Home > Alexander Payne, Books, Cinema, Film, Film Streams, Nebraskans in Film, Oscar Winners, Screenwriting, The Descendants, Writing > Alexander Payne and Kaui Hart Hemmings on the symbiosis behind his film and her novel “The Descendants” and how she helped get Hawaii right

Alexander Payne and Kaui Hart Hemmings on the symbiosis behind his film and her novel “The Descendants” and how she helped get Hawaii right

Alexander Payne and Kaui Hart Hemmings on the symbiosis behind his film and her novel “The Descendants and how she helped get Hawaii right

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)


When Alexander Payne‘s turn came to speak in the glow of The Descendants winning best motion picture drama at the Jan. 15 Golden Globes, he made sure to thank the people of Hawaii and author Kaui Hart Hemmings.

He did something few directors do by involving Hemmings, a Hawaii native and resident, in the adaptation, preproduction and production of the George Clooney-starring film. He’s widely credited her vital role in helping him get a fix on the island state’s particular culture, or as much as a mainlander like himself can attain. For all the time he spent researching, writing, prepping and shooting there, mainly in Honolulu, he never lost sight of being a visitor in need of expert advice.

Of course, the well-received 2007 Hemmings novel is the reason there’s a movie at all. He knows golden material when he sees it and he remained true to the book beyond her expectations.

“I’ve had the privilege of seeing Alexander making this film, from location scouting and casting to directing and filming. His attention to the minutiae of Hawaiian life, his humor and restraint, his casting decisions – I felt like I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a good film. Still, I couldn’t prepare myself for how good,” says Hemmings. “It’s a film that sticks with you, teaches you something without being at all didactical. It brings Hawaii to the big screen, something that’s never been done before, in an authentic way. I never insisted on him being faithful to my novel, but he did, and I’m pretty happy about that since it led to results like these.”

His respect for her work and inclusion in his process is why he told a world-wide Globes audience, with some prompting from his Ad Hominem Enterprises producing partner and former co-writer, Jim Taylor, “…thanks to Kaui Hart Hemmings – she gave us a beautiful gift.”

“I don’t need the public thank you but…it sure does please the locals. I spent a lot of time with Alexander, the crew and George, so it was just fun times,” says Hemmings. “I’m a big fan of this movie. I have the privilege of feeling like I contributed to it in some way and so it’s nice to be acknowledged.”

In adhering closely to her tale of a good man negotiating personal upheavals, the film’s struck a responsive chord with critics and audiences…


Alexander Payne: HIs Journey in Film – A Reporter’s Perspective  1998-2012

A compilation of my articles about Payne and his work.  Now available for pre-ordering.


Alexander Payne and Kaui Hart Hemmings

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  1. January 24, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Great post on a wonderful movie and novel!


  2. sally
    February 16, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    this was a great post!! I loved the book and I know that on the 25th The Book report radio show with Elaine Charles is discussing the novel for her Oscar week. I think you would love her show if you haven’t heard of it before. Its just so great and fun and fast and…. haha it’s basically my fun radio book club. Here’s a link.. but thanks for the great review! http://bookreportradio.com/


  1. January 24, 2012 at 1:37 am
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