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Five questions with Alexander Payne

Posted 12:00am on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013

Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne is equal parts filmmaker and film buff.

The Omaha-born filmmaker, for example, found time while premiering his latest, Nebraska, at the Cannes Film Festival to see 10 other films (including the four-hour Cleopatra restoration). And he chased that with a five-day moviegoing binge in Paris.

Payne, 52, who has an elegant manner to match his refined tastes, frequents film festivals. He habitually programs repertory theaters. He filled a recent sleepless night with F.W. Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu, which he hadn’t seen.

With the release of his black-and-white, father-son road trip film Nebraska, the director reflects on his life at the movies.

1 Where did your love for movies begin?

Growing up in Omaha in the ’60s and ’70s, we could see foreign films all the time. … Then when we were teenagers, because it was in my neighborhood, we could walk to the university and see 16mm prints of second-run foreign films on Friday nights. At 16, we were watching The Night Porter and Amarcord and Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. I was always in search of silent film.

2 Some critics have questioned whether there’s sometimes an ironic distance between you and your characters.

Not in my heart. I find often, not always, that those who accuse me of making fun of the characters are themselves the most arrogant. Not always, but often.

3 Do you watch films with your crew while prepping a film?

During pre-production, I have movie night at my house. We start about 10 or 12 weeks out with just a few of us, and by a week or two before shooting, my house is jam-packed with crew members. It’s pizza, salad, wine and beer. And that’s it. Sometimes during post, I do Friday-night movie night with martinis.

4 How do you consider this era? Many have pointed this year to Steven Spielberg saying Hollywood’s blockbuster-heavy business is headed for “implosion.”

If that’s true that some of the old-growth forest, the big, big trees, are toppling over, well, too bad for them. But on the other hand, maybe some new growth can sprout up. I’m all for — this is my mantra — the $20-$25 million adult comedy and adult drama that has a generous amount of shooting days to make a good film.

5 When The Descendants came out, you regretted that you weren’t making films quicker. Nebraska is coming out two years later, which is an improvement.

The thing is, I can make them relatively quickly if I just have the screenplay. The only holdup is the screenplay. I want to be making two movies a year. I’m exaggerating, but certainly one every year, year and a half. On the other hand, I want to speak only when I have something to say.

— Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

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