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Passion Project – My new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” now available at KANEKO


 

FINAL FRONT COVER 6-28-16

 

My life’s work is writing stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. I do this as an author-journalist-blogger. The gallery of people and pursuits I write about is quite diverse.

See for yourself by reading and following my work at–
http://www.leaoadambiga.com and http://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

Though I am a generalist who writes about anything and everything, there are a few subjects I keep returning to again and again. Some of these are societal and cultural in nature, others historical. But there is one particular individual who occupies special emphasis among all my writing and reporting: Alexander Payne. The Oscar-winning filmmaker, who has given us such works as Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska, is actually part of a larger interest in film I have cultivated for decades. I got hooked on movies as a teen. I did film programming for a decade-and-a-half. Since the mid-1990s I have written hundreds of stories as a film journalist. Many of my film interviews and profiles focus on Nebraskans in film. I am developing the Nebraska Film Heritage Project as a print, online, lecture and curriculum vehicle for documenting and celebrating the achievements of Nebraskans in film, past and present, both in front of the camera and behind the camera.

Payne is the epitome of the passionate creatives I interview and profile. His magnificent obsession with film ranges from an encyclopedic knowledge of world cinema to support of film preservation and education efforts to pursuit of great film projects. From his very first feature, Citizen Ruth, on through his last completed film, Nebraska, he has satirically, thoughtfully explored a wide expanse of the human heart and soul. He’s paid particular attention to relationships, but he’s also touched on abortion, politics, mid-life crisis, loneliness, identity issues, addiction, depression, love, romance, infidelity, death, family, alienation, old age. The film he’s making now, Downsizing, which releases in late 2017, will offer up his most expansive take yet on the world with the satire this time revolving around themes of depleted world resources, sustainability, technology, geo-political tensions, terrorism, corruption, exploitation, discrimination and civilization. He and co-writer Jim Taylor are exploring the very nature of what it means to be human and how we create society. Where his previous films have been more intimate in scale, he is working on an epic canvas here, though the ideas are distilled into the closely observed personal story of one character, Paul (played by Matt Damon), whose life is the prism through which all these intersecting storylines and themes are played out. In terms of ideas, it may be the most ambitious American film since Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter or at least since Avatar.

My extensive coverage of the acclaimed writer-director has resulted in a deep body of work about him and his films that I have collected into a book first published in 2012. I have a new edition out this summer featuring expanded and enhanced content that brings you right up to date with his latest project.

Introducing the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” 

I am very pleased to announce the new edition Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film releases September 1. You have an early bird opportunity to buy the book at KANEKO, 1111 Jones Street, in Omaha’s Old Market. It will be available for purchase during the remainder ofof the Storytelling Series run (through August 27) at this venue that is “an open space for open minds…”

The book will be available at other venues, including bookstores and gift shops, during the course of the summer and fall.

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film charts the filmmaker’s rise to the elite ranks of world cinema. Articles and essays take you deep inside the artist’s creative process. It is the most comprehensive look at Payne and his work to be found anywhere. This new edition features significant new content related to Nebraska and Downsizing. We have also added a Discussion Guide with Index for you film buffs and students. The book is also a great resource for more casual film fans who want a handy Payne primer and trivia goldmine. The book releases September 1 from River Junction Press and sales for $25.95.

For inquiries and pre-orders, contact: leo32158@cox.net.

 

FINAL BACK COVER 6-28-16

 

Strong praise for”Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”–

“This is without question the single best study of Alexander Payne’s films, as well as the filmmaker himself and his filmmaking process. In charting the first two decades of Payne’s remarkable career, Leo Adam Biga pieces together an indelible portrait of an independent American artist, and one that’s conveyed largely in the filmmaker’s own words. This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.” –Thomas Schatz, Film scholar and author (The Genius of the System)

“Alexander is a master. Many say the art of filmmaking comes from experience and grows with age and wisdom but, in truth, he was a master on day one of his first feature. Leo Biga has beautifully captured Alexander’s incredible journey in film for us all to savor.” – Laura Dern, actress, star of Citizen Ruth

“Last night I finished your wonderful new book and I enjoyed it so much! Alexander Payne is such a terrific director and I loved reading about his films in detail. Congratulations.” – Joan Micklin Silver, filmmaker (Hester StreetCrossing Delancey)

“Alexander Payne is one of American cinema’s leading lights. How fortunate we are that Leo Biga has chronicled his rise to success so thoroughly.” – Leonard Maltin, film critic and best-selling author

“I’d be an Alexander Payne fan even if we didn’t share a Nebraska upbringing: he is a masterly, menschy, singular storyteller whose movies are both serious and unpretentious, delightfully funny and deeply moving. And he’s fortunate indeed to have such a thoughtful and insightful chronicler as Leo Biga.” – Kurt Andersen, novelist (True Believers) and Studio 360 host

“Alexander Payne richly deserves this astute book about his work by Leo Biga. I say this as a fan of both of theirs; and would be one even if I weren’t from Nebraska.” – Dick Cavett, TV legend

“Leo Biga brings us a fascinating, comprehensive, insightful portrait of the work and artistry of Alexander Payne. Mr. Biga’s collection of essays document the evolution and growth of this significant American filmmaker and he includes relevant historical context of the old Hollywood and the new. His keen reporter’s eye gives the reader an exciting journey into the art of telling stories on film.” – Ron Hull, Nebraska Educational Television legend, University of Nebraska emeritus professor of broadcasting, author ofBackstage

“Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the book is Biga’s success at getting Payne to speak candidly about every step in the filmmaking process. These detailed insights include the challenges of developing material from conception to script, finding financing, moderating the mayhem of shooting a movie, and undertaking the slow, monk-like work of editing.” – Brent Spencer, educator and author (The Lost Son)

“This book became a primer for me, and introduced me to filmmaking in a way that I had never experienced in my years at film school. The intimacy and honesty in Biga’s writing, reporting and interviewing– and Payne’s unparalleled knowledge of cinema introduced me to filmmaking and film history from someone I quickly came to respect: Mr. Payne.” – Bryan Reisberg, filmmaker (Big Significant Things)

Watch for announcements about book signings and how you can get your copy for yourself, a friend, a loved one. Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film makes a perfect gift for the film lover in your life.

Introducing the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”


Introducing the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” 

Very pleased to announce the new edition of my book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” releases September 1. You have an early bird opportunity to buy the book and get it signed by me at a film program I am moderating that features Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore on Thursday, July 21 at 7 p.m. at KANEKO, 1111 Jones Street.

