The Extraordinary Alexander Payne Takes on Ordinary Life

Alexander PayneFor film-maker Alexander Payne, there is no hard line between the screen and the street. That is to say, Payne sees film as a medium for depicting human life as it really is. Film making is unique in its potential to closely resemble life as we experience it; the medium is the living, moving human being.

Alexander Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska to Peggy–a professor–and George Payne–a restaurant owner. From the beginning, Payne was constantly creating. He wrote for the Creighton Prep high school newspaper and was the editor of the Creighton yearbook. At age 14, Payne received a Super 8 projector from his father. This marked the beginning of Payne’s passion for film.

Payne received his B.A. from Stanford in 1984, after which he spent a short period in Medellin, Columbia. He then returned to the United States to attend film school at UCLA, where he graduated with his MFA in 1990. His work at UCLA was noticed, and in 1991 his thesis film, The Passion of Martin, was screened at the Sundance Film Festival. The Passion of Martin quickly earned him a deal with Universal Studios. While no films came out of this deal, this rapid success is a testament to Alexander Payne’s abilities as a film-maker.

Alexander Payne

The Passion of Martin was dark, which to Payne means real. This is not to say that he has a bleak view of human life; on the contrary, he sees it as dynamic and full of ambiguity. It is the little, though extremely complex, moments that Payne explores. Human life is made up of little moments, and it is Payne’s sensitivity to this fact that sets him apart. His first feature, Citizen Ruth, is a dark comedy about an unfit mother. It is, at times, tragic, but it is always relatable. It presents a nuanced picture of the dissatisfaction we all feel, but that so often is overlooked by film-makers. In this dissatisfaction, Alexander Payne finds the human being as he or she truly is.