Interview with Alexander Payne

Lesen Sie auch die deutsche Übersetzung des Interviews. do you find so special in average people, that you want them to be in the focus of your movies?
Alexander Payne: Because maybe I haven’t been seeing it in cinema. Commercial American cinema is so frequently about impossibly beautiful movie stars doing those big impossible things. And I am interested in movies which are more about life and where art acts as a mirror of human experience and not a false projection. What do you find so special in average people, that you want them to be in the focus of your movies?

Is it hard for you to get the movies made you want to do?
It’s getting every time easier. Citizen Ruth was extremely difficult to find financing, Election took a long time, About Schmidt a little bit less hard, then this one was relatively easy. Only because there is an audience for them and they haven’t lost money.

Was it easier for you because of the success of About Schmidt? Did Jack Nicholson help you?
I think he did. And I’m realizing that maybe only now. Even if I had made another film without Jack Nicholson but still it had some success or didn’t loose money, that would have helped too.

This time you didn’t cast stars.
But for me they are in the first class, because they’re so perfect for the movie. My criterion while casting is always, do I believe it? And not according to a movie version of it but the real version of it. And certainly About Schmidt made it possible for me to make the movie with no stars. Because they then believed in me enough to say: ‘we’re gambling on you, make the movie you wanna make’. But also it’s cheap by American commercial standards, it only costed approximately 16 Million dollars.

When you’re finished with a movie is there a point at which you look back at it and just rationalize: What have I learned from it?
I do a lot of teaching of film students. In terms of what I learn about filmmaking, I’m able to articulate it to myself when I teach. I find that very valuable. Like writing it forces to articulate what is kind of moving around inside you.

What did you learn from Sideways?
I was much more relaxed in making it. I began to see to impose myself less in the filmmaking and trust more and more the creative people who work with me. The most beautiful thing about film directing is to create the circumstances under which things I never could have imagined can happen, and not just from the actors but from the composer, from the editor to the production designer, cinematographer, costumes, everyone. That really the role of director is not creator, it’s director, really conducting the creative energies.

What’s so incredible about your movies is the set design. You’ve worked with Jane Ann Stewart for all your movies. Does she exactly know what you want?
Well, I don’t know what I want. I have an idea, but it’s all about the discovery. We don’t build the sets, we find them. But we have shared aesthetics; we developed it over the years. Almost a documentary sensibility applied to fiction filmmaking.

Is this related to a specific concept of America you have?
I don’t know if my co-writer Jim Taylor and I have a specific attitude toward America. But I think it’s more a specific attitude toward life. If we were suddenly to go to France and make a film, I think it would have very much the same sensibility. It is specific American because we’re Americans and we live there and work there, and that’s what we observe.

If you look at your movies it seems like the direction becomes more and more invisible.
Maybe just as you grow older you try to find each time more elegant ways of photographing. It’s learning to speak another language. I am more and more concerned about film as an exercise in rhythm and film as a second language. And just as when you learn a second language, for the first little bit you have a thought first in your native language, then you translate it in your brain and say it, hoping that it’s grammatically accurate. You’re worrying about your craft. And then you do that again and again, and then suddenly comes that day when you’re at a bar at two in the morning drinking and you’re talking about something you care about and suddenly you realize, ‘Oh, for the last ten minutes I’ve been speaking directly from my own thoughts’. And I think making film is like that too, and that the more you do it, the more you forget about translating and the act of doing it and it’s a much more direct and confident connection between your thoughts and your heart and the language in which you’re expressing it. You can then begin thinking primarily about your thoughts or what you’re trying to express rather then the way in which you’re expressing it. And that I’m very conscious of.

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