Acclaimed film director Alexander Payne let students run the show at a Morse College Master’s Tea Monday.
Instead of delivering a lecture, Payne invited about 60 students in attendance to ask him questions about his life, career and opinions. Payne, who became famous for directing critically acclaimed films such as “Citizen Ruth,” “Election,” and “About Schmidt,” talked about his experiences as a filmmaker and gave advice to students interested in beginning a film career of their own.
Several students asked about Payne’s goals as a filmmaker. Payne said he set out to make entertaining comedies for an audience that was smarter than him. He said he tried to keep his scripts as intelligent and clever as possible, out of respect for his viewers. Although his movies often touch on political themes, Payne said he was not interested in the political context of his movies. Instead, he concentrates on their universal, human aspects, he said.
“I want the audience to be made to think somehow about who we are,” Payne said.
Students from a wide variety of fields made up the audience. Film buffs, many of whom had attended Payne’s screen writing workshop on Sunday, were present along with students who said they were simply curious to meet a famous Hollywood director.
“He’s a really idiosyncratic director, with a very identifiable style,” Nicholas Antosca ’05, a film studies major who participated in Payne’s workshop, said.
Morse Master Frank Keil praised Payne’s style as one that brings a rare mix of quality, vulnerability, and a strong message to the reader. He mentioned that besides directing, Payne also co-wrote all of his scripts, excepting his most recent film, which is slated to premier in 2005 and is tentatively titled, “Nebraska.”
When asked about his tendency to direct his own writing, Payne blamed the lack of good scripts in Hollywood.
“I wish that I didn’t always have to write them, but I do. I’ve only read one script that I’ve liked, which was ‘Nebraska’,” he said. “Directors often write because they are desperate for good material.”
When asked to give advice to aspiring filmmakers, Payne stressed that talent alone was not enough. He said successful directing required skills such as salesmanship and the willingness to compromise, both of which are antithetical to artistry, he said. He said students interested in directing should seek to become directors right away as opposed to starting in entry level studio jobs.
“If you work in a studio, you’ll always be known as a cameraman who wants to be a director,” he said.
Payne recommended film school as a rare opportunity for artists to develop their own voices outside of the overwhelming influence of investors and studios, but he also said most students graduating from film school never become directors.
At the end of the tea, students with unanswered questions gathered around Payne to continue their discussion.
Lindsey Ford ’05 said she enjoyed Payne’s humor.
“He was really funny,” she said. “It was great to have someone who’s had commercial success come to talk to us.”
Michael Smith ’06, who said he had not seen many of Payne’s films, said he found his words enlightening.
“He had a lot of insightful things to say,” Smith said. “He made me more interested in film as an art form.”
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