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Paul Giamatti and Alexander Payne play catch up 15 years after ‘Sideways’

August 26, 2019 Leave a comment

Paul Giamatti and Alexander Payne play catch up 15 years after ‘Sideways’

 

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

The August 25 Film Streams Feature VIII Event brought together two old collaborators and friends in actor Paul Giamatti and writer-director Alexander Payne. They worked together on Payne’s 2004 road trip romantic comedy/buddy pic “Sideways,” in which Giamatti co-starred as nebbish Miles opposite Thomas Haden Church as boorish Jack.

All of Payne’s films to date have been about the search for love. Romantic love. Platonic love. Parental love. Brotherly love. But especially self-love. In “Sideways” Giamatti plays a divorced, failed writer who believes the prospect of new love is no longer in the cards for him.  His buddy Jack is a former soap star turned voice actor. The pals are getting away from it all on the eve of Jack’s impending marriage. Miles is geeked out by the wineries and vintages, Jack is obsessed with banging every woman he meets, When Jack arranges a double date with his latest conquest, Stephanie and her friend Maya, Miles is surprised and more than a little frightened to find love stirring once again as he falls head over heels for Maya. She is a reader and a wine lover who respects that he’s a writer and wine aficionado. As their fledgling relationship heats up, Miles’s friendship with Jack is severely tested by Jack’s outrageous behavior  Then, when Miles is implicated in Jack’s duplicitous tracks, he finds himself on the outs with Maya. only to find redemption and courage to follow his instincts in the end.

 

During Feature VIII at the Holland Performing Arts Center there was much discussion by Giamatti and Payne about the wonderful scene between Miles and Maya talking about their shared love of wine and grapes when they’re really describing themselves. Giamatti refers to that scenes “as the heart of the film.” and he’s absolutely right. That scene from “Sideways” was one of a few samples of Giamatti’s work screened last night. For an actor with such a deep body of work, it’s hard to represent the breadth of the characters he’s played through a handful of clips, but his versatility shined through.

More than once last night Payne referred to Giamatti, even to his face, as “my favorite actor.” He means it, too. Their conversation was pleasant if not revealing. Payne is a great filmmaker but a rather awkward interviewer. In turn, Giamatti is not so great talking about process or method. Or at least he wasn’t last night. The highlight was his very long, involved and hilarious anecdote about prepping to play former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke in the TV movie “Too Big to Fail.” The event might have had the disadvantage of this pair actually knowing each other too well and they’re being a little too comfortable with each other and therefore somewhat uncomfortable sharing themselves with an audience. The Film Streams conversation programs would be better served with a professional moderator who knows how to effectively lead with questions and then followup or press for answers. I nominate myself for the job.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the affair was the amount of money raised – a cool half a million dollars – in support of Film Streams, which is coming off its best year after expanding to two sites and ramping up its educational programming.

Copied below is my Reader story that appeared in advance of the Feature Event. In my phone interview with Giamatti I found him to be the same engaging, quirky guy he was at the Holland. He and Payne both indicate a strong desire to work together again and we can only hope it happens. Payne has a script and a part waiting for him when the timing’s right. Let’s hope it comes about sooner rather than later.

 

Look for my post of the complete Q&A I did with Giamatti in advance of the Omaha event.

 

Image result for paul giamatti alexander payne

 

Kindred spirits Giamatti and Payne to revisit the triumph of ‘Sideways’ and the art of finding truth and profundity in the holy ordinary

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (thereader.com)

Go-to character actor Paul Giamatti brings élan to his screen gallery of nerdy sidekicks and beleaguered Everyman types. It’s rare for someone with his hangdog looks to be a romantic interest. But in Alexander Payne’s Sideways (2004), he melts hearts with earnest desire and neurotic angst as lovelorn Miles.

He’s the sad half of a dysfunctional buddy team with Jack (Thomas Haden Church), whose frivolity masks hurt. Their on-the-road odyssey of regret, self-pity and debauchery is tempered by redeeming love. The Indiewood project surprised its makers by becoming a serious box office success and major awards contender.

Payne’s taking time from trying to get a new feature off the ground to join Giamatti for an August 25 public conversation accented by clips. This eighth iteration of the Film Streams Feature Event fundraiser unspools in the Holland Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.

Sideways, celebrating its 15th anniversary, remains a highlight of the two men’s respective careers.

“It was a gorgeous experience,” Giamatti said by phone. “It was so much fun. It was joyous. And I think the movie feels that way because we were just making a movie for the love of making a movie – and that’s what was great about it. None of us felt we were making anything anybody would even care about that much. We cared about it. So much of that came from Alexander and his simple joy of being with actors and crew.”

By Sideways, each was a name with an identity – Giamatti’s animated sad-sack persona and Payne’s down-but-not-out milieu of misfits and searchers – that meshed well.

These cinema kindred spirits with a gift for understated wit that segues into broad comedy or high drama found themselves at parallel points in their artistic lives.

Giamatti hit his stride as a supporting player in the late-1990s. Payne made some waves with his debut feature, Citizen Ruth (1996), before fully getting on critics’ radar with Election, a 1999 cult classic enjoying retrospective adulation 20 years later. It’s the film that first brought Payne to Giamatti’s attention.

In Sideways Giamatti believably goes to the dark side of longing. Where childlike Jack is all about immediate gratification, reflective Miles broods over losses and Giamatti digs deep to mine this despair.

Giamatii and Church first met in-person on location in Santa Barbara wine country – after breaking the ice on the phone – where they had several days to bond before production began.

“I cast each independently,” Payne said. “But to have them develop some chemistry – because if no one believes the friendship between those two unlikely men then the film would not work – I had them come to location for two weeks before shooting, so we could rehearse together. But, more important, so they could hang out to play golf, see a movie, eat together. And they did.”

In the film the characters get involved with women they betray. Vain Jack, a former soap star, cheats on his bride-to-be with free-spirit Stephanie (Sandra Oh), who  doesn’t know he’s engaged. Nebbish Miles, a teacher and writer reeling from a failed marriage and a book not finding a publisher, discovers in sensitive Maya (Virginia Madsen) a love he didn’t think possible anymore.

Church nails the self-absorbed miscreant Jack. Giamatti is dead-on as the yearning, naysaying Miles who wears his funk like a cloak. But, as Giamatti said, it is Miles who “opens up as a person through the movie in a really lovely, believable way.” Payne intuitively gives Giamatti the camera and the actor’s highly praised performance moves one to tears and laughter.

Giamatti’s work in Sideways established him as a character lead who can carry a film.

Producer Michael London brokered a package deal for the project. He optioned the film rights for the Rex Pickett novel. Payne and Jim Taylor wrote the script on spec. John Jackson cast for fit, not box-office .”Then,” Payne said, “we approached the studios and said. ‘Here is the screenplay, the director, the cast, and the budget – in or out?’ A couple studios said, ‘Why can’t you have bigger stars?’ Fox Searchlight rolled the dice and won.”

Giamatti is grateful Payne didn’t budge.

“He went back to the studio to tell them he wanted me and I think he anticipated he’d get a fight about that and he did get fights. But he stuck by it – me and Tom and Virginia and Sandra. These are the people he wanted.”

The ensemble made magic.

“Fifteen years later that movie is present in people’s minds as if it just came out last year,” Giamatti said. “It’s got amazing power.”

It marked a peak for Giamatti.

“I felt like if I couldn’t act again for some reason, my acting life would have been fulfilled having done this movie because it was such a purely pleasurable experience. Alexander’s a true filmmaker and that’s what makes him special.”

Payne’s admiration of Giamatti, whom he calls “my favorite actor,” runs deep.

“He’s just the perfect actor. He knows all of his dialogue backwards and forwards and can do it any which way – each take truthful, each take different. He could make bad dialogue work. When he read for me, I remember thinking he was the very first actor reading the lines almost exactly how I’d heard them in my head while writing them — and better.”

“He’s just a lovely guy and extremely well-read.”

Giamatti gushes over Payne’s directing methodology..

“He has the exceptional skill of being able to talk to each actor the way they need to be talked to,” he said. “Everybody has different needs or approaches and he is an incredibly sensitive human being to know what each person needs to get out of them what he wants.

“He’s a benevolent dictator as well. He’s in complete and utter control of everything going on, but you’d never know it he’s such a sweet and laid-back guy on the set.”

