"Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film," a compilation of author-journalist Leo Adam Biga's decade-and-a-half of reporting on the director and his work, is a comprehensive look at one of cinema's most important figures. Biga's stories about Payne have appeared in various publications including The Reader, which recently ran his cover story on Payne's latest homespun project, "Nebraska." This new book represents the first time Biga's Payne stories have been collected in one volume. An excerpt from the first few pages of the book is below.
The collection will be available November 13 from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, as well as for Kindle and other e-reader devices. Go HERE for more info.
I first met Payne in the fall of ‘97, and my first story about him appeared at the start of ‘98. Though I have covered many other filmmakers and film projects since then, my body of Payne work remains unique for its duration, scope, and depth. Early on, I recognized in him an important cinema figure and the fruits of my cultivating that relationship are the stories that comprise this book.
I also saw in Payne an opportunity to write about one of the most significant Nebraskans in film to come along in a while. Many from the state have made major contributions to the film industry either by the prominence or quality or volume of their work….I have interviewed several of the contemporary figures…Payne is the preeminent filmmaker among them all...
Some of the fondest memories I retain from my professional life are the lively, engaging, one-on-one sessions I enjoy with Payne. They are as much conversations and explorations between two film guys as they are interviews between subject and journalist.
Payne, as you would expect, is a superb interview. Highly literate. Thoughtful. Composed. He is rarely less than frank. He can be both profane and flat out funny. He is only politically correct and circumspect when it serves a project. He generally knows what you are looking for but does not necessarily hand it to you on a silver platter, which is to say he will only give as good as he gets. He does so much press now that he does sometimes repeat quotable nuggets or tag lines from interview to interview. The strategic part of him has shown more as his career has exploded. Who can blame him?
Oh, I have my scripted questions at the ready all right, because I always feel I have to be extra prepared, not to mention be on my mental toes with him, certainly more than with most subjects. He is so damned smart that it can be a bit intimidating even now, 15 years into our relationship. I make sure to do my homework when possible. But I am also comfortable enough to go off script and wing it on occasion and to let him take these interludes wherever he wants to go with them. The best material often comes from these asides or addenda anyway, and so I am not about to curtail his digressions or flights of fancy. Or my own for that matter.
In preparing this book I was reminded of the rather comprehensive Payne archive I have been able to compile as a result of doing so many interviews with him over a decade and a half period that roughly covers his entire feature filmmaking career. It is an archive that no other journalist or author has been in a position to acquire. This body of work has accrued because I have persisted in covering him and cultivating our relationship and because he has responded by consistently granting me great access. The often exclusive interviews and unfettered access continue...
Through "Sideways" and for a few years afterward, our interviews were generally longer than they are today. Where a single session would go a full hour or sometimes two in the past, his more time-pressed life today allows for maybe half that when really busy; though there are exceptions when he still accommodates an hour or two, such as when he first got back to the mainland after completing "The Descendants," his much feted movie shot in Hawaii.
Some who know about my long-tenured coverage of Payne assume that he and I are friends or buddies. Not exactly. I mean, we are certainly friendly with each other. But we do not hang out together. Ours is definitely a closer relationship than most journalists have with a subject, but it is by no means a rare or unprecedented one. We never speak about it, but my sense is that he and I feel the same in that while it is fine we have this thing together, we do not push it so far that it compels him to meddle in my work or tempts me to compromise my journalistic integrity.
In other words, we do not cross certain lines. That includes not probing too deeply into our personal lives. I only rarely mention his life away from film in my stories. He has no financial stake in or editorial control over this book. He never interferes with what I write, just as I never think about censoring my work to please him. We both want it this way. It’s the right thing to do and it avoids weird conflicts of interest.
Because I am in the unique position of having covered him for so long and in such an in-depth manner, this book uses the interviews and stories I have done to chart the arc of his filmmaking career.