Writer-director Alexander Payne made an impressive feature debut with 1996's "Citizen Ruth," a sly skewering of the abortion debate starring Laura Dern. Now, as part of a deal with MTV Films, he's editing his follow-up, "Election," a high school satire with Matthew Broderick. Payne, 36, came to Hollywood via Stanford and UCLA's film program but remains loyal to his Omaha, Neb., roots.
NO-COASTAL: "No one raises an eyebrow when Spike Lee and Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese shoot in New York or Tarantino shoots in L.A. If you're from an out-of-the-way place like Omaha, it's, 'Why do you want to shoot there?' But if you have deep roots and it means something to you, you want to use that."
MIDDLE AMERICA: "I rarely see the Midwest represented well in movies, and I detest the fact that L.A. culture is presented as typical American culture, simply because the film industry is here. L.A. is a kooky place and by no means typical."
BANG BANG: "Does every single American movie have to anticipate moments of violence? You watch the previews and it's, 'They met . . . they were in love,' a nice, human movie. But then the music changes and a knife's drawn from a sheath and it has to be something infantile about vampires or guns."
BEST FEST: "I showed 'Citizen Ruth' at Sundance and was really grateful, but I don't remember it as a happy festival because of the amount of people there to judge your film rather than enjoy. At the Montreal Film Festival, regular people, just cinephiles, schedule their vacations around it and line up around the block at 9 a.m."
UNSINKABLE: "I watched 'Titanic' with the same thrill people at theaters 90 years ago must have had when they ducked when a train came at them. The press has been dominated with talk that it cost $250 million, but I said, 'Wow! This cost only $250 million?' You can even forgive some of the infantile dialogue."
LOCAL HEROES: "For 'Election,' I found a kid in Omaha who I'm sure is destined for stardom, Chris Klein. Last thing he was in was the lead in 'West Side Story' in a high school production. I brought in Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon and a couple of others, but cast the rest with people in Omaha."
INSPIRATIONAL VIEWING: "My generation came from films in the '70s when American cinema was fantastic, and then . . . we arrive in the '90s wanting to be directors and it's hideous. When I was a kid we were seeing 'The Sting' and 'Butch Cassidy' and 'Chinatown.' I took my 14th birthday party to see 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.' "