By Edward Davis | The Playlist January 18, 2011 at 5:32AM
It's been almost seven years since Alexander Payne released his critically acclaimed road trip drama "Sideways" in 2004. The film earned four Academy Award nominations (including one win for Best Adapted Screenplay) and that helped put Fox Searchlight on the map, paving the way for future success with films like "Little Miss Sunshine," "Juno" and "Slumdog Millionaire."
Now with his upcoming drama "The Descendants" essentially complete from a post-production perspective, Payne is looking towards his next project which will shoot later this year. Titled "Nebraska," and set up over at Paramount, the picture is finally getting off the ground after some six odd years of sitting in Payne's queue waiting for the right opportunity to be made. Centering on a father and son dynamic, "Nebraska" is about an aging alcoholic father who thinks he's won a million dollar Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes prize. He is unbowed when his family tries to dissuade him from making the long trip from Montana to Nebraska to cash in his winnings. So his estranged 20-something son -- who doesn't believe the ticket is a winner -- is forced to go along with him for the ride to keep him out of trouble, providing an opportunity to bond with his father after years of separation.
Written by Robert Nelson, the script was brought to Payne circa 2004 by Bona Fide producers Alex Berger and Ron Yerxa (the team behind "Little Children," "Election," "Little Miss Sunshine") in the days when Paramount Vantage was known as Paramount Classics (both have since been swallowed up into Paramount proper). Payne immediately responded to the screenplay, but had just come off "Sideways" and "About Schmidt" and wanted to put some distance between himself and road-trip tales he had just tackled back-to-back. However, Payne is now retuning the script with Phil Johnston (the writer of the upcoming comedy "Cedar Rapids" which Payne produced with his longtime Ad Hominem partner Jim Taylor) and Yerxa tells us that the plan is to shoot the film in the late summer or early fall before "The Descendants" is released by Fox Searchlight.
While no actors have been cast, the filmmakers have had some vague, very early ideas of who they could envision in the role. One is coming off a semi-hit doc-mockumentary (he's an Affleck) and the other is potentially Robert Forster ("Jackie Brown") for the father role who is also in "The Descendants," but no deals are in place for either actor and Yerxa stresses that true casting and auditions won't begin until much later in the year when Payne is satisfied with the script. "Casting is still wide open," Yerxa said. "Alexander can't cast an actor until he's read for the part and he knows he's exactly right for it."
So the what does that mean for "Downsizing," the high-concept and ambitious dystopian satire screenplay Payne wrote about a world that miniaturizes humans to combat against overpopulation, excessive waste and global warning? Jim Taylor at Ad Hominem tell us while budgeting was a concern, technical issues were also a reason the film was temporarily delayed (yes, it's still in the queue for later down the road). So after a six-year drought, Alexander Payne is virtually making back to back films, which definitely has us excited.
We're told "The Descendants" is eying a late fall, possibly early winter release from Fox Searchlight and we wouldn't be surprised if it turns up at TIFF to begin its awards season run. It's been too long since we last had a Payne full-length film on the big screen but we're not only glad that he's back, but that he's busier than ever.