Posts Tagged ‘Sideways’

A Shameless Plug: Lit Coach Erin Reel Highlights this Site,, aka Leo Adam Biga’s Blog, Among Her Picks for Blogs That Work

March 31, 2011 3 comments

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A Shameless Plug: Lit Coach Erin Reel Highlights this Site,, aka Leo Adam Biga’s Blog, Among Her Picks for Blogs That Work

©by Erin Reel from her blog site, The Lit Coach’s Guide to the Writer’s Life (

The best blogs serve a purpose greater than sharing miscellaneous tid bits about the blogger’s day – they educate, inform, inspire, humor, enlighten – they share a unique perspective.

Today’s Blog That Works spotlight shines on Leo Adam Biga, Omaha‘s most prolific award-winning cultural journalist. Biga’s eclectic body of work spans from Omaha filmmaker Alexander Payne (SidewaysAbout Schmidt) tofashion and film making to Warren Buffett and just about everything in between. Rather than collect his published pieces in files, unexposed to new readers, Biga collected his published work and archived them on his blog. Why? To gain new readers and showcase his body of work to prospective clients.

Here’s what Biga had to say:

“My blog is primarily intended as a showcase of my cultural journalism. I want the visitor to the site to experience it the way they would a gallery featuring my work. This exhibition or sampling quickly reveals my brand — “I write stories about people, their passions, and their magnificent obsessions” — as well as the scope of my work within that brand, which is quite broad and eclectic. The home page features 10 of my stories, each in their entirety, and those front page stories, which change every few days or weeks, consistently reflect the wide range of interests, subjects, and themes found on the blog. The blog is set up so that whether the visitor is on the home page or clicks on to any page featuring an individual story the entire inventory or index of stories on the blog is always accessible, organized by tags, categories, et cetera. Visitors can also search the site by using key words.

The blog is not monetized. So why do I repurpose my work in this way? Well, every writer likes to have his or her work read, therefore on one level I do it in order to find a new, perhaps larger audience for the stories. The blog is an excellent way for me to have an expanded Web presence. In addition to it, I have a LinkedIn site, a Google site, and a Facebook site, among others, most of them linked to each other. I also use the blog as a portfolio I refer contacts and prospective clients to.” 

And Leo tells me showcasing his body of work blog style has allowed those interested in hiring Biga for new writing gigs has allowed them to get a good feel for his writing. He’s received more offers to write than if he hadn’t set up the blog as his massive online writing brochure.

Leo goes on to say, “The real satisfaction I suppose comes in having a public gallery of my work, even if it only is a small sampling of it, that I can refer or direct people to or that people can discover all on their own. In fact, it appears as if the vast majority of visitors to my site end up there by virtue of Web searches they do and their finding links to my blog as part of the search results that come up. Because I have so many stories out there on so many different topics my blog shows up as part of an endless variety of searches. It’s also kind of fun to have people I wrote about, in some cases years ago, find stories I did about them and contact me, reliving old times or bringing me up to date with what they’re doing today. ”

Check out Leo’s blog. There really is something for every reader.

“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

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“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

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in a 2006 issue of The Reader (


Appearing calmer than he did in 2005, when still in the exhausting grip of Sideways mania and the fallout of his divorce from Sandra Oh, a relaxed Alexander Payne was back in Omaha the past couple weeks, eager to resume work. For those curious about what’s he been up to since Sideways, he answers, “I got busy.” It’s why he’s been out of touch so long. “It’s not just a line, I’ve been busy,” he reiterates. True enough, but aside from a short film project he did in Paris he’s largely been embroiled in work not his own. And that drives him crazy.

He’s helped produce two feature films out this year. The Savages stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney. The King of California stars Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood. Payne’s a close friend of the filmmakers. He’s an executive producer on Savages, written-directed by Tamara Jenkins (The Slums of Beverly Hills), the wife of Payne’s writing partner Jim Taylor. He’s a full producer on King, whose writer-director Michael Cahill was a film school buddy of Payne’s at UCLA.