Link to details at–

“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” charts the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s rise to the elite ranks of world cinema. Articles and essays take you deep inside the artist’s creative process. It is the most comprehensive look at Payne and his work to be found anywhere. This new edition features significant new content related to “Nebraska” and “Downsizing.” We have also added a Discussion Guide with Index for you film buffs and students. The book is also a great resource for more casual film fans who want a handy Payne primer and trivia goldmine. The book releases September 1 from River Junction Press.

The book sales for $25.95.

For inquiries and pre-orders, contact: leo32158@cox.net.

Follow my work at–
http://www.leaoadambiga.com and http://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

 

Strong praise for”Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”–
“This is without question the single best study of Alexander Payne’s films, as well as the filmmaker himself and his filmmaking process. In charting the first two decades of Payne’s remarkable career, Leo Adam Biga pieces together an indelible portrait of an independent American artist, and one that’s conveyed largely in the filmmaker’s own words. This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.” –Thomas Schatz, Film scholar and author (“The Genius of the System”)

“Alexander is a master. Many say the art of filmmaking comes from experience and grows with age and wisdom but, in truth, he was a master on day one of his first feature. Leo Biga has beautifully captured Alexander’s incredible journey in film for us all to savor.” – Laura Dern, actress, star of “Citizen Ruth”

“Last night I finished your wonderful new book and I enjoyed it so much! Alexander Payne is such a terrific director and I loved reading about his films in detail. Congratulations.” – Joan Micklin Silver, filmmaker (“Hester Street,” “Crossing Delancey”)

“Alexander Payne is one of American cinema’s leading lights. How fortunate we are that Leo Biga has chronicled his rise to success so thoroughly.” – Leonard Maltin, film critic and best-selling author

“I’d be an Alexander Payne fan even if we didn’t share a Nebraska upbringing: he is a masterly, menschy, singular storyteller whose movies are both serious and unpretentious, delightfully funny and deeply moving. And he’s fortunate indeed to have such a thoughtful and insightful chronicler as Leo Biga.” – Kurt Andersen, novelist (“True Believers”) and Studio 360 host

“Alexander Payne richly deserves this astute book about his work by Leo Biga. I say this as a fan of both of theirs; and would be one even if I weren’t from Nebraska.” – Dick Cavett, TV legend

“Leo Biga brings us a fascinating, comprehensive, insightful portrait of the work and artistry of Alexander Payne. Mr. Biga’s collection of essays document the evolution and growth of this significant American filmmaker and he includes relevant historical context of the old Hollywood and the new. His keen reporter’s eye gives the reader an exciting journey into the art of telling stories on film.” – Ron Hull, Nebraska Educational Television legend, University of Nebraska emeritus professor of broadcasting, author of “Backstage”

“Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the book is Biga’s success at getting Payne to speak candidly about every step in the filmmaking process. These detailed insights include the challenges of developing material from conception to script, finding financing, moderating the mayhem of shooting a movie, and undertaking the slow, monk-like work of editing.” – Brent Spencer, educator and author (“The Lost Son”)

“This book became a primer for me, and introduced me to filmmaking in a way that I had never experienced in my years at film school. The intimacy and honesty in Biga’s writing, reporting and interviewing– and Payne’s unparalleled knowledge of cinema introduced me to filmmaking and film history from someone I quickly came to respect: Mr. Payne.” – Bryan Reisberg, filmmaker (“Big Significant Things”)

 

Jayne Putjenter Meehan

Fantastic review. Fantastic book, Leo Adam!

 

FINAL FRONT COVER 6-28-16

 

Hope to see you at the July 21 event at KANEKO.

Watch for announcements about book signings and how you can get your copy for yourself, a friend, a loved one. Makes a perfect gift for the film lover in your life.

Get your copy of the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” @ July 21 event


Get your copy of the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” @ July 21 event

Very pleased to announce the new edition of my book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” releases September 1. You have an early bird opportunity to buy the book and get it signed by me at a film program I am moderating that features Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore on Thursday, July 21 at 7 p.m. at KANEKO.

See details below or link to more info, at–

FINAL FRONT COVER 6-28-16  FINAL BACK COVER 6-28-16

 

Strong praise for”Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”–
“This is without question the single best study of Alexander Payne’s films, as well as the filmmaker himself and his filmmaking process. In charting the first two decades of Payne’s remarkable career, Leo Adam Biga pieces together an indelible portrait of an independent American artist, and one that’s conveyed largely in the filmmaker’s own words. This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.” –Thomas Schatz, Film scholar and author (“The Genius of the System”)

“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” charts the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s rise to the elite ranks of world cinema. Articles and essays take you deep inside the artist’s creative process. It is the most comprehensive look at Payne and his work to be found anywhere. This new edition features significant new content related to “Nebraska” and “Downsizing.” We have also added a Discussion Guide with Index for you film buffs and students. The book is also a great resource for more casual film fans who want a handy Payne primer and trivia goldmine. The book releases September 1 from River Junction Press.

The book sales for $25.95.

For inquiries and pre-orders, contact: leo32158@cox.net.

Follow my work at–
leaoadambiga.com and www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

_ _ _

Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light

Thursday, July 21 @ 7 p.m.
KANEKO, 1111 Jones St.
Tickets $10 General Admission. FREE for KANEKO Members

KANEKO hosts Academy Award winning director of photography Mauro Fiore for an audio-visual presentation exploring his career. Fiore’s filmography as a DP includes “Training Day,” “The A-Team,””Avatar” – for which he won the Oscar for Best Cinematography – and more recently “Real Steel,” “The Equalizer,””The Kingdom” and “Southpaw.” The Hollywood veteran is recognized for his skill with stylized light and realism. He’s collaborated with such major directors as Joe Carnahan, Michael Bay, James Cameron, Peter Berg and Antoine Fuqua. He and Fuqua have teamed on five features, the latest of which is the soon to release remake of “The Magnificent Seven.”

Fiore very much sees himself as a storyteller working in light and image to fulfill the vision of the writer and director.

The July 21 discussion will be moderated by yours truly. As an author-journalist-blogger I bring years of experience writing and reporting about film to the moderator’s chair.

 

Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light is a part of the Storytelling season at KANEKO June 3 – August 27. Learn more about the Storytelling exhibitions and programs at–

STORYTELLING

Hope to see you there.

