Director Alexander Payne, 55, Thinks You Really Need To Follow Your Instincts

Photo by Michael Christopher Brown

Photo by Michael Christopher Brown

Focus Features: When you were adapting Election, how did you know when you had established authority over this high school world that you hadn’t created?

Payne: From the get-go, because of its striking chords inside of us. The great thing about adapting novels is that they become immediately personal, because of the dialogue between those concerns in the book and how they echo with your own. Most of Kubrick’s films are adaptations and he obviously had the same experience, finding things that struck a chord in him and he then took complete authority in terms of making it his own.

You’ve spoken elsewhere about how Scorsese talks about a film being composed of five sequences rather than three acts?

When I give screenwriting seminars or classes and they ask me, “What advice do you have for young screenwriters?,” I say, “Don’t read any screenwriting books.” I actually think the whole three-act structure is so deeply ingrained in us from living in this culture and watching movies that in order to come up with new movies – which is what I want to see – you really have to fight what you have innately learned. When you’re writing, you will find yourself being drawn naturally by gravity into doing something which corresponds to all of these things that you have seen. You have to fight that instinct in order to come up with a new movie.

Interview via Focus Features