Then there’s the way Payne engages others.

“What I feel made a huge difference and sets him apart from any other director I’ve worked with,” Giamatti said, “is his choice to not use a video monitor during takes.”

Both men dislike the isolation of actors and crew working in one area while director, cinematographer and producers huddle around a video assist in another area.

Giamatti said Payne “doesn’t have a hierarchal way of thinking.” Thus, everyone’s “on the same playing field.”

“To him, everybody is important, everybody’s a part of the experience. It’s unique. But that’s him.”

It helps, Giamatti said, that Payne “likes actors.”

“I can tell you the experience of being directed by him is amazing because he’s there with you. There’s a lot of stuff where I’m alone in a room in that movie. He would stand there, watch me, and talk to me. The connection I developed with him I’ve never experienced again with a film director. As great as a lot of the people I’ve worked with are, nobody’s ever done anything like that.

“The connection you feel because of that is unbelievable. I love him, I really do.”

The actor’s eager to visit Payne’s home turf and muse.

“Indeed, yeah, I’m very curious to see Omaha and how it has informed Alexander and vice versa.”

Payne may just wing it with him here, saying, “We get along so well, I may not prepare that much. We could go out on stage and just start talking.”

Surprisingly, Sideways is the only time they’ve worked together. They nearly re-teamed in 2008 when Payne first tried setting up Downsizing. He cast Giamatti as the lead, Paul. But the free-fall economic recession put the high-concept comedy on hold. By the time Payne sought financing again the suits insisted on a marquee name to hedge their big-budget risk. Enter Matt Damon.

This Omaha reunion will not be the last time the actor and director collaborate if they have their way.

“I wish we could find an opportunity to work again,” Giamatti said.

“We definitely will,” said Payne, who has a script and part in mind for him.

“I know there is something. but I fear it may not work out. It’s all timing,” Giamatti said, sounding just like Miles.

Film Streams is screening a repertory series of Giamatti’s feature work at the Dundee Theater. On August 26 and 28 Sideways shows at the north downtown Ruth Sokolof Theater. There’s also a second repertory series of favorite Giamatti films not his own.

Visit filmstreams.org for schedules and tickets.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

 

Kindred spirits Giamatti and Payne to revisit the triumph of ‘Sideways’ and the art of finding truth and profundity in the holy ordinary


Image result for paul giamatti in conversation with alexander payne  Image result for paul giamatti in conversation with alexander payne

Kindred spirits Giamatti and Payne to revisit the triumph of ‘Sideways’ and the art of finding truth and profundity in the holy ordinary

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the August 2019 edition of The Reader (thereader.com)

Go-to character actor Paul Giamatti brings élan to his screen gallery of nerdy sidekicks and beleaguered Everyman types. It’s rare for someone with his hangdog looks to be a romantic interest. But in Alexander Payne’s Sideways (2004), he melts hearts with earnest desire and neurotic angst as lovelorn Miles.

He’s the sad half of a dysfunctional buddy team with Jack (Thomas Haden Church), whose frivolity masks hurt. Their on-the-road odyssey of regret, self-pity and debauchery is tempered by redeeming love. The Indiewood project surprised its makers by becoming a serious box office success and major awards contender.

Payne’s taking time from trying to get a new feature off the ground to join Giamatti for an August 25 public conversation accented by clips. This eighth iteration of the Film Streams Feature Event fundraiser unspools in the Holland Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.

Image result for paul giamatti in conversation with alexander payne

 

Sideways, celebrating its 15th anniversary, remains a highlight of the two men’s respective careers.

“It was a gorgeous experience,” Giamatti said by phone. “It was so much fun. It was joyous. And I think the movie feels that way because we were just making a movie for the love of making a movie – and that’s what was great about it. None of us felt we were making anything anybody would even care about that much. We cared about it. So much of that came from Alexander and his simple joy of being with actors and crew.”

By Sideways, each was a name with an identity – Giamatti’s animated sad-sack persona and Payne’s down-but-not-out milieu of misfits and searchers – that meshed well.

These cinema kindred spirits with a gift for understated wit that segues into broad comedy or high drama found themselves at parallel points in their artistic lives.

Giamatti hit his stride as a supporting player in the late-1990s. Payne made some waves with his debut feature, Citizen Ruth (1996), before fully getting on critics’ radar with Election, a 1999 cult classic enjoying retrospective adulation 20 years later. It’s the film that first brought Payne to Giamatti’s attention.

In Sideways Giamatti believably goes to the dark side of longing. Where childlike Jack is all about immediate gratification, reflective Miles broods over losses and Giamatti digs deep to mine this despair.

Giamatii and Church first met in-person on location in Santa Barbara wine country – after breaking the ice on the phone – where they had several days to bond before production began.

“I cast each independently,” Payne said. “But to have them develop some chemistry – because if no one believes the friendship between those two unlikely men then the film would not work – I had them come to location for two weeks before shooting, so we could rehearse together. But, more important, so they could hang out to play golf, see a movie, eat together. And they did.”

In the film the characters get involved with women they betray. Vain Jack, a former soap star, cheats on his bride-to-be with free-spirit Stephanie (Sandra Oh), who  doesn’t know he’s engaged. Nebbish Miles, a teacher and writer reeling from a failed marriage and a book not finding a publisher, discovers in sensitive Maya (Virginia Madsen) a love he didn’t think possible anymore.

Church nails the self-absorbed miscreant Jack. Giamatti is dead-on as the yearning, naysaying Miles who wears his funk like a cloak. But, as Giamatti said, it is Miles who “opens up as a person through the movie in a really lovely, believable way.” Payne intuitively gives Giamatti the camera and the actor’s highly praised performance moves one to tears and laughter.

Giamatti’s work in Sideways established him as a character lead who can carry a film.

Producer Michael London brokered a package deal for the project. He optioned the film rights for the Rex Pickett novel. Payne and Jim Taylor wrote the script on spec. John Jackson cast for fit, not box-office .”Then,” Payne said, “we approached the studios and said. ‘Here is the screenplay, the director, the cast, and the budget – in or out?’ A couple studios said, ‘Why can’t you have bigger stars?’ Fox Searchlight rolled the dice and won.”

Giamatti is grateful Payne didn’t budge.

“He went back to the studio to tell them he wanted me and I think he anticipated he’d get a fight about that and he did get fights. But he stuck by it – me and Tom and Virginia and Sandra. These are the people he wanted.”

The ensemble made magic.

“Fifteen years later that movie is present in people’s minds as if it just came out last year,” Giamatti said. “It’s got amazing power.”

Image result for paul giamatti in conversation with alexander payne

 

It marked a peak for Giamatti.

“I felt like if I couldn’t act again for some reason, my acting life would have been fulfilled having done this movie because it was such a purely pleasurable experience. Alexander’s a true filmmaker and that’s what makes him special.”

Payne’s admiration of Giamatti, whom he calls “my favorite actor,” runs deep.

“He’s just the perfect actor. He knows all of his dialogue backwards and forwards and can do it any which way – each take truthful, each take different. He could make bad dialogue work. When he read for me, I remember thinking he was the very first actor reading the lines almost exactly how I’d heard them in my head while writing them — and better.”

“He’s just a lovely guy and extremely well-read.”

Giamatti gushes over Payne’s directing methodology..

“He has the exceptional skill of being able to talk to each actor the way they need to be talked to,” he said. “Everybody has different needs or approaches and he is an incredibly sensitive human being to know what each person needs to get out of them what he wants.

“He’s a benevolent dictator as well. He’s in complete and utter control of everything going on, but you’d never know it he’s such a sweet and laid-back guy on the set.”

Then there’s the way Payne engages others.

“What I feel made a huge difference and sets him apart from any other director I’ve worked with,” Giamatti said, “is his choice to not use a video monitor during takes.”

Both men dislike the isolation of actors and crew working in one area while director, cinematographer and producers huddle around a video assist in another area.

Giamatti said Payne “doesn’t have a hierarchal way of thinking.” Thus, everyone’s “on the same playing field.” “To him, everybody is important, everybody’s a part of the experience. It’s unique. But that’s him.”

It helps, Giamatti said, that Payne “likes actors.”

“I can tell you the experience of being directed by him is amazing because he’s there with you. There’s a lot of stuff where I’m alone in a room in that movie. He would stand there, watch me, and talk to me. The connection I developed with him I’ve never experienced again with a film director. As great as a lot of the people I’ve worked with are, nobody’s ever done anything like that.

