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‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’ Author Leo Adam Biga Gearing Up for Fall Book Talks-Signings as Release of ‘Nebraska’ Nears

October 26, 2013 3 comments

‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’ Author Leo Adam Biga Gearing Up for Fall Book Talks-Signings as Release of ‘Nebraska’ Nears
I’m starting a new round of events promoting my book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” as the national release of the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s new picture “Nebraska” nears.  The book makes a great gift for the holidays.  You can purchase it right off my blog site, leoadambiga.wordpress.com or at alexanderpaynethebook,com.  It’s also available via Amazon and barnesandnoble.com and for Kindle and other e-reader devices.  Additionally, it’s carried by The Bookworm and Our Bookstore in Omaha.
Look for future posts about my upcoming book talks and signings around the metro.  I hope to see you.
And look for coming cover stories about “Nebraska” in The Reader and in the New Horizons.
Below, Sandy Sahlstein Lemke posted this pic of me signing copies of my Payne book at a wonderful Oct. 24 event hosted by Todd and Betiana Simon at their fabulous, art-infused home in Regency.  Sandy generously tagged me in the photo by writing:
“One of Omaha Magazine‘s most prolific and most insightful writers Leo Adam Biga had another book signing on Thursday night for “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012.” He gave an exciting talk about Payne’s film “Nebraska” which will premiere at Film Streams November 22. It was at Todd and Betiana Simon’s überfab home.— with Leo Adam Biga.”
Thanks, Sandy, you’re a gem.  And thanks, Todd and Betiana, for your warm hospitality.
Photo: One of Omaha Magazine's most prolific and most insightful writers Leo Adam Biga had another book signing on Thursday night for "Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012." He gave an exciting talk about Payne's film "Nebraska" which will premiere at Film Streams November 22. It was at Todd and Betiana Simon's überfab home.

 

 

When a Film Becomes a Film: The Shaping of Alexander Payne’s ‘Nebraska’

September 14, 2013 4 comments

Nebraska doesn’t much resonate in pop culture iconography except on rare occasions when the state’s name is evoked in a movie or a song or a novel.  Bruce Springsteen took things to a new level when he came out with an album called Nebraska.  But now that Alexander Payne has titled his new feature film Nebraska, which opens Nov. 22, things have been taken to a whole new place because no matter how well thought of Springsteen’s music is on that recording it’s safe to say that millions more people will see Payne’s film than will ever listen to The Boss’s rather obscure album.  The following is the thrid story I’ve filed about Payne’s Nebraska.  At least three more Nebraska stories will be appearing in the coming months.  You’ll be able to find them all on this blog.  In this piece I look at the editing and mixing process through the eyes and words of Payne, whom I viisted on the set of the fillm in November and sat in with during the final mix process in May.

I’ve also posted a longer version of the story at the bottom of this same post.

FYI: I have been covering Payne and his work for 17 years.  I am the author of the book Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film which is a collection of my journalism about the filmmaker and his films. You can order the book from this blog.  It’s also available online at Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com and for Kindle and other er-reader devices.  You can find it at The Bookworm and Our Bookstore in Omaha.   I will be selling and signing the book at numerous events in Omaha this fall.  Look for announcements here and on my Facebook page, My Inside Stories.

 

 

 

 

 

When a Film Becomes a Film: The Shaping of Alexander Payne‘s ‘Nebraska‘ 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Excerpt from a story that ran in a shorter version in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

After wrapping Nebraska the end of 2012 Alexander Payne holed up with editor Kevin Tent in L.A. to edit the film starting Jan. 7 and finally put the project to bed in early August. When I caught up with Payne and a small post crew in mid-May at The Lot in Old Hollywood they were days from completing a mix before the film’s Cannes Film Festival world premiere.

The seldom glimpsed edit-mix process is where a film becomes a film. Over a four-day period at the Audio Head post facility, with its long console of digital controls and theater projection screen, I watch Payne, Tent, mixer Patrick Cyccone, sound designer Frank Gaeta, music editor Richard Ford extract nuance and rhythm from the minutiae of sound and image, time and space that comprise a film.

I ask Payne how much more can really be massaged this late into the edit from something as simple as the soundtrack?

