A confession: I loved BIRDMAN so I was happy with outcome of the Best Picture Oscar this year. Also, I’ve been guilty of saying a snarky thing or two about BOYHOOD. So, I’m yielding the floor to my friend and colleague, Joe Aaron, to give his take on BOYHOOD. I always appreciate Joe’s perspective and I’m glad for you to have the opportunity to hear from him. (Be sure to check out the short bio and link to Joe’s book at the end of this post.)
It may be irrelevant now that the Oscars are over, but I keep hearing negative commentary on one of my favorite films, “Boyhood.” People say that it was just a gimmick to shoot over 12 years, or that it was a meandering plot and it wasn’t ABOUT anything. One could argue that the 12 year thing was a gimmick, and yes it did not have a driving desire line. Still, I think the movie is brilliant because of what it accomplished cinematically, and because of the effect the story had on me.
First, if you’ve every acted in a film you know how hard it is to maintain an emotional arc while shooting out of sequence. You’re constantly reviewing the scene you’re on, and where that scene is in the story. Unlike acting in a play, it takes great focus and talent to make the emotional progression feel fluid in a film. When you consider this filmmaker and these actors had to re-create this story over and over, spanning 12 years, it is stunning that it feels like ONE story rather than many “age episodes.”
Second, if you’ve ever written a screenplay you know how hard it is to maintain a story’s tone. You may be in a great mood while writing pages 20 – 25, but in a funk on pages 47 – 52. We write stories over weeks and months, but the audience watches it all at once. It takes great talent to make a story feel like ONE story. You must also maintain the logical emotional progression of ALL the characters, not allowing even one false note. Oh yeah, and keep the plot moving ever onward. Try doing that over a 12 year time frame. My guess is Linklatter only had an outline (beat sheet) and he only wrote the scenes they were going to shoot as they years rolled by.
Also writers, how many of us are proud of our work from 12 years ago? We grow as writers, and often when we read our old stuff we realize, we’re just “not there anymore.” Linklater may have felt that too, but he pulled off a film that feels current and fresh, as if it had been written one or two years ago. There is not one hint of staleness.
Finally, as I literally watched the people age – a boy became a man, a girl, a woman, young adults move into middle age, I was struck with the realness of time itself. As this film was being made, 12 years of MY life went by too. Watching it pass in a compressed way made me realize: “This is truly how life is. Time passing… and fast!”
If you want to know what this film is about… it’s about ME. About YOU. About life slipping past while you’re busy making plans, and doing what is “urgent.”
I do not begrudge “Birdman” its well-deserved win – but of the two, I believe history will show that it is “Boyhood” that, ironically, will stand the test of time.
Joe Aaron is a screenwriter, author and teacher living in Los Angeles, CA. He is a graduate of the American Film Institute and co-created “Doug” for the popular Disney series. Joe wrote GUTTERSNIPES — a screenplay he developed with his friend and fellow AFI grad, Shuchi Talati. The film is expected to go into production in 2015 with Tim Jackson producing. Joe’s unique take on writing low-budget feature films is captured in his book, The Low Budget Screenplay: How to Write a Produceable Script – available on Amazon.