“The connection you feel because of that is unbelievable. I love him, I really do.”

The actor’s eager to visit Payne’s home turf and muse.

“Indeed, yeah, I’m very curious to see Omaha and how it has informed Alexander and vice versa.”

Payne may just wing it with him here, saying, “We get along so well, I may not prepare that much. We could go out on stage and just start talking.”

Surprisingly, Sideways is the only time they’ve worked together. They nearly re-teamed in 2008 when Payne first tried setting up Downsizing. He cast Giamatti as the lead, Paul. But the free-fall economic recession put the high-concept comedy on hold. By the time Payne sought financing again the suits insisted on a marquee name to hedge their big-budget risk. Enter Matt Damon.

This Omaha reunion will not be the last time the actor and director collaborate if they have their way.

“I wish we could find an opportunity to work again,” Giamatti said.

“We definitely will,” said Payne, who has a script and part in mind for him.

“I know there is something. but I fear it may not work out. It’s all timing,” Giamatti said, sounding just like Miles.

Film Streams is screening a repertory series of Giamatti’s feature work at the Dundee Theater. On August 26 and 28 Sideways shows at the north downtown Ruth Sokolof Theater. There’s also a second repertory series of favorite Giamatti films not his own.

Visit filmstreams.org for schedules and tickets.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

Sandhills life gets big screen due thanks to filmmaker Georg Joutras and his “Ocean of Grass”


Oceans of grass

 

Sandhills life gets big screen due thanks to filmmaker Georg Joutras and his “Ocean of Grass”

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the March-April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine

This decade has found Nebraska’s wide open spaces pictured on the big screen more than ever before. First came the melancholic, madcap road trip of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska in 2013. Then, in 2018, came the Coen Brothers’ Western anthology fable The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Earlier that same year Georg Joutras debuted his documentary Ocean of Grass about a year in the life of a Sandhills ranch family.

Where Payne and the Coens use Nebraska landscapes and skyscapes as metaphoric backdrops for archetypal but fictional portraits of Great Plains life, Joutras takes a deeply immersive, reality-based look at rural rhythms. Joutras celebrates the people who work the soil, tend the animals and endure the weather.

As Hollywood dream machine products by renowned filmmakers, Nebraska and Buster Scruggs enjoyed multi-million dollar budgets and national releases. Ocean of Grass, meanwhile. is a self-financed work by an obscure, first-time filmmaker whose small but visually stunning doc is finding audiences one theater at a time.

For his truly independent, DIY passion project, he spent countless hours at the McGinn ranch north of Broken Bow, Aside from an original music score by Tom Larson, Joutras served as a one-man band – handling everything from producing-directing to cinematography to editing. He’s releasing the feature-length doc via his own Reconciliation Hallucination Studio. In classic road-show fashion he delivers the film to each theater that books it and often does Q&As.

A decade earlier Joutras self-published a photo illustration book, A Way of Life, about the same ranch. The 56-year-old is a lifelong still photographer who feels “attuned to nature”. He operated his own gallery in Lincoln, where he resides. A chance encounter there with Laron McGinn, who makes art when not running the four-generation family ranch, led to Joutras visiting that expanse and becoming enamored with The Life.

Joutras, who grew up in Ogallala from age 11 on, had never stayed on a ranch or stopped in the Sandhills until the book. Those were places to drive past or through. That all changed once he spent time there.

Ogallala became his home when he moved there with his family after stints in his native New Jersey, then Florida and Texas, for his sales executive father’s jobs.

Joutras is not the first to create a film profile of a Nebraska ranch family, A few years before he moved to Ogallala, a caravan of Hollywood rebels arrived. In 1968, Francis Ford Coppola, along with a crew that included George Lucas and a cast headed by Robert Duvall, James Caan and Shirley Knight, shot the final few weeks of Coppola’s dramatic feature The Rain People. That experience introduced Duvall to an area ranch-rodeo family, the Petersons, who became the subjects of his 1977 documentary We’re Not the Jet Set, which filmed in and around Ogallala.

The McGinns’ ranching ways may have never been lensed by Joutras if not for his meeting Laron McGinn. Joutras had left a successful tech career that saw him develop a Point of Sale system for Pearl Vision and an automated radio system (PSI) acquired by Clear Channel. Having made his fortune, he retired to focus on photography. He did fine selling prints of his work. Then he met McGinn and produced A Way of Life – one of several photo books he produced.

 A Way of Life: Ranching on the Plains of America,  a book written by Georg Joutras was the inspiration of his documentary film  Ocean of Grass  that will

A Way of Life: Ranching on the Plains of America, a book written by Georg Joutras was the inspiration of his documentary film Ocean of Grass that will be shown at the Hippodrome Arts Centre in Julesburg on Tuesday, January 8, and Thursday, January 10 with showings at 7 p.m. (Courtesy Photo)

Joutras only got around to doing the film after his family gifted him with a video camera. He began documenting things on the ranch. After investing in higher-end equipment he decided to ditch the year’s worth of filming he’d shot with his old gear to begin anew.

“It was evident immediately the picture quality was so much better than what I had shot the prior year that I was going to have to shoot it all again. So I put another year into shooting everything that goes on out there,” Joutras says. “I basically worked alongside the folks at the ranch. When something happened I thought I should capture, then I’d go into cinematographer mode.”

Upon premiering the film in Kansas City and Broken Bow, he discovered it resonates with folks, Sold-out screenings there have been followed by many more across Nebraska. The reviews are ecstatic.

“People are getting something out of this film,” he says, “They say it reflects the Nebraska ethos. I never did this film anticipating I’d make even one dollar on it. I just had this story I really wanted to tell. It’s certainly achieved much more than I thought it would. It’s done well enough that I’ve recouped pretty much what I put into it.”

Joutras believes his film connects with viewers because of how closely it captures a certain lifestyle. The rapport he developed and trust he earned over time with the McGinns paid dividends.

“I got the footage I did by being around enough and being embedded with them and being part of the crew that works out there. I wanted to earn my keep a little bit and they let me feed cows and run fence and check water. You have to be around enough to where you’re nothing special – you just kind of blend into the background.”

His depiction of a people and place without adornment or agenda is a cinema rarity.

“What I was really trying to capture was the feeling of this place – what it feels like to be out there among the people, the cows, the wind, the sun, the cold. Everything that makes it special. You’re seeing the real thing. Everything in the film is as it happened. Nothing was staged.

“These people are authentic. What they’re doing is authentic. Pretty much everyone you come in contact with in the ranching environment is their own boss. People don’t have to fake who they are. It’s really the American story of hard work trumps everything.”

The film makes clear these are no country bumpkins.

“They are some of the smartest people I know,” Joutras says. “They know how things work and are very articulate expressing their beliefs. By the end of the film I think you understand and admire them,”

He feels viewers fall under the same Sandhills spell that continues captivating him.

“The quality of life I think is exceptional. The pace of life slows down. You get to see real Americans doing real hands-on, get-in-the-mud work.”

He tried conveying in the film what he feels there.

“Out there I feel more in touch with nature and what’s important in life. I feel more grounded. I feel I can breath better. It’s really just a feeling of peace.”

The rough-hewn spirit and soul of it is perhaps best embodied by family patriarch Mike McGinn.

“Mike’s a great guy. He’s sneaky funny. There’s nothing I enjoy more than being in a pickup with him going out to feed cows, which can take half the day or more. He was always reluctant to talk on camera. His was the last interview we got, and it’s just gold. He has all the great lines in the film.

“We got him to watch the film and at the end he turned to me and said, ‘That’s my entire life right there.’ That was a great moment for me.”

Rather than hire a narrator to frame the story, the only voices heard are those of the ranchers.”because they said it better than anyone,” Joutras says.

Beyond the McGinns and their hands, the film’s major character is the Sandhills.

“From a visual standpoint there’s nothing that gets me more excited than attempting to capture really interesting and varied scenic shots that speak to people. The Sandhills are beautiful beyond belief in all their details – from the grass to the slope of the hills to the clouds coming across the prairie to the sound of the wind. It all works together.”

He acquired evocative overhead shots by mounting cameras to drones. The aerial images give the film an epic scope.

Ocean’s visuals have made him a cinematographer for hire. He’s contributing to three films, including a documentary about the women of Route 66.