“Seemingly simple,” he says. “There’s always little complicated stuff to modulate and calibrate.”

It may be a snippet of dialogue or the sound of a character walking across a wood floor or music from a jukebox or the rustle of wind. It may be how long or short an actor’s beat or a shot is held. Nothing’s too small or incidental to escape scrutiny. Anything even vaguely amiss is ripe for “a fix” often only arrived at after several adjustments that might involve raising a level here, dropping a level there, sweetening the pot with a bank of recorded sounds or snipping a frame.

To the untrained eye and ear, few problems appear obvious or even to be flaws at all. But to the hyper-attuned Payne and his crew, who’ve watched the footage hundreds, even thousands of times, the slightest element out of synch is a jarring distraction. When something really bothers Payne he’s apt to say, “That’s hideous.”

There’s a poignant scene in Robert Nelson’s original screenplay when taciturn protagonist Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) gazes upon a field outside his family’s abandoned farmhouse and relates a childhood story to his son David (Will Forte). I was visiting the northeast Neb, set in November when the scene was shot. The barren, wind-swept location made an evocative backdrop for the nostalgic moment. But the part where Woody reveals this incident from the past didn’t make it in the final cut because try as he might Payne decided it just didn’t work.

“You know, so much of filmmaking is if you can’t make a perfect omelette you try to make perfect scrambled eggs,” he says. “So we just cut the scene down.”

As I glimpse the mix process Payne asks me, “Are you finding this interesting or are you bored out of your skull?” I admit the attention to detail is mind numbing. “it’s all important though,” he replies, “because there’s always discovery. You’re discovering it frame by frame. Ways to make it delightful so it never breaks the spell it has over the audience. Kevin (Tent) and I will have knock down-drag out fights over two frames, over tenths of a second.”

I ask if he ever risks micromanaging the life out of a picture.

“i never worry about that,” he answers.

Even to the filmmakers themselves the fixes can be hard to quantify.

In July Payne tells me, “I was just watching the film with Phedon (Papamichael), the DP. He had seen it in Cannes and then he saw it again here in L.A. and he said, ‘It feels so much better,’ I mean, it’s the same movie but after Cannes Kevin and I came back and spent two weeks doing some more picture cutting. And we did another pass of course on the mix. We remixed it. It smoothed out some of the way the music was functioning. It made it less repetitive and more emotional.

“Film is in detail and squeezing that last one, two, three, four percent out of a film like in any creative work makes a big difference. And there’s nothing you can even concretely point to. It just feels better, it just feels more like a real movie.”

Tent, who’s edited all of Payne’s features, says the filmmaker is “more involved than most (directors) with the small details.” Payne says what makes he and Tent a good team is, “number one we get along really well and number two we both want to be and are the actor’s best friend. We go through the takes over and over again to make sure we’re getting the best stuff up on screen in terms of what represents the actor’s work and then, of course, what’s appropriate for the character. And then beyond that I think we both have a pretty good storytelling sense – telling a story effectively and making it rhythmic.”

Located on Santa Monica Blvd. The Lot owns a storied history as the Fairbanks-Pickford Studio and original home of United Artists. For most of its life though it was the Warner Hollywood Studio that served as the smaller sister studio to the main Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank. Some film-television production still happens in the cavernous sound stages but today it’s mostly a post site for finishing films.

Even a stellar performance like star Bruce Dern’s in Nebraska, which earned him Best Actor at Cannes, is partly shaped in the editing room.

Payne says, “It’s definitely what the actor’s doing but its also the work of editing where you’re combing through and getting the best of every set up and then creating both from what they gave you and from what you’re choosing and culling as absolutely necessary to tell the story. You tease out a great consistency to performance and to the creation of the character and then once we do that the work the actor’s done really starts to pop. Bruce did a good job.”

During my visit last spring to the Audio Head suite Payne introduces me to the insular post production world where he and his crew were under the gun preparing the film for its Cannes debut.

“We’ve been working 12-hour days. It’s been very much a mad dash to the finish because we’re getting ready for Mr. Frenchy,” Payne says to me shortly upon my arrival.

