Richard Linklater, On Whether He Ever Made Money Off Dazed And Confused: 'F*** No!'

"Dazed and Confused" was director Richard Linklater's third feature film, codifying the filmmaker's commonest hallmarks: nostalgia, conversation, and the complicated intensity of childhood. Set in 1976, "Confused" takes place on the last day of school at Lee High in Austin, TX. The school's incoming freshmen must spend the day avoiding cruel hazing rituals, while the older kids are content with beer and marijuana consumption as several of them face growing up and graduating. Ironically, Linklater wanted "Dazed" to be an anti-nostalgia movie, showing that 1976 was rife with unpleasantness and inter-student torture; it wasn't all fun and parties. But, in his words, making an anti-nostalgia film is like making an antiwar film: By merely depicting it on screen, it looks exciting regardless of commentary.

Several hot young stars of the 1990s made their debuts or racked up some notable appearances in "Dazed and Confused," including Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Anthony Rapp, Jason London, and Adam Goldberg. Matthew McConaughey appears as an overgrown adolescent who is still hanging out with teens well past the point of it being seemly.

Despite his occasional anti-nostalgia plan, Linklater still often brings a "hang out" sensibility to many of his films, and there is a great pleasure to be had in merely sitting around, conversing, and remembering the good times. That is certainly the ethos behind Linklater's most recent film "Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood," currently available on Netflix. In that film, Linklater reminisces, semi-autobiographically, about growing up just outside of Houston during the time leading up to the Apollo moon landing. While there is a plot about the 10-year-old protagonist going to the moon in secret in advance of the Apollo 11 mission (!), most of the film is devoted to the TV he watched, the food he ate, the places where he played, and the generally pleasant memories he had as a kid. 

In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Linklater talked "Apollo," about his philosophies of the Oscars (they should get more hardcore), his Texas memories, and the revelation that "Dazed and Confused" didn't make him a penny. This came after several stories that Linklater's experience making "Dazed" for a "bigger" studio was nothing but a stress headache. 


Back in 2019, in a piece he wrote for The Guardian, Linklater had already revealed that working on "Dazed and Confused" left him wounded. The studio didn't trust him, espcially once they discovered his 1990 film "Slacker." 

"I still have PTSD when I think of how difficult the shoot was. About a month before we started filming, Tom Pollock, the head of Universal, watched 'Slacker,' at which point he realized who he was doing business with and he thought, 'Oh no, it's going to be one of those arty, jerk-offski movies.' Everyone was on high alert for me after that" 

Even the editing process was difficult, and the studio was constantly breathing down his neck: 

"After shooting was over, I went to Los Angeles for the finishing touches. The studio put me up in soulless corporate accommodation. I didn't think I was going to be there for long, but I realised they were doing this psy-ops thing on me, trying to wear me down. People seemed to really enjoy the screenings, but then their ratings on certain aspects were always lower than executives thought they should be, which confirmed their fears that I had made an art film."

Despite the headaches, "Dazed and Confused" became a cult hit, making its way into dorm room VHS collections and into regular rotation on local college town midnight movie circuits. It eventually found its audience. When The Dailt Beast's Marlowe Stern pointed that out, Linklater was incensed. When asked if he made money, he replied with an emphatic "F***, no!": 

"Yeah, and it's like ... where's my money? How come a movie that cost less than $7 million has $12 million in interest against it? ... Hollywood accounting. I remember really asking for a piece of the soundtrack, because I picked all the songs, and they were like: 'Oh no ... First film,' you know? N.W.A is still pissed off about that first contract. Everybody has that story of getting screwed with their first project. That film was an indie success. It made more than it cost theatrically, and over the years it's been everywhere."

How much 'Dazed' made

From the Guardian: 

"The film made $8m on a $6.9m budget. I never made a penny off anything to do with it — I waived most of my rights to pay for the soundtrack. I don't think it's my best movie, but it represents a rite of passage for the 'busters,' the end of the baby-boom generation. I also enjoy people who weren't even born then liking the film. It tells you there's something about teenagedom that never changes."

At the Daily Beast, the interviewer pointed out that the home video market for "Dazed" must have been massive; those of us who were of VHS-buying age in 1993 recall the film's ubiquity on video store shelves and in homes. Linklater posits that it made millions, is frustrated, but ultimately understands that "Dazed" was a rarity nonetheless:

"At least about 30 or so! I don't know. That's such a cliché to bitch about. But I did go through the Hollywood experience. Here I complain, but they did green-light the film, and they wouldn't green-light the film today. Cast of unknowns? Period film when not much happens, riding around? One film out of Sundance? I don't think there's a pitch for that movie today, so I sit here very, very blessed that I came along at a time when studios were going, hey, we'll make this and this and then throw some chump change over to these guys. I'm still grateful I got the film made, and got it made the way I wanted it to."

"Dazed and Confused" is currently available on Peacock, and can be rented through various online rental outlets. "Dazed" was also granted a very nice DVD and Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection. If, however, you want to recreate the authentic 1993 experience, you can usually buy the VHS on eBay for ... heh .... $4.20.