Future Nebraska-based film projects he may pursue  range from rodeo to winemaking.

Meanwhile, he’s pitching Film Streams to screen Ocean.

“We’ll get it into Omaha one way or another.” More out-of-state screenings are in the worked.

Nebraska Educational Television has expressed interest. PBS is not out of the question.

Joutras is just glad his “little film that can” is getting seen, winning fans and giving the Sandhillls their due.

Visit the film’s website at http://www.oceanofgrassfilm.com.

Watch the trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNV6E5ihjP0.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

sandhills grass

8.24 FRI 7:00 p.m.
8.25 SAT 3:00 p.m.

Holiday book sale: “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

December 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Holiday book sale:

“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

by Leo Adam Biga

For you and/or the film lover in your life

Retails at $26

Now on sale for $20 directly from me

(while supplies last)

Acclaimed filmmaker Alexander Payne uses satire to take the measure of his times. Award-winning writer Leo Adam Biga draws on 20 years covering the writer-director to take the measure of this singular cinema artist and his work.

 

 

Film scholar-author Thomas Schatz (“The Genius of the System”) said:

“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.This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.”

National film critic Leonard Maltin said: “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.”

Available at this special sale price only by contacting me here or at:

402-445-4666 or leo32158@co.net

 

If you want a copy mailed to you, send a check for $25 (includes shipping and handling) made out to Leo A. Biga, along with your return address, to: 

Leo A. Biga

10629 Cuming St.

Omaha, NE 68114

Please indicate if you wish a signed copy.

 

Nebraska Screen Gems – Rediscover Oscar-winning 1983 film “Terms of Endearment” on Wednesday, Oct. 24

October 21, 2018 Leave a comment

Screening-discussion of the most decorated of all the Screen Gems Made in Nebraska:

“Terms of Endearment” (1983)

The James L. Brooks film became a critical and box office smash. It brought legendary stars Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine to the state along with then-newcomer stars Debra Winger and Jeff Daniels. Nearly two decades later, Nicholson would return to Nebraska to star in Alexander Payne’s Omaha-shot “About Schmidt.”

“Terms of Endearment” shot extensively in and around Lincoln, Nebraska.

Wednesday, October 24, 5:45 p.m.

Metro North Express at the Highlander

Non-credit Continuing Ed class

Part of fall Nebraska Screen Gems film class series

Register for the class at:

https://coned.mccneb.edu/wconnect/ace/ShowSchedule.awp?&Criteria…

This class in my fall Nebraska Screen Gems series will screen and discuss a film that established James L. Brooks as a feature writer-director to be reckoned with following his success in television.

Brooks stamped himself a modern movie comedy master with his 1983 adaptation of the Larry McMurtry novel “Terms of Endearment.” This feature film directorial debut by Brooks came after he wrote the movie “Starting Over,” which Alan J. Pakula directed, and after he conquered television by creating “Room 222,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Taxi.” For his first film as writer-director, Brooks wonderfully modulates the comedy and drama in a story about a young wife-mother whose marriage is falling apart and her widowed mother who unexpectedly finds new romance. Infidelity and terminal cancer get added to the high stakes. In what could have been a maudlin soap opera in lesser heads plays instead as a raw, raucous slice of life look at well-meaning people stymied by their own flaws and desires and by events outside their own control.

The film was partially shot in Nebraska. The exteriors intended to be in Des Moines, Iowa, Kearney, Nebraska, and Lincoln, Nebraska, were all filmed in Lincoln. Many scenes were filmed on or near the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, During filming in Lincoln, Debra Winger met the then-governor of Nebraska, Bob Kerrey, and wound up dating him for two years.

To a man and woman, the principal characters are unapolegetically their own strong-willed people. MacLaine is the vain, severe Aurora Greenway, whose fierce love and criticism of her daughter Emma (Winger) drives a wedge between them that their devotion to each other overcomes. Daniels plays Emma’s unfaithful professor husband Flap. Nicholson plays Garrett Breedlove, the carousing ex-astronaut neighbor of Aurora who, unusual for him, finds himself falling for a woman his own age when he discovers that his neighbor is not the brittle bitch he thought.

During the period “Terms” was in production, MacLaine and Nicholson were the two big names in the cast, but the lead, Winger, had only just become a star by virtue of her performance in “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982). DeVito was a TV star from “Taxi.” Lithgow was still better known for his stage work than his screen work. Daniels was a newcomer.

The strong ensemble cast is headed by Nicholson and MacLaine, who inhabit their roles so fully that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in them.

Veteran Omaha stage actor Tom Wees has a speaking part as a doctor and ably holds his own with the heavyweight stars.

Of all the films ever made in Nebraska, “Terms” is by far the most honored. It was nominated for 11 Oscars and won five (for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and MacLaine as Best Actress and Nicholson as Best Supporting Actor.) The picture also won four Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actress in a Drama (MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson) and Best Screenplay (Brooks).

Brooks followed this film with two more instant comedy classics: “Broadcast News” and “As Good as It Gets” and added to his TV legend by creating “The Simpsons.”

Here is a link to register for the class:

https://coned.mccneb.edu/wconnect/ace/ShowSchedule.awp?&Criteria…

Nebraska Screen Gems – “Boys Town” (1938)

September 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Screening-Discussion of 1938 Movie Classic “Boys Town” on Wednesday, October 10.

The first in the Nebraska Screen Gems class series held Wednesday evenings this fall. 

Offered by Metropolitan Community College Continuing Education. 

 

Join me for our first Screen Gems Made In Nebraska class at MCC’s North Express in the Highlander Accelerator. We’ll be screening and discussing the classic 1938 movie “Boys Town.” It represents the biggest movie event in our state’s history considering the major studio that made it, the mega stars who appeared in it,  the huge crowds that turned out for the world premiere in downtown Omaha, the business it did at the box office and the Oscar that Spencer Tracy won for his portrayal of Father Flanagan. Then there’s the priceless promotion the film gave the boys home.

 

Boys Town

 

MCC Continuing Education - Nebraska's photo.

OCT10

Nebraska Screen Gems – Boys Town

Public

Date: October 10, 2018

Meets: Wednesday from 5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

Location: MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

Registration Fee: $29.00

 

Register at: https://coned.mccneb.edu/…/ShowSchedule.awp?&…for…‎

 

For the entire Screen Gems Nebraska class series schedule, visit:

https://coned.mccneb.edu/ShowSchedule.awp?&…Title…

 

More information at:

https://www.facebook.com/events/170739783781160/

 

Screen Gems Made in Nebraska – Film discussions and screenings

September 21, 2018 Leave a comment

The next round of noncredit Continuing Education film classes I am teaching for Metropolitan Community College is called

 

Screen Gems Made in Nebraska

 

This fall series runs Wednesday evenings, from October 10 through November 14, at MCC’s North Express in the Highlander Accelerator.

We’ll screen and discuss diverse films made in Nebraska from the 1930s through the 2000s.

Please join us.

 

Screen Gems Made in Nebraska

Nebraska is not high on most filmmakers’ list of places to shoot pictures for its lack of arresting locations, paucity of film production facilities and no meaningful tax incentives. Yet dozens of Hollywood and indie feature projects have been filmed here in part or in their entirely since the 1930s. Some even ended up award-winners and classics.

Big budget studio or network projects are a rarity here. Most in-state pictures have modest or micro budgets. Still, there’s a history big screen names working here, sometimes before they were stars.

Native son Alexander Payne is responsible for a preponderance of the major films lensed in Nebraska. Five of his seven features have shot in total or in part in his home state. Each time he’s had to fight to shoot here. His in-state projects have brought A-list talent.

Some made-in-Nebraska films have enjoyed national premieres in Omaha, complete with red carpet, search lights and queues of fans.

From the Golden Age of the studio system to today’s dispersed production apparatus, Nebraska has hosted a wide range of film productions. This fall’s series of film classes will sample seven very different pictures from the relatively small but surprisingly rich filmed in Nebraska heritage.

Fall Class sessions are held Wednesday evenings from 5:45 to 8:45 at the Highlander Accelerator, 2112 North 30th Street.

$$ Bundle & Save $$ Screen Gems Made in Nebraska

Dates:

October 10 through November 14, 2018

Meets:

Wednesdays

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

Location:

MCC North Express 311 in the Highlander Accelerator

2112 North 30th Street.

Registration Fee:

$145.00

For a limited time only, bring a friend for free.