Nebraska is a six-reel picture. Each pass through a reel takes four to six hours. It’s time consuming because each team member has notes made from previous screenings of what fixes need addressing. With each successive pass, there are new notes to respond to.

After a screening of the 20-minute reel five with a running time count on the screen Payne announces, “I have a bunch of little things, so maybe we should fast track.” After noting several areas of concern and the corresponding time they appear in the reel, everything from extraneous noises to wanting some bits louder and others quieter, he says, “Sorry, I have a lot of notes here guys.”

Then Payne invites Tent and the others to chime in with their own notes. Payne interjects, “I’m looking froward to our whole film playback so we can gauge all of these things.” He asks for input from personal assistant and aspiring filmmaker Anna Musso and first assistant editor Mindy Elliott before asking, “Anyone else?”

That’s how it rolls, day after day.

Dern and Will Forte

YOU CAN READ THE REST OF THE STORY IN THE SOON TO BE RELEASED NEW EDITION OF MY BOOK-

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film, A Reporter’s Perspective

(The new edition encompasses the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s work from the mid-1990s through his new film Nebraska in 2013)

This compilation of my extensive articles about Payne and his work will be available in February 2014.  

 

 

When a film becomes a film: The shaping of ‘Nebraska’

by Leo Adam Biga

Excerpt from a shorter version of the same story that originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

After wrapping Nebraska the end of 2012 Alexander Payne holed up with editor Kevin Tent in L.A. to edit the film starting Jan. 7 and finally put the project to bed in early August. When I caught up with Payne and a small post crew in mid-May at The Lot in Old Hollywood they were days from completing a mix before the film’s Cannes Film Festival world premiere.

The seldom glimpsed edit-mix process is where a film becomes a film. Over a four-day period at the Audio Head post facility, with its long console of digital controls and theater projection screen, I watch Payne, Tent, mixer Patrick Cyccone, sound designer Frank Gaeta, music editor Richard Ford extract nuance and rhythm from the minutiae of sound and image, time and space that comprise a film.

I ask Payne how much more can really be massaged this late into the edit from something as simple as the soundtrack

“Seemingly simple,” he says. “There’s always little complicated stuff to modulate and calibrate.”

It may be a snippet of dialogue or the sound of a character walking across a wood floor or music from a jukebox or the rustle of wind. It may be how long or short an actor’s beat or a shot is held. Nothing’s too small or incidental to escape scrutiny. Anything even vaguely amiss is ripe for “a fix” often only arrived at after several adjustments that might involve raising a level here, dropping a level there, sweetening the pot with a bank of recorded sounds or snipping a frame.

To the untrained eye and ear, few problems appear obvious or even to be flaws at all. But to the hyper-attuned Payne and his crew, who’ve watched the footage hundreds, even thousands of times, the slightest element out of synch is a jarring distraction. When something really bothers Payne he’s apt to say, “That’s hideous.”

There’s a poignant scene in Robert Nelson’s original screenplay when taciturn protagonist Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) gazes upon a field outside his family’s abandoned farmhouse and relates a childhood story to his son David (Will Forte). I was visiting the northeast Neb, set in November when the scene was shot. The barren, wind-swept location made an evocative backdrop for the nostalgic moment. But the part where Woody reveals this incident from the past didn’t make it in the final cut because try as he might Payne decided it just didn’t work.

“You know, so much of filmmaking is if you can’t make a perfect omelette you try to make perfect scrambled eggs,” he says. “So we just cut the scene down.”

 

 

Payne with Dern, Will Forte and company at Cannes

 

 

As I glimpse the mix process Payne asks me, “Are you finding this interesting or are you bored out of your skull?” I admit the attention to detail is mind numbing. “it’s all important though,” he replies, “because there’s always discovery. You’re discovering it frame by frame. Ways to make it delightful so it never breaks the spell it has over the audience. Kevin (Tent) and I will have knock down-drag out fights over two frames, over tenths of a second.”

I ask if he ever risks micromanaging the life out of a picture.

“i never worry about that,” he answers.

Even to the filmmakers themselves the fixes can be hard to quantify.

