Nebraska director Alexander Payne, DP Haskell Wexler and location scout Scott Dewees will be honored by the Location Managers Guild of America on March 29th at the Writers Guild Theater. This is the first year of the awards show. Payne will …
Director Alexander Payne, DP Haskell Wexler, Location Scout Scott Dewees To Be Feted By Location Managers Guild
Anna Lisa Raya is deputy editor of AwardsLine.
Much has been written about the decades-long journey Nebraska took to the big screen. For director Alexander Payne—who spent a year of that time just scouting locations in his home state—the gap allowed him to distance himself from his other road-trip movie, Sideways, and get Paramount behind his desire to shoot in black-and-white (having 2011’s well-received, George Clooney-starrer The Descendants under his belt surely helped). The film, which stars veteran actor Bruce Dern, has been warming audiences since its early bow at the Cannes Film Festival last May and captures that tragi-comic vibe that runs through Payne’s work.
AwardsLine: How do you characterize the long gap between when you were attached to make Nebraska and when the film finally went into production?
Alexander Payne: The reason it took a long time is that I didn’t want to follow up one road-trip film with another. In hindsight, the biggest advantage is in how Bruce Dern looks. He wouldn’t have looked as great 10 years ago. You see different actors in movies and think, “Thank God they got that actor at exactly the right moment.” Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon (1973). Liza Minnelli in Cabaret (1972). I feel that way about Bruce Dern in Nebraska.
Anna Lisa Raya is deputy editor of AwardsLine.
Woody Grant, the cantankerous, not-entirely-there patriarch chasing a dubious lottery payoff in Nebraska, is a character Bruce Dern embodied heart and soul. Though always considered a first choice for the role, Dern had to wait almost a decade—and amidst rumors that Gene Hackman would steal the character from him—to sink his teeth into it. His patience paid off with a best actor statuette at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and might lead to his first Oscar nomination since 1978’s Coming Home. While Woody’s quiet, silent type is a far cry from the psychopaths that have characterized Dern’s career, he knew that the role was right for him. His understated take has critics and awards prognosticators buzzing.
AwardsLine: You’ve said that this was the role of a lifetime. You always were the frontrunner, and yet there was a long delay in getting the film made. What was that like for you?
Bruce Dern: It’ll be 10 years since the script was sent to me through my agent at CAA. I started reading at about 9 o’clock at night, and I was done by 9:50. I read that fast because there was no mistake that this was something special. I was overwhelmed that it came to me. I mean, I pulled my oar for 50-odd years, and I’ve been in good films and everything, but I’ve never had a part that just hit me immediately, like, “This is something I can do.” I responded by going out the next morning and I bought (Alexander Payne) a little red truck. With the truck I sent him a long letter, and I was told he responded positively to the letter. And then the wait began. The next thing I know, Alexander was in production on Sideways! You know, the guy’s making a movie, and I’m not in it. I never got my hopes up; I just kept doing the best I could. But then the next thing I know, Alexander’s in Hawaii! He’s making a movie with George Clooney and all the other folks in The Descendants. Then I got discouraged. I just kind of said to myself, “It’s a business of ups and downs. It’s a business of some do and some don’t. Sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not.” I was lucky to have been privileged enough to be considered for the role.
Anna Lisa Raya is Deputy Editor of AwardsLine.
Following their success working with breakout directors on sophomore efforts—Steven Soderbergh, Todd Field and Alexander Payne among them— Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa were pleasantly surprised when Payne suggested himself to direct the Bob Nelson-penned Nebraska. Almost a decade passed before the film went into production, a fortuitous delay that positioned the black-and-white film directly after Payne’s Oscar-nominated The Descendants, giving it a much-needed bump in budget and studio support. Nebraska stars Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a father and son road-tripping through the Midwest.
AwardsLine: How has your collaborative process with Alexander Payne changed since you worked with him on Election?
ALBERT BERGER: At the time of Election, it was Alexander’s first studio movie, and I think he was very unused to that process—he’s a very personal filmmaker and working with a studio wasn’t his natural thing. At this point in time, with Sideways and About Schmidt and The Descendants all under his belt, Paramount had a level of faith in him; it was a much more relaxed situation. Nobody was telling him who to cast in this instance; nobody was interfering with anything creative about the script.