Register at:

https://coned.mccneb.edu/wconnect/ace/

This fall, Metropolitan Community College’s series of film classes will sample seven different pictures from the relatively small, but surprisingly rich filmed-in-Nebraska inventory.

The instructor is yours truly, Leo Adam Biga, film journalist and author of the book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.”

This bundle includes “Boys Town,” “The Rain People,” “We’re Not the Jet Set,” “Terms of Endearment,” “My Antonia,” “A Time for Burning” and “Wigger.” (five sessions)

NOTES:

Must be 18 or older.

Series skips Wednesday, October 31.

The fall 2018 Screen Gems Made in Nebraska series:

Boys Town

October 10, 2018 

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

MGM came to Omaha to make the 1938 Oscar-winning chestnut “Boys Town” about an institution and its beloved priest founder, Edward Flanagan. The presence of stars Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney set the town to talking during the film’s shoot at the village of Boys Town and in Omaha. (one session)

The Rain People & We’re Not the Jet Set

October 17, 2018

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

In 1968 Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas came to Ogallala, Nebraska for the last few weeks shooting on “The Rain People,” an arty road picture Coppola wrote and directed that starred Shirley Knight, James Caan and Robert Duvall. While working in Nebraska, actor Robert Duvall met a Nebraska farm-ranch family who became the subjects of his evocative, rarely seen 1977 documentary, “We’re Not the Jet Set.” This was Duvall’s first directorial effort and it’s a must-see for anyone wanting a full appreciation of his screen career. (one session)

Terms of Endearment

October 24, 2018

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

James L. Brooks found great success creating “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi” and “The Simpsons” and he proved equally adept with big screen comedy when he produced-wrote-directed 1983’s “Terms of Endearment,” whose A-list cast worked on several scenes in Lincoln. Brooks won Oscars as producer, writer and director. (one session)

My Antonia

November 7, 2018

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

The classic book “My Antonia” by iconic Nebraska author Willa Cather was adapted into this 1995 cable television movie featuring Neal Patrick Harris, Ellna Lowensohn, Jason Robards and Eva Marie Saint. The movie, helmed by acclaimed TV director Joseph Sargent, shot in and around the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island. (one session)

A Time for Burning & Wigger

November 14, 2018

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

In the mid-1960s, Lutheran Film Associates commissioned Bill Jersey and Barbara Connell to make a cinema verite documentary about race relations in mainstream America. They focused their camera on Omaha, where a young, liberal pastor met resistance attempting interracial fellowship at his North Omaha church. A young barber-philosopher-activist by the name of Ernie Chambers stole the show in the Oscar-nominated “A Time for Burning” about the rupture that resulted among the Augustana Lutheran Church congregation.

University of Nebraska at Omaha Black Studies professor Omowale Akintunde took on the tricky subject of racial identity in his 2010 urban drama “Wigger,” which the writer-director shot entirely in North Omaha. Join this in depth discussion which will also be facilitated by the director himself. (one session)

Register at:

https://coned.mccneb.edu/wconnect/ace/ShowSchedule.awp?&Criteria

Screen Gems Made in Nebraska

August 7, 2018 Leave a comment

The next round of noncredit Continuing Education film classes I am teaching for Metropolitan Community College is called

Screen Gems Made in Nebraska

This fall series runs Wednesday evenings, from October 10 through November 14, at MCC’s North Express in the Highlander Accelerator.

We’ll screen and discuss diverse films made in Nebraska from the 1930s through the 2000s.

Please join us.

Screen Gems Made in Nebraska

Nebraska is not high on most filmmakers’ list of places to shoot pictures for its lack of arresting locations, paucity of film production facilities and no meaningful tax incentives. Yet dozens of Hollywood and indie feature projects have been filmed here in part or in their entirely since the 1930s. Some even ended up award-winners and classics.

Big budget studio or network projects are a rarity here. Most in-state pictures have modest or micro budgets. Still, there’s a history big screen names working here, sometimes before they were stars.

Native son Alexander Payne is responsible for a preponderance of the major films lensed in Nebraska. Five of his seven features have shot in total or in part in his home state. Each time he’s had to fight to shoot here. His in-state projects have brought A-list talent.

Some made-in-Nebraska films have enjoyed national premieres in Omaha, complete with red carpet, search lights and queues of fans.

From the Golden Age of the studio system to today’s dispersed production apparatus, Nebraska has hosted a wide range of film productions. This fall’s series of film classes will sample seven very different pictures from the relatively small but surprisingly rich filmed in Nebraska heritage.

Fall Class sessions are held Wednesday evenings from 5:45 to 8:45 at the Highlander Accelerator, 2112 North 30th Street.

$$ Bundle & Save $$ Screen Gems Made in Nebraska

Dates:

October 10 through November 14, 2018

Meets:

Wednesdays

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

Location:

MCC North Express 311 in the Highlander Accelerator

2112 North 30th Street.

Registration Fee:

$145.00

For a limited time only, bring a friend for free.

Register at:

https://coned.mccneb.edu/wconnect/ace/

This fall, Metropolitan Community College’s series of film classes will sample seven different pictures from the relatively small, but surprisingly rich filmed-in-Nebraska inventory.

The instructor is yours truly, Leo Adam Biga, film journalist and author of the book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.”

This bundle includes “Boys Town,” “The Rain People,” “We’re Not the Jet Set,” “Terms of Endearment,” “My Antonia,” “A Time for Burning” and “Wigger.” (five sessions)

NOTES:

Must be 18 or older.

Series skips Wednesday, October 31.

The fall 2018 Screen Gems Made in Nebraska series:

 

Boys Town

October 10, 2018 

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

MGM came to Omaha to make the 1938 Oscar-winning chestnut “Boys Town” about an institution and its beloved priest founder, Edward Flanagan. The presence of stars Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney set the town to talking during the film’s shoot at the village of Boys Town and in Omaha. (one session)

 

The Rain People & We’re Not the Jet Set

October 17, 2018

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

In 1968 Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas came to Ogallala, Nebraska for the last few weeks shooting on “The Rain People,” an arty road picture Coppola wrote and directed that starred Shirley Knight, James Caan and Robert Duvall. While working in Nebraska, actor Robert Duvall met a Nebraska farm-ranch family who became the subjects of his evocative, rarely seen 1977 documentary, “We’re Not the Jet Set.” This was Duvall’s first directorial effort and it’s a must-see for anyone wanting a full appreciation of his screen career. (one session)

 

Terms of Endearment

October 24, 2018

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

James L. Brooks found great success creating “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi” and “The Simpsons” and he proved equally adept with big screen comedy when he produced-wrote-directed 1983’s “Terms of Endearment,” whose A-list cast worked on several scenes in Lincoln. Brooks won Oscars as producer, writer and director. (one session)

 

My Antonia

November 7, 2018

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

The classic book “My Antonia” by iconic Nebraska author Willa Cather was adapted into this 1995 cable television movie featuring Neal Patrick Harris, Ellna Lowensohn, Jason Robards and Eva Marie Saint. The movie, helmed by acclaimed TV director Joseph Sargent, shot in and around the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island. (one session)

 

A Time for Burning & Wigger

November 14, 2018

5:45 PM to 8:45 PM

MCC North Express 311, Highlander Accelerator

$29.00

In the mid-1960s, Lutheran Film Associates commissioned Bill Jersey and Barbara Connell to make a cinema verite documentary about race relations in mainstream America. They focused their camera on Omaha, where a young, liberal pastor met resistance attempting interracial fellowship at his North Omaha church. A young barber-philosopher-activist by the name of Ernie Chambers stole the show in the Oscar-nominated “A Time for Burning” about the rupture that resulted among the Augustana Lutheran Church congregation.

