Two-time Academy Award-winning director Alexander Payne shared his love for cinema and his thoughts on contemporary American film with the audience at the Lumière Film Festival in Lyon. At the festival, he premiered his eighth feature film, “The Holdovers” (French title: “Winter Break”), which took place on October 15th.
During a conversation skillfully moderated and translated by Los Angeles-based French film journalist Didier Allouch, Payne playfully garnered laughter from the Lumière audience when he revealed that the key to creating great films was “keeping your budgets low.”
He recounted a humorous anecdote involving John Huston and Luis Buñuel, where Buñuel responded to Huston’s question about making remarkable films by asking about their respective incomes, highlighting the importance of budget constraints in filmmaking.
While Payne openly expressed his disapproval of Hollywood blockbusters, he mentioned that it’s still possible to create movies like “Sideways,” which earned him his first Academy Award for best adapted screenplay in 2005. However, he noted the growing absence of what he called “mid-range films” in contemporary American cinema.
He expressed his longing for the return of “mid-range, more expensive adult dramas with visual scope,” referring to classics like “Out of Africa” and “The English Patient” and questioned why they aren’t being made today. He also pointed out that the responsibility falls on American directors and writers to create such films.
Throughout the conversation, Payne emphasized his approach to writing screenplays, focusing on authenticity and avoiding contrivance and gimmicks. He mentioned the importance of a strong sense of place and a documentary-style approach to fiction filmmaking.
When asked about his ability to elicit remarkable performances from actors like Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and George Clooney, Payne credited casting as the most critical aspect. He explained that he doesn’t tailor roles for movie stars but expects them to embrace the character.
He took pride in directing non-professional actors, such as the ice-cream woman in “About Schmidt” and the farmers in “Nebraska.” Payne highlighted the meticulous process of finding the right non-professional actors, emphasizing the documentary-like texture of reality.
Regarding his upcoming projects, Payne shared his long-time dream of making a Western movie, and he is currently collaborating with David Hemingson on this endeavor.
He wrapped up the discussion by showcasing his cinephile side, flipping through the Lumière festival leaflet to decide which screenings to attend. Payne graciously engaged with fans, signing autographs, and chatting with them after the masterclass.
“The Holdovers” is set for a limited theatrical release in the U.S. on October 27, followed by a nationwide release by Focus Features on November 10.
The Lumière Film Festival takes place from October 15 to October 22 in Lyon, France.