In July Payne tells me, “I was just watching the film with Phedon (Papamichael), the DP. He had seen it in Cannes and then he saw it again here in L.A. and he said, ‘It feels so much better,’ I mean, it’s the same movie but after Cannes Kevin and I came back and spent two weeks doing some more picture cutting. And we did another pass of course on the mix. We remixed it. It smoothed out some of the way the music was functioning. It made it less repetitive and more emotional.

“Film is in detail and squeezing that last one, two, three, four percent out of a film like in any creative work makes a big difference. And there’s nothing you can even concretely point to. It just feels better, it just feels more like a real movie.”

Tent, who’s edited all of Payne’s features, says the filmmaker is “more involved than most (directors) with the small details.” Payne says what makes he and Tent a good team is, “number one we get along really well and number two we both want to be and are the actor’s best friend. We go through the takes over and over again to make sure we’re getting the best stuff up on screen in terms of what represents the actor’s work and then, of course, what’s appropriate for the character. And then beyond that I think we both have a pretty good storytelling sense – telling a story effectively and making it rhythmic.”

Located on Santa Monica Blvd. The Lot owns a storied history as the Fairbanks-Pickford Studio and original home of United Artists. For most of its life though it was the Warner Hollywood Studio that served as the smaller sister studio to the main Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank. Some film-television production still happens in the cavernous sound stages but today it’s mostly a post site for finishing films.

Even a stellar performance like star Bruce Dern’s in Nebraska, which earned him Best Actor at Cannes, is partly shaped in the editing room.

Payne says, “It’s definitely what the actor’s doing but its also the work of editing where you’re combing through and getting the best of every set up and then creating both from what they gave you and from what you’re choosing and culling as absolutely necessary to tell the story. You tease out a great consistency to performance and to the creation of the character and then once we do that the work the actor’s done really starts to pop. Bruce did a good job.”

During my visit last spring to the Audio Head suite Payne introduces me to the insular post production world where he and his crew were under the gun preparing the film for its Cannes debut.

“We’ve been working 12-hour days. It’s been very much a mad dash to the finish because we’re getting ready for Mr. Frenchy,” Payne says to me shortly upon my arrival.

 

 

Forte, Dern and Stacy Keach in “Nebraska”

 

YOU CAN READ THE REST OF THE STORY IN THE SOON TO BE RELEASED NEW EDITION OF MY BOOK-

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film, A Reporter’s Perspective

(The new edition encompasses the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s work from the mid-1990s through his new film Nebraska in 2013)

This compilation of my extensive articles about Payne and his work will be available in February 2014.  

 

 

Author Leo Adam Biga Joined Nebraska Coast Connection Salon Featuring Alexander Payne to Promote His Book About the Filmmaker, ‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’

September 12, 2013 5 comments

 

Here’s a photo of me conversing with Alexander Payne at the Nebraska Coast Connection salon on Monday, Sept. 9 at the Culver Hotel in Culver City, Calif. I was there with my book about the writer-director, “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Payne was the featured speaker that night and many of his comments had to do with his new film “Nebraska,” which has now garnered strong audience and critical praise at Cannes and Telluride. The New York Film Festival is next.

Click this link to read my latest story about “Nebraska” in The Reader (www.thereader.com)- http://www.thereader.com/comments/when_a_film_becomes_a_film_the_shaping_of_nebraska/

I will soon be posting that story on my blog.

I will be the NCC’s featured speaker at the March 2014 salon. NCC is a long-standing networking association of folks from Nebraska or with strong Nebraska ties who work in the film and television industry. Its founder and guru Todd Nelson was nice enough to invite me out. It was a good time.

 

 

Leo Adam Biga with Alexander Payne

Filmmaker Gail Levin Followed Her Passion

August 3, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the nation’s finest filmmakers, Gail Levin, died at age 67 July 31 in New York City, where she lived and worked many years.  The Omaha, Neb. native and Omaha Central High School graduate was an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work routinely showed on PBS.  The series American Masters screened several of Levin’s films.

