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Savannah Film Fest: Alexander Payne Talks 'Nebraska,' Visual Effects & Asks Where Adult Dramas Have Gone

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist October 28, 2013 at 1:02PM

“I believe in movies,” Alexander Payne emphatically states during our interview at the Savannah Film Festival over the weekend. The director was not only on hand to present “Nebraska,” which served as the opening film of the festival, but also to receive the Outstanding Achievement in Cinema award, presented by the movie’s star, Bruce Dern. And Payne’s passion for film is clearly present in his approach for his latest effort. The road trip story about a stubborn, determined father (Dern) and his put-upon son (played by Will Forte) journeying to claim a sweepstakes prize, is presented in black and white, and shot in widescreen—certainly not the usual elements one expects these days in a movie that blends drama, comedy and Payne’s always focused eye on the textures of the Midwest.
alexander Payne, cannes

But with studios investing less in dramas, the past few years have seen a tidal wave of acting and directing talent from the movie world, making their way toward television. And it’s a fact not lost on Payne, but there are still some things he believes you can only do at the movies. “We still have wonderful people doing wonderful things, but it’s mostly on TV, because the costs are lower. But you can’t do things of scale on television,” he said. And while TV offers the opportunity of “endless onion peeling of character” Payne says that movies allow storytellers to “try and get across things with the same impact, but with great narrative economy, and larger visual scale. That’s why I still like movies.”

“We still have wonderful people doing wonderful things, but it’s mostly on TV, because the costs are lower. But you can’t do things of scale on television.”

And Payne does entertain thoughts about telling a story that may involve effects work. For a while now, he's had the high concept social satire "Downsizing" developing, but a fallout of financing and other projects taking priority have kept in on the backburner. The story would follow a married couple who are low on money and decide they can have a much nicer life retiring as little people, and undergo an operation to shrink themselves. It's a project that would require some visual effects, and should he go down that road, Payne wants to make sure he puts an authorial stamp on the process.


“Visual effects are tedious for someone like me to learn, but it also it all keeps getting easier and cheaper as time goes by. But when I do work in visual effects, I don’t want to do it where you get bits from different visual effects houses, and pre-visualize everything by the numbers,” he explained. “Look at what [Alfonso] Cuaron just did with ‘Gravity’ or [Stanley] Kubrick with ‘2001’ or what [James] Cameron does. I mean, I’m not Cameron, nor do I want to be that involved and really know how it works, but I want to do it in a very organic way so that the resulting visual effects are genuinely new and specific to that film.”

It’s certainly a tantalizing prospect from a director who clearly has more he wants to say in the medium of movies. “These first six films have been etudes, just practicing scales,” he modestly states about his filmography so far. And if that’s the case, we can’t wait to see what he does with a full symphony.

“Nebraska” opens on November 22nd. The Savannah Film Festival continues through November 2nd.

This article is related to: Savannah Film Festival, Alexander Payne, Nebraska, Interviews, Interviews

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