By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
By all accounts, the care and respect between actors and director were mutual, with Payne "looking out" for their characters, most of whom are so humiliated during the film. "We were very protective of Tammy," he says by way of example, "even when mixing her sound, because she is smart and vulnerable." As Taylor notes, "The best thing about Alexander is that he listens to his own instincts, but he's not a control freak."
By using a mix of pros and ordinary high school students, Payne created an authentic diorama of small-town teen angst. "They made the professionals look more real," he says of the kids, "and the professionals made the nonprofessionals look better." In preparation for the shooting, Payne took his cast around Omaha to hang out. "It was nice," Broderick says. "We never felt like a bunch of California people descending on a town."
WHEN FILMING WAS OVER, PAYNE AND TAYLOR REalized they had a problem on their hands that would push back the film's release date: Election's ending, a faithful re-creation of the novel's bittersweet conclusion, just wasn't working in test screenings. Though they tried to stick with it as long as possible, they knew that it didn't fit their script, which was more comical than Perrotta's melancholy novel.
"We were a little too slavish to the book," Taylor says, "and we held on to its ending for a long time -- one of the reasons I wanted to adapt the book was becauseof its ending." But that final scene, a quiet moment of reconciliation between Mr. McAllister and Tracy in which she asks her former nemesis to sign her yearbook, had to go.
"I saw the film with a small audience," recalls Broderick. "I kind of liked the ending, but I could feel the audience turn away from it."
So the crew moved to New York and Washington, D.C., where the story now wraps on a note of comic triumph on McAllister's part. "It was a rare case," Payne believes, "of making the ending of a Hollywood film more cynical than the original."
Now that the film is out, Payne and Taylor are concerned with a more familiar problem: marketing. Are fickle American audiences ready for another Rushmore, comparisons with which are inevitable? "They don't know how to market it," Payne says bluntly of his distributors, Paramount. First conceived by its producers as a "teen film," then reappraised by them as an adult satire set in a high school, Election is nevertheless positioned on its Web page as the former. Today, Payne only half-ironically mentions how he and Taylor "want to write some articles discussing the selling of Election," because "quality is not as important as marketing elements in a film. Being a young American filmmaker is worse than making films under communism, because the commercial and ideological exigencies are so strict that they suppress creativity."
Payne admits his desire to make Westerns in a time when they have all but vanished from our screens or, at least today, from this year's Oscars. In a way it's a sensible choice, though, for this serious lover of film who only the week before spent time at Akira Kurosawa's grave while visiting Tokyo. The West and the Western, after all, are where Americans turn in times of social turmoil and identity crises, from Stagecoach in the Depression to The Wild Bunch in the Age of Acid. In Election, Payne, ever the melancholic joker, has captured on the modern prairie a sweet sadness that lies at the heart of the American malaise -- a malaise grounded in bad faith, and that extends to his own profession.
"The most heinous shift in American films," he says, "is that they reinforce good things like 'couples' and 'relationships.' I think films have to have a little danger and should go further in terms of questioning things -- maybe everything we know is wrong, maybe we are all profoundly fucked up, and what can we do about it?"
The interview ends with Payne about to begin the waiting game of learning how the public and critics will respond to Election. What would he enjoy most in reading the reviews? "The flattery of being understood," he says with a very slight smile.
See Film for Manohla Dargis' review ofElection.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city