As an Omaha-based journalist and author I interviewed and profiled Levin several times.  Her family asked me to write the following article culled from the interviews and profiles I did with her.  In my line of work subjects sometimes become friends.  That was the case with the Gail.  When she was alive I felt motivated to draw some attention to her work.  In her death I feel obligated to recognize her legacy.  You may not have known her name but you may very well have seen her work.  Her films dealt with such iconic figures as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Cab Calloway.  This blog features the several stories I wrote about her and her films.  Gail was an accomplished filmmaker and an amazing life force. S he was very encouraging to me.  We’d talked about doing a project together.  She was one of two female writer-directors from Omaha to make significant contributions to film, the other being Joan Micklin Silver, who’s still very much alive and who also became both subject and friend.  My stories about Joan can also be found on thus blog.  I hope in reading these pieces you will appreciate that NebAlisa Cole ParmerAlisa Cole Parmerraska has produced filmmakers of note beyond Alexander Payne.
Services for Levin are being held Sunday, August 4 in Omaha.

 

 

Filmmaker Gail Levin Followed Her Passion

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

If you’re a devotee of public television then chances are you saw the work of the late nonfiction filmmaker Gail Levin. The Omaha native and longtime New York City resident died July 31 in a NYC hospice care facility at age 67 after a long fight with breast cancer.

Outside Ken Burns and Errol Morris, documentary filmmakers are rarely household names. Levin herself was little known to the general public but her award-winning films were seen by millions on such PBS-carried series as American Masters and Great Performances.

Possessing an animated personality, intense curiosity and keen visual sense, Levin left an impression wherever she went and she leaves behind a body of work that will endure.

“Gail was an enormous creative force as a filmmaker and a creative thinker. I worked on many projects with her and she became a very good friend as well, and I’m very sad,” said American Masters creator and executive producer Susan Lacy. “Her films sort of had a poetic quality to them that is missing in many documentaries and she had a depth in the way she told stories. You could always tell a Gail film because she was so visual. She really understood the power of an image.

“Most documentary filmmakers work within a limited vocabulary, She did not want her vocabulary limited, and I really admired her.”

Levin made films about many subjects but came to be best known for her documentaries about cinema greats Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.

Marilyn Monroe: Still Life (2006) explored the complicity of the sex goddess and the photographers who most worked with her in creating images that remain potent pop culture symbols today. Her struggles with fame and her eventual premature death forever fixed her as an alluring, beguiling figure in the collective consciousness.

James Dean: Sense Memories (2005) examined the many layers of the brilliant actor who blazed a hot trail in New York and Hollywood with his quirky Method style and unconventional lifestyle. His tragic death in a car crash at age 24 forever cemented his status as a rebel symbol.

Both the Monroe and Dean films earned CINE Golden Eagle Awards and were featured in Montreal’s International festival of Films on Art.

Another of her well known works, Making the Misfits (2002), delved into the personal machinations that went on behind the scenes of the 1961 John Huston-directed feature film The Misfits and its cast of doomed icons Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.

Two of her most recently telecast films were profiles of actor-musicians separated by distinct cultures and generations. In Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides she revealed the man behind the cool enigma of signature roles in such acclaimed post-modern films as The Big Lebowski. In Cab Calloway; Sketches she celebrated the multi-talented black entertainer’s impact on jazz and dance and his role in the Harlem Renaissance.

For the Calloway piece she incorporated animation by noted editorial cartoonist Steve Brodner. She previously collaborated with Brodner on the multi-platform political satire series The Naked Campaign during the 2008 presidential election.

She served as a series producer on Picturing America on Screen, an online, on-air National Endowment for the Humanities and PBS collaborative focus on how American art treasures illuminate American history and lore. She was also a producer/director of host introductions and other program content for the PBS ARTS Fall Festival.

Some of her favorite work came producing segments for the A&E cable network’s Revue series that variously featured conversations between artists or profiles of artists. She particularly enjoyed the programs that paired artists for free-wheeling, unscripted discussions.

“I did one after another with incredible people. Martin Scorsese and Stephen Frears. Tom Stoppard and Richard Dreyfuss. Francis Ford Coppola and John Singleton. Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin,” she said in an interview. “I just think this notion of giants talking to each other is a very interesting concept. I actually think they speak to each other far differently than they speak to anyone who interviews them, no matter who you are. It’s just fascinating.”

Other notables she profiled included Elizabeth Taylor, Cher, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Bernardo Bertolucci.