Please join me for – Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light and buy new edition of ‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’

July 15, 2016 2 comments

 

Cover Photo

Please join me for–

Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light 

And buy new edition of ‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’

Thursday, July 21 @ 7 p.m.
KANEKO, 1111 Jones St.
Tickets $10 General Admission. FREE for KANEKO Members

KANEKO hosts Academy Award winning director of photography Mauro Fiore for an audio-visual presentation exploring his career. Fiore’s filmography as a DP includes “Training Day,” “The A-Team,””Avatar” – for which he won the Oscar for Best Cinematography – and more recently “Real Steel,” “The Equalizer,””The Kingdom” and “Southpaw.” The Hollywood veteran is recognized for his skill with stylized light and realism. He’s collaborated with such major directors as Joe Carnahan, Michael Bay, James Cameron, Peter Berg and Antoine Fuqua. He and Fuqua have teamed on five features, the latest of which is the soon to release remake of “The Magnificent Seven.”

Fiore very much sees himself as a storyteller working in light and image to fulfill the vision of the writer and director.

The July 21 discussion will be moderated by yours truly. As an author-journalist-blogger I bring years of experience writing and reporting about film to the moderator’s chair. I am the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” – a collection of my journalism about the Oscar-winning filmmaker. I will be selling and signing a new edition of the book at the event.

The cost is $25.95.

 

FINAL FRONT COVER 6-28-16  FINAL BACK COVER 6-28-16

 

Strong praise for”Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”–
“This is without question the single best study of Alexander Payne’s films, as well as the filmmaker himself and his filmmaking process. In charting the first two decades of Payne’s remarkable career, Leo Adam Biga pieces together an indelible portrait of an independent American artist, and one that’s conveyed largely in the filmmaker’s own words. This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.” ––Thomas Schatz, Film scholar and author (“The Genius of the System”)

“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” charts the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s rise to the elite ranks of world cinema. Articles and essays take you deep inside the artist’s creative process. It is the most comprehensive look at Payne and his work to be found anywhere. This new edition features significant new content related to “Nebraska” and “Downsizng.” We have also added a Discussion Guide with Index for you film buffs and students. The book is also a great resource for more casual film fans who want a handy Payne primer and trivia goldmine.  The book releases September 1 from River Junction Press.

For inquiries and pre-orders, contact: leo32158@cox.net. Follow my work at–
leaoadambiga.com and www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light is a part of the Storytelling season at KANEKO June 3 – August 27. Learn more about the Storytelling exhibitions and programs at–
http://thekaneko.org/kaneko-programs/storytelling/

Hope to see you there.

 

FROM THE ARCHIVES– Alexander Payne: Portrait of a Young Filmmaker


Alexander Payne’s breakthrough satire Election is one of the entries in the Film Streams series Hollywood Does Politics. Election is also the film that began my association with Payne. As a film programmer in Omaha I had screened his student thesis film The Passion of Martin. His talent was obvious. I next encountered his work as a film consumer when I went to go see his feature debut Citizen Ruth at the Dundee Theatre. But the first time I came to him and his work as a journalist was with Election. I read that he was in pre-production on this comedy set at an Omaha high school and I contacted him and we arranged to meet for an interview. We had a very long conversation at McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe. At some point, I believe before we met for the interview, he also shared the screenplay for the film, which he was then getting ready to shoot. The screenplay by him and Jim Taylor was really smart and funny. Sharp observations throughout. A crazy mix of angst, pathos, crisis, obsession and mendacity that somehow totally worked as comedy. I ended up interviewing Matthew Broderick and missed an opportunity to interview Reese Witherspoon as well. That first long interview with Payne, plus my reading of the script and seeing the finished film became the basis for this first story I wrote about Payne. Also informing the story were my having seen Passion of Martin and Citizen Ruth. Here is that story. It is part of my book Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film. A new edition of that book releases September 1.

That first interview happened in the late summer or early fall of 1996 and that first story appeared at the start of 1998. Many more interviews and stories relating to Payne have followed. Too many to count. All the way up through and including his new film Downsizing. That body of work accrued over 20 years is the basis for my book.

If you’ve never seen Election do yourself a favor and go see it on the big screen at Film Streams. It’s playing July 16, 18 and 20. For showtimes and tickets and for the complete series schedule, visit–

http://www.filmstreams.org/film_series/hollywood-does-politics/

 

 

 

ELECTION, Reese Witherspoon, Alexander Payne, 1999

 

Alexander Payne: Portrait of a Young Filmmaker                                         

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in Jan. 22-28, 1998 issue of The Reader

 

 

 

Groundings

Darryl Zanuck. Fred Astaire. Henry Fonda. Dorothy McGuire. Montgomery Clift. Marlon Brando. Sandy Dennis. Nick Nolte. Enduring film icons and Nebraskans all. Now add the name of writer-director Alexander Payne, thirty six, to this list of native sons and daughters who have made their mark in cinema. Born and raised in Omaha, Payne made an impressive feature debut with the funky 1996 abortion comedy, Citizen Ruth, and is sure to make waves again with his second feature, Election, which wrapped shooting in Omaha December 15 and is slated for a summer release.

The made-in-Omaha Citizen Ruth netted wide critical praise for its satiric take on the pro life-pro choice debate, revealing Payne to be a keen social observer with an ironic sensibility. Payne, who is single and lives in Los Angeles, is a gifted artist. He’s smart, witty, confident, yet refreshingly grounded. He knows exactly what he’s after and how to get it. He’s also brash and passionate enough to make delightfully subversive films far outside the Hollywood mainstream. Those who know him admire his agile mind, him unmannered sincerity, his barbed humor.

He has the cachet to make films anywhere, but continues coming back here to shoot his quirky independent pictures. Indeed, he remains fiercely loyal to his hometown, whose currents reverberate deeply within him. “I feel so strongly about shooting in Omaha,” he said. “In nursing and nudging Election along, I made it clear I wanted to shoot here, and the producers said, ‘Well, you can shoot this anywhere.’ But I don’t want to fake it. It’s not the same thing. There’s an atmosphere I want to get and be faithful to – about how people are. I want it to be real, I want it be where I’m comfortable and where deep buttons in me are pressed.”

Election co-producer Albert Berger feels Payne is well attuned to Omaha’s Zeitgeist. “I had never been in Omaha before, but interestingly enough I sensed an attitude that was very much Alexander’s,” Berger said. “There’s a sort of courteous, formal presentation or exterior of normality, with a bizarre, eccentric, biting humor just beneath it, and I saw that time and time again…so I’m not surprised Alexander came from Omaha and he’s making the type of movies he is there. I feel he is very much of that place.”

Payne agrees, but can’t quite pinpoint the source of his sardonic streak other than to speculate: “Maybe historically, the fact the weather is so cruel on the Plains that for survival there’s bred a sense of humor about it all.” If nothing else, his humor is informed by Omaha’s small town-bit city schizophrenia. “There’s always this tight-assed conservative element here that’s very irritating,” he said. “That doesn’t think anything is funny except Marmaduke and Family Circus. But then there’s this whole other Omaha I grew up with of really smart, funny, caustic people.”

