Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne is also feeling fatigue from the trend of ballooning runtimes for theatrical releases the past couple years. “You want your movie to be as short as possible. There are too many damn long movies these days,” said “The Holdovers” director in conversation at Middleburg Film Festival on Saturday, October 21.
To clarify, Payne is not saying he is against any film that takes up an eighth of one’s day, but “if your movie’s three and a half hours at least let it be the shortest possible version of a three half hour movie,” he said. “Like ‘The Godfather Part II’ (and) ‘Seven Samurai’ are super tight three and a half hour movies and they go by like that. So there’s no ipso facto judgment about length.”
Speaking more to his personal philosophy on filmmaking, Payne said, “Film is a constant search for economy. You want the screenplay as short as possible. You want the acting as brisk as possible, given whatever the basic rhythm of that film is. And then in the editing you want it to be as short as it can possibly be, but no shorter.”
The “Sideways” director does consider himself among the filmmakers who could be better about this too. Speaking prior to “The Holdovers” screening at the Virginia festival, where he received the MFF Director Spotlight Award, he joked about still wanting to shave down the runtime of his acclaimed new film about a cranky history teacher and rebellious student bonding over being stuck at boarding school during the winter holidays in 1970. “It’s still a little long. We started screening it, and (at) the first couple festivals I was looking at the program, and it said 133 minutes. I had to call up the studio and go ‘I don’t think it’s 133 minutes,’” said Payne. “I thought we had gotten it down to around 124. ‘No, it’s 133 after the credits roll.’”
That said, he did say “I made only one film that isn’t a little too long somehow.” His 1999 Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon starrer “Election,” for which Payne received his first Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, “has got a very good metronome, (almost) sharklike,” he said.