Levin had two major film projects in-progress at the time of her death: a portrait of Hollywood photographer Sam Shaw; and the recreation of conversations between cinema giants Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut, whose critical analysis helped turn Hitch from popular suspense director into serious auteur.

The 1965 Omaha Central High School graduate left her hometown nearly a half century ago but often got back to visit family and friends.

She’s survived by her brother David Levin, sister-in-law Karen Levin and cousin Jerrold Neugarten. She earned an education degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and did graduate work at Wheelock College in Boston. Her first foray into filmmaking came when she enlisted children in a Boston Head Start program to participate in homemade photo-film projects borne of her curiosity about the era’s heady free cinema movement.

She returned to school, this time at Boston University, for a mixed educational and filmmaking doctorate.

Her path was similar to the one taken more than a decade earlier by fellow Omaha native and Central grad Joan Micklin Silver, who went East to work in theater and television before breaking into independent feature filmmaking. NYC-based-Micklin Silver still makes films today.

In interviews Levin traced her penchant for arts subjects to her growing up the only daughter of “an erudite” Nebraska Jewish family that owned a string of retail clothing stores and indulged a taste for cultural pursuits. She also spoke of having become a die-hard film buff as a teen upon seeing Italian director Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 at her neighborhood Dundee Theater in Omaha.

An internship on a Boston WBZ-TV kids show led to an associate producer’s job that turned into a senior producer slot. She then evolved into being an intrepid independent filmmaker who went wherever the stories that inspired her took her. She captured a trans-Atlantic rite-of-passage in the Emmy Award-winning The Tall Ship Lindo.  She revisited the scorching Nevada desert locations of The Misfits for Making the Misfits. She also documented candid, intimate dialogues with famous figures from the worlds of sport, art, entertainment and academia.

By the early 1980s Levin moved to New York to work as a TV producer-director and by the middle of the decade formed her own production company, Levson, whose name she later changed to Inscape. Her deep ties to Boston led her back there for some of her most prized projects.

Levin often pursued film projects that coalesced with her passions. For example, the lifelong sports fan jumped at the opportunity to do a film profile of Boston Celtics coaching legend Red Auerbach. Her love of arts and letters found perfect expression in her Harvard: A Video Portrait, which she made to commemorate the historic Ivy League school’s 350th anniversary.

Her admiration of photography and film saw her repeatedly make artists working in those mediums her subjects.

Whatever the story, Levin steeped herself in it.

“I make it my business to know what I’m supposed to know about these things,” she told an interviewer.

Finding a subject that engaged her and running with it was her joy.

“When I discover something, it does fuel me,” she once said. “I love finding the connections and chasing them down. It’s not just about having a good idea. It’s having somehow or other the planets line up exactly the right way and when that happens that’s just…You have to be passionate about this stuff for that to happen.”

“Gail Levin was one of the most exciting, caring, ALIVE people I’ve ever met,” posted National Public Radio host Robin Young on the in memoriam web page of WNET, the producer of American Masters. “Oh to be once more in her energy field when she was seized by a creative vision.”

It’s some consolation to those who knew Levin that she was doing exactly what she wanted to do.

“I’ve been so blessed,” Levin said in an interview. “I have had a career that I love…As hard as it is sometimes I don’t even care. Besides, I don’t know how to do or like anything else. I’ve had hugely impassioned projects and I’ve been able to see them from the moment that little light went on in my head to the final edit.”

Her colleagues mourn her death and the stark reality there won’t be a new Levin film to look forward to.

“The documentary community is kind of in a state of shock and we’re all devastated by her loss,” said Lacy.

Levin’s passion work lives on though through revival screenings and viewing platforms like Netflix.

A 1 p.m. Sunday graveside service will be held at Fisher Farm Cemetery, 8600 South 42nd St, in Bellevue, Neb.. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (c/o the University of Nebraska Foundation) or to Temple Israel synagogue or to a charity of choice.

WGN’s Nick Digilio chats with Leo Adam Biga, Author of Alexander Payne: His Journey In Film


Listen to the WGN Radio interview Nick Digilio recently did with me about my Alexander Payne book.

 

Blank white book w/path.