University of Nebraska at Omaha Black Studies professor Omowale Akintunde took on the tricky subject of racial identity in his 2010 urban drama “Wigger,” which the writer-director shot entirely in North Omaha. Join this in depth discussion which will also be facilitated by the director himself. (one session)

Register at:

https://coned.mccneb.edu/wconnect/ace/ShowSchedule.awp?&Criteria

Life Itself VI: Links to twenty years of stories about big screen and small screen subjects


Life Itself VI

Links to twenty years of stories about big screen and small screen subjects

 

A preview of Nebraska Screen Heritage Project content

Interviews-profiles with Oscar and Emmy winners, working professionals, newbies and veterans 

All from Nebraska or intersecting with Nebraska

 

Brought to you by Leo Adam Biga, Author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

Follow my Hot Movie Takes at: https://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga

 
 
(stories roughly organized from most recent to most distant)
 
 
74247 full

Director Alexander PayneGRANT SLATER/KPCC
 
Prodigal filmmaker comes home again to screen new picture at Omaha Film Fest
Alexander Payne’s Homecoming
The Dundee and “Downsizing”
“Downsizing” Home Cameos
Dundee Theater: Return engagement for the ages
John Knicely: A life in television five decades strong
The Tail-Gunner’s Grandson: Ben Drickey revisits World War II experiences on foot and film
In their own words – The Greatest Generation on World War II
My recap of Julianne Moore in conversation with Alexander Payne
Three generations of Omaha film directors – Joan Micklin Silver, Alexander Payne, Nik Fackler
“The  Incredible Shrinking Man” and “Downsizing” speak to each other and to us 60 years apart
1950s Cinema: 
An under-appreciated decade of film and ferment
Film Noir, Donald Trump and art imitating life (or is it the other way around?)
Film is both a heart and a head thing for Diana Martinez
Dope actress Yolonda Ross nothing but versatile – from “The Get Down” to cinema cannibals to dog-eat-dog politics
Nebraska’s own Lynn Stalmaster gets long overdue Oscar 
Stanley Kubrick and Alexander Payne – 
An unexpected congruence
Cautionary tales of cinema, the culture war and Donald Trump
Atticus Finch-Barack Obama give way to Bob Ewell-Donald Trump in this post-“To Kill a Mockingbird” world
Ann Schatz on her own terms – Veteran sportscaster broke the mold in Omaha
KETV president-general manager Ariel Roblin leads effort to make historic Burlington Station the ABC affiliate’s new home
Veteran Omaha TV meteorologist Jim Flowers weathers the storm 
Gabrielle Union wedding beauty

Gabrielle Union: A force in front of and away from the camera
John Beasley: Living his dream
Master of many mediums Jason Fischer
Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” starring Matt Damon
Lew Hunter’s small town Nebraska boy made good in Hollywood story is a doozy
Old Hollywood hand living in Omaha comes out of the shadows: Screenwriter John Kaye scripted “American Hot Wax” and more
Down and out but not done in Omaha:
Documentary surveys the poverty landscape
Tribute to educator who fired my passions for writing and film
“A Thousand Clowns” and other ’60s films begat golden age of ’70s cinema
Cinemateca series trains lens on diverse films and themes
Payne’s “Downsizing” may be next big thing on world cinema landscape
“Downsizing” may elevate filmmaker to new heights
Some thoughts on HBO documentary “My Fight” about Terence Crawford
Do any Alexander Payne films rate among 100 greatest American films ever made?

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film

Through Through a lens starkly: Alexander Payne films Nebraska
EXCERPTS FROM ALEXANDER PAYNE: HIS JOURNEY IN FILM
In Memoriam: 
Filmmaker Gail Levin followed her passion
Omaha Film Festival adds spotlight on Nebraska films
Tim Christian: Changing the face of film in Nebraska
For Omaha Film Festival guru Marc Longbrake, cinema is no passing fancy
10th Annual Omaha Film Festival a showcase for indie writer-directors; Patty Dillon documentary about executioners among films to check out
Matinee Matinee Marriage: 
Omaha couple Mauro and Christine Fiore forge a union based on film and family
Gabrielle Union having it all between her own series, new film, producing, marriage and family
What do Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne and WBO world boxing champion Terence “Bud” Crawford have in common?
Nebraska Film Currents
Masters David O. Russell and Alexander Payne matched wits at Film Streams Feature VI event
Nebraska Coast Connection: Networking group ties Nebraskans in Hollywood
Struggles of single moms subject of film and discussion; Local women can relate to living paycheck to paycheck
Omaha native goes where his film passion leads: James Duff and filmmaker wife Julia Morrison shot debut feature “Hank and Asha” on two continents
Filmmaker explores Latina whose story defies all conventions; Maria Agui Carter to speak after El Museo Latino screening of her film “Rebel”
Omaha Film Festival turns nine
Ex-Gonzo  journalist-turned-filmmaker James Marshall Crotty resolved to celebrate debate in new films “Crotty’s Kids” and “Master Debaters”
Alexander Payne’s new film “Nebraska” features senior cast and aging themes in story sure to resonate with many viewers
Casting director John Jackson helps build Alexander Payne’s film worlds
Alexander Payne’s local color: Payne and Co. mine prairie poetry of his home state in new American gothic film “Nebraska”
New film “Growing Cities” takes road trip look at urban farmers cultivating a healthy, sustainable food culture
Nebraska Coast Connection Salon Q&A with Alexander Payne: Filmmaker speaks candidly about “Nebraska,” casting, screenwriting and craft
Making the cut: Music video editor Taylor Tracy
Paul Williams: Alive and well, sober and serene, making memorable music again
New American cinema auteurs, colleagues and friends David O. Russell and Alexander Payne to headline Feature VI
Considering Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska”
Shirley Jones Interview: Classic Hollywood star to appear at Omaha screening of “Carousel”
Anti-Drug War manifesto documentary frames discussion: Cost of criminalizing nonviolent offenders comes home
Gabrielle Union takes serious turn in BET drama “Being Mary Jane” and PBS documentary “Half the Sky”

John Beasley has it all going on with new TV series, feature film in development, plans for new Theater and possible New York Stage debut; Co-stars with Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash in TVLand’s “The Soul Man”
When a film becomes a film: The shaping of Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska”
Dan Mirvish strikes again: Indie filmmaker back with new feature “Between Us”
Documentary shines light on civil rights powerbroker Whitney Young: Producer Bonnie Boswell to discuss film and Young  
Omaha Film Festival features strong lineup, including “The Sapphires” and “Breaking Night”
Yolonda Ross adds writer-director to actress credits; In new movies by Mamet and Sayles as her own “Breaking Night” makes festival circuit

Payne’s “Nebraska” blend of old and new as he brings Indiewood back to the state and reconnects with crew on his first black and white film
Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” comes home to roost: State’s cinema prodigal son back filming on home turf after long absence
Cindy Williams Interview: Film-television star to appear at Omaha revival screening of “American Graffiti”
Bruce Crawford’s unexpected movie-movie life: Omahan salutes classic Hollywood with panache
Michael Beasley follows his pops John Beasley as film-TV Actor: Son’s on a roll with string of small and big screen projects, including “Steel Magnolias” 
Omowale Akintunde film “Wigger” deconstructs what race means in a faux post-racial world
Altman on Altman: A look at the late American auteur Robert Altman through the eyes of his grandson, indie Omaha filmmaker Dana Altman, and other cinephiles 
When Omaha independent filmmaking took a new turn or did it?
Film Streams at Five: Art cinema contributes to transformed Omaha through community focus on film and discussion
Alexander Payne talks cinema with kindred spirit Jane Fonda at Film Streams Feature Event in Omaha
Film Connections: How a 1968 convergence of future cinema greats in Ogallala, Nebraska resulted in multiple films and enduring relationships
Movie maven Crawford celebrates 20 years of classic film revivals bringing Hollywood to Omaha: Special guest Pat Boone to appear at screening of “Journey to the Center of the Earth”
Tempting fate: Patrick Coyle film “Into Temptation” delivers gritty tale of working girl and idealistic priest in search of redemption
Talking screenwriting with Hollywood heavyweight Hawk Ostby: Omaha Film Festival panelist counts “Children of Men” and “Iron Man” among credits
Model-turned-actress Jaime King comes home for screening of film she wrote and directed, “Latch Key,” at Omaha Film Festival
Nebraska Legislature once again wrestles with film tax incentives question: Alexander Payne and John Beasley press the case home
SkyVu Entertainment pushes “Battle Bears” brand to sky’s-the-limit vision of mobile games, TV, film, toys …
Joan Micklin Silver’s Classic “Hester Street” Included in National Film Registry 
Omaha Film Festival celebrates seven years of growing the local film culture
Journeyman actor John Beasley discusses life in film-television-theater and striving for in-the-moment believability
Living the dream: 
Cinema maven Rachel Jacobson – the woman behind Film Streams  

