Director Alexander Payne On The Making Of ‘Election’ And The Legacy Of Tracy Flick

Senior Editor
04.26.19

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One of my all-time favorite movies, Election, turned 20 this week. I got to chat briefly about it via email with director Alexander Payne, who in 1999 was the relatively unknown director of Citizen Ruth, but who would go on (usually with his writing partner, Jim Taylor) to make About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska, and Downsizing.

I quoted him liberally in the retrospective we published earlier today, but here is the longer version.

On the development and eventual reception:

“The novel came to Jim Taylor and me as a job — MTV Films, under the aegis of Paramount, had optioned this book and two recent friends of mine, Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger, were producing. I put off reading it for a couple of months, because the last thing in the world I wanted to do was a high school movie. Finally I read it and saw it was much more, and Jim agreed. I liked the humor, the banality, and the formal challenge of doing multiple voice-over.

Shooting was great, but editing took a long time — we had two Christmas parties in the cutting room on Larchmont Boulevard. It was the first and only time that Jim and I have re-written and I re-shot an ending, and it helped the picture a lot. The original ending you can read in the novel, but the movie turned out a lot funnier than the novel, so that first, more melancholy ending, felt out of whack. Jim and I asked ourselves what ending we might have written had it been an original script, and it worked.

The movie came out in April, was not marketed very aggressively, and didn’t make much money at the box office — just double what its $8 million budget was. But the reviews were terrific, months later the movie won a bunch of awards, and Jim and I got our first Oscar nomination.”

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