Click on http://wgnradio.com/2013/07/26/alexander-payne-his-journey-in-film/

 

Dan Mirvish Strikes Again: Indie Filmmaker is Back with the New Feature ‘Between Us’

July 29, 2013 1 comment

As indie filmmakers go, Dan Mirvish occupies an interesting space.  His micro-budgeted features get far more attention than the vast majority of like projects because his films are so singular and he’s such a good promoter.  Mirvish is artist, huckster, provocateur all in one.  He and his new film Between Us are the subjects of the following piece I wrote for The Reader (www.thereader.com).  The film is playing one night only, Aug. 1, at Film Streams in Omaha.  Mirvish will speak after the screening.  Omaha’s produced few filmmakers over time, most notably Joan Micklin Silver and Alexander Payne, and more recently Nik Fackler, and as my piece suggests Mirvish may be the most interesting among them for his sheer audacity in getting projects made and seen and talked about.

 

 

Between Us principal cast Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, Melissa George, David Harbour

 

Dan Mirvish Strikes Again: Indie Filmmaker is Back with the New Feature ‘Between Us’

©by Leo Adam Biga

Oriignally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Once dubbed a “cheerful subversive” by The New York Times, indie filmmaker Dan Mirvish uses his skills as a provocateur and promoter to get his obscure work noticed by the very mainstream whose noses he sometimes tweaks.

He’s in rare company as a Nebraska native feature filmmaker. There’s only a handful whose feature work has gotten anything like fairly wide distribution. Joan Micklin Silver is the matriarch. Alexander Payne, the big name. Nik Fackler, the promising newcomer. But the L.A.-based Mirvish may have the most interesting story. His new feature Between Us is a faithful adaptation of the off-Broadway play of the same name by Joe Hortua, who co-wrote the script with Mirvish.

The film stars Taye Diggs, Julia Stiles, David Harbour and Melissa George.

Principally shot in L.A. and New York City, Between Us features pick up shots of Omaha and rural Nebraska to cover the story’s partial Midwest setting. An opening montage shows off the local riverfront.

After playing two dozen festivals around the world the pic is in the midst of a limited theatrical release, including an August 1 Film Streams screening at 7 p.m. followed by a Q&A featuring Mirvish. The film has an Aug. 16-18 run at the World Theater in Kearney, Neb, and will likely make its way to Lincoln at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center. It’s soon to be available via NetFlix, Amazon, et cetera,

Mirvish first attempted the project seven years ago. He was coming off his 2004 real estate musical comedy Open House, a super-charged homage and parody of Hollywood musicals. It got press when he openly campaigned to get the film nominated in the long dormant Best Original Musical category. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed its rules to block his brazen maneuver.

Outside interest in adapting Open House to the stage brought Mirvish to New York to meet with theatrical agents. Always searching for material, he asked to read play scripts and discovered Between Us, a dark satire about the shifting relations within and between two couples contending with marriage, life and career conflicts. Suppressed tensions and jealousies get expressed and fireworks ensue.

“I decided to do Between Us because it spoke to me emotionally. It was about married people with young children and it dealt with issues of artistic authenticity that I could relate to,” says Mirvish, who’s married with three young children. “A lot of people can see themselves through the eyes of those characters, I also thought for practical purposes it could work as a low budget movie if it had to be done on a low budget. It’s essentially four people in two rooms.”

 

 

 

 

He and Hortua did the adaptation, retaining almost everything from the original but adding new material that opened up the piece cinematically, including visualizing things only talked about in the play and using flashbacks to move time and space.

There seemed to be momentum behind the project but then stuff happened.

“We thought we were going to make the movie in 2008 for $2 or $3 million,” says Mirvish. “I got some great producers on board, we were getting these great actors reading the script and then the economy collapsed in the fall of 2008. No one was giving money to make movies. So we put the project on hold.

“Luckily for me a little project I was doing on the side, the Martin Eisenstadt fake pundit project, a series of shorts and CDs and Internet satire, ultimately evolved into a book deal from this very fancy publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.”

