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Alexander Payne: How He Made His Films That Make You Laugh and Cry

Alexander PayneWhile many directors have their signature style, Payne is known for character-driven narratives that often depart from the Hollywood formula. In his films, there is almost always a character searching for something. His characters have something to fight for, whether that something is love, happiness, family, or a sense of identity. He also believes that every film should have a message. Payne’s films are so relatable because he often highlights universal themes that we can all relate to.

Alexander Payne’s films are well-loved by cinephiles the world over. The films have received widespread critical acclaim and have earned him Oscar nominations in various categories. However, despite all this success, he remains humble and down-to-earth. He is a self-proclaimed “non-believer” and has maintained this stance throughout his career.

To understand Payne’s approach to filmmaking, we must first understand his philosophy on life. According to Payne, there are two major forces: nature and nurture. Nature is that part of us genetically determined – our physical appearance, height, eye color, etc., while nurture refers to the environment – how much money we have or how well-off we are, how many friends we have, etc. For example, if you were born into a family that wants you to become an engineer, but you do not like engineering (nurture), you will probably not be an engineer (nature).

For instance, Nebraska is based on Bruce Dern’s real-life father, who was convinced that he had won the sweepstakes and drove across the country to pursue this prize with his son. Alexander Payne drew upon this real-life experience to develop the screenplay for Nebraska.

In an interview with Cineaste Magazine, Payne said, “I started as a screenwriter before becoming a director.” Alexander Payne also said, “I don’t think you can be both at once.” In this quote, we see how important writing is to Alexander Payne as he recognizes that it is something that he does before he becomes a director. Payne’s first film, Citizen Ruth, is a screenplay he wrote before directing it.

Alexander PayneMost of Payne’s movies involve fathers and sons. The most famous of these movies is ‘Nebraska,’ a film about an aging father and his journey to the state where he was born to seek closure from a painful past. In ‘Nebraska,’ the main character Leonard, played by Bruce Dern, has Alzheimer’s. The film, adapted from a short story, explores the relationship between Leonard and his father and the effects of Alzheimer’s on family dynamics. Many of Payne’s other movies also revolve around fathers and sons. ‘The Descendants’, for example, follows a family who must deal with the death of their patriarch. ‘The Squid and the Whale’ examines the rise and fall of a father-son relationship.