Payne’s been collaborating on the script of Taylor’s first directing job, The Lost Cause. The pair also did a rewrite on I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry before Adam Sandler signed on opposite Kevin James and “brought in his own people” to, as Payne put it, “Sandlerize it and, quite frankly, dumb it up.”

The real news is the Omaha native has finally fixed on what his next film will be and it turns out it’ll bring him back home, perhaps by the fall of 2008. He won’t say much else other than he and Taylor are well along on the script, a first draft of which they hope to complete this year. The idea for it is one he’s kicked around a while but it was only last year he “began to think of it in a new way” that made it click. In the past he’s referred to the concept as a vehicle for expressing his dismay and disgust with American attitudes and policies. He won’t go as far to call it politically charged, but he gives the impression it will be a pointed satire.

“All I know is I hope it will be funny,” he said in what’s become his stock answer to queries about his works in progress. “The only thing I’ll tell you is what’s new about it for Jim and me is it has a little bit of a science fiction premise, which functions more as a metaphor than a…anyway, that’s all,” he said, catching himself in mid-teaser lest he reveal too much of the still fragile script.

Also new is that “Omaha figures a lot in this one,” he said. “As we have it currently configured about a third of the film would shoot here, but it’s a much longer film than any I’ve made before, so even a third of the film is a good hunk.” He would never consider covering Omaha somewhere else. “I believe in place,” he said.

Payne’s growing place in the industry, which avidly awaits his next film, was made tangible a couple years ago when he, Taylor and producer Jim Burke formed the production-development company Ad Hominem. In the process they struck a first-look deal with Fox Searchlight Pictures that gives the studio first dibs on any projects the filmmakers develop. A producer on ElectionBurke was brought in to manage the Santa Monica-officed Hominem’s small staff. Taylor also has a support person in New York, where he lives. Fox Searchlight did such a good job handling Sideways that Payne inked the studio pact, a move he’d avoided doing until now.

“We’d been talking about it for a while,” Payne said, “but it wasn’t until after Sideways we decided to take the possibility more seriously. Actually, Jim (Taylor) is the one who kind of spearheaded it. I’ve never wanted to have one of these deals before because you never know whom you’re dealing with exactly and I’ve never had as harmonious a filmmaking experience as I had with Sideways and Fox Searchlight. We’d be happy to make another movie with them. They were great. Jim really thought it (the deal) would be a good idea and he was right.

“A first look deal is where a studio just kind of pays for some overhead and you have people working for you in an office and in exchange they (Fox) get first right of negotiation…first crack at anything we do. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to make it, but they get a short window of time in which to decide if they want to do it and, if not, it’s in effect a free ball. And it just kind of formalizes good will and relationship between filmmakers and studio. Besides..the company allows Jim and me to have extra eyes and ears out there reading books or accepting scripts, taking phone calls. Otherwise, we’re doing it all ourselves and not getting our work done. It’s just sort of there to facilitate us.”

Hominem serves another purpose, one taking more and more of Payne’s time, namely to help nudge friends’ projects from limbo to realization. He said the company gives he and Taylor a framework to “on a very selective basis help, enable or foster…those films getting made. And we’ve done one so far, Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages…She was having a very hard time getting that film off the ground, even with the wonderful cast of Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. So, finally our agreeing to come on as executive producers helped it reach the tipping point to getting it made.”

He said the resulting film, shot mainly in New York and a bit in Sun City, Az.,  is “ultimately funny and sad and real. Great performances. They’re very human.”

Sporting a Hydra-head of overflowing locks, Payne broke his long silence to sit down for an exclusive interview with The Reader at M’s Pub in the Old Market. It felt like catching up with someone returned from an odyssey. That’s how removed he’s been from the media these past several months. It’s not that he disappeared in the wake of Sideways, the little picture that blew up bigger than anyone expected and deservedly won Payne and Taylor Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay. But after the barrage of press junkets, film festivals, awards shows and requests came at him faster and heavier than for any of his earlier films, he did retreat inward, largely avoiding any public life.

Two summers ago he spoke of “trying to get away from letting myself be trapped by the demands of others on my time.” This time, he said, “I’m trying to be a private citizen.” He’s managed to avoid the tabloids but he’s had mixed success with the bit about getting back to work.


Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film, A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012

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



Tamara Jenkins



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Alexander Payne’s post-“Sideways” blues


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Alexander Payne‘s post-“Sideways” blues

In the Wake of  His Oscar-win the Filmmaker Draws Inward to Reflect on the New Status He Owns and What It May Mean

©by Leo Adam Biga

Excerpt from story published in a 2005 issue of The Reader (


Alexander Payne’s Oscar win for Sideways officially anointed him a member of American film royalty. His ascendancy to Hollywood’s ruling class, no matter how short-lived it proves, increased the already intense courting of him that began when the picture morphed from nice little adult comedy to big fat hit. With his coronation complete, everybody wants a piece of him, all of which makes the reflective Payne deliberate ever more carefully about his next move.

On a recent Omaha visit, the filmmaker looked tired describing the deluge of requests, deals, offers and scripts he gets these days. This followed an exhausting awards and festival season that saw him do extensive media. He presided over the A Certain Regard jury at Cannes. As the breakup of his marriage to actress Sandra Oh goes through the courts, he’s in the process of moving. With so much in the offing and at stake, grabbing at just anything would be a mistake.

After all, when the world is offered up on a silver platter, you don’t bite off more than you can chew. As Payne recently put it, “You eat too much birthday cake and you get sick.” With “a whole new level of having to deal with stuff coming at me,” he said, he’s taking a step back to “catch my breath” and to go into “life maintenance” mode before “getting back to work.”

“I’m just surrendering for about four more months. I’m really not doing anything for a feature film, other than thinking and reading some scripts that come in,” he said. “I’m getting a knee operation. I’m moving from one house to another. Dealing with the divorce. I’ve a little more travel to do. After I do this life stuff then I’ll start to think about what my next film is, because once you start a feature film you’re scuba diving under water for two years. The rest of your life goes away, which I prefer. I prefer to be scuba diving.”

He almost forgot to mention an international project he’s part of called Paris, I Love You. This anthology or omnibus film will interweave 20 commissioned shorts, each a rumination on Parisian culture, by some of world cinema’s leading artists, including Payne, into a feature-length tribute to the City of Light. He’ll shoot his five-minute segment there, specifically in the 14th Arrondisement, in September.

“From where I am in my life right now, the idea of making a short film in a distant city sounded appealing,” he said. “And part of the reason is precisely that I don’t know Paris well at all.”

Paris sojourn aside, he’s retreating for the moment to let things die down and sink in before taking the plunge again.

The eminence attending Oscar has vaulted Payne into rarefied company. It began as soon as he accepted his statuette. “People wanted to hold it. It was a little like handing over the ring in Lord of the Rings. Then, other people didn’t want to touch it thinking it would jinx their own chances of winning one day,” he said, “It’s too early to tell whether it has changed my own perception of my worth.” He expressed mixed feelings about what it all confers.

“On the one hand, I think, Oh, I guess I’m a ‘made guy’ now. On the other hand, I think, Oh, I’ve won an Oscar, mainstream seal of approval. What did I do wrong?”

The real question is where does he go from here and how does he remain true to himself amid all the swirl?

This is not entirely new territory for the writer-director. Even with only four features to his credit, he’s enjoyed an exulted position for some time now. He was a previous Academy Award nominee for Election. His About Schmidt was selected for the main competition at Cannes, closed the 2002 New York Film Festival and received several Oscar nominations in addition to grossing more than $100 million. Moreover, Schmidt proved to Hollywood insiders that Payne could shepherd a successful vehicle with a major star — Jack Nicholson — thereby making the filmmaker more packagable. As Payne said, “Anymore, I view success as a commodity to help get the next film made.”

Often overlooked in his rise up the industry ladder is the “sell-out” work he and writing collaborator Jim Taylor, the co-Oscar-winning scenarist of Sideways, do as script doctors. They did rewrites for mega-hits Meet the Parents and Jurassic Park III. They just finished their latest job-for-hire on Universal’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, a comedy about a pair of Phillie firefighters who feign being a gay couple, all the way to the altar, to qualify for job health benefits unavailable to single straight men. “We want to rename it Flamers,” Payne said, smiling.

