Alexander Payne

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Alexander Payne
Alexander Payne.jpg
Payne in 2017
Constantine Alexander Payne

(1961-02-10) February 10, 1961 (age 58)
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
Education Creighton Preparatory School
Stanford University
Occupation Film director, screenwriter
Years active1985–present
  • Sandra Oh
    (m. 2003;div. 2006)
  • Maria Kontos
    (m. 2015)

Constantine Alexander Payne ( /pn/ ; born February 10, 1961) is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer, known for the films Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011), Nebraska (2013), and Downsizing (2017). His films are noted for their dark humor and satirical depictions of contemporary American society. Payne is a two-time winner of the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and a three-time nominee of the Academy Award for Best Director.

Film director Person who controls the artistic and dramatic aspects of a film production

A film director is a person who directs the making of a film. A film director controls a film's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfilment of that vision. The director has a key role in choosing the cast members, production design, and the creative aspects of filmmaking. Under European Union law, the director is viewed as the author of the film.

Screenwriter writer who writes for TV, films, comics and games

A screenplay writer, scriptwriter or scenarist is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.

A film producer is a person who oversees film production. Either employed by a production company or working independently, producers plan and coordinate various aspects of film production, such as selecting the script; coordinating writing, directing, and editing; and arranging financing.


Early life

Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Peggy (née Constantine) and George Payne, restaurant owners. [1] [2] [3] Payne is the youngest of three sons [4] and grew up in what is now known as the Dundee-Happy Hollow Historic District, the same neighborhood as billionaire Warren Buffett.

Omaha, Nebraska City in Nebraska, United States

Omaha is the largest city in the state of Nebraska and the county seat of Douglas County. Omaha is in the Midwestern United States on the Missouri River, about 10 miles (15 km) north of the mouth of the Platte River. The nation's 40th-largest city, Omaha's 2018 estimated population was 466,061.

Warren Buffett American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist

Warren Edward Buffett is an American business magnate, investor, speaker and philanthropist who serves as the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He is considered one of the most successful investors in the world and has a net worth of US$89.9 billion as of May 4, 2019, making him the third-wealthiest person in the world.

His father is of Greek and German descent, and his mother is of Greek ancestry. [5] [6] His paternal grandfather, Nicholas "Nick" Payne, anglicized the last name from Papadopoulos. [7] His family comes from three areas in Greece: the island of Syros, Livadia, and Aegio. [8]

Aigio Place in Greece

Aigio, also written as Aeghion, Aegion, Aegio, Egio, is a town and a former municipality in Achaea, West Greece, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform, it is part of the municipality Aigialeia, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit. The municipal unit has an area of 151.101 km2. Its population is around 26,000. Aigio is a port town on the Gulf of Corinth, and takes its name from the ancient city of Aegium.

Payne's family was part of the fabric of Omaha, which he references as part of his upbringing. [9] [10] His grandfather was a founder of The Virginia Cafe, with Payne's father taking over the restaurant. Payne went there regularly as a child. The restaurant was destroyed in a fire in 1969; the W. Dale Clark Library is now located on the site. [9]

Payne's paternal grandmother, Clara Payne (née Hoffman), was from a German Nebraska family from Lincoln, Nebraska. [10]

Lincoln, Nebraska State capital city in Nebraska, United States

Lincoln is the capital of the U.S. state of Nebraska and the county seat of Lancaster County. The city covers 94.267 square miles (244.150 km2) with a population of 284,736 in 2017. It is the second-most populous city in Nebraska and the 71st-largest in the United States. The city is the economic and cultural anchor of a substantially larger metropolitan area in the southeastern part of the state called the Lincoln Metropolitan and Lincoln-Beatrice Combined Statistical Areas. The statistical area is home to 353,120 people, making it the 106th-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

In Omaha, Payne attended Brownell-Talbot School, Dundee Elementary School, and Lewis and Clark Junior High. He graduated from Creighton Prep for high school in 1979. [11] At Prep, Payne wrote a humor column for his high school newspaper and was the editor of the high school yearbook. [12]

Brownell Talbot School is an independent, co-educational, college preparatory day school located in Omaha, Nebraska, United States. It serves students from preschool through grade 12.

Creighton Preparatory School

Creighton Preparatory School is a private, Jesuit high school for boys in Omaha, Nebraska, United States. It was established in 1878 and is located in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha.

Payne then attended Stanford University, where he double majored in Spanish and history. [7] As a part of his Spanish degree, he studied at Spain's University of Salamanca. He later lived a few months in Medellin, Colombia, where he published an article about social changes between 1900 and 1930. [13] Payne received his MFA in 1990 from the UCLA Film School.