His cutting humor has no shortage of targets. In Citizen Ruth he lampooned the hypocrisy of pro life-pro choice extremists. In Election he exposes the hollowness of School-Suburbia USA rituals.

The role of satirist seems to fit Payne well, but he feels his career is too young to assign him a signature style just yet: “I don’t like to analyze it too closely,” he said, “because so far this type of stuff is just what comes naturally to me. And I almost fear that analyzing it too much will make me too self-conscious or make me think there’s no rules. You know? I’m still just figuring it out.”

 

 

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The Comedy of Imperfection

Election, which Payne and his Citizen Ruth writing collaborator, Jim Taylor, adapted from the soon-to-be-published novel of the same name by Boston writer Tom Perrotta, promises to be Payne’s breakthrough film. Why? Because the material retains the mordant, mercurial sensibility of his debut feature, but is neither likely to be as difficult for its studio (Paramount) to market nor as hard for audiences to stomach as the earlier film was, with its raw-nerve subject matter. Plus, Election stars two young, appealing crossover actors in Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon who should attract the very demographic the film will surely target (ages eighteen to thirty four).

The film, like the book, revolves around a high school teacher, Jim McAllister (Broderick), who, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, acts rashly and rigs a student election, setting in motion a series of seriocomic events that change the lives of everyone involved. Broderick should have just the right innocent deadpan persona (like his idol Buster Keaton) for the part. Much of the script’s sly humor stems from normally upstanding folks behaving badly under pressure. As Payne puts it, “All these horrible, pathetic things happen, but it’s not as though any of the characters is bad, they’re just doing it all for the first time. They just don’t know any better.”

For all its strengths, Citizen Ruth never quite fleshed-out the title character, Ruth Stoops. Payne and Taylor used her more as a siphon and symbol to comment on the absurd lengths pro life-pro choice activists go to, rather than develop her as a person with complex emotional shadings. Her escape at the end makes a strong statement, but tells us nothing we don’t already know. While it’s hard to believe anyone with a sense of humor could be offended by Citizen Ruth, the film surely put off some viewers who strongly identify with one side or the other of the abortion issue.

With Election, Payne isn’t shying away from skewering more sacred cows, but is mining a richer vein of Americana than he attempted before. Where Citizen Ruth often settled for broad sketches, Election promises to probe more deeply into the lives of characters and the milieu they inhabit. And, at least as scripted, the new film allows room for its protagonists to grow somewhat through their ordeal.

Payne feels Election, with its fuller palette of colors, should prove to be “a much stronger film” than his first feature. “Citizen Ruth is particular in it’s having fun with stereotypes,” he said. “It’s funny and interesting, but this is a richer piece of material. It’s got a more complex, nuanced human canvas. There’s nothing schematic about it. I mean, once you figure out what’s going on in Citizen Ruth you still might enjoy the film, but you kind of know where it’s heading. This one, you don’t really know what’s going to happen next.” Ask him what Election is all about and he sighs, wearily weighing your question with one of his own: “How to articulate it? I don’t know…It’s very human and it’s very real, It’s about life. It’s like life – I can’t sum it up. I hope always to make movies that can’t be easily summed up.”

Payne doesn’t pander to audiences. His leading characters don’t neatly conform to Post-Modern Hollywood’s idea of winning protagonists. Instead, they’re whimsically, tragically, unpredictably human. And because they’re so authentic they engage us in ways “nice” characters often don’t. Ruth Stoops is a pregnant inhalant addict who’s made a mess of her life and is unrepentant about it. She’s also street-smart and disarmingly honest. Jim McAllister is a philandering hypocrite who takes his hurt out on one of his students. He’s also hard-working and surprisingly vulnerable.

Broderick wanted to do Election because it offered a chance to play “a complicated person, and not a terribly charming one,” he said, adding: “I loved the script. For one thing, it was very literate. A lot of scripts are very hard to get through, but this was a very easy read. It was funny and sad. It made me want to know what was going to happen next. Alexander’s very original, I think. He’s a very careful, detailed director. He’s very intelligent. He’s funny, too.” He also liked Payne’s handling of the material, which in lesser hands could easily have been superficial: “He’s sympathetic to the characters, even when they do stupid things. He doesn’t look down on the characters from some kind of higher moral ground. They’re all very human. He doesn’t categorize people. People aren’t either perfect or evil, smart or stupid, they’re all a mix of things.”

But as Payne well knows, some stodgier segments of Omaha don’t appreciate his irreverent humor. Omaha Public School officials were wary enough to deny him the use of Burke High School for Election. The film’s Neo-Peyton Place school scenes were eventually shot (during normal school hours) at Papillion-LaVista High School. Payne resists any suggestion his comic sensibility is vulgar: “I think, for example, that Citizen Ruth has an amoral protagonist, yet it’s a very moral film. The same thing now with Election. There’s a lot of irresponsible and immoral behavior in the film, but I believe strongly that it’s a very responsible and moral film.”

 

Election6

 

Influences

A Hollywood outsider despite still living in L.A. and getting his financing there (he plans moving to New York City by year’s end), Payne dislikes much of today’s nouveau hip American cinema. “Hollywood, in the last few years, has produced films which take the attitude, ‘Oh, isn’t this cool, we have amoral characters,’” he said. “But in completely unredeeming, nihilistic films that simply anticipate moments of violence, rather than being about people in complex ways, I don’t get much out of nihilism.” He finds most contemporary comedies wanting too. “I’m bored with most American comedies because they’re about nothing. The attitude is, ‘Oh, it’s comedy, it’s just fluff.’ But, in fact, comedy should be about something. It’s just another form of communication about experience and emotion.”

Although Payne is generations removed from legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder, with whom he’s been compared, he greatly admires the writer-director’s acerbic, irony-laced style. In preparation for Citizen Ruth Payne screened Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (about an unscrupulous reporter exploiting a human tragedy). One of his favorite Wilder films is the 1960 Best Picture Oscar winner, The Apartment, whose story of deceit in the bedrooms and boardrooms of middle-class America echoes that of Election, only Payne is substituting schoolrooms for boardrooms. “I think The Apartment is sooooo good,” he said. “People remember it as a cute film about a guy (Jack Lemmon) giving his apartment to his bosses for their afternoon liaisons, but you see it again and you have to take a shower afterwards. It’s genuinely depressing. People see Billy Wilder’s work as cynical and dark and all that, but it’s really at the same time loving and playful with people.”

