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Shooting Sideways
From the beginning it was clear that SIDEWAYS would be a grown-up road movie transported from the typical road-movie setting in a time of liberation to a much hazier, mid-life period of deliberation. In thinking about the visual style for the film, Payne was drawn to the maverick, gritty and deeply personal American filmmaking of the 1970s that led to the explosion of road movies in the first place.

The filmmaking values of the 70s have always held enormous appeal for Payne. "I feel like this very human style of filmmaking has gone far too out of style,” he says. "People often say to me, ‘your films feel so fresh and different.' But really, I'm not trying to make new films, I'm trying to make films like the old ones.”

In a departure from the writer-director's first three films, which were all set in and around the writer-director's hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, SIDEWAYS takes place in another Middle American idyll – the picturesque Santa Ynez Valley, home to quaint villages, narrow country roads, sun-dappled vineyards and world-class wineries. Even with the new setting, the film still has a look that is undeniably Alexander Payne.

Describes Director of Photography Phedon Papamichael: "There is a simplicity to the film's style in that the photography is really about creating frames in which to explore these very complex characters. Of course the setting is very photogenic, which makes it an interesting and comical juxtaposition to these characters who are struggling with their lives. Part of the humor I think is in watching these pathetic characters navigate this idyllic vacation spot.”

Payne collaborated closely with Papamichael to recreate the retro feeling he was hoping to capture. "I wanted a certain softness and pastel quality to the colors that you see in 60s and 70s films,” Payne explains. "But film stocks are so different now; they're so much more vivid and bright and full of contrast. Lenses are different now too, sharper and, I won't say better, just different. Sometimes there is a price to pay for what's called progress. But by using filtration and film stock, Phedon was able to get a version of the look I wanted.”

To further prepare for shooting SIDEWAYS, Payne and Papamichael watched films by Hal Ashby, Jean-Luc Goddard and Bertrand Blier – not so much for specific visual ideas as for general cinematic inspiration. "From watching these films and discussing them, I came to understand a lot about Alexander's taste and sensitivities,” comments Papamichael, "what he likes, where his aesthetics are and from there we developed a set of references that made working together easy. By the time we were shooting, we were in a groove and barely had to discuss anything.”

Once on location, the filmmakers found the region to be filled with untapped vistas and moods. Aside from the series "Mayberry R.F.D.” and a couple of notable films including the Jack Nicholson-Jessica Lange remake of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, few Hollywood productions have utilized the Santa Ynez region's natural beauty despite its close proximity to Los Angeles.

The production took the film crew to many of the area's most recognizable locales, including the playful Dutch village of Solvang, the bustling town of Buellton and the artists community of Los Olivos, as well as Santa Maria, Lompoc, Santa Barbara and Goleta. The filmmakers also found themselves adding such personal favorite locations as the La Purisima Mission and the Hitching Post restaurant. "We essentially wrapped the script around the real locations that we discovered as we toured the area,” says production designer Jane Ann Stewart, who has worked with Payne on his previous films. "And part of what made it so fun is that this was virgin territory for us, so we were discovering it and traveling through it just like the characters.”


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