Inside Richard Linklater’s Return to Comedy

Writer and Director Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! is being released nationwide today. Like much of Linklater’s work, it has been acclaimed critically, features a meandering storyline, and has amazingly nuanced dialogue and characters. The story is about a standout collegiate baseball squad. The team bonds as they move in together at an off-campus house a few days before classes are set to begin. More specifically, the story focuses on Jake (Blake Jenner), a freshman pitcher who learns that he is no longer big man on campus. However, he also learns that college opens up a vast new world to him both socially and intellectually.

The story is based largely on Linklater’s college baseball experience. Linklater was a left fielder at Sam Houston State, a team that was highly ranked nationally. By his own admission, he was the kind of outfielder who could get to anything. He also could swing the stick as he batted over .400 for three consecutive seasons in high school.

Unfortunately for his baseball career, but fortunately for the filmmaking world, Linklater had to quit the team his sophomore season at SHSU. A doctor determined that he had a heart arrhythmia and his baseball career was abruptly over.

Not unlike its spiritual prequel, Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! is a movie that has characters who will be revered and quoted for decades to come. There’s the dense but affable catcher, Plummer (Temple Baker), who delivers two of the best lines in the movie. Finnegan (Glen Powell) is a good-looking and philosophical upperclassmen who will say anything to the coeds on campus to have sex. McReynolds (Tyler Hochelin) is the ultra competitive pro prospect who considers even his own team’s pitchers a necessary evil. He is also a great team leader as demonstrated by an exchange between him and pitcher Jay “Raw Dog” Niles (Juston Street). All the featured characters, in fact, have redeeming qualities as this film should go a long way in dispelling the one-dimensional dumb jock stereotype.

Generally, how much flexibility for improv do you afford your actors? 

I’m not interested in improv. I never have been. It never made much sense to me. But I do spend a lot of time sitting with the cast reading through the scene that’s written then elaborating and blocking ideas. I’m just forever collaborating with the reality in front of me. From the time you cast an actor you’re not collaborating with the lines on a page but with a human with their own humor, their own energy, and their own view of the world. I’m trying to integrate that into my movie and make it seem real. To me that’s the magic moment. That’s when we find new stuff and have fun with it.

That said, if it’s 11 at night and we’re all playing pool and someone says something interesting, I’m always working. I’ve always got the antenna up. I do look for last minute inspiration. I did come up with he line “I feel like the Astros are going to make it to the World Series” when the naked girl was on top of Finnegan in between takes.

Were there any particular ensemble movies you looked at for inspiration in making this film?

No. It’s in my world and I internalized so many things from that era. I did show the cast some sports movies from that time just to get them in the mindset. Animal House is baked into the DNA of this movie. When my Sam Houston team was moving into these houses we were like we’ve got our own Animal House. We actually called one of the guys on the team Blutarsky (the player Plummer was based on in the movie).

What looks like funny fashion to today’s college students was spot-on for the era. Did you collaborate with costume designer Kari Perkins and Production Designer Bruce Curtis? What was that process?

Well Kari and I have been working together since Dazed and Confused. It’s easy to pull up a lot of references. Yearbooks. Stuff like that. It’s like oh yeah! Remember those kind of shirts. It’s the same with production design. A good Production Designer, like a good DP [Director of Photography], can do anything necessary. You dial in, you do your research, you put your creativity into it. He [Bruce Curtis] did kind of want a lit up disco dance floor. I told him I just don’t remember that. That was kind of too big time for where we were. This is not the 2001 Odyssey club of Saturday Night Fever.

If you had to estimate, what percentage of the movie would you say was autobiographical? 

It’s hard to put an exact number on that. I call it a memory film. What’s in that is a lot of combining of characters and condensing events so I can’t say that everything actually happened. Freshman batting practice is one of the few things that didn’t happen to me. It happened to a friend of mine in Louisiana. I always just carried that visual with me and thought it was funny. You need a wooden fence to pull that off which we didn’t have. But the spirit of it is completely there.

In addition to mining your treasure trove of memories from that time, what else did you do to get into the mindset to write EWS? Look at old pictures, watch Astros games, listen to a certain album or read a certain book from that time?

For me it all kind of starts with the music. I have a pretty exacting memory so I didn’t have to trigger it too much. By the time I sat down and started writing the script I had been taking notes for years. I just had notebooks full of ideas. Then, it becomes a methodical process as my creative thinking is done and I’m just organizing and structuring. Then I wrote a very lengthy first draft. The first draft was 180 pages and I did the whole freshman year. That draft focused more on class and baseball and to me those were the two least interesting things as to what I was trying to say. I later realized the most interesting part of my year long epic was the opening weekend. For instance, in the long version Jake doesn’t meet Beverly until October. It wasn’t that difficult really to take my greatest hits and restructure and condense it to one weekend.

Inside Richard Linklater’s Return to Comedy