Helmer back on indie road to ‘Nebraska’

Payne reteams with 'Election's' Berger, Yerxa

Alexander Payne has committed to next direct “Nebraska,” an under-$10 million road trip pic he’ll shoot in black-and-white.

The film keeps him in familiar geographical terrain — his home state — and reunites him with “Election” producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa. Focus Features has first crack at the pic, as the producers have a first-look deal there. Pic will shoot next fall.

Written by tyro Bob Nelson, “Nebraska” will be the first Payne film that he hasn’t at least co-scripted. But it reinforces the sensibilities that led Payne to resist big-name actors and cast Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church as the leads in “Sideways,” the film he’s about to wrap.

Payne had planned to follow that with a bigger-scale film — a period Western was a possibility — until his WMA reps gave him Nelson’s script.

“Nebraska” is rife with the awkward character collisions that are Payne staples, and, counting “About Schmidt” and “Sideways,” it will be his third film in a row that revolves around a road