'Boyhood' Editor Sandra Adair Looks Back on 12-Year Production
"We haven't turned on our telecine since last year. Good thing you are finishing up," Adair was told by the lab.
Richard Linklater's longtime editor Sandra Adair, whose credits include his Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight films, says she was thrilled when the director approached her about his unique concept for Boyhood, the touching drama about a boy, Mason, as he grows from age six to 18, that was filmed over a 12-year period.
Distributed by IFC Films, the movie stars Ellar Coltrane as Mason, Lorelei Linklater as his sister, Patricia Arquette as his mother and Ethan Hawke as his father. But at the start, it was very much a wide open canvas.
"There really was no script," Adair tells The Hollywood Reporter. "All that I knew was it was going to be a story of a young kid growing up over the course of 12 years, from elementary school to college."
To make this film — a hit in the specialty box office with a weekend screen average of $35,320 and nearly $2 million in domestic grosses, and already generating Oscar buzz — Linklater shot for just 3 to 4 days per year. "I'd come on basically when they finished shooting, for 3 to 4 weeks each year and I'd edit that year's portion," Adair explains. "After we got a few years in, we started to connect one year to the previous years.
"We had the luxury of time on our side," she continues. "We were very patient, and we kept notes on what we wanted to revisit. We didn't want to be hasty and reserved judgment until we had a better sense of story."
She relates that entering the 12th year of filming, "we had the whole film together … and the hope was to just attach the last year. That is maybe 90 percent of what happened. We did go back and make some changes. We had things we realized we could loose or tighten. [For instance] we tightened some of the dialog scenes. That's a lot of what we did. The [conversation between Mason and] his teacher in the darkroom got a pretty close examination."
Transitions between the years were tricky, as they needed to be quite seamless. "From the beginning Richard was very clear that he didn't want the transitions to feel like there was a big delineation in time. I looked for things that could wash by with the cut."
Sometimes the passage of time was really only evident in the change in the character's haircuts. "Richard and Ellar would know when they were shooting. Some of the haircuts were loosely scripted, for instance when he hair is shaved, but a lot [of Ellar's look] was who his was growing up."
The last decade has of course seen a dramatic change in the way that movies are made and the formats and tools used. Boyhood was lensed on film through the 12 years of filming, but that didn't mean that postproduction was not without challenges. "We started on Final Cut Pro," Adair reveals. "Then about 2 to 3 years in we decided to switch to Avid.
"We decided to keep things very consistent, transferring dailies from film to tape — telecine to DVCAM — for the entire 12 years. We knew we'd have problems if we changed our workflow. In the end, we did run into some issues. My assistant, Mike Saenz, had to do some tricky mathematics to create the scan list."
In a true sign of the times, Adair recalls that in the final year of production, someone from the lab commented, "'We haven't turned on our telecine since last year. Good thing you are finishing up.' … We were pushing it."