Then there’s what he calls the Sideways “tsunami.” Even though he went through the gauntlet on Schmidt, he was taken aback when Sideways hit. Its success, and all the attention it brought, he said, has been “the most disorienting” experience of his career. Before its general release, he perceived the project as “a nice little movie.” He politely turned down a request from the Cannes Film Festival to submit the pic for competition, explaining to officials, “I don’t think it’s big enough.’” His view was reinforced when it was “turned down for competition” in Venice. So, when the buzz ignited, he was naturally surprised.

“I was caught off guard for the amount of stuff coming at me. I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it’s put me in a highly reactive rather than active mode. Like, much more of my time is spent answering inquiries about using me than doing my work. It’s meant a lot of travel. My number of e-mails has increased vastly. Also the number of requests I get to read scripts and to do things for charity.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s been great. I’m grateful. I have interesting access to people nowadays. But nothing in life is clean cut. It’s all a mixed bag. Like all these people asking, ‘Will you read my script?’ I don’t even have time to go to the gym. If I say no to being on a charity’s board of directors, does it mean I’m an asshole? When Jim and I started we never hit anybody up for anything. It’s like, not cool.”

An example of the heat surrounding him, even pre-Oscar, came at a University of Nebraska at Omaha symposium he gave in December, when an overflow crowd of students, aspirants and acolytes energized the Eppley Auditorium, charging the air with adulation and fascination. Sure, that was on his home turf, but cut to a scene six months later at the prestigious Walker Art Center in Minneapolis for a June 3 program kicking off a week-long retrospective of his work. Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio film critic Kenneth Turan interviewed Payne on stage of the Walker cinema before a full crowd every bit as juiced as the one in Omaha. Yes, Payne’s a hot ticket wherever he goes these days.

As his fame grows Payne finds some see him differently. “They see me in a new context. Not everybody. Not close friends. That doesn’t change. But sometimes, I experience the perception of others change more than I change. I’m like, ‘Are you sure it’s me? I mean, I didn’t return your phone calls before.’”


Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film, A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012

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

Size matters: The return of Alexander Payne, not that he was ever gone



Size matters: The return of Alexander Payne, not that he was ever gone

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in a 2009 issue of The Reader (


Has it really been five years since Sideways? The 2004 film’s success gave its director and Oscar-winning co-writer Alexander Payne the kind of career momentum few filmmakers ever enjoy. What did he do with it? From a crass POV, he squandered the opportunity when instead of leveraging that critical-commercial hit to make some dream project, he chose not to make anything.

Well, not exactly. He did write and direct the short, 14e Arrondissement, for the 2006 omnibus film, Paris, Je T’aime (Paris, I Love You). He and writing partner Jim Taylor took passes at the scripts for I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Baby Mama. In 2007 the pair also began work on a script that turned into an unusually arduous process. Payne hopes to direct that script, Downsizing, next year.

Also, Payne helped produce two films, the disappointing King of California and the sublime The Savages. All those commitments kept him busy, which is how he likes it, but they also made it more difficult to launch a new feature of his own.

Besides the Paris short, he’d actually exposed no film for six years from the time  Sideways wrapped in 2003 until last summer, when he shot the pilot episode for the new HBO comedy series Hung. Thomas Jane stars as a typical middle-class American man driven by economic distress to offer his gift to women as a high class escort. The opening episode Payne helmed premiered last Sunday.

Paris notwithstanding, the gap between Sideways and Hung was interminable for this celluloid junkie who once said, “Every day I’m not directing I feel like I die a little.” OK, maybe he was being over-dramatic, but the point is he went a long time not making cinema. He presumably could have had he really wanted. But Payne is nothing if not a considered, deliberate study. Anyone who knows him understands how particular he is when it comes to his work. Everything must be done on his terms. He’ll only shoot after a script’s gone through endless permutations, revisions, vettings, drafts. It must be solid as gold. No question marks, no loose ends.

Given the choice of rushing to follow up Sideways or stepping back to survey his options, he chose the latter course. Thus, the last five years was about regaining his personal/artistic bearings. Things came at him so hard, so fast after Sideways blew up that he lost his equilibrium there for awhile. A breather was in order.

