Born in 1961, film-maker Alexander Payne grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, the youngest of three boys. At around fourteen years old, Alexander’s father won a Super 8-mm film projector as a loyalty reward from Kraft Foods. This inspired Alexander’s early interest in filmmaking. In high school, he was an editor of the yearbook and writer of a humor column. After high school, he moved to California to attend Stanford University, where he majored in History and Spanish.
After graduation, Alexander Payne briefly lived in Medellin, Colombia, before moving on to UCLA film school. He loved film school, saying that it was a great place to meet movie fans around his age, giving him a network of friends to try ideas on. He graduated film school at age 29. His thesis was a movie called “The Passion of Martin”, which was about a photographer in the throes of love. It was a dark comedy that really put him on Hollywood’s map, gaining him an agent. The first film that Alexander and his long-time writing partner Jim Taylor produced was “Citizen Ruth” (1996), a film starring Laura Dern about the radicalization of both pro-life and pro-choice activists. In 1999, he directed the more popular movie “Elections”, starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. In 2002, he directed “About Schmidt”, starring Jack Nicholson. The subject of the film was a recently-retired man whose wife had recently died. In 2004, “Sideways”, starring Thomas Haden Church and Paul Giamatti, received widespread critical acclaim. Payne made the film “Nebraska” in 2013, filmed in black and white and starring Bruce Dern, father of Laura Dern. Payne’s most recent major work is the 2017 fantasy-drama film Downsized, starring Matt Damon.
Payne grew up in the 70s, a time in which many movies changed their focus from that of escaping reality to that of imitating reality. He always wanted to make movies on real people. He also feels a need to stay close to his roots, which is why Omaha, Nebraska is the site of many of his film locations.