In “Apollo 10½: A Childhood in the Space Age”“, an animated Netflix comedy set in 1960s suburban Houston, a group of tweens descend on a Popsicle stand in an effort to stave off the Texas heat. One by one they go for that first delicious lick, only to find that their tongues instantly stick to the freezer burnt treats on contact. Panic begins to spread, and the children squirm frantically, until – Rrrrip! – a daring boy ends up with a bloody tongue.
This joke, with its mix of humor and horror, comes from the mature memory of the film’s writer and director, Richard Linklater. But its golden timing is the work of longtime Linklater editor Sandra Adair.
“Apollo 10½” is the 20th feature Adair, 69, has edited for Linklater, 61. Its release marks 30 years since the pair began what is one of the most enduring collaborations in American film history, producing work that has received widespread criticism. accolades and several Oscar nominations.
Adair isn’t the only below-the-line pro who’s had a long relationship with Linklater. The filmmaker has directed 11 feature films with assistant director Vincent Palmo Jr, nine with costume designer Kari Perkins and seven with cinematographer Shane F. Kelly, among many others.
But Linklater has shared more credits with Adair than any other colleague, a fact he attributes to his uncanny understanding of his aesthetic predilections.
“Before it was, ‘I’ll open with the wide shot, then we’ll go to that and cut to that,'” Linklater said in a Zoom interview. “But at some point along the way, she said, ‘You don’t even have to tell me that. I know exactly what you’re thinking. I was like, it’s very convenient!”
Adair first came into the Linklater fold when she and her husband, filmmaker Dwight Adair, decamped to Austin in 1991. Originally from Las Vegas, Sandra Adair had moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s to make her learning under the direction of his publisher brother, Robert Estrin.. There she cut her teeth in the “basement” of films such as “True Confessions” and “Desert Hearts”, learning the tools of the editing trade while navigating Hollywood politics.
In 1992, a year after Adair moved to Austin, a colleague informed her that an up-and-coming director was looking for an editor for a new project with Universal Pictures. Eager for a job, Adair sent the filmmaker, Linklater, a handwritten letter offering his services, and was soon tricked into cutting what would become “Dazed and Confused.” It was her first Hollywood feature as editor.
“The script came to life in such a way that it reignited my fire for editing,” Adair said. “I got on board and very quickly started to understand what Rick was trying to do.”
While the production itself was messy, the film has since become a cult favorite. Still, it wasn’t until working together on Linklater’s follow-up, “Before Sunrise,” that the director and editor “got into a groove,” Adair said.
Journalist and filmmaker Louis Black, who, with Karen Bernstein, made the documentary “Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny”, offered his thoughts on Zoom on the Linklater/Adair collaboration. “They love working with each other because they’re in sync,” he said.
Being on the same page has allowed the two to maintain consistency across projects with a wide range of subjects and styles, from raucous pop music (“School of Rock”) to mind-bending sci-fi (” A Scanner Darkly”).
“Their sensibilities are so similar,” Black said. “In their world, the mimetic becomes spectacular.”
Linklater and Adair’s most public mutual triumph didn’t come until 2014, when the two received Oscar nominations for “Boyhood,” a family drama set in secret over 12 years.
“Obviously it was being written while filming, but it was also being edited while filming,” Linklater said. “So we would have conversations about what the movie needs, what it lacks.” The unusual nature of this production allowed Adair to influence the film in ways few editors can. “She could weigh in as a storyteller, ‘You know, I think he needs his heart broken here somewhere.’ It’s not often that your editor throws out a note like this.
When “Boyhood” was completed, Adair was given a co-producer credit. “It was kind of amazing that we did that,” she said. “I physically and mentally experienced this family mature over and over and over again. It’s hard to describe the effect the film had on me and many other people.
Their latest collaboration once again denies any traditional conception of the genre. Made with a combination of live action footage, 2D animation and rotoscoping (in which live action footage is “traced” by animators), “Apollo 10½” stars Milo Coy as of Stan, a Linklater replacement whose father (Bill Wise) pushes the paper to NASA at the height of the space race. The film is part nostalgic trip (memories of “Bonanza”, “Bewitched” and Frito pies), part flight of fancy (two government agents offering Stan what was supposed to be Neil Armstrong’s place on the mission on the moon).
Tommy Pallotta, one of the film’s producers and its head of animation, said the “friendship and respect” between Linklater and Adair was paramount to navigating the fanciest parts of Stan’s journey without losing the contact with the writer-director’s deeply personal memories.
“Sandra is absolutely into this,” he said. “That kind of mixing is something that was executed in the editing process. You can’t tell what percentage it was.
Linklater and Adair are already working on their next project, an adaptation of “Merrily We Roll Along” which began filming in 2019 and will continue for the next 18 years. While Adair said she has yet to see any footage, Linklater insisted she will be the film’s editor, a job that will extend their one-of-a-kind working relationship until at least 2039. .
“It’s a key part of life: feeling like you’re engaged in something you care about,” Linklater said. “We’re here for the artistic troupe aspect, and the most creatively rewarding thing is those relationships that you fall into. We fell into it and didn’t scramble.