Boyhood, written and directed by Richard Linklater, follows the childhood and adolescence of Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) from ages 6 to 18 growing up in Texas with divorced parents. The cast includes Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke as Mason’s parents and Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter) as his older sister Samantha.
Production starts without a completed script – it contains only basic plot points and the ending, including the final shot. IFC, the film’s distributor, commits to a film budget of $200,000 per year. Cast and crew gather once or twice each year to film for three or four days (principal photography totals 45 days). Despite the enormous risks, Linklater never has to show IFC the work as it progresses. Boyhood is shot entirely on 35mm film.
Changing the form of cinematic storytelling, Linklater develops his script throughout production, writing new story segments after rewatching the previous year’s footage. When detecting changes in an actor, he incorporates them into the script, while also allowing all major actors to incorporate their life experiences into their characters (without adjusting the general direction of the story).
Lead actor Ellar Coltrane is hired by Linklater as a six-year-old boy, growing older during production just like the rest of the cast. During the 12-year shoot, both Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette actually experience divorces, re-marriage, and have another child.
None of the actors is contractually obligated to return to the set each year due to the De Havilland Law, which makes it illegal to contract someone for more than seven years of work.
Ethan Hawke sums up his filming experience:
“It’s Tolstoy-esque in scope. I thought Before Sunrise (1995) was the most unique thing I would ever be a part of, but Rick has engaged me in something even more strange. Doing a scene with a young boy at the age of seven when he talks about why do raccoons die, and at the age of 12 when he talks about video games, and 17 when he asks me about girls, and have it be the same actor—to watch his voice and body morph—it’s a little bit like time-lapse photography of a human being.”
In the film’s campfire scene, which is set in 2008, father and son are talking about the possibility of another Star Wars movie. Boyhood is released in the same year that Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) starts filming.
The film’s initial title is 12 Years. Linklater changes it to avoid confusion with the similarly-titled, Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave (2013).
Boyhood premieres at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and is released theatrically on July 11, 2014.The film is part of the main competition section of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, where Linklater wins the Silver Bear for Best Director. Boyhood receives three Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for (Patricia Arquette). The film is nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Hawke, winning Best Supporting Actress for Arquette.
According to Metacritic, the film is the most acclaimed film of the 21st century so far. Director Christopher Nolan calls Boyhood “an extraordinary movie”.
A self-taught filmmaker like Steven Spielberg, Richard Linklater is know for his humanist films, often revolving around suburban culture. With Boyhood, more elements are added that are typical for Spielberg: A boy growing up, experiencing the trauma of his parents’ divorce, a flawed father and a strong mother doing her best.
Boyhood grosses $46.4 million worldwide, well above its $4 million production budget.
Richard Linklater’s next film Everybody Wants Some (2016) begins where Boyhood ends: a guy shows up at college and meets his new roommates and a girl.