It didn’t help that in the wake of the film taking off he was reeling from his and Sandra Oh’s divorce. Amidst all that, he moved, he had knee surgery, he did a ton of press and he fielded multiple directing offers. He discovered what it’s like to be a hot commodity. It all got to be a bit much and in typical Payne fashion he didn’t want to compromise his principals by just jumping into anything that came along or feeling pressured into a project he really wasn’t passionate about. So, he entered a self-imposed hiatus from shooting. He would only break this pact with himself in the event the right assignment came along at the right time. Paris was such an assignment. He filmed his segment in 2005.

Until last year he hadn’t found anything conducive enough with his sensibilities and schedule to compel him to shoot again. That all changed with Hung. The new HBO series equates America’s desperate new straits to the plight of ex-golden boy Ray Drecker, a one time athletic hero turned high school basketball coach whose life has soured after a run of bad luck that leaves him feeling worthless.

As Payne noted in a recent interview at mid-town’s Caffeine Dreams, this is the first television pilot he said yes to after years of courting by producers. So what made the ever cautious one bite?  “Every May I get a couple offers to direct a pilot and I’ve never done so until now because the scripts weren’t good or at least I didn’t like them, or I was busy. But this time Jim Taylor and I had just finished a draft of Downsizing and I was just so eager to shoot something and maybe let Downsizing simmer before coming back to it to do yet another draft, because the script has been so difficult. I thought, Just go make something short, go shoot some film, go beat up some actors, assemble my team.”

“What interested me,” said Payne, “is that it’s about a guy who loses everything. His house burns down when he’s uninsured, he’s been hit hard in a divorce, and he ends up turning to the only asset he thinks he has left, one that he was born with. And I thought that maybe somehow that was a symbol for America in a way, where so much has been taken away from it that it only has its large member, and however it uses that. So it’s kind of a whacky metaphor but it’s something I could hang my hat on,” he said, smiling wryly, pun fully intended.

The premise may not be Payne’s but given his track record it’s not hard to imagine him envisioning Hung’s scenario. In line with his taste for discerning, critical, original material, Hung explores the nation’s economic, moral downturn through the prism of an All-American male’s experience gone awry. In this downward spiral Ray does what the sorry, wounded protagonists in Payne’s conception of the world do, he acts out. In this case, the beleaguered Ray turns the one endowment he feels he can market into a second career turning tricks.

Is what Ray does really so different than Ruth Stoops playing her pregnancy off the pro-life/pro-abortion camps for cold hard cash (Citizen Ruth)? Or Jim McAllister giving Tracy her comeuppance by rigging the student body’s vote (Election)? Or Warren Schmidt asserting his emancipation by rashly making an RV road trip and assuaging his guilt by supporting an African orphan (About Schmidt)? Or Miles going off on a self-loathing jag and Jack having his last fling (Sideways)?

Payne’s less sure how consistent Hung is with his oeuvre. “I don’t know if it fits into the body of my work or not but it was fun to do and I was certainly able to bring something to it. I’m proud of the work I did on it. I can’t speak for the rest of the show because they just finished shooting it, but I know the pilot. It speaks well for the pilot that the network did select Hung to be a series because part of that decision is the pilot. And it was really great to work with HBO. They’re awesome.”

As he didn’t write the script, he said, “it’s nothing from my soul,” but that he would respond to Hung makes sense as its creators had his tone in mind when conceptualizing the series.

“It’s funny because we recently found our very first notes from our very first session and we had said months before we had Alexander on board that it should be a comedy with ‘a Paynsian sensibility,’” said Burson. “Alexander finds both the humanity and the comedy in every day life. His movies feel very true and yet they’re very funny. It’s comedy that emerges from truth. Comedy without a wink.”

Further, Burson said, when it came time to pitch a director to HBO Payne’s name was at the top of her and Lipkin’s list. “When we met with HBO and they said to us, ‘Who is your dream director?’ we said our number one choice would be Alexander Payne.” To HBO’s credit, she said, the network didn’t blink. “Two days later he had the material and he called us up.”


Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film, A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012

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



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