RON YERXA: All parties matured nicely, and it was a calmer, troublefree way to make a film.
AwardsLine: What were the initial budget conversations like with the studio?
BERGER: We always knew it had to be a small movie because the material was intimate. And we know the way Alexander likes to cast: He reads everybody and casts whoever is best for the part instead of (casting) people with foreign-sales value. So we knew that he was going to cast whoever he wanted, and we knew he wanted to film in black and white. We set it up at Paramount Classics, and they accepted it in black and white, but subsequently they went out of business and became Paramount Vantage. (Then Vantage) went out of business
Alexander Payne‘s black and white drama Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern in the role that nabbed him the Cannes Best Actor Award in May, bowed with solid numbers. The film platformed in 4 theaters, grossing $140K and averaging a healthy $35K. Pic stars Dern as a senior bent on collecting a million bucks in sweepstakes money and Will Forte as the son who reluctantly road trips across state lines to satisfy the old man. The numbers show momentum. Compare to Payne’s previous openings: His last film, The Descendants, opened in 29 theaters in November 2011 with a $41K average, though that film was in color, starred George Clooney, and was set in the sunnier climes of Hawaii. His last road trip movie, Sideways (with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church), was set in California’s Santa Barbara County and bowed in 4 runs in October 2004 averaging a spectacular $51,769 for a $207K opening weekend gross. Paramount Vantage will expand awards contender Nebraska to 10 markets on November 22.
“We had a strategy of screening early and often,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s head of domestic marketing and distribution this week. “Word of mouth is going to be the key here. There’s a strong through line of relatability. Some people will think a movie with octogenarians will think it’s for old people, but their children will relate to connecting with their parents and that has strong emotional pull people will connect to. The comedy community and comics in general love the humor of this movie.”
Alexander Payne says he only finished postproduction last Friday on his Cannes competition entry Nebraska, which had its press screening this morning and will premiere tonight. Reviews coming in so far are largely mixed to very good. Even though Paramount won’t release it until November 22, Payne likes to take awhile in post to get everything right. There was initial concern about even making the Cannes date, so that is why until just a week before this year’s official lineup was announced did Paramount and Payne even decide to take a shot. He brought the film to Paris, showed it to Thierry Fremaux with only two days to spare, and landed tonight’s slot. Payne is becoming somewhat of a Cannes regular — although other than 2002′s About Schmidt, this is only his second film in competition. He has served on the juries of both Un Certain Regard and, last year, the main selection.
Nebraska, which will be one of Paramount’s Oscar hopes this year, played well to nice but brief applause from the press at the screening and at the press conference that followed (especially when stars Bruce Dern and Will Forte were introduced). It’s pure Payne in its humanist, gently funny style and captures that Middle America folksy style in beautiful black and white, but it is definitely what I would call a small film that will need tender loving care from the studio (the only major studio film in competition).
Hammond On Cannes: Elizabeth Taylor’s Memory Lives On At Festival As ‘Cleopatra’ Premieres And AIDS Event Hits 20th Anniversary
There are lots of stars in Cannes this year but I don’t think any of them are shining brighter at the festival than one who is no longer with us. Elizabeth Taylor may have died over two years ago at the age of 79 but she lives on, not only on the big and small screens where her many films still play, but also for all the amazing charitable work she did in her lifetime, particularly her fight against AIDS. Tomorrow night amFAR will certainly be remembering her at the 20th anniversary of Cinema Against AIDS, the signature event set during the Cannes Festival she helped start. And Tuesday night 20th Century Fox World Premiered its meticulous 2K digital restoration (it took nine months to complete) of the 1963 film, Cleopatra, infamous for the torrid off-screen love affair between its stars Taylor and Richard Burton.
