How Boyhood’s Editor Sandra Adair Used Unconventional Time Markers to Transition Between Years
Sandra Adair, who’s been Richard Linklater’s editor since Dazed and Confused in 1993 talked, along other team members, about the post-production process for Boyhood during SXSW.
For 12 years, Linklater would spend one week per year shooting Boyhood, and Adair would then spend a month editing that week’s footage. Boyhood’s process is one of a kind, and all the decisions that were taken on year one were done out of logic and best guess process, which means that the whole team had to be creative in how they tackle every aspect of filmmaking.
There’s been a lot of talk about the workflow for the footage, and the difficulty of maintaining a feeling of balance and cohesiveness when the film was shot on different support.
But one aspect I found particularly interesting and I hadn’t heard about was the music selection for the film, that was fundamental for both Linklater and Adair to plant each year in its time.
If you’ve seen it, you remember that the transitions between years in Boyhood are voluntarily subtle. There are no titles indicating a year has passed, or brutal cuts to an obvious element showing it either.
It’s only by adding small visual and auditive clues within scenes that the audience can confirm or not that this is a new year.
Very early on, Richard Linklater and Sandra Adair decided that music would be used as a time marker. Each character would have their own music taste, and each music would mirror that exact same month it was played in the real world.
To quote Adair, the challenge was in ‘trying to find music that not only reflects what you imagine the character would be listening to, but that also works with the picture edits and the vibe that you’re trying to create.’
So how did they do it? How and when do you pick songs that will become time markers for a story that spans over 12 years?
Here is how Linklater and Adair did it:
How Boyhood’s Editor Sandra Adair Used Unconventional Time Markers
“We did a lot of research before we ever put any music into the film except for the songs that were recorded during production.
Part of that process was that every month that the film takes place, like May 2002, June 2003, we would collect the list of songs that were Billboard TOP 100, the Top Alternative songs, the Top Country Songs, the Top Pop Songs, and we had all these different lists and then we would burn CDs of the selected songs that we thought would resonate. –I’m kind of getting mixed up in the order we did it…
We gave the list of songs to some music consultants that were the same age as Mason was. Two of the kids were neighbors of mine, and we gave them these lists and we ask them to please write one paragraph about any song that they listen to or knew of.
And so we got paragraphs back from these kids that would say really awesome things like: “I remember this song when we were driving to soccer practice”, or “my sister really loves this song but all the boys hated it.” Just some kind of little personal note on those songs.
And then, we listened to the songs, we made tons, hundreds of CDs I think, and we had huge binders of these lists that had outlined and paragraphs and everything.
Then Rick would review the songs and he’d come in with selected songs, and I had selected songs, and those were the ones that we ended up working with.
Really we didn’t place much of the music that is in the final film until the final year. We did have the song that were in production that Ethan wrote and perform.
That’s kind of how it all came together.
And then in the final months, we gave all the music and the film to Randy Poster who was incredibly on it in terms of securing the songs, and there were some that we couldn’t secure that we had to switch out and go with alternative songs.
I have Timeline in the Avid where I just have layers, one after another, after another, after another, with like 15 or 20 selection of songs that we would try against sequences.
It was quite a process and a really complicated, color coded, google doc spreadsheet.”
I found it fascinating that even though they immediately implemented a system to work on the film’s music, they didn’t actually place the music until the 12th year.
In the full talk you can watch below, they also mentioned that the cut that was shown at Sundance had a lot of songs that never made it to the theatrical release, because they couldn’t clear the rights.
Another interesting aspects that’s rarely talked about being that you can show your film at a Festival without having all the rights cleared, but if you don’t have the budget to follow through afterwards, your film will likely have to change to adapt to what’s possible. (check this highlights from film distributors for more on that matter)