Hail, hail “The Descendants” – Alexander Payne’s first feature since “Sideways” a hit with critics, and the George Clooney-starring comedy-drama is sure to be awards contender
Oscar-winner Alexander Payne, George Clooney and Co. find love, pain and the whole damn thing shooting “The Descendants” in Hawaii 
Alexander Payne and Kaui Hart Hemmings on the symbiosis behind his film and her novel “The Descendants” and how she helped get Hawaii right
Drive-by delight: House forever tied to Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt” just home to residents
“Out of Omaha” aka “California Dreaming” project adds to area’s evolving indie filmmaking scene
Cuba’s “Illogical Temple” the subject of student Academy Award-winning film by UNL students
A degenerate’s work is never done: New film examines mob informant Henry Hill, whose story informed the book “Wiseguy” and the film “Goodfellas”
The Cut Man: Oscar-winning film editor Mike Hill 
Vincent Alston’s indie film debut, “For Love of Amy,” is black and white and love all over

Omaha’s film reckoning arrives in form of Film Streams, the city’s first full-fledged art cinema
John Sorensen’s decades-long magnificent obsession with the Abbott sisters bears fruit in slew of new works, Including “The Quilted Conscience” documentary at Film Streams
John Sorensen and his Abbott Sisters Project: One man’s magnificent obsession shines light on extraordinary Nebraska women
Women’s and indie feature film pioneer Joan Micklin Silver’s journey in cinema
The Film Dude, Nik Fackler, goes his own way again, this time to Nepal and Gabon 
Omowale Akintunde’s in-your-face race film for the new millennium, “Wigger,” introduces America to new cinema voice
Charles Fairbanks, aka the One-Eyed Cat, makes Lucha Libre a way of life and a favorite film subject
The Soderbergh Experience: 
Director Steven Soderbergh to talk shop at Film Streams Feature Event
“Lovely, Still,” that rare film depicting seniors in all their humanity, earns writer-director Nik Fackler Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay
Finding Forefathers: 
Lincoln Motion Picture Company Film Festival gives nod to past and offers glimpse of future
Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds and classic film “Singin’ in the Rain” to be saluted
Master of light, Mauro Fiore, Oscar-winning director of photography for “Avatar”
Joan Micklin Silver: 
Maverick filmmaker helped shape American independent film scene and opened doors for women directors

Martin Landau and Nik Fackler discuss working together on “Lovely, Still” and why they believe so strongly in each other and in their new film
A funny thing happened on the way to the toga party: Filmmaker John Landis waxes nostalgic on “Animal House,” breaking in and his journey in film 
A filming we will go: Gail Levin follows her passion
Forever Marilyn: Gail Levin’s new film frames the “Monroe doctrine”
Nik Fackler, The Film Dude. establishes himself a major new cinema figure with “Lovely, Still”
Kooky Swoosie: Actress Swoosie Kurtz conquers Broadway, film, television

 
When Boys Town became the center of the film world
Filmmaker Nik Fackler’s magic realism reaches the big screen in “Lovely, Still”
Promising writer-director Nik Fackler embraces his first feature film experience
Ben Kuroki: A distinguished military career by a most honorable man chronicled in new film
John Huston, an appreciation 
When cinema first seduced me – “On the Waterfront’
“It’s a Wonderful Life” speaks to our troubled times – calling us to be agents of change and hope
In a Western state of mind II
Stephanie Kurtzuba: From bowling alley to Broadway and back
Omaha cinema culture provides diverse screen landscape
Laura Dern and Alexander Payne: An actor-director marriage made in heaven
Missing Jack Nicholson: A Reflection
John Beasley and sons make acting a family thing
Robert Duvall Interview
Shirley Knight Interview
Carol Kane Interview
Crazy like a fox indie fimmaker Dan Mirvish makes going his own way work
Thy kingdom come: Richard Dooling’s TV teaming with Stephen King
Documentary considers Omaha’s changing face since World War II
James Caan Interview
Jill Scott Interview

Ron Hansen’s masterful outlaw blues novel about Jesse James and Robert Ford faithfully interpreted on screen
Jane Fonda comes home
Actor Kelcey Watson fills tole of a lifetime on short notice in Blue Barn production of “Six Degrees of Separation”
Playwright-screenwriter John Guare talks shop on Omaha visit celebrating his acclaimed “Six Degrees of Separation” 
Q&A with Edward Albee: His thoughts on the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Jo Ann McDowell, Omaha and preparing a new generation of playwrights   
Author humorist, folklorist Roger Welsch tells the stories of the American soul and soil
For love of art and cinema, Danny Lee Ladely follows his muse
Dick Cavett’s desk jockey déjà vu
Dena Krupinsky makes Hollywood dreams reality as Turner Classic Movies producer
Bill Cosby on his own terms: Backstage with comedy legend and old friend Bob Boozer
Bill Cosby talks about his life’s turning point  
Entertainment attorney Ira Epstein: 
Counsel to the stars
“The Bagel: An Immigrant’s Story” – Joan Micklin Silver and Matthew Goodman team up for new documentary
Alexander Payne delivers graceful Oscar tributes – Winner for Best Adapted Screenplay recognizes Clooney, Hemmings and his mom
Alexander Payne achieves new heights in “The Descendants”
Two-time Oscar-winner Alexander Payne delivers another screen gem with “The Descendants” and further enhances his cinema standing
Activist actor Danny Glover takes creative control
Bringing back classic movies and the old-time ballyhoo: Bruce Crawford shows “King Kong” the red carpet treatment
Screenwriting adventures of Nebraska native Jon Bokenkamp, author of the scripts “Perfect Stranger” and “Taking Lives'” 
Phedon Papamichael, Jim Burke and Shailene Woodley discuss working with Alexander Payne on “The Descendants” and Kaui Hart Hemmings comments on the adaptation of her novel
When Laura met Alex: Laura Dern & Alexander Payne get deep about collaborating on “Citizen Ruth” and their shared cinema sensibilities
Jim Taylor, the other half of Hollywood’s top screenwriting team, talks about working with Alexander Payne
Size matters: The return of Alexander Payne, not that he was ever gone
“Every day I’m not directing, I feel like I die a little,” – Alexander Payne: after a period largely producing-writing other people’s projects, the filmmaker sets his sights on his next feature

Paul Giamatti as Miles, left, and Thomas Haden Church as Jack in "Sideways," a film often cited by critics as the best of 2004.

Alexander Payne’s post-“Sideways” blues
Exclusive interview with Alexander Payne following the success of “Sideways” 
A road trip “Sideways” – Alexander Payne’s circuitous journey to his California wine country film comedy
Hollywood dispatch from the set of Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” – Rare, intimate, inside look at Payne and his filmmaking process
Home boy Nicholas D’Agosto makes good on the start “Election” gave him: Nails small but showy part in new indie flick “Dirty Girl”
“Portals” opens new dimensions in performance art – Multimedia concert comes home for Midwest premiere
John Beasley and sons make acting a family thing
Song girl Ann Ronell
Conquering Cannes – Alexander Payne’s triumphant Cannes Film Festival debut with “About Schmidt”
About “About Schmidt”: The shoot, editing, working with Jack and the film After the cutting room floor
Alexander Payne discusses “About Schmidt” starring Jack Nicholson, working with the iconic actor, past projects and future plans
About Payne – Alexander Payne on “About Schmidt,” Jack Nicholson and the comedy of deep focus 
Alexander Payne on working with Jack Nicholson

Nebraskan lives his cinema dream: Darren Brandl produces “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez” starring Oscar-winner Ernest Borgnine
Lit Fest brings author Carleen Brice back home flush with success of first novel, “Orange Mint and Honey”
Actress Yolonda Ross is a talent to watch
Daring actress Yolonda Ross takes it to the limit
Kevyn Morrow’s homecoming
Anthony Chisholm is in the house at the John Beasley Theater in Omaha
Actor Peter Riegert makes fine feature directorial debut with “King of the Corner”
Academy Award-nominated documentary “A Time for Burning” captured church and community struggle with racism
Novel’s mother-daughter thing makes it to the screen
Freedom riders: A get on the bus inauguration diary
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Homecoming always sweet for Dick Cavett, the entertainment legend whose dreams of show biz success were fired in Nebraska
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The Celluloid West
Beware the Singularity, singing the retribution blues: New works by Rick Dooling
Cinema iconoclast and vagabond Jon Jost 
Exposed Gail Levin and Steve Brodner prick the body politic
Gail Levin takes on American master James Dean