On the occasion of its 50th anniversary the studio pulled out all the stops with a black tie premiere of the four-hour movie (that ironically almost bankrupted the studio), followed by a lavish party sponsored by Bulgari, the jeweler who supplied Taylor with so many of the baubles she was famous for collecting. In fact, as you entered the party on the J.W. Marriott rooftop it was hard to avoid them displayed in special glass cabinets. Included was the platinum and emerald necklace her co-star Burton gave her for their engagement in 1962. Host (and Bulgari spokesperson) Jessica Chastain actually wore it to introduce the film before taking it off and giving it back to Bulgari. She is the only person to have worn it other than Liz on her wedding day (or one of her wedding days). Also Fox brought in several original Cleopatra costumes. Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos was there to help intro the film and told me later that the financial toll the film took on the studio has been overblown. “It turned a profit after three years,” he says although the movie’s cost was astronomical and ran off the rails. I asked Fox President of Post-Production Ted Gagliano about the story that director Joseph Mankiewicz actually had a six-hour cut and that two never-before seen hours of the film are somewhere in the Fox vaults. He says he has heard this as well but thinks it’s another in the long line of Cleopatra myths since they searched high and low and found nothing. One of the guests at the premiere, director and film nerd Alexander Payne told me after seeing the film again he wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn there was an even longer cut. “But who really needs to see a six-hour version?” he asked. Both Payne and his guest Laura Dern (whose father Bruce Dern stars in Payne’s Cannes entry, Nebraska, which premieres here Thursday) said they loved seeing the film in all its restored glory.
After two years in a row of heavily influencing the Oscar race, the 66th Cannes Film Festival lineup may make it three this year. Certainly I see very long and winding Croisette lines to pick up press or market credentials at the Palais, which is adorned with posters of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in a provocative still shot from their fluffy France-set 1963 comedy A New Kind Of Love. One early clue came when the jury was announced, beginning with President Steven Spielberg and including such Oscar winners as Ang Lee, Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz. And if it’s not enough to have those icons prominent at this year’s fest, add The Great Gatsby‘s Baz Lurhmann whose film is the opening night event with a gala after-party, and Martin Scorsese who will also be in town for a yacht party announcement of his longtime gestating directorial effort Silence on May 16th. Certainly many of the Cannes contenders both in and out of competition are from Academy Award winners and Cannes veterans back with intriguing films that make up a high profile and potent selection with advance buzz. Competing are the Coen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh, Roman Polanski and Alexander Payne plus a slew of famous names in front of the cameras both on screen and on the Red Carpet this year.
As for the competition and key sidebars, one perennial Cannes question os whether it’s a good idea to ready or even rush a film designed for year-end release in order to play at the Festival in May. Particularly of that means risking negative reviews which can be a real buzz killer. Take, for instance, Payne’s last minute entry Nebraska from Paramount, which almost didn’t appear here. In the initial forecast Deadline posted on March 13, we thought Payne’s film fit in with the auteurist nature of the fest, it’s in black and white, and its filmmaker is quite a favorite in Cannes. (He has had only one film previously in competition – 2002′s About Schmidt – and won no prize, but he not only headed the jury for Un Certain Regard in 2005 but also was a member of the main competition jury last year.) Yet shortly after this prediction I was told Cannes wasn’t in the cards due to Payne’s fondness for long post-production time. He didn’t want to be rushed. Then the studio saw the film about a week before the Cannes deadline and execs urged Payne to put it into the festival. He took Nebraska to Paris to show to Cannes programming honcho Thierry Fremaux with just two days to go before the press conference announcing the 2013 lineup. Now it is one of the most anticipated screenings even though it ooccurs towards the end of the Festival on May 23. Paramount claims it recently had a successful research screening in Pasadena and has dated the film for November 22nd, right in the heart of Oscar season (Payne is a two-time Screenwriting Oscar winner for Sideways and The Descendants).
Conversely there was absolutely no doubt Joel and Ethan Coen would be bringing their latest, the 1960′s-set Greenwich Village folk music tale Inside Llewyn Davis screening on May 19. It is their 8th time around this particular block so they are virtually Cannes regulars. CBS Films won’t release the movie stateside until December 6, another prime Oscar date.