It’s precisely the same balance Payne tries striking. In Jim McAllister, Payne gives us an Everyman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A man mired in a rut and desperate for a change. Payne describes him this way: “He’s a very American protagonist, somehow. Optimistic. Boyish. Idealistic. Naive. And tragic, because he’s in denial about real things going on in his life and how he really feels about things, and it kind of leads to his downfall.”

He could be describing Jack Lemmon’s character in The Apartment, so alike are the two figures. How appropriate then that Broderick, who shares Lemmon’s intuitive grasp of tragic-comic roles, and Payne, who shares Wilder’s penchant for subversive satire, should collaborate on a film resonating so strongly with the Lemmon-Wilder canon.

 

Election8

 

Adaptation

Payne, along with Taylor, found a kindred spirit in Perrotta as well. “We found in his novel a starting place, a springboard for what we do best as writers together. It’s very, very close to us. And also there’s a certain sadness about the novel, and Jim and I like to extract comedy from sadness and pain,” Payne said, laughing devilishly. “What I also liked about the novel, and I think this was maybe true of Citizen Ruth too, is that people compromise themselves through really, really good intentions. They all think they’re doing the right thing, and they end up getting very. very compromised morally. One other thing it has in common thematically with Citizen Ruth…is that idea of people’s personal-psycho-sexual situations being worked out in a public arena, especially a political arena.”

He said one of the ways the movie differs from the book is its humor. “It’s a lot funnier than the novel. The novel has a lot of humor in it, but it’s kind of more ruminative. Jim and I always go for the laughs.” In adapting the book, he and Taylor, who lives in New York City, ended up “dramatizing things Perrotta only mentioned in passing. We ended up writing a ton of new stuff. We changed his characters’ names. We took a lot of liberties. When you go to adapt a novel you have to forget the novel. You owe nothing to the novel, yet you remain entirely faithful to it somehow in spirit,” Payne said.

Perrotta, whose book is due out in March from Putnam Publishing, said of the adaptation, “I think they translated my work into this other medium in just a brilliant way.” Of Payne, whom he had a chance to observe on the set during a late November visit to Omaha, he said, “He’s incredibly smart. He seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of literature and film that he carries around quite gracefully. He’s so focused and sharp. I think he’s one of these people who really knows what he wants.”

Election, while still in manuscript form, was brought to Payne and Taylor in 1996 by Berger and his producing partner Ron Yerxa. Berger had had his eye on Payne since seeing the filmmaker’s 1991 UCLA thesis film, The Passion of Martin. After agreeing to adapt Election, Payne said he and Taylor read the book several more times, noting lines, characters and incidents they wanted to keep or expand. The pair worked on the script throughout ‘96 and completed their final draft last spring.

“By the end, as we’re doing more and more rewrites,” Payne said, “the novel didn’t even exist for us anymore because it (the story) became ours. We can’t even remember anymore what’s in the novel and what we made up.” An important structural element Payne and Taylor kept is the book’s multiple first-person narration (It’s worth noting Wilder used narration to great effect in his films). Much of the film is told from the shifting perspective of four characters (aided by diabolically funny voice-overs), each of whom has a different take on their interwoven imbroglios. Perrotta is delighted the multiple narrative survived the novel-to-screen adaptation: “I was pretty sure when the book got optioned that that particular quality would get lost. But amazingly these guys were able to do this very daring screenplay where they have the voice-overs of different characters that in a way mimics the structure of the book. I think they pulled off a pretty amazing technical feat…and were deeply faithful to the book.”

For Payne, co-opting the novel’s narrative motif “offered a very interesting and fun challenge.” He adds, “The film is covered with voice-over (recorded at Omaha recording studio Pisaurus Productions). I love voice-over in films, and there’s kind of a stigma against it.” That stigma is an artificial one imposed by film executives and by “script experts” like Syd Field. Payne disdains the Syd Field cookie-cutter school of screenwriting: “He’s an idiot. I’m still waiting for that first blockbuster Syd Field film script.”

 

ELECTION, Reese Witherspoon, 1999

 

Making it Real

Ever one to follow his own drummer, Payne dismisses the notion films must look or sound a certain way. It’s why he insisted on making his first two features far away from La-La Land. For Election, he wanted a high school as it really looks, not as Hollywood envisions it.

“The high school movies I’ve seen have all been shot in California. They have Venetian blinds on the windows and really beautiful rays of sunlight coming and all the teachers have really good haircuts and all the students are bright, cheery-faced and look like actors out of Central Casting, and it’s hideous. It’s just fake. In Election all the extras are real students and teachers, even some of the leads. The classrooms, unlike ones in those California-filmed movies, are windowless foundation-blocks with fluorescent light overhead. That’s what schools are and that’s what I wanted to capture – the real thing.” Berger said, “Alexander was sort of relentless in his desire for a truthful, accurate portrayal of high school and of people, with no Hollywood Beverly Hills 90210 bullshit. And he definitely got what he wanted.”

Election production designer Jane Stewart (she also designed Citizen Ruth) said Payne was equally exacting in creating visual cues for each character. To express McAllister’s stuck-in-neutral life, she said, a Dundee-area house was turned into his home. “We tried to reflect older values and an oppressive feeling through things like colors and objects.”

Payne’s search for verisimilitude informs his filmmaking. It’s why he doesn’t adhere to trends.

“I take cues from reality, from observation,” he said, “and not from other movies, even though I watch a lot of movies and I’m a film buff and all that. You have to feel inspired about what you write and what you want to commit to film. When it comes to shoot, all your ideas and what you’re trying to capture has to come from observation. And it becomes a little bit like a fun reportage in that way.”

On Election he immersed himself in the rhythms of Papillion-LaVista High School (Carver High in the film). “After the initial couple of weeks, the teachers and students felt very comfortable seeing us around and we felt very comfortable being there,” he said.

 

Election4

 

A Journey to Cinema

He loves how filmmaking permits him to explore other realities. “What’s fun about that is that you become like a spy and a witness to all sorts of worlds. Suddenly, you have this excuse to visit a place, but really visit it and really hear people talk about what they do. And if you’re curious about the world and about people, it’s just the greatest job to have.”

Long before becoming a filmmaker, his curiosity led him to Stanford University, where his love for languages spurred an interest in Spanish literature and Latin American history. His studies took him to Spain and Colombia, He’s since returned to Spain again and again. He still keeps in touch with friends he made there in the 1980s. After Election wrapped he vacationed with family in Florida before heading to Spain to “bum around.”

