, I felt would work. That’s what we were thinking.
But unlike those other two, where we really did animate everything that we had shot, it was basically … You could omit things, but for the most part, we were animating what we had filmed. This wasn’t that at all. Every shot was a special effect. We were really hemmed in by the design, but we were just loose enough to make it up too, as we went along, largely.
For soon to be fans of the movie, what do you think would surprise them to learn about the actual making of the film?
LINKLATER: Good question. Well, if they’re bringing in the two previous films, I would just…The two previous animated films. I’m up against oh, another rotoscope movie. I was like, “No, no.” We recreated a world that doesn’t exist. We brought back Astroworld. That hasn’t been here for a long time. We brought back a world. We conjured up a world that didn’t exist through animation. It was all recreated. So it’s more creative.
But surprised? Just that the actors, like any big action film or thing, they’re not interacting with anything. They’re just having to imagine everything like, “Oh, we’re at the drive-in. We’re walking around. Look over there. There’s a couple making out in the car.”
This film, Hellfighters on the background. But the kids are just … It’s like make believe. They’re just wandering around, but we’ve taped off the floor. So don’t walk through, walk around. And so, it’s all make believe. It’s all a big visual trick.
I really enjoy Jack Black’s line delivery in the movie, in the specificity of the way he does the lines. How long did it take for you to figure out that was the way you wanted him to do it?
LINKLATER: Well, we do a lot of takes. And Jack is, he’s so fun. He’s such a joy, but he is pretty exacting he would just like, “Let’s do another.” So we were just back and forth the whole time we’re editing, we’re also getting narration back and forth with him on the narration. So always kind of rewriting it and specifics, and he would push himself. He’d like, “Ah, I can do better. For shits and giggles, let’s do another couple. Nah, I think I nailed it.” If I just listen to four minutes of Jack doing one line 12 times, it’s a stand-up routine. It’s really funny. He’s amazing.
I would love to hear that.
LINKLATER: He’s really good, and then really funny and a good guy. Everything you would think.
I’ve been able to talk to him a number of times. He’s always fantastic.
LINKLATER: That’s who he is. Yeah.
If Before Midnight ends up being the last of the films, would that be okay with you? Or do you still want to sort of do something in a number of years time?
LINKLATER: I don’t know. You never say never. I think we missed our window. It should be coming out, or we should have … It should be coming out now, but we haven’t … The great idea didn’t really gel. I think the last one took a lot out of us. I don’t know.
A trilogy, if it ends up that, that’s good, but it’s hopefully a long life. You know? And if the second Jesse and Celine are talking to us…that’s how it worked the other two times. We realized they were still alive and talking to us. And a great idea emerged that was worthy of the effort that it takes to make a film like that. So that just hasn’t quite happened yet. But when it does, who knows?
I love all three of the films.
LINKLATER: Well, let’s never forget Bergman retired from filmmaking, but then years later, he came back with Saraband, which was his… Scenes From a Marriage, he picked them up 30 years later or whatever the hell, which was really interesting. He did that as a … They were all old.
Scenes From a Marriage is kind of where we left off with Before Midnight. That’s probably… It’s Scenes From a Marriage-y. So maybe that’s appropriate. Who knows? Who the hell knows how anything un-spools? But we’re always open to stuff.
I also think that maybe the next installment needs to be 20 years rather than every eight or 10.
LINKLATER: It was kind of happenstance that those ended up nine year apart. We didn’t really plan that. It just sort of worked that way. And that probably set some kind of weird pacing bar that we couldn’t quite honor. But a trilogy is a trilogy. I mean, it stands on its own right now, nicely, I think being a trilogy, but a quadrilogy might be even better. Who knows? We could get there. Or wait, what’s five called?
I don’t actually know.
LINKLATER: That’s why there’s not very many. We’ll stop at quadrilogy. Wait, not many of those either. Trilogy is easy, shit, but quadrilogy.
Well, making an awesome trilogy is really hard to do. And you guys did it.
There was a lot of talk about you doing a Bill Hicks biopic and a John Brinkley biopic. Whatever ended up happening with those?
LINKLATER: Well, like a lot of projects, for everyone, you get made a few, just kind of sit there. But I’ve been lucky that a lot of these projects that simmer on the back burner, I eventually do get made. So who knows? But you have a take on somebody, but planets have to align properly to get something done. So timing is everything, and I don’t know, the right actor at the right moment, the right energy. These things can happen. You’re forever in a position of being inpatient and ready to… Come on, let’s make this film. And it’s like, oh, no one wants to finance that film. Or they don’t understand that one, or whatever.
But it forces you to be very patient too. The only thing that I do is have numerous projects that I’m always writing and have new scripts to go with a pile of older scripts.
What are you actually hoping to get made next?
LINKLATER: Maybe next, I have a true crime story, kind of another Houston thing, that Glen Powell, who plays one of the mission control… Everybody loves Glen. He and I wrote this thing over the pandemic that’s really funny. He’s kind of an undercover guy. It’s darkly funny and based on a true story. So that’s something that would be fun to… I hope we get to make.
Does it have a title?
LINKLATER: It’s called Hitman, but it’s not really. But it’s not really a hitman. I mean, he’s kind of an undercover guy. It’s funny. He’s not.
I will not pressure you anymore. It is always awesome to talk with you.
LINKLATER: Well, always great to talk to you.
Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is now streaming on Netflix.
‘Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood’ Review: Richard Linklater Returns to His Favorite Topics in Nostalgic Trip
About The Author
https://collider.com/richard-linklater-apollo-10-before-midnight-sequel-interview/ Richard Linklater on Apollo 10 & the Status of a Before Midnight Sequel