Roman Polanski’s Venus In Fur screening on May 25 on the last day of competition is the adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway play. It brings Polanski back to Cannes for the first time since winning his only Palme d’Or (for 2003′s The Pianist, which resulted in a Best Director Oscar). It stars his wife Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Almarac and though audiences and critics weren’t too impressed with the last Polanski Broadway play adaptation God Of Carnage, this dramatic work could be more up his alley. There’s also strong interest in French director Arnaud Desplechin’s Jimmy P: Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indian screening May 18 largely due to lead actor Benecio Del Toro’s role as a Blackfoot Indian WWII vet. (But someone’s gotta change that lumbering title.) Cannes watchers also are buzzing about new works from three directors who are no strangers on the Croisette: Nicolas Winding Refn who won Best Director in Cannes for 2011′s Drive and has re-teamed with star Ryan Gosling as a drug smuggler in the May 22nd entry Only God Forgives. (I am told Kristin Scott Thomas steals this one as his mother). And though his films don’t make much noise in theatres, James Gray is a Cannes favorite and back with his fourth competition entry, The Immigrant (formerly called Lowlife) screening May 24th with a starry cast of Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner. Jim Jarmusch brings his new Vampire story Only Lovers Left Alive which stars the always intriguing Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska . It has the distinction of being the last film to make the list and the last competition film to be screened: in the 10 PM slot on May 25th.
As always with Cannes there is just too damn much to see with many sidebar competitions like Un Certain Regard, Director’s Fortnight, Critics Week, Cannes Classics and so on. Certainly the opener for Un Certain Regard, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and Ryan Coogler’s Sundance sensation Fruitvale Station (summer releases stateside) are both screening on the sidebar’s first day of May 16th and are instant must-sees in addition to James Franco’s directorial outing, As I Lay Dying, on May 20th.
EXCLUSIVE: Paramount has given a green light to Nebraska and has set a mid-October production start on the black & white film Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s followup to The Descendants. And while the road trip pairing of Bruce Dern and …
Alexander Payne, the director/co-writer/co-producer of The Descendants, hates road-trip movies even though he keeps making them; he doesn’t give a damn if people don’t like voice-overs; and he doesn’t think he’s a brand — at least not yet. He spoke with AwardsLine’s Ari Karpel about his George Clooney-starring drama Descendants, which is up for five Oscars including Director and Adapted Screenplay for Payne (the latter including Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) as well as Best Picture.
AWARDSLINE: In The Descendants, we see a Hawaii that we never get to see in movies and on TV. Was the author of the book [Kaui Hart Hemmings] singular in knocking on those doors for you?
PAYNE: She opened a lot of doors for me and the production designers, to get the houses right and the sense of place right. It’s not a film about tourists, as most movies are. It’s about people who live there. The nice thing about making a film on location is that you begin the process of superficially weaving yourself into that fabric of society, just enough to be able to make the film with accuracy and verisimilitude.
The Oscar race for best director is chock-full of major names and past winners who are back with some of their most acclaimed and anticipated films in years. Consider this: Woody Allen, a past winner in the category for Annie Hall (1977), is back this year with Midnight In Paris, not only his most acclaimed film in years but his most successful at the box office ($131 million worldwide). Martin Scorsese, a winner in 2006 for The Departed, has in Hugo a film that many are calling a masterpiece and one that is perhaps his most personal. Steven Spielberg, a two-time winner in the category for 1993’s Schindler’s List and 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, is having a banner year not only with a possible nomination for best animated feature for his first-ever ’toon The Adventures of Tintin, but he is also expected to be a major player as director of the film adaptation of this year’s big Tony-winning play War Horse. Roman Polanski, 2002 winner for The Pianist, also has a pony in the race with Carnage, the film version of the Broadway smash and Tony winner God Of Carnage. Two-time winner Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) is competing with J. Edgar, his biopic of controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Past nominees Alexander Payne, Terrence Malick, Stephen Daldry, Bennett Miller, David Fincher, Jason Reitman and George Clooney are also in the hunt in what promises to be one of the most competitive races in years. But could the big prize actually go to a first-time nominee who made a black-and-white silent film?
Here’s the rundown on who are the hot helmers in the race for Oscar this year:
STEVEN SPIELBERG, WAR HORSE
Hollywood’s most famous and powerful director is going for his seventh nomination in the category and first since Munich in 2005 . Previously nominated for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and a winner for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, this is his best chance to make it a three-peat with his screen adaptation of the beloved book and play War Horse. The epic look at the adventures of a brave horse in World War I has all the elements of a winner: strong emotion, big action scenes and a major pedigree. With his well-reviewed first animated foray Tintin also being released at the same time, Spielberg is a force to be reckoned with this year.