Obsessed with cinema since childhood, Payne collected eight millimeter prints of old movies and shot several short films with a used Super 8 camera. He recalls One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as a seminal film in his teens and ironically notes it would probably be difficult to get that picture made today (It was, in fact, a difficult sell then too.) However, Payne didn’t touch a camera again until he was at UCLA, which he attended after graduating from Stanford in 1984. Despite harboring a dream to pursue filmmaking, he didn’t take a single film class at Stanford because he looked upon his undergraduate years as a time “to get an education.”

Once he decided to study film, he considered both UCLA and USC, the West Coast’s two most prestigious film schools. The story of why, after visiting each campus, he chose UCLA is classic Payne:

“What I found was that USC was extremely Hollywood-oriented. It’s a private institution and structured very much as a Hollywood feeder school. You have to compete for the privilege of making an advanced film. I saw a batch of those advanced films when I was down there, and they were extremely formulaic and banal. Extremely well-crafted and very watchable, like Hollywood films, but they were about nothing.

“I went to UCLA, and found it much more wild there. It’s a public school. It seemed like a place to be freer and just explore and do what you want. Most of their student films are pretty experimental and unwatchable, but there’s the attitude that it’s one person, one film. At UCLA they popped a Super 8 camera in your hands and said, ‘Go shoot something. We’ll teach you technique later, but now, go fuck-up and just shoot from your gut.’ And you work harder, of course, than you ever worked in your life, like you always do in films.

“They know there’s many people like me who haven’t had access to filmmaking before, and they just want you to come with ideas and experiences. That’s the important thing. It’s such a neat philosophy, but it’s changed since then. Everything has gone to the right in our country, including film school.”

There he came under the influence of top-flight editor Richard Marks (whose credits include the current James L. Brooks film As Good As It Gets).

“My editing teacher and in a large degree my film mentor was Richard Marks. He’s someone who taught me a lot about filmmaking and with whom I still keep in contact.”

Payne’s intense fifty-minute UCLA thesis film, The Passion of Martin, played festivals and pegged him as a real “comer” in the industry. It led to a Universal development deal that eventually fizzled. Later, he teamed with Taylor and together they wrote short films for cable TV. Then they hit upon the idea for Citizen Ruth in ‘92 and, after surviving one dead-end producer, they finally saw the project to fruition. Election should once again prove Payne has delivered on his early promise.

 

Alexander Payne directing Reese Witherspoon on the set of Election (1999). HIs thoughts on editing are here -- http://heidisaman.tumblr.com/day/2013/12/11:

 

Refining and Progressing

Payne is currently in L.A. working with editor Kevin Tent on Election. He’s also supervising some fantasy sequences (involving pictures in a yearbook coming to life) being filmed by a West Coast animation firm.

MTV Films, which is co-producing Election with Berger and Yerxa’s Bona Fide Films and independent producer Keith Samples, has been lobbying Payne with music suggestions. Payne is adamant about not bowing to MTV pressure. “I’ve been telling them, ‘Wait till we get into the editing before you make any record deals. I have a lot of ideas. I don’t want to just put hit songs in there. I don’t want this film to be a commercial for hit tunes. I think that’s really terrible and actually dates the film.”

Payne insists on creative control and has largely gotten it thus far. He feels the reason he’s escaped studio meddling is because film executives consider comedy somewhat mysterious – “that it has to be a certain way or there’s some magic to it.” Then too his budgets have been small enough so as to keep his films “under the radar” of prying producers. Although the Election budget (under ten million dollars) surpassed that of his first feature, Payne said, “My stuff is still considered risky enough that even though Citizen Ruth was a critical success, I’m still not at the point where I’m demanding anything approaching a big budget.”

He’s at an enviable place now in his career. But even as his reputation grows and his projects increase in scale, he remains close to his by-the-seat-of-his-pants roots.

“Every film I’ve made has been bigger than the one before,” he said. “But I’m always surprised at how similar it (the process) is from film to film. You encounter the same basic filmmaker problems: How to get the actors to do what you want them to do. How to bring out their best with the camera. Hoping it doesn’t rain. Hoping it does rain. Hoping it cuts together. Hoping the music works with it.

“I’ve taken a step-by-step progression and I feel a sense of apprenticeship to the craft. I’m learning little by little. And I think as a filmmaker it’s important to somehow keep in mind that even with all those trucks and all those technicians and all that money being spent, that it’s you with a Super 8 camera. And to keep always an intimate relationship between yourself and what you’re shooting. Don’t let any of that other stuff bother you. The moment before saying, ‘Action,’ look around the set, see where the camera is, and just ask yourself in a split second, Is this really, exactly what I want, even if I’m wrong? Yes. ‘Action.’”

Cut. Print It. That’s a wrap.

 

Some thoughts on the HBO documentary ‘My Fight’ about Terence Crawford


Some thoughts on the HBO documentary “My Fight” about Terence Crawford–

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

There are sections of contemporary life in this city that most Omahans would rather forget and would certainly do eveything to avoid because they represent uncomfortable truths and realities. Terence Crawford’s rise to professional prizefighting’s upper ranks cannot be divorced from where he grew up and from where he still has his heart and continues to have a strong presence. That place is northeast Omaha. The inner city. The Hood. Its tough people and conditions formed and forged him. Rarely if ever is there a screen portrait of that community that goes beyond stereotype or surface. Usually, those screen representations are TV news reports about the afternath of violent crimes. Over and over again. An exception is the new HBO documentary “My Fight” that profiles Terence in advance of his July 23 title fight with Viktor Postol. It shows an authentic glimpse of the neighborhood and streets, the family and friends he comes from. Not all of northeast Omaha is like what is portraysd. It’s a more diverse landscape than this or any media report paints it to be. But his film gives us a well-rounded look at this man’s life. His routines, his hangouts, his grandmother’s home, his childhood block, his church, his gym, his fishing spot. It’s good for all Omahans to see this film because it does, as much as any one film can, virtually place you there in that community and lifestyle. The psychic-social-cultural-economic-political barriers that continue separating folks are not going away anytime soon but maybe a film like this can at least help put folks there who would never venture there other than maybe for a church mission project. It shows that we’re all just people doing the best that we can. In Terence Crawford, northeast Omaha has a local hero and champion in a way that’s it’s never quite had before. Along the way, as the film makes clear, he’s become Omaha’s hometown champion who is embraced by diverse fans. Perhaps there is more to Terence’s ascendance than we know. Perhaps he can be a unifying figure. He has stayed in Omaha. He remains true to his roots. But at the end of the day he is only one man and this is only one film. Unless and until we can openly, freely and without fear or judgement sit down and break bread together, work togetther and live togeher in every part of the city, then a film like this will remain a safe way for people to look with curiosity at how the other half lives and leave it at that. Sadly, that is still how it is in much of Omaha. Maybe just maybe though we can all rally behind Terence and what he wants for his community, which is opportunity and justice.

