Oscars 2012: Alexander Payne praises fellow ‘Descendants’ writers


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Bringing “The Descendants” — based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel of the same name — to the screen was a fluid, organic process, director Alexander Payne said backstage after sharing in the film’s Oscar for adapted screenplay.

Screenwriters Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, he says, gave him myriad directions to take the material in.


“They paved a path for me because they’d been through the book quite a few times,” said Payne. “They gave me the luxury to pick and choose what I responded to. What I didn’t keep was as much screen time with the younger daughter.”

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Added Rash: “It was more to put the book away for a second, and then expand on it. Let the scenes and emotions carry us and the story.”

Payne employed the same approach throughout production. Why, he was asked, is the family watching “March of the Penguins” on TV as they eat ice cream in the final scene?

“It just fell off the truck,” said Payne. “One of the assistant editors had dropped it in there, and we never found anything better. It worked.”

Payne is particularly proud of how the film uses music to fold in Hawaiian culture.

“I thought it would be inelegant not to score the film with 100% Hawaiian music given the plethora of Hawaiian music that never extends beyond the islands,” he said.


Payne, from Omaha, has deep ties to the heartland. And the next screenplay he’s involved in, he says, is a father-son road trip through the area. It’s a film he’s having trouble casting because the roles are so specific, he said, but he’s excited to move forward.

“It’s been 10 years since I shot there — since ’01 with ‘About Schmidt’ — and I’m anxious to go back,” Payne said.

— Deborah Vankin


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