Director, producer and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Alexander Payne will make his first trip to Savannah to receive the Outstanding Achievement in Cinema Award at the Savannah Film Festival on Oct. 26.
"Yes, I am coming to the festival, but I can't tell you what I'm doing there," Payne says.
"It's a big secret," he says with a laugh. "No, it's not. I'm screening my film, most importantly, and giving a talk to the SCAD students.
"I've always had an interest in coming to Savannah, but I've never been before. I have always heard what a beautiful city it is and I can't wait to get there."
Payne has a long list of awards and critical success for his films. His first two feature films, "Citizen Ruth" (1996) and "Election" (1999) were comedies. His film "About Schmidt" starred Jack Nicholson and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. He won his first Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the wine flick "Sideways" (2004) and his second Academy Award in the same category for "The Descendants" (2011) starring George Clooney.
He grew up in Omaha, Neb., and films most of his movies there.
Payne will screen his newest film, aptly titled "Nebraska," at this year's film festival.
The black-and-white film was shot across four states and stars Bruce Dern as an aging, booze-addled father who takes a road trip with his estranged son, played by former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Will Forte.
The pair travel from Montana to Nebraska on their way to claim a supposed million-dollar sweepstakes. The film is already getting Oscar buzz, and Dern recently won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in the movie.
While critics claim Payne's movies typically revolve around a main character who often deals with a sense of loneliness, Payne dismisses this idea and says he thinks most films portray a "long tradition of lonely or flawed characters.
"It's not just the nature of the protagonist, but the nature of the piece as a whole. It depends on the way in which the story is told," he said.
But despite his belief that his movies aren't focused on secluded characters, Payne admits he does enjoy his own solitude.
While "Nebraska" is a road trip movie, like his movie "Sideways," Payne says he doesn't like to hit the road with a passenger in tow.
"I really enjoy a solo road trip and go on my own," he says. "I like to pull over whenever I want to. If someone travels with me, they have to know that's the way I travel, and I stay away from the interstate."
While Payne's personal experience with road trips didn't inspire those films, he does say his experience of growing up in the Midwest did inspire his vision behind "Nebraska."
"Bob Nelson wrote the screenplay for this movie," Payne says. "I certainly did some work on the screenplay to make it more personal to me, but I didn't do much. (Nelson) knows more about small-town Nebraska than I do. I grew up in Omaha, and it's not the same as small-town Nebraska. I really respected his vision."
Payne leaves the writing credit to Nelson, but he says he took total responsibility with the directing duties and selecting the cast, which includes the unlikely pick of comedian Forte.
"It just felt right when he auditioned," Payne says.
"I never would have thought of him, ever. I try not to ever have any preconceived ideas when I'm making a movie. I have to be open to what is presented to me.
"I liked him and I believed him. He has a sincerity, and he's a very nice guy."
Payne will receive his Outstanding Achievement in Cinema Award at the screening for "Nebraska" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Trustees Theater.