In the 1960s, Payne's father received a Super 8mm projector from Kraft Foods as a loyalty reward, [3] [14] and eventually passed it on to his son when Alexander was about 14 years old. [12] [15] [16]

A short time after getting his MFA from UCLA Film School—and after his successful thesis film, The Passion of Martin had attracted industry attention—Payne got a writing/directing deal with Universal Pictures. The ensuing screenplay, which was turned down, would ultimately become About Schmidt . [7] He says that he cleared about $60,000, which was enough to fund his simple lifestyle at the time for about five years. [6]

Payne has said he sees his talent as being one of learned economy, referring to the essay written by Tennessee Williams on The Catastrophe of Success. [16]

Citizen Ruth (1996)

Payne worked in various capacities on films and television before he co-wrote and directed his first full-length film, Citizen Ruth (1996).

Election (1999)

His second film, Election , starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, which takes aim at politics and education in America, attracted attention when New Yorker film critic David Denby named it the best film of 1999. Payne was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay for Election.

About Schmidt (2002)

In 2003 he received a Golden Globe for his screenplay for About Schmidt, which was also nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. To the surprise of many who kept track of Hollywood news, [17] [18] Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor were not nominated for an Oscar for the About Schmidt screenplay.

Sideways (2004)

He won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe in 2005 for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sideways , while the film also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. In total, Sideways received five Academy Award nominations.

The Descendants (2011)

Payne returned to directing in 2011 after a seven-year hiatus with the film The Descendants , starring George Clooney. He also co-wrote the screenplay, winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Nebraska (2013)

Payne's Nebraska , starred veteran character actor Bruce Dern and SNL comedian Will Forte. [19] It was released on November 15, 2013. [20]

Downsizing (2017)

Payne has said that during his seven-year hiatus between Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011), he, along with working partner Jim Taylor, were developing the satire Downsizing , which Payne has described as "a large canvas, science-fiction social satire" and "an epic masterpiece." The film, about an impoverished married couple who decide the way ahead lies in shrinking themselves, was to star Paul Giamatti and Reese Witherspoon, but was superseded by The Descendants and Nebraska. [21] [22] In March 2016, Witherspoon was replaced by Kristen Wiig and Giamatti by Matt Damon. [23] Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz, Udo Kier, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jason Sudeikis also starred. [24] Paramount Pictures released the film on December 22, 2017. [25] [26] It has received mixed reviews, with many critics describing it as the weakest film of Payne's career. [27]

Additional work

Payne executive produced the short film Runt Fast. Anna Musso, his long-time assistant and protege, wrote and directed the film, which shot in March 2014. The project was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign. [28]

In 2000, he did an uncredited polish-up of the screenplay for the comedy hit Meet the Parents . In 2001, Payne wrote a draft of Jurassic Park III .

Payne served as an executive producer on the films King of California and The Savages . He also teamed up once again with writing partner Jim Taylor to write a draft of the screenplay for the film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry , a comedy directed by Dennis Dugan, and starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James. Payne disliked the final product, stating that Adam Sandler rewrote so much of the story that almost all of what Payne and Taylor wrote was gone.

Payne was also executive producer of the acclaimed 2014 film Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter directed by David Zellner.


Payne's films often revolve around middle-aged or older men who reach a breaking point in their lives, enter into transformative existential crises, and then emerge in the end as changed people, for better or worse. Some unexpected life experience forces the central male figure to "crack" and see the world in a new and surprising way. This theme appears in Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, and to a lesser extent in Nebraska, via the son, one of two main characters. His movies also tend to involve infidelity, road trips or travel, tragedy, despair, disappointment, and crises of masculinity. He has set many of his films in Omaha, which happens to be his home town. His films sometimes include scenes of historical landmarks, black and white photographs, and museums, and he often uses amateur actors for minor roles. [7] [29]

Payne is on the short list of directors who have final cut rights for their films. [30]

In 2005, he became a member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Directors Branch).


In 2012, he was named as a member of the Jury for the Main Competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. [31] His 2013 film Nebraska was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. [32] With his Academy Award nomination for Nebraska in 2014, Payne has been nominated seven times, winning the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay twice.

In 2014, The Location Managers Guild of America honored Alexander with their inaugural Eva Monley Award for his masterful use of location as another character.

Personal life

Payne married Canadian actress Sandra Oh on January 1, 2003, after dating her for three years, and directing her in Sideways. On March 12, 2005, a publicist announced their separation. The divorce was officially finalized on December 22, 2006, [33] although the former couple took more than two years to settle their finances. [34] [35] [36] In 2015, Payne married Maria Kontos, a Greek philologist he met while visiting the Aigio region of Greece where some of his ancestors originated. [37] He became a father for the first time at the age of 56 in 2017. [38]

Payne is on the Board of Directors of an Omaha non-profit film theater, Film Streams. [7] He maintains a passion for preservation. In recent years, he helped preserve a historic film theater in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. [39]

Payne was co-owner (along with friend Ann Beeder) of King Fong (now permanently closed), a Chinese restaurant in Omaha. [40]

Payne is a long-time supporter [41] of the Nebraska Coast Connection, a social networking organization that meets monthly in Culver City, CA. In November 2013, he held a special screening of Nebraska for the group's members at the Sherry Lansing Theatre on the Paramount Studio's lot. [42]


Feature films

YearFilmCredited asNotes
Director Writer Producer
1996 Citizen Ruth YesYes
1999 Election YesYes Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (with Jim Taylor)
2001 Jurassic Park III Yes
2002 About Schmidt YesYesNominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture
2004 The Assassination of Richard Nixon Yes
Sideways YesYes Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (with Jim Taylor)
Gotham Award for Best Feature
Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated — Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
Nominated — Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture
2007 I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry YesEarly draft only
Nominated — Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay (with Barry Fanaro and Jim Taylor)
King of California Yes
The Savages Yes
2011 Cedar Rapids Yes
The Descendants YesYesYes Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash)
Nominated — AACTA International Award for Best Film
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Picture (with Jim Burke and Jim Taylor)
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Film
Nominated — Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
Nominated — Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture
Nominated — Gotham Award for Best Feature
Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated — Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture
2013 Nebraska Yes LMGA Eva Monley Award
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Director — Motion Picture
Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
2017 Wilson Yes
Downsizing YesYesYes
Crash Pad YesExecutive producer

Short films

Student films


Levinson, Julie, ed. Alexander Payne Interviews. University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

Related Research Articles

<i>About Schmidt</i> 2002 American comedy-drama film directed by Alexander Payne

About Schmidt is a 2002 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Alexander Payne, produced by Michael Besman, Harry Gittes and Rachael Horovitz, co-written by Jim Taylor with music by Rolfe Kent and starring Jack Nicholson in the title role. The film also stars Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney and Kathy Bates. It is very loosely based on the 1996 novel of the same title by Louis Begley. About Schmidt was theatrically released on December 13, 2002 by New Line Cinema. The film was both a commercial and a critical success and it earned $105,834,556 on a $30 million budget. About Schmidt was released on DVD and VHS formats. It was released on Blu-ray for the first time on February 3, 2015.

Bruce Dern American actor

Bruce MacLeish Dern is an American actor, often playing supporting villainous characters of unstable nature. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Coming Home (1978) and the Academy Award for Best Actor for Nebraska (2013). His other film appearances include The Cowboys (1972), Family Plot (1976), Black Sunday (1977), Monster (2003), and The Hateful Eight (2015).

<i>Election</i> (1999 film) 1999 film by Alexander Payne

Election is a 1999 American dark comedy film directed by Alexander Payne and with a screenplay by Payne and Jim Taylor based on Tom Perrotta's 1998 novel of the same title. The plot revolves around a high school election and satirizes both suburban high school life and politics. The film stars Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a popular high school social studies teacher in suburban Omaha, Nebraska, and Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, around the time of the school's student body election. When Tracy qualifies to run for class president, McAllister believes she does not deserve the title and tries to stop her from winning.

Mike White (filmmaker) American scriptwriter

Michael Christopher White is an American writer, actor and producer for television and film and the winner of the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award for Chuck & Buck. He has written the screenplays for films such as School of Rock (2003) and Nacho Libre (2006) and has additionally directed several films that he has written such as Brad's Status (2017). He was the co-creator, executive producer, writer, director and actor on the HBO series Enlightened. White is also known for his appearances on reality television, competing on two seasons of The Amazing Race and later becoming a contestant and runner-up on Survivor.

<i>Sideways</i> 2004 comedy-drama film directed by Alexander Payne

Sideways is a 2004 American comedy-drama film directed by Alexander Payne and written by Jim Taylor and Payne. A film adaptation of Rex Pickett's novel of the same name, Sideways follows two men in their forties, Miles Raymond, a depressed teacher and unsuccessful writer, and Jack Cole, a past-his-prime actor, who take a week-long road trip to Santa Barbara County wine country to celebrate Jack's upcoming wedding. Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen also star. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13, 2004, and was released in the United States on October 22, 2004.

Jim Taylor is an American producer and screenwriter who has often collaborated on projects with Alexander Payne. The two are business partners in the Santa Monica based Ad Hominem Enterprises, and are credited as co-writers of six films released between 1996 and 2007: Citizen Ruth (1996), Election (1999), Jurassic Park III , About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. His credits as a producer include films such as Cedar Rapids and The Descendants.

The 25th Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, honoring the best in filmmaking in 2004, were given on 13 December 2004.

Laura Dern American actress

Laura Elizabeth Dern is an American actress. She is the recipient of numerous accolades, including four Golden Globe Awards and a Primetime Emmy Award, and has been nominated for two Academy Awards.

Film Streams non-profit cinema organization and movie theater in Omaha, Nebraska, United States

Film Streams is a nonprofit arts organization in Omaha, Nebraska that oversees two cinemas: the Ruth Sokolof Theater, in North Downtown Omaha, and the historic Dundee Theater, Omaha’s longest surviving neighborhood cinema. It receives funding from corporate and individual donors, members, and the government.

Rex Pickett writer

Rex Pickett is an American novelist and filmmaker best known for his novel Sideways, which was adapted into a 2004 movie of the same name directed by Alexander Payne.

Kevin Tent is an American film editor and director. Tent has been elected to membership in the American Cinema Editors (ACE) and serves as a member of the board. Kevin Tent is best known for being Alexander Payne's go-to film editor on films such as Nebraska, The Descendants, Sideways, and Election. Tent has been nominated for an Academy Award for best editing for The Descendants and won an ACE Eddie award for the same film and received three other ACE Eddie Award nominations for Election, Sideways and About Schmidt. In addition to his career in editing, Tent also co-directed two films, Ultra Warrior (1990) and Blackbelt II (1993), and directed the 2017 film Crash Pad.

<i>Wilson</i> (comics) satirical graphic novel by American cartoonist Daniel Clowes

Wilson is a satirical graphic novel by American cartoonist Daniel Clowes, published in 2010 by Drawn and Quarterly. Starring the misanthropic Wilson, the book is structured as 70 one-page gag strips, with days or even years passing between the strips. Clowes says, "The story is really what you interpret happens in between each strip." Wilson is condescending and supercilious, and insists on communicating his alienating dissatisfactions with all those he meets, even with strangers, and most often unsolicited. The middle-aged, divorced Wilson, who lives in Oakland, California, finds himself lonely, smug, and obsessed with his past.

<i>Nebraska</i> (film) 2013 film by Alexander Payne

Nebraska is a 2013 American black-and-white comedy-drama road film written by Bob Nelson and directed by Alexander Payne. It stars Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, and Bob Odenkirk. The film follows an elderly Montana resident and his son as they try to claim a million-dollar sweepstakes prize on a long trip to Nebraska.

<i>Wild</i> (2014 film) 2014 film by Jean-Marc Vallée

Wild is a 2014 American biographical adventure drama film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. The screenplay by Nick Hornby is based on Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The film stars Reese Witherspoon as Strayed, alongside Laura Dern, with Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman and Gaby Hoffmann. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 29, 2014, and was released theatrically on December 3, 2014, in North America.

Richard Ford, formerly known as Rick Ford, is a music editor and music producer for feature film soundtracks and scores. He has worked with a number of critically acclaimed film makers, including Ben Affleck, Alexander Payne, Ted Demme and Kathryn Bigelow. He started his musical career as a bass player in his home town of London and later in New York City, working with, amongst others, guitarist Bill Nelson and singer/songwriter Joe Jackson. Ford moved to Los Angeles in the 1990s where he started his music editing career. He is best known for his work on films such as Argo, The Descendants, Sideways, Election, Training Day and American History X.

The Nebraska Coast Connection is a social networking group founded in 1992 which allows professionals working in the entertainment industry to share their experiences growing up in Nebraska. Members provide advice and insights into succeeding in the entertainment industry centered in Los Angeles, CA.

<i>Downsizing</i> (film) 2017 film by Alexander Payne

Downsizing is a 2017 American science fiction comedy-drama film directed by Alexander Payne, written by Payne and Jim Taylor and starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, and Kristen Wiig. It tells the story of Paul and Audrey Safranek, a couple who decide to undertake a newly invented procedure to shrink their bodies so they can start a new life in an experimental community. When Audrey refuses the procedure at the last minute, Paul has to reassess his life and choices after befriending an impoverished activist. Principal photography on the film began in Ontario, Canada, on April 1, 2016.

Ngoc Lan Tran Fictional character

Ngoc Lan Tran is a fictional character that appears in the 2017 American film Downsizing and is played by actress Hong Chau. In the satire film, Tran is a supporting character and a Vietnamese political activist who is jailed and "downsized" by her country. In the process of escaping her country, she loses her left leg below the knee. The film was directed by Alexander Payne, who wrote the screenplay with Jim Taylor. Chau's performance was widely recognized as a standout. Several critics complained that the role was an Asian caricature with the performance involving a heavy Vietnamese accent and broken English. Chau defended the portrayal and considered her character to be more layered. For her performance, she was nominated for several awards for best supporting actress.

<i>The Passion of Martin</i> 1990 film directed by Alexander Payne

The Passion of Martin is a 1990 American comedy film written and directed by Alexander Payne, adapted from the novel El túnel by Ernesto Sabato.


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Levinson, Julie, ed. Alexander Payne Interviews. University Press of Mississippi, 2014.