Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Journey into Boyhood

I thought I'd covered this already in my various social media channels, but the question keeps coming up, and so I thought I'd drop a few lines here to answer some of the incredulous and excited queries flying my way.

Yes, that's me in Boyhood. Eleven seconds of a major-indy-Hollywood-Third Coast-Richard Linklater movie, and I've even got a speaking part. I won't give it away if you haven't seen it, because you'll be profoundly disappointed if I tell you about it beforehand. Instead, I'll tell you a little of what I remember of that night, some eight years ago.

The year was 2005 and I was one of the floor managers at BookPeople, in Austin, Texas (the largest independent book store in Texas). The store is very well thought of, and at the time, we were positioned right in the heart of the Keep Austin Weird movement. We were known for throwing very large, very hard-to-beat Harry Potter parties. This was the sixth book coming out. The last party was huge, and so the pressure was on to top ourselves. Six months of planning. We were making ourselves cheerfully crazy.

With maybe two weeks to spare, the marketing people popped into one of the strategy meetings and told us that Richard Linklater was filming some sort of documentary film wherein he is following four kids around for twelve years, chronicling their growth. Well, those kids wanted to come to OUR Midnight Book Release party, and so, can they come film our shenanigans? Like any good retailer, we said "Yes" first, and then thought, "Lord, what have we signed ourselves up for?"

My job in the midst of all this chaos was Ringmaster, which was a very polite term for "crowd control." My job was to keep the masses happy; make sure they were up-to-date on the lastest information, introduce each new act on our "main stage," remind others about the booths and carnival refreshments to be had at our home-made "Diagon Alley," and whenever necessary, fill the dead time with banter and snappy patter. In other words, my usual gig.

A small picture to give you a hint of the size
of this particular endeavor. Yeah, that's the
maze there in the lower left hand corner.
Harry Potter's birthday dawned (when the books were released each year), and we were all amped up beyond belief. Imagine five thousand people in a parking lot, many of whom will have been there since 8 a.m. waiting for the Midnight release. We had carnival booths, fire dancers, a magician, and the Alamo Draft House's Rolling Road Show set up showing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. There was even a maze made out of haybales. Sorting hats. Coloring stations. My God, it was an enormous undertaking. Most of the staff was in costume. The books were in the building, but we couldn't open the boxes. Oh, and did I mention this was in the middle of July? That might be lovely weather in Merry Olde England, but in Texas, during the Summer, it's profoundly miserable.

There's one other pertinent fact I left out: a week prior, I had dislocated the middle tendon in my right hand. It required minor surgery to repair, and while it was technically no big deal--a very simple operation--I had never been under before. Never had a broken bone, or anything like that. Oh, I had my tonsils out when I was four or five, but I really don't remember any of it. So it was a little nerve-wracking, and it left me with a throbbing hand, wrapped up just like a lobster claw, and a prescription for Vicodin for the pain.

Have you ever had Vicodin? Man, that's good stuff! I wake up in the morning, my hand is throbbing and aching. I eat breakfast, take a pill, and then suddenly, I don't care about my hand anymore. It's like the volume got turned down on the whole world. Lovely drug, simply lovely. However, it turned my brain into chunky pea soup. I knew I couldn't take the pill during the party, or I'd screw it up. I had to read cue cards, answer questions, think on my feet--no, it wouldn't do. So I took a vicodin at lunch and decided to go long.

Linklater at the BookPeople Harry Potter Party.
Now, it's hours later, and the party is in full swing, and it's crowded and hot and miserable. There's a steady stream of people going to the bathroom like carpenter ants. The kids and parents are gathered around the main stage, watching the goings-on, and the whole staff is jumping through hoops. I'm making my announcements, and I'm even getting some laughs with the bit. "Attention, everyone, would whoever parked their hippogriff in the parking garage please tend to your animal. It's broken loose, and guarding an SUV right now." I had another joke about a mix-up at the broom closet. You get the idea.

