“Omaha, where I grew up, is the Paris of Nebraska.”
“I think I’m lucky I’m from Neb. and that I have a virgin territory to show in movies.”
Alexander Payne’s Local Color by Leo Adam Biga
Back in September Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne did a Q&A with the Nebraska Coast Connection in California. Todd Nelson founded NCC (nicknamed The Nebraska Mafia) in 1992 as a networking group in Los Angeles for Nebraskans working in film and television. “A bridge to each other in all areas of The Biz, and a link to those back home. An alliance of dreamers making their dreams come true.”
Producer/screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp (Taking Lives), originally from Kearney, Nebraska, credits meeting Nelson and the NCC with giving him an early boost in his career. He is the creator of the NBC show The Blacklist.
Omaha-based author and journalist Leo Adam Biga attended the Payne Q&A promoting his book Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film. He also complied an edited transcript of the Q&A which you can read in full on his blog. But here’s an extended passage that Biga kindly gave me permission to published here.
“I’ve always written out of desperation. I never imagined in film school, ‘Oh, I need to write and direct all my films.’ Who wants to write? Writing is awful. I had to do it because I never found anything other than Nebraska. Soon after film school I wanted to direct Wilder Napalm, which was written by Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad. That’s the only thing I wanted to direct was the Vince Gilligan script and I didn’t get the job. And then they made an unwatchable film out of it. They should have hired me. But yeah I open every screenplay with a prayer, ‘Please Lord let me want to direct it.’ But we’re not in that age of literate film scripts. I don’t have a Robert Riskin or Jules Furthman or Waldo Salt or Robert Towne and if they’re around they’re working for TV, they’re not doing movies.
“Movies suck. American movies in general suck except those done by writer-directors nowadays. We don’t have screenwriters writing for the movies. Like the big overdone, overwritten kind of crap…we don’t even have that anymore…We have nothing. In general. So I’ve got to write it myself. I’ve never gotten one from my agent. They’ve never sent me one fucking script (that he directed) in 23 years of being out of film school, not one. The ones I’ve done which have come from outside of me: Election, unpublished manuscript; Sideways, unpublished manuscript; Nebraska, from [Bob Nelson] out of Snohomish, Wash.; The Descendants was on its way to being published – I think we had the galleys.
“I hope there are exceptions, I want there to be exceptions, but in my experience in almost a quarter century it’s dismal.”
Writer/director Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways)
More than 1,000 people are connected to NCC and around 60 people attend the monthly meetings.
“So much of show business is networking, so when you have a group that has a common bond, it’s fantastic. I’ve certainly recommended people for casting that I’ve met through [Nebraska Coast] Connection and keep people in mind for future projects.”
Producer/writer (and Nebraska native) Tim Schlattmann (Dexter)
The Hollywood Salon
I can’t imagine being a Nebraskan in the industry in L.A. and not being at least aware of the Nebraska Coast Connection. But just in case you aren’t (and you don’t have to have been raised on a farm or even from Nebraska to join) you may want to attend their annual Christmas party Monday, December 9 at The Culver Hotel. Their regular meetings are always on the 2nd Monday of every month.
P.S. The historical significance of their meetings being held at The Culver Hotel is that the historic hotel was built by real estate developer Harry Culver—who was born in Milford, Nebraska. The hotel originally opened in 1924 and according to the NCC website Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and Buster Keaton “maintained part time residence” at the hotel. It was restored in 1990s. And yes, Culver City was named after Harry.