While often portrayed in works of fiction by native authors, Nebraska is not usually captured on film. However, Omaha director and screenwriter Alexander Payne frequently uses the state as a backdrop for his character-driven films. Born in Omaha in 1961, Payne attended Brownell-Talbot School, Dundee Elementary School, and Lewis and Clark Junior High. He graduated high school from Creighton Prep. He graduated from Stanford and UCLA Film School with Fine Arts degrees
Noting that “artists enjoy a lifelong exploration of their roots,” Payne has set and shot four of his films in Omaha and the surrounding countryside. His works are dark comedies centering on the humorous foibles of ordinary people and their dysfunctional relationships. Through his idiosyncratic characters he explores the bigger things in life – purpose, happiness, and meaning.
His first feature film, Citizen Ruth, starring Laura Dern and Burt Reynolds, takes place and was filmed in Omaha and Council Bluffs. His next, and perhaps most popular, earned him a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards. Based on the novel of the same name, Election, is set at the fictional Carver High School, filmed at Papillion-La Vista High. The film follows three characters, Reese Whitherspoon, Chris Klein, and Matthew Broderick, two students and a teacher during a school president election. Other locations filmed at in Omaha include Godfather’s Pizza, Memorial Park, and Rodeway Inn in Bellevue.
Payne’s next film was also filmed largely in Omaha. About Schmidt is the story of Warren Schmidt, played by Jack Nicholson, a recent retiree of Woodmen of the World and the midlife crisis that ensues. He takes off from Omaha across the state to his daughter living in Colorado, offering a glimpse of the Western reaches of the state. Filming took place in Omaha at Woodmen Tower, Johnny’s Café, Dairy Queen, Eppley Airfield, and Baker’s Supermarket. Other Nebraska locations include, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Pioneer 3 Theatre in Broken Bow, Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall in Nebraska City, and Buffalo Bill’s Scout’s Rest Ranch in North Platte.
After a few films that took him out of state – Sideways, filmed in California, and The Descendants, filmed in Hawaii – Payne returned to his home state with Nebraska, about an elderly Montana resident and his son, played by Bruce Dern and Will Forte, who try to make their way to Lincoln to claim lottery winnings that may or may not exist. Locations featured include Norfolk, Plainview, Hooper, and Lincoln.
Over his career, Payne has earned 19 Academy Award nominations and two wins, as well as numerous BAFTA and Golden Globe awards. He is passionate about film and theater preservation, sitting on the board of directors of the non-profit theater, Film Streams.
Several of Payne’s films are available at Bellevue University Library, located in the general collection. All books can be borrowed for 21 days with the option of renewal.