He and fellow filmmaker Eitan Gorlin concocted the elaborate Eisenstadt hoax that hoodwinked many major media outlets. The pair’s I Am Martin Eisenstadt novel did quite well critically, thus putting Mirvish in the unusual position of having duped the media and finding himself rewarded and celebrated for it .

“it got better reviews than any film I’ve ever done,” Mirvish says of the book.

Mirvish delights in giving the establishment fits. In 1993 he co-founded the Slamance Film Festival in response to Sundance ignoring smaller indie works. Then he made Omaha, the Movie, perhaps the first indigenous feature shot here by a local crew. He finagled getting VHS tapes of the hyper-kinetic farce into the hands of festival directors and reviewers.

 

 

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Mirvish is nothing if not persistent and resilient. Several years ago he took a terrible fall from a ladder while remodeling his home. His leg snapped. Broken bones tore through the skin and he lost 40 percent of his blood. He was in the hospital six months, then in a wheelchair for six more and on crutches six months after that. He never stopped working and even fulfilled his Slamdance MC role while still in a wheelchair. The ever intrepid one later worked the experience of the fall and its aftermath into Between Us.

The USC film school grad was mentored by legendary director Robert Altman, whose grandson Dana Altman produced Omaha, the Movie and was an executive producer on Between Us,

After the success of his book Mirvish and native Omahan Sam Johnson, a veteran writer for episodic television, pitched Eistenstadt as a series.

Mirvish says, “We came close to a deal with Showtime. Ashton Kutcher was going to produce. Then a mid-level executive got fired and the whole thing collapsed, which sadly is fairly typical in Hollywood. It was two years of my life with that project.” That’s when Mirvish revived Between Us. He still liked the material and, he says, “it still had the advantage of lending itself to a low budget production.” He got friends, family, even crew, to invest and launched a modest Kickstarter campaign.

Before even most of the money was in hand, Mirvish set a start date.

“Having a start date is really a key thing, and this is something I learned from Robert Altman. If you actually set a start date you’re going to make the movie and you’re going to find a cast. It’s the train leaving the station theory. If the train’s leaving the station people want to be on that train.”

He says the production confirmed another theory he ascribes to that says “every element you have in a movie will at some point drop out – your cast, your camera, your financing, your distribution – but as long as they don’t all drop out the same day you’re going to be OK. And that’s exactly what happened in casting.” Only a few months before shooting he thought his cast would be Diggs, Kerry Washington, Michael C. Hall and America Ferrera. All but Diggs dropped out.

“Taye stuck with it, God bless him, and we built the cast up again.”

Mirvish and Hortua are pleased with the cast they ended up with, David Harbour actually did the play’s first reading and was in its first production.

But the biggest pressure was one that hung over the shoot the whole time.

“The bulk of our financing came from one investor whose check only cleared the third to the last day, which is not the ideal way to make a movie,” says Mirvish. “But you know there were enough people on the crew who were working for free up until that point who really had a passion for the project and the material. We were able to feed off that energy even if we couldn’t feed ourselves with much else.”

Just as he’s done many times before on features and shorts, he begged and borrowed equipment, got free crew, stole locations and did what he had to do. “You just have to have kind of blind faith in your own ingenuity and good luck that somehow it will all come together,” he says.

It’s a good bet that even should Mirvish, now working on a new script set entirely in Omaha, find commercial success he’ll always be a by-any-means necessary guerilla filmmaker at heart.

 

 

©www.nytimes.com

Book about Alexander Payne getting lots of traffic on Amazon


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My Alexander Payne book is No. 1 on Amazon in the Kindle eBook category Arts & Photography-Performing Arts and No. 2 in the Kindle eBook category Biographies & Memoirs- Arts & Literature.
“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of the Oscar-winning filmmaker or who is a serious film buff.  It makes a great gift.  It will also be handy to have around when the Golden Globes and Academy Awards roll around because the writer-director’s new film, “Nebraska,” is sure to be in contention for several awards.
You can order the book from my blog or get it through Amazon or BarnesandNoble.com.  In Omaha, you can find it at The Bookworm and Our Bookstore.
The book has received strong endorsements from Laura Dern, Leonard Maltin, Kurt Andersen, Joan Micklin Silver, Dick Cavett, and Ron Hull.
Get your copy now.
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