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'Boyhood' Finally Yields Return on AMC Networks' Long-Term Investment

Long-gestating projects are nothing new in the movie business. Lord of the Rings took more than a generation to coalesce. The Star Wars franchise, approaching its 40th birthday, is preparing to roll out a seventh installment a decade after the previous outing.

IFC Films' Boyhood, however, is a rare example of a corporate-backed film project that did not languish in development hell, but rather stayed in active production for 12 years. Director Richard Linklater, the singular Austin-based auteur known for indie fare like Slacker and Bernie as well as mainstream titles like School of Rock, wanted to dramatize the life of a boy from age 6 to 18 but without special effects or multiple actors. Reteaming with frequent collaborator Ethan Hawke (the Before Sunrise trilogy), Patricia Arquette and two young unknowns (his own daughter, Lorelei, and Ellar Coltrane as Mason, the main character), Linklater shot scenes once a year.

The resulting film, which runs 2 hours 40 minutes, had its New York premiere Monday night at the Museum of Modern Art ahead of a July 11 commercial release. Critics have lauded the film around the world as it has made its way through the festival circuit. While IFC has had notable success with day-and-date VOD releases, Boyhood will be a traditional theatrical start, with the hope that word of mouth will keep it aloft.

Addressing the audience before the screening, IFC president Jonathan Sehring (also a producer of the film) saluted AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan "for not telling me I was crazy" to take the project on.

Sapan and AMC Networks (beginning when it was called Rainbow Media and belonged to Cablevision) funded Boyhood to the tune of about $200,000 a year. (Linklater also put some of his own money into the project.) "Josh just kept writing checks without needing to see a return on investment," Sehring said. "Of course, when you deal with lower-level accountants, it's not quite the same story."

Sapan, a film buff who rented 16mm prints from the back of his station wagon while at the University of Wisconsin, stayed for the entire screening Monday, no small feat for someone running a company with a $4 billion-plus market cap.

He was among those Hawke thanked for staying committed during a 12-year span that saw the birth of iTunes, the rise of VOD and a cultural shift toward TV that has boosted AMC's cable networks. The actor laughed at recalling reactions to the project he got along the way. "I would tell people about it and they didn't know what I was talking about," he said, drawing laughs by imitating a puzzled listener. "'You made a movie for 12 years? Good for you! I hope you finish soon.'"