Imagemaking celebrated at Joslyn Art Museum: 
“The Misfits” and Magnum Cinema
Unforgettable Patricia Neal
Monty Ross talks about making history with Spike Lee
The Gabrielle Union chronicles 
Gabrielle Union: A Star is Born
Click Westin, back in the screenwriting game again at age 83
Ron Hull reviews his remarkable life in public television in new memoir
Ron Hull’s magical mystery journey through life, history and public television 
Extremities As seen on TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive” – Mary Thompson takes her life back one piece at a time
Dream catcher Lew Hunter: Screenwriting guru of the Great Plains
Bruce Crawford: Omaha’s very own movie mogul
John Beasley: Making his stand
Joan Micklin Silver: Shattering cinema’s glass ceiling
John and Pegge Hlavacek’s globe-trotting adventures as foreign correspondents
Howard Rosenberg’s much-traveled news career


Alexander Payne: Portrait of a young filmmaker
Filmmaker Steve Lustgarten proves he can come home again
Former Omaha television photojournalist Don Chapman’s adventures in imagemaking keep him on the move
Minister makes no concession to retirement, plans busy travel, filmmaking schedule
“Casablanca” – Film classic still enchants as time goes by
“The Searchers,” a John Ford-John Wayne masterwork
Through a lens darkly: Western masterpiece looks past the fog of myth to find the truth
Movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” not just holiday season staple, but work of art for all time

Prodigal filmmaker comes home again to screen new picture at Omaha Film Fest

March 27, 2018 Leave a comment

Prodigal filmmaker comes home again to screen new picture at Omaha Film Fest

 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

The 13th Omaha Film Festival projects March 6-11 at Village Pointe Cinema with its eclectic mix of indie fare from around the world. But a film by Omaha native Dan Mirvish brings things home for area cineastes.

The fest’s opening and closing night films are prestige feature-length studio releases with big name stars: Borg McEnroe at 6 p.m. on March 6 and Beirut at 5:30 p.m. on March 11. The March 10 OFF Conference includes guest panels on Documentary Filmmaking, Writing for Pixar and Filmmaking in Nebraska. The March 11 Writers Theatre showcases live readings of scripts.

Mirvish, an L.A.-based director, will be at a 3:30 p.m. March 10 screening of his new narrative feature Bernard and Huey, whose script is by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jules Feiffer. The presence of indie veteran Mirvish, who co-founded Slamdance, is an important gesture for the local filmmaking community. He’s not only “one of our own” bringing back a well-reviewed new work with serious pedigree, but he’s emblematic of the inventive, resilient spirit that animates the indie industry.

The resourceful Mirvish is the author of The Cheerful Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking, an irreverent yet practical compendium of lessons learned over his 25-year filmmaking career.

Every Mirvish film – Omaha – The Movie (1995), Open House (2004), Between Us (2012) and now Bernard and Huey (2017) – has been an object lesson in opportunity meets accident meets persistence meets imagination. He cobbles together micro budget projects financed by friends and family, doubling locations and stealing shots in guerilla-style fashion.

How he came to make his latest took things to new extremes. The original script went unproduced when Feiffer wrote it decades ago. Then it vanished. Mirvish long admired his work as a cartoonist and scenarist. Feiffer’s adult cartoons in The Village Voice, The New Yorker and Playboy were hipster reads, Also a respected playwright (Little Murders), he adapted an unproduced play for what became the acclaimed Mike Nichols’ film Carnal Knowledge. He adapted Murders for Alan Arkin. He penned Popeye for Robert Altman.

Mirvish went to some lengths to track down the elusive script inspired by an old Feiffer cartoon series. The protagonists are similar to the lifelong male buddies in Carnal Knowledge, only these misogynists navigate a post sexual revolution-feminist age.

Just finding a copy of the script proved daunting as most players involved in trying to get it made decades earlier were dead. Upon rediscovering and reading it, Mirvish fell in love with the material.

“I thought it was a great satire on masculinity and men behaving badly. Kind of timeless characters and even more so now a timely theme,” Mirvish said. “I thought it was very funny and similar to my sense of humor.”

Even after securing the property and Feiffer’s blessing to develop it, lawyers had to clear rights. All this took time. Meanwhile, Feiffer was anxious to see a film finally realized from the script and was in no mood for delays or misfires this go-round.

“Once we got the rights cleared away jules was like I’m 87, let’s make this thing already.”

Mirvish detailed the whole backstory on the project’s Kickstarter campaign Web page.

He knows things could have gone wrong to sabotage the project but he never lost faith it would work out and, more importantly, he never let the process defeat him.

“I have fun with the process and that’s kind of what I say in the book. Look, if you’re not having fun doing all the stages of the game then you shouldn’t play because, you know, making films is not an intrinsically fun process all the time. It’s studded by long bouts of boredom, anxiety, stress and failure, so if you’re not finding the joy in that somewhere along the way, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

“When it comes to casting, for example, other filmmakers may complain, ‘Oh, it’s a Hollywood game these agents are playing.’ Yeah, it’s a game and you should have fun playing it, too, and you just have to play it better than they do, and that’s kind of how you have to look at the whole process. Yeah, there’s going to be challenges and downsides to everything but as long as you’re having fun during the other moments. it’s worth doing. That’s my attitude.”

Mirvish also takes satisfaction in having “hung in there” to do what it took to get it made.

“When we were able to finally sign all the paperwork, then it really was off to the races. We had our Kickstarter campaign up within two months and were casting and financing and getting the film together. From that point it was actually a fairly quick process.”

His old producing partner and fellow Omaha native, Dana Altman, executive produced.

“Dana remembered Feiffer on the set of Popeye because Dana worked on that movie (for his grandfather Robert Altman), so there was that connection.”

Only minimal script changes were made.

Mirvish has a knack for attracting name talent to his little films and he did it again by getting two hot comedic actors: Jim Rash (Community) as Bernard and David Koechner (Anchorman) as Huey. Mirvish enjoyed having two leads with strong improv backgrounds: Koechner with Second City and SNL and Rash with The Groundlings. Rash is also a writer.

“It was just great having them around in rehearsal and then on set. We did four days dedicated to rehearsal, which is pretty rare even on a studio film.”

Flashbacks glimpse Bernard and Huey as young men and Mirvish found two actors, Jake O’Connor and Jay Renshaw, who make uncanny matches.

“Once we cast David and Jim, we had to look for younger versions of them, so we had an open casting call and we found these two terrific actors. The young guys really shadowed the older guys. That was a great experience for all four of them. They really developed this kind of big sibling-little sibling relationship and kind of picked up each other’s little quirks and things.

“Jules and I talked about how it wasn’t about the physical look of these characters. They didn’t have to look like the cartoon. We met with many actors who didn’t. Ironically, Rash and Koechner look almost exactly like the cartoon characters – next to each other especially. In the end credits you see some original Feiffer cartoons. It’s nice to see what these guys are supposed to look like and they really kind of do. I mean, to the point when Feiffer first saw Rash he was like, ‘He’s great, but couldn’t you find someone more handsome?’ because Bernard was always an autobiographical dopple-ganger for Feiffer himself.”

Mirvish grew fond of the eternally clever and young Feiffer. He’s pleased that “Jules really liked the movie and was very happy with the casting.” Feiffer remains prolific at 89. He just finished a new graphic novel and had a new musical open. “For a man of any age, he’s hard to keep up with. It’s a lot of fun whenever I see him because he’s always got these amazing stories.”

Character actor Richard Kind (Gotham), who personally knows Feiffer, has scene-stealing moments as Huey’s older brother Marty.

The women playing the female foils are receiving high praise for their performances: Mae Whitman (Parenthood) as Zelda; Sasha Alexander (Rizzoli & Isles) as Roz; Nancy Travis (Last Man Standing) as Mona; and Bellamy Young (Scandal) as Aggie.

Mirvish shot interiors in L.A. and exteriors in New York.

The film has a domestic distribution deal and awaits a foreign sales deal.

Mirvish hopes to return with the movie in the spring at the Dundee Theater – his neighborhood cinema growing up.

For complete OFF details, visit omahafilmfestival.org.

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