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November 2011

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director's chair Alexander Payne: The Descendants H By IAIN BLAIR Shot on 35mm, this director's next film will be on Arri Alexa. OLLYWOOD — Over the past 15 years, since his 1996 feature debut Citizen Ruth, director/writer Alexan- der Payne has created a small but potent body of work, including Sideways (which won him the '05 Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Screenplay), About Schmidt and Election, that bears his distinctive voice and talent for bal- ancing comedic and dramatic elements — often within the same scene. His new film, The Descendants, which is already getting a lot of early Oscar buzz, is another darkly humorous look at life and relationships. George Clooney stars as Matt King, a Hawaiian land baron whose perfect life falls apart when his wife Joanie (Judie Greer) falls into a coma after a boating accident. When King tries to reconnect with his two daughters, he also learns that Joanie had been having an affair. Here, in an exclusive Post interview, Payne talks about making the film, his love of post, and why he'll be shooting his next film digitally. POST: Your last film was seven years ago. What took so long? ALEXANDER PAYNE: "I was pretty busy writing three scripts, one of which I'll make in the future, doing a pilot, I did a short in Paris, I got divorced, had surgery. Those seven years went very quickly." POST: What sort of film did you set out to make? PAYNE: "I never have a vision for my films. I just felt this was a good story that hooked me, and I never question it. I never say, I'm making a drama or whatever, until afterwards, and then it turns out to be whatever it is — in this case, it's more dramatic than any other film I've done." POST: As usual, you assembled a fantastic cast. Any surprises working with Clooney? PAYNE: Alexander Payne: "Post is where cinema really happens, where montages unique to cinema among the arts come alive." "Directors don't hang out together very often, except at awards shows, but we all talk to each other about actors and so on, and everyone had told me how great he is to work with and that you're lucky to have such an actor, and that was really true. He understands everything about film- making and he's been on a set most of his adult life. He's more comfortable on a set than he is anywhere else, and he knows how to keep positive energy going and everyone's spirits up. He's a total pro." POST: He's also a very accomplished direc- tor himself. Was it very collaborative? 14 Post • November 2011 Long-time Payne collaborator Kevin Tent edited The Descendants on an Avid system. governor is a big movie fan, so he's working hard to increase production and tax incen- tives, since it's more expensive to shoot there. We shot 35mm, 3-perf, which shaves 25 percent off the film stock cost. On the other hand, when it comes time to doing the full-frame transfer, you don't have as much latitude north and south to re-frame. But then not many people watch full frame anymore. Finally, the era of letter-boxing has prevailed." POST: Do you like the post process? PAYNE: "It's my favorite part of the whole film. Writing is necessary but painful, directing is exhilarating but exhausting — and you have all those egos to massage. Post is where cin- ema really happens, where montages unique to cinema among the arts come alive." POST: Where did you do the post? I don't watch an assembly — it's too depress- ing. We cut on Avid, and it's typically about 14 weeks to the first cut." POST: Do you ever preview? PAYNE: "I do, a lot. You have to screen it constantly to get a real sense of what you have." POST: Is it true you have final cut? PAYNE: "Yes, and I feel very lucky to have it and wish never to abuse it. As Billy Wilder famously said, 'The Ten Commandments of filmmaking are: 1 through 9, thou shalt not bore; and 10, thou shall have final cut.' I gather that very few directors really have final cut, so I treat it very seriously and I've found that it makes me very receptive to comments and suggestions. But I predict it'll become an issue if and when I make a large-budget film. I bet they'll bring it up. I'll resist of course. But I'm very concerned that my films make money. PAYNE: "The best actors are always the ones who have directed as well, since they understand all the problems you face. He's just directed his fourth film; he's a great collaborator." POST: You filmed in Hawaii. How tough was that locations around logistically? PAYNE: "Fairly tough as it was all location work so you're constantly moving around. We only built one set. But the local crews are great. We got a lot from Lost, who then moved on to Pirates 4 and Hawaii Five-0, so they're very experienced. And the new PAYNE: "We just rented offices in Santa Monica as usual. It was about eight months long." POST: Your editor was Kevin Tent, who edit- ed Sideways and Schmidt for you. Tell us about the editing process. PAYNE: "He's edited all of my projects since '95, and it's a great relationship. He doesn't come on location; he stays in LA and I call him every day from the set and ask him, 'How's it looking? How are the performances reading?' I trust his taste and judgment totally. After the shoot, I take two weeks off and then we watch all the dailies and start from scratch.

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