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Austin director Richard Linklater thinks it’s the perfect weird time for ‘That Animal Rescue Show’

Omar L. Gallaga
Special to the American-Statesman
Micah Hubbard, left, Vicky Ratcliff and the Lockhart Texas Correctional Facility are featured in the new TV series "That Animal Rescue Show."

Richard Linklater, the Austin director of beloved films including “Boyhood,” “School of Rock” and, of course, “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused,” can easily name three out of the four pigs living at his home.

Standing on his porch, he can see two of them, but not the fourth one, and now he can’t remember that one’s name. There’s “Dood” (or “DüD”), there’s Star, who has a star-shaped mark on her head, there is Splash, and then there is … there’s …

“Wait, why am I blanking? I’m having a senior moment,” Linklater says, struggling at the start of a phone interview about his new TV series, “That Animal Rescue Show.”

Fifteen minutes later, in mid-sentence about whether the show will go on past its first 10-episode season, he’ll exclaim, “BLAZE!” recalling the fourth pig’s name.

RELATED:‘Just like me’: Austin-area kids with special needs meet rescue animal pals

These pigs are important to the story, none more so than Dood, short for Yankee Doodle because he was born on the 4th of July. For nine years, Dood has been part of the Linklater family, and that was how Linklater met Dan Illescas of Central Texas Pig Rescue.

That organization is featured in two episodes of “That Animal Rescue Show” that Linklater directed for the new CBS All Access reality series. The show debuts Oct. 29 and brings Linklater together with Dr. Phil McGraw’s production company Stage 29 (yes that Dr. Phil) and documentary filmmakers Bill Guttentag and Nayeema Raza.

Fans of Linklater will be pleased that, at least based on the first three episodes, the show is exactly what you’d expect from the filmmaker: warm and sweet and funny, but also at times deeply heartbreaking. The show focuses on the plight of Central Texas animals in need of help, but because this is Linklater, it’s also packed with candid human moments and insights into the lives of those rescuers. Some of the groups featured include Austin Pets Alive!, Safe in Austin, Austin Wildlife Rescue and Austin Bat Refuge.

In this interview, condensed and edited for clarity, Linklater describes how the show came together and what viewers can expect.

Austin360: This show is very emotional and there’s a lot going on.

Richard Linklater: It’s such a weird thing to be putting out into the world right now. I guess it’s good, you know.

But also hopeful. It shows that at least people are helping, people are doing something.

It’s kind of a portrait of kindness, that’s what struck me. That’s why this show exists. I was getting to know people in the rescue community, and I was like, you know, this is something. Why do you do anything like make a movie: because you like the characters, you like the story, you think it’s worth putting out into the world. And I started to feel the same way about this. It’s a very different form, it’s a documentary, these are like little documentary films. But I thought this is something positive to put into the world.

What was the genesis of putting this show together?

I was in conversation with an old friend who happened to run Phil’s company in L.A. And I said, “Do you do any, like, reality shows? I just met these people recently” and it was Central Texas Pig Rescue. Cut to a year or two later, Bill and Nyeema, that team came aboard, and we just started making the show. CBS gave us a little bit of money. I didn’t try to sell or, it just sort of evolved out of a phone call, very casual, very low budget.

Did you direct all 10 episodes?

No, I really just technically directed the two pig episodes. There’s a vibe throughout this show that just came out of meetings of what the show is and what the show isn’t. We could have gone in all different directions. It was key that nobody was exploiting an animal, even with the best of intentions. This is all people helping animals, not exploiting them.

In the pig episodes, there’s a lot of talk about breeders giving bad information or misleading people about how big they’ll grow. Was this an opportunity to expose those bad practices?

There’s a bit of an agenda as far as information. We could do a whole other show just on the bad breeders and exploitation. And it’s horrible what people can get away with out there. Just because the government doesn’t care about farm animals, you can truly be tortuous and cruel to them and there’s really no repercussions. So I’m just glad people care enough to try to make conditions better.

That feels like it touches on work you’ve done like “Fast Food Nation.”

Yeah, I mean it’s an issue that’s been with me my whole life. I’m a bit of an activist in this area. I’ve done some PETA spots and things like that. I’m just really against animal cruelty.

The episodes seem to balance the animal stories with not just what happens to them, but the way they change the lives of the rescuers.

Definitely. It’s a portrait of the people who I admire so much. I mean, they’re the ones who dedicated their lives to this. I mean Jamie (Wallace Griner of Safe in Austin) and her husband are saints. I think between our 10 episodes we cover some pretty good ground.

Are there any plans for another season?

You know, we haven’t even talked about it, really.

How much of it was filmed before the pandemic?

We got lucky there. We were shooting through fall into the winter. We were shooting right up to the pig pageant that happened right before lockdown. We had multiple crews, multiple things going, so we probably shot 98% before production ground to a halt. So, the timing worked out for us.

There were lots of song by Austin’s Wild Child in the episodes I saw. Are there other Austin bands and musicians we should be listening for? (The show also features Alejandro Escovedo, Explosions in the Sky, Sweet Spirit, The Black Angels and others.)

We have a lot of Austin music sprinkled throughout. It’s just a fun thing to do, to stress our Central Texas-ness. It’s almost all Austin music and local crews, It’s good when you can do that.

How different was it in terms of pacing to make something like this for television versus a feature film?

It’s so night-and-day different. It’s kind of related, but not the same. I was actually making a movie (the upcoming “Apollo 10½”) while we were doing so much of our shooting. There was a lot of overlap.

Did working on this make you want to do more for TV?

It really just depends. This is kind of a cool side project, but I don’t have big plans for TV. I have maybe some limited series ideas, something like a six-hour movie. But this was fun. I’m glad it exists. I think it’s yet another interesting portrait of an element of Central Texas. It’s pretty damn Austin. I’m proud of that.

‘That Animal Rescue Show’

All 10 episodes of season one of “That Animal Rescue Show” will be available on CBS All Access starting Thursday, Oct. 29.

More Linklater

New book “Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater's Dazed & Confused” by entertainment journalist Melissa Maerz is scheduled to be released Nov. 17. Maerz and Linklater will take part in a virtual conversation about the book at 7 p.m. Nov. 18, hosted by Austin Film Society. Tickets are $10 for the general public and free for society members and are on sale at www.austinfilm.org. The book can preordered at bookpeople.com.

Dan Illescas, left, and Tracey Stabile of the Central Texas Pig Rescue are featured in "That Animal Rescue Show."