Northeast Omaha has only been portrayed on film a handful of times. There was “A Time for Burning” Then “Wigger” Now add to the list the new HBO documentary “My Fight” that pofiles Terence Crawford in the inner city neighborhood and community that he sprang from and that he still has close ties to. Meet some of the key people in his life. You get a real sense for how things are there and for the people he is a part of. Those conditions and characters made him who he is. Click below to watch the full film, which is produced at a very high level. I have covered Terence for a few years now and my stories touch on just about everything the film does. I even went to Africa with Bud. I accompanied him on one of his two trips to Uganda and Rwanda with Pipeline Worldwide’s Jamie Nollette. I have charted his life story in and out of boxing and I look forward to doing more of this as his journey continues.

Link to my stories about The Champ at–
https://leoadambiga.com/?s=terence+crawford

Come to my July 21 Omaha Press Club Noon Forum presentation Seeing Africa with Terence Crawford and Pipeline–
https://www.facebook.com/events/1019250964856726/

Terence Crawford takes you to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, Terence Crawford faces Viktor Postol on Saturday, July 23 live on pay-per-view…

 

Jim Taylor, the Other Half of Hollywood’s Top Screenwriting Team, Talks About His Work with Alexander Payne


No matter how Alexander Payne’s in-progress film Downsizing is received when released next year, it will be remembered as his first foray into special effects, science fiction, big budget filmmaking and sprawling production extending across three nations. But the most important development it marks is the rejoining of Payne and his longtime screenwriting partner, Jim Taylor, whose contributions to the film’s they’ve collaborated on often get overlooked even though he’s shared an Oscar with Payne and has been nominated for others with him. In truth, Payne and Taylor never broke with each other. Payne did make both The Descendants and Nebraska without Taylor’s writing contribution, but following their last collaboration, Sideways, and during much of the period when Payne was producing other people’s films and then mounting and making the two films he directed following Sideways, these creative partners were busily at work on the Downsizing screenplay. It’s been awhile since I last interviewed Taylor. I am sharing the resulting 2005 story here, It is included in my book Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film. A new edition of the book releases Sept. 1.

As my story makes clear, Payne and Taylor go farther back then Citizen Ruth, the first feature they wrote together and the first feature that Payne directed. Their bond goes all the way back to college and to scuffling along to try to break into features. After Citizen Ruth, they really made waves with their scripts for Election and About Schmidt. And then Sideways confirmed them as perhaps Hollywood’s top screenwriting tandem. They also collaborated on for-hire rewrite jobs on scripts that others directed.

I will soon be doing a new interview with Taylor for my ongoing reporting about Payne and his work. Though Taylor is not a Nebraskan, his important collaboration with Payne makes him an exception to the rule of only focusing on natives for my in-development Nebraska Film Heritage Project. By the way, one of the films that Payne produced during his seven year hiatus from directing features was The Savages, whose writer-director, Tamara Jenkins, is Taylor’s wife. That Payne and Taylor have kept their personal friendship and creative professional relationship intact over 25-plus years, including a production company they shared together, is a remarkable feat in today’s ephemeral culture and society.

NOTE: For you film buffs out there, I will be interviewing Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore and showing clips of his work at Kaneko in the Old Market, on Thursday, July 21. The event starts at 7 p.m. and will include a Q & A. For details and tickets, visit–

Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light

Link to my cover story about Mauro and more info about the event at–

https://leoadambiga.com/…/05/04/master-of-light-mauro-fiore/

 

 

<a gi-track='captionPersonalityLinkClicked' href=/galleries/search?phrase=Jim+Taylor&family=editorial&specificpeople=209181 ng-click='$event.stopPropagation()'>Jim Taylor</a> and <a gi-track='captionPersonalityLinkClicked' href=/galleries/search?phrase=Alexander+Payne&family=editorial&specificpeople=202578 ng-click='$event.stopPropagation()'>Alexander Payne</a>, winners Best Screenplay for “Sideways”

Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne, winners Best Screenplay for “Sideways”

 

Jim Taylor, the Other Half of Hollywood’s Top Screenwriting Team, Talks About His Work with Alexander Payne

Published in a fall 2005 issue of The Reader

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

There’s an alchemy to the virtuoso writing partnership of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Oscar winners for Sideways (2004) and previous nominees for Election (1999), that resists pat analysis. The artists themselves are unsure what makes their union work beyond compatibility, mutual regard and an abiding reverence for cinema art.

Together 15 years now, their professional marriage has been a steady ascent amid the starts and stops endemic to filmmaking. As their careers have evolved, they’ve emerged as perhaps the industry’s most respected screenwriting tandem, often drawing comparisons to great pairings of the past. As the director of their scripts, Payne grabs the lion’s share of attention, although their greatest triumph, Sideways, proved “a rite of passage” for each, Taylor said, by virtue of their Oscars.

Taylor doesn’t mind that Payne, the auteur, has more fame. ”He pays a price for that. I’m not envious of all the interviews he has to do and the fact his face is recognized more. Everywhere he goes people want something from him. That level of celebrity I’m not really interested in,” he said by phone from the New York home he shares with filmmaker wife Tamara Jenkins (The Slums of Beverly Hills).

With the craziness of Sideways now subsided and Payne due to return soon from a month-long sojourn in Paris, where he shot a vignette for the I Love Paris omnibus film, he and Taylor will once again engage their joint muse. So far, they’re being coy about what they’ve fixed as their next project. It may be the political, Altmanesque story they’ve hinted at. Or something entirely else. What is certain is that a much-anticipated new Payne-Taylor creation will be in genesis.

Taylor’s an enigma in the public eye, but he is irreducibly, inescapably one half of a premier writing team that shows no signs of running dry or splitting up. His insights into how they approach the work offer a vital glimpse into their process, which is a kind of literary jam session, game of charades and excuse for hanging out all in one. They say by the time a script’s finished, they’re not even sure who’s done what. That makes sense when you consider how they fashion a screenplay — throwing out ideas over days and weeks at a time in hours-long give-and-take riffs that sometimes have them sharing the same computer monitor hooked up to two keyboards.

Their usual M.O. finds them talking, on and on, about actions, conflicts, motivations and situations, acting out or channeling bits of dialogue and taking turns giving these elements form and life on paper.

