The director told the Canadian Press that he felt pressured by distributor Paramount Vantage to cut an alternate version of the dramedy in order to make it financially viable in the international market.
“To give them credit, the executives I was dealing with claimed, and I believe them, they really did want me to make the film in black and white, but the front office had major doubts because of money left on the table — that a black-and-white film seems ghettoized into being artsy-fartsy for the theatergoing viewers,” Payne said.
The Oscar winner said he was told that several of their television deals had “only color” stipulations so a black-and-white film wouldn’t reel in any TV revenue.
“Eventually I said, ‘I’ll even give you a colored version for those specific TV outlets in Moldova and Sierra Leone and Laos or wherever,’” he said. “So I made a color version. I hope no one ever sees it.”
Furthermore, screenwriter Bob Nelson’s minimalist script and the sleepy Midwest setting were conducive for a black-and-white palette.
“Something about the screenplay, the austerity of it, the austerity of the people and the landscapes it would evoke just felt black and white to me,” he said. “And not just black and white, black-and-white scope — Cinemascope, that big, anamorphic widescreen format.”
Although unintentional, he said “Nebraska,” which stars Bruce Dern and Will Forte in roles generating Oscar buzz, also captures the gloomy state of the nation in light of the economic slump.
“The film then acquires a kind of Depression-era feel,” Payne said. “It’s like a modern-day Depression film because of the black-and-white, but I wasn’t thinking about that before; it just happened because of when we were turning the camera on.”