Nebraska the movie is already being tipped as a serious Oscar contender, and the benefits that will bring to the state of Nebraska have already being felt. Directed by Omaha native, Alexander Payne, shooting took place in October/November of 2012. The 56 person crew were based in Norfolk, and locations included Plainview, Osmond, Hooper, Lyons, Stanton, Elgin, Tilden and Lincoln. For 204 days of location filming over 227 locals got jobs as extras, and 21 were cast in roles.
Not only were all these employment opportunities created, but further financial effects to the Nebraskan economy were wide-reaching. In simple terms, there is accommodation, food, and miscellaneous local purchases. Add into that hardware, gas, car and truck rentals, location fees and all manner of sundry items from duct tape to face powder and there is a sizable boost to income streams in many fields.
As well as tangible revenues, some of the boost to the “brand” of Nebraska is less visible, but longer-lasting. There will be an ongoing linkage of the name of the movie to the state, and this will attract tourists. Publicity around the movie will see it being talked about on arts and entertainment networks and generating more interest. The stars will be interviewed and if it goes on to scoop up awards, it could be “the best free publicity we could ever hope,” says Laurie Richards, the film officer for Nebraska’s Economic Development Department.
Richards said the film had a budget of $13.5 million which averages out as spending of around $40-60,000 a day. That’s at least $1.5 million that goes straight into cash registers all over the state of Nebraska.
Having an iconic film associated with the state invariably pays dividends. Payne has shot in Nebraska before (Election, About Schmidt) but this time he brings sharper focus to the Cornhusker state, and explores it in greater depth. Nebraska is relatively unknown to a lot of cinema-goers. Payne has called it his “love letter to the state of Nebraska.”
Rachel Liester is one Nebraskan resident who scored a part in the movie. In a scene that could come from an aspiring actor’s dream, she was waitressing in a café when she was asked if she would come along and audition. “He must have liked how I talked about the meatloaf” joked Liester, as she then went up before famed director, Alexander Payne. Her lack of acting experience was not a problem as she was booked to play a version of herself. She was joined by other locals including an ER doctor and a barfly to perform such roles.
The story centers around a dysfunctional family reunion. Bruce Dern plays a retired mechanic, Woody, who is going senile and is alcoholic. He persuades his son, David (Will Forte) to drive them to Nebraska from Montana, convinced he has won a large sweepstakes prize. It’s a road trip, but by no means a sentimental one. Looking at Mount Rushmore, Woody remarks “Looks like someone got bored doing it.” They get diverted in the small (fictional) town of Hawthorn. It’s all shot in austere black and white and has a quirky, laconic realism.
The locals, who have had their own private screening, are generally appreciative of how they get portrayed. “Its nice to see Nebraska up there on the screen” said John Hoosier. There have been a few flinches about alleged stereotyping, however. Payne has dismissed claims he may have been condescending in parts.
If the locals are perhaps a little critical, the critics are not. “Bruce Dern crowns his career with his magnificent portrait of a curmudgeonly old man” is a typical rave review. There are no Hollywood hunks, no romance, and not a lot of action but the award-contending film already has strong art-house box office and a clutch of glowing five-star recommendations. The tenderness towards the characters and the terse but elegiac tone are much remarked upon.
Dern has already won Best Actor for his role as Woody at the Cannes Film Festival, although Payne insists he never hires on grounds of fame. When George Clooney won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for his film The Descendants he says he only ever cast him as he was right for the part. This is why he never even considered veteran stars Jack Nicholson or Robert Redford for Nebraska.
Payne, born to Greek immigrant parents in Omaha, certainly hopes that his homage to the state of Nebraska will draw positive attention to his home state. He is hopeful too, about the future of the movie business. “You still have to take a pretty girl somewhere on a Friday night. Movies are never going to go away.” For Nebraska the state, Nebraska the movie could well be a legacy that never goes away.
By Kate Henderson