A Movie Without a 'Story'
NEW YORK — 'SLACKER" is the year's most unexpected success. Shot on a low budget by an unknown filmmaker, it's a movie without a story. It moves from one character to another whenever it feels the urge, and refuses to organize itself around any theme except a good-natured insistence that people are always fascinating to watch, even when they don't appear to be doing much of anything.Sometimes vulgar, sometimes hilarious, and always original, it's not the sort of thing you ordinarily find at neighborhood theaters alongside the latest Hollywood productions. But there it is. And nobody is more surprised than Richard Linklater, the young Texas filmmaker who concocted it. "I had no confidence it would ever get seen," he told me recently. ve been fortunate that the right person found the movie at the right time, and wasn't concerned that it's not a normal story and doesn't have the typical exploitative elements." It was the interest and commitment of Orion Classics that launched "Slacker" into theaters, as Mr. Linklater gratefully points out. But audience enthusiasm has given it staying power. What is a slacker, anyway? "It's a real word," says Linklater, "meaning somebody who's avoiding duties or responsibilities. But the movie tries to show the reverse of this - that there's a lot of activity out there that doesn't necessarily fit into the typical social or work-related environment, but is activity nonetheless!" In a sense, what Linklater has done is to take actions and attitudes usually relegated to the background of movies, and move them into the foreground. This sort of material "doesn't usually find its way into movies or mainstream perception," he notes, "but a lot of people spend time in this kind of world.... For the most part, the characters are in their 20s - just hanging out, not doing anything that seems very responsible. I don't think this is necessarily nonproductive.... On one level, 'Slacker' is a kind of pseudodocumentary on my neighborhood. On another, it's just paying attention to characters who don't usually get that kind of time in movies." Asked where the idea for "Slacker" came from, Linklater says he wanted to make a movie that was "kind of like walking around town for a day," the town being Austin, Texas, where the film was shot. "People come and go, and the focus of the conversation switches. It's kind of the way your mind works.... I was interested in the effect of a lot of characters and a lot of information - an overabundance of information." The cast of "Slacker" is another of its unconventional elements. "They aren't really actors and actresses," Linklater reports. "They're real people we found on the streets. We'd hand out cards: 'We're making a movie this summer. It's really low budget, nobody's getting paid. If you think it'd be fun....' They'd show up at a video interview, and we'd see who they were and what their concerns were." Linklater is not the only filmmaker to work in such a loose, improvisatory way. Another is long-time independent Jon Jost, who has also been known to start a film by simply dreaming up an idea - about marginalized characters not prominent in conventional movies - and spreading word that he's looking for people to join him. Although some of his working methods are quite different, Linklater shares Mr. Jost's willingness to capitalize on surprises he encounters during the filmmaking process. He wrote a scr eenplay for "Slacker" in advance, but says he didn't feel "married to it" in any way. "The director in me didn't respect the writer in me," he smiles. "Slacker budget was tiny. At the start, Linklater says, his only assets were "a refrigerator of film stock and money to get about half of it processed." Additional funding came largely from donations and loans provided by relatives and friends. "Once you get 100 people working on something," the filmmaker says, "it takes on a life of its own. We never lost a day for lack of money, because it wasn't about money. It was just the right time to make this movie." Is there commendable purity in being an independent filmmaker, or would Linklater love to "go Hollywood" if he got the chance? "There's really no purity on any level of filmmaking," he answers. "It all depends on who you're working with. It's not a simple case of 'all Hollywood is evil and corrupt, and all independents are so cool!' Someone who gave me $10,000 to finish the film could have exerted as much control as a studio ... and [conversely] there are people who make movies for studios who enjoy the same kind of freedom I had, because someone in the studio system trusts them. There are no absolutes!"