Suddenly, there's cameras. And people with clipboards. And Richard Linklater. And I'm being flagged down by one of the production assistants. Now, I'm acting as a liaison to the film crew--the P.A. to the P.A. I don't remember much of what I had to do for them because they were there when things were in full-swing, and by this time, the Vicodin had long worn off and my lobster claw was throbbing like a doghouse bass.

At one point, I was making announcements and remembered distinctly that a camera was being pointed at me, so I did my best to be clever and articulate. Of course, I assumed it a camera from one of the news trucks that was covering our party. The P.A. was back, now, and they had a question for me: would it be all right if the four kids got their books first? You know, at Midnight?

My first thought was to protect the integrity of the line that had been waiting for eighteen hours, but I knew better than to try it. There was a quick conference, and sure enough, they got the clearance. By this time, I'd seen Linklater a couple of times. He and his people were running around, guerrilla-style, shooting whatever they could. It looked like fun, save for the God-awful heat.

At last, Midnight came, and I counted the crowd down and we all cheered. The band resumed, and the movie kept playing, but make no mistake, the star of the evening was that big-ass hardcover book. Well, that and the four kids being filmed. They got a shot of the kids walking up and getting their book, and then, amazingly, Linklater asked, "Can we get another one?"

Patricia Arquette reads to the kids from Harry Potter in the
movie Boyhood. Not pictured: me, off-camera, rubbing her
feet, because that never happened, no matter how many
notes you send, and singing telegrams...
"Some documentary film," I thought to myself, but sure, what the heck. The people in line were amazingly understanding that they had to wait two whole extra minutes to get their books, but they did it. The line started moving, and within ten minutes, we'd gone through all of the event books, and the crowd magically bled off. It was surreal; there were kids on the ground, twelve-fifteen at night, reading the book by flashlight. The staff was completely spent. We were all numb and kinda shell-shocked. But of course, the whole thing was a complete success. There's a ton of pictures on Flickr if you want to go check them out.

I walked up to Linklater, who was wrapping things up, and asked him if he got what he needed. We chatted very briefly, and I wished him luck with the rest of the shoot. Then I went inside and popped a Vicodin and drank a liter of water.

And that was it. I didn't give it another thought until late last year, when I got a call from someone in Richard Linklater's office, telling me that the 12 year project was finished and I'd made the cut of the movie.

I did what, now?

My mind raced back to the party, and I gave them my information, as well as how I'd like to be listed in the credits, and they sent me a check, and a S.A.G. membership application, and the next thing you know, I'm in the movie. It was really that easy. And it wasn't a documentary, after all. Whoops!

If you live in Austin, it's not THAT hard to end up in a movie. I'm surprised more of my friends aren't in them. At BookPeople, we were regularly inundated with actors and rock stars coming in to buy books. No, seriously. I helped Ted Dansen pick out mysteries for his plane ride, gave Kevin Spacey directions to the bathroom, told Carla Gugino that there were no American editions of Elmore Leonard's book Out of Sight, and had several conversations with Luke Perry. Sandra Bullock. Matthew McConaughey. That shouldn't surprise anyone, really. Austin has always been a town for Starfu--well, let's just say, if you want to cozy up to someone famous, you can do it.

They don't even have to be famous; just notorious. I spent my first Thanksgiving in Austin with a friend of mine who's father happens to be local character actor David Blackwell. All through dinner and afterward, he called me "young lad." Fun stuff. One of my co-workers actually ended up in the movie Grindhouse. She even had a speaking part. It was crazy. It's all "right place, right time" kind of stuff; it's just that, in Austin, there's a lot more right places and a lot more right times than most other cities.

I did get to attend the premiere in Austin earlier this year and I really liked the movie. I like the vast majority of Linklater's films anyway, and so this was no exception. I also met my co-star Ethan Hawke years ago at a BookPeople signing. See? Easy peasy. Starfu--I mean, ripe with opportunities.

Boyhood is still playing in art houses across the country. It's a good movie, very interesting to watch, and if you're diligent, you can spot me (oh, who am I kidding? You can't MISS me) in the movie. Please, no autographs. For all other requests, see my agent.