”After we’ve talked about something, one of us will say, ‘Let me take a crack at this,’ and then he’ll write a few pages. Looking at it, the other might say, ‘Let me try this.’ Sometimes, the person on the keyboard is not doing the creative work. They’re almost inputting what the other person is saying. It’s probably a lot like the way Alexander works with his editor (Kevin Tent), except we’re switching back and forth being the editor.”

For each writer, the litmus test of any scene is its authenticity. They abhor anything that rings false. Their constant rewrites are all about getting to the truth of what a given character would do next. Avoiding cliches and formulas and feel-good plot points, they serve up multi-shaded figures as unpredictable as real people, which means they’re not always likable.

”I think it’s true of all the characters we write that there’s this mixture of things in people. Straight-ahead heroes are just really boring to us because they don’t really exist,” said Taylor, whose major influences include the humanist Czech films of the 1960s. “I think once we fall in love with the characters, then it’s really just about the characters for us. We have the best time writing when the characters are leading us somewhere and we’re not so much trying to write about some theme.”

Sideways’ uber scene, when Miles and Maya express their longing for each other via their passion for the grape, arose organically.

“We didn’t labor any longer over that scene than others,” he said. “What happened was, in our early drafts we had expanded on a speech Miles has in the book (Rex Pickett’s novel) and in later drafts we realized Maya should have her own speech. At the time we wrote those speeches we had no idea how important they would turn out to be. It was instinctive choice to include them, not something calculated to fill a gap in a schematic design.”

 

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins and writer/producer <a gi-track='captionPersonalityLinkClicked' href=/galleries/search?phrase=Jim+Taylor&family=editorial&specificpeople=209181 ng-click='$event.stopPropagation()'>Jim Taylor</a> attend 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' intro at MoMA on February 15, 2008 in New York City.

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins and writer/producer Jim Taylorattend ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ intro at MoMA on February 15, 2008 in New York City.

 

He said their scripts are in such “good shape” by the time cameras roll that little or no rewriting is done on set. “Usually we’ll make some minor changes after the table reading that happens right before shooting.” Taylor said Payne asks his advice on casting, locations, various cuts, music, et cetera.

Their process assumes new colors when hired for a script-doctor job (Meet the Parents, Jurassic Park III), the latest being I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

“With those projects we’re trying to accommodate the needs of a different director and we generally don’t have much time, so we don’t allow problems to linger as long as we would, which is good practice,” said Taylor. “It’s good for us to have to work fast. We’ll power through stuff, where we might let it sit longer and just let ourselves be stuck.”

Ego suppression explains in part how they avoid any big blow ups.

”I think it’s because both of us are interested in making a good movie more than having our own ideas validated,” Taylor said. “So we are able to, hopefully, set our egos aside when we’re working and say, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea,’ or, ‘That’s a better idea.’ I think a lot of writing teams split up because they’re too concerned about protecting what they did as opposed to remembering what’s good for the script. We can work out disagreements without having any fallout from it. It’s funny. I mean, sometimes we do act like a married couple. There’s negotiations to be made. But mostly we just get along and enjoy working together.”

As conjurers in the idiom of comedy, he said, “I think our shared sensibilities are similar enough that if I can make him laugh or he can make me laugh, then we feel like we’re on the right track.”

Collaboration is nothing new for Taylor, a Pomona College and New York University Tisch School of the Arts grad, who’s directed a short as well as second unit work on Payne shoots (most of the 16 millimeter footage in Election) and is developing feature scripts for himself to direct.

”For me, I didn’t set out to be a screenwriter, I set out to be a filmmaker,” said Taylor, a former Cannon Films grunt and assistant to director Ivan Passer (Cutter’s Way). So did Alexander. And we kind of think of it all as one process, along with editing…People say everything is writing. Editing is writing and in a strange way acting is writing, and all that. Filmmaking itself is a collaborative medium. People drawn to filmmaking are drawn to working with other people. Sure, a lot of screenwriters do hole up somewhere so they’re not disturbed, but I’m not like that and Alexander’s not like that. I don’t like working on my own. I like to bounce ideas off people. Filmmaking demands it, as opposed to being a novelist or a painter, who work in forms that aren’t necessarily collaborative.”

Simpatico as they are, there’s also a pragmatic reason for pairing up.

”We just don’t like doing it alone and it’s less productive, too. And we sort of have similar ideas, so why not do it together? Even beyond that, it’s like a quantum leap in creativity. You’re just sort of inspired more to come up with something than if you’re just sitting there and hating what you’re doing. At least there’s somebody there going, ‘Oh, that’s good,’ or, ‘How do we do this?’ And you sort of stick with the problem as opposed to going off and cleaning out a drawer or something.”

Payne says scripting with someone else makes the writing process “less hideous.” For Taylor, flying solo is something to be avoided at all costs.

”I hate it. I really hate it. I mean, I do it, but it’s very slow and I don’t think it’s as good,” he said. “I’m getting Alexander’s input on something I’ve been working on for a long, long time on my own, a screenplay called The Lost Cause about a Civil War reenactor, and I expect it to became 50 percent better just because of working with him. We’ll essentially do with it what we do on a production rewrite.”

Lost Cause was part of a “blind deal” Taylor had with Paramount’s Scott Rudin, now at Disney. The fate of Taylor’s deal is unclear.

Writing with his other half, Taylor said, opens a script to new possibilities. “I’ll see it through different eyes when I’m sitting next to Alexander and maybe have ideas I wouldn’t otherwise.”

 

Sideways Photo

 

The pair’s operated like this since their first gig, co-writing short films for cable’s Playboy Inside Out series. The friends and one time roommates have been linked ever since. ”It’s pretty hard to extract the friendship from the partnership or vice versa. It’s all kind of parts of the same thing. We don’t end up seeing each other that much because we live in separate cities, unless we’re working together,” Taylor said. “So our friendship is a little bit dependent on our work life at this point, which is too bad.” However, he added there’s an upside to not being together all the time in the intense way collaborators interact, “It’s important to not get too overdosed on who you’re working with.”

He can’t imagine them going their separate ways unless there’s a serious falling out. ”That would only happen of we had personal problems with each other. Sometimes, people naturally drift apart, and we’re both working against that. We’re trying to make sure that it doesn’t just drift away, because that would be sad.”

Keeping the alliance alive is complicated by living on opposite coasts and the demands of individual lives/careers. But when Taylor talks about going off one day to make his own movies, he means temporarily. He knows Payne has his back. “He’s supportive of my wanting to direct. But I’m so happy working with him that if that were all my career was, I’d be a very lucky person.”

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