Payne 3

Payne’s use of black-and-white cinematography strikes me as offbeat. Studio executives are falling over each to greenlight IMAX and 3D projects. Directors like Peter Jackson and Bryan Singer experiment with 48 frames-per-second presentations. Instead of looking forward, Payne looks back to the way movies used to be made. I ask him if those modern tools interest him at all as a storyteller.

"Not really," he says with a shrug. "I just saw Gravity in IMAX 3D, and I liked that. I saw Avatar in IMAX 3D, and I liked that, too… It’s a magnificent vision, and a magnificent stunt. It was just magnificent. It’s not what you do, though, it’s how you do it. You know?"

"I can’t think of any movie I’ve ever done where the [special] effects are what the movie is about," Dern chimed in on the topic. "We did a documentary called A Decade Under the Influence, which is about the movies of the ‘70s. At the end of it, Martin Scorsese says, ‘You know, I’m just blown away by the wizardry, the technology, and the propensity to make money fast.’ Meaning making $100 million on opening weekend, or some crazy number like that.

"But at the end of the day, you miss the people," Dern continued. "I make movies about people. Alexander makes movies about people. Not that nobody else does. They all do! But that’s basically what we are in to. I’m just interested in telling a story, and if you can invent a way for us to tell a story using whatever device enhances the story, I’m all for it. If it doesn’t enhance the story, then why do it?"

"It all depends on the screenplay," Payne continues. "If the screenplay calls for it, I’m interested. But am I attracted to those toys in and of themselves? No. It’s hard enough just to shoot two people sitting next to each other like you and I are."

Hoping to better understand, I ask him if, when it came to Gravity, he was hooked on the characters as opposed to the special effects.

"Oh no!" he exclaims. "What characters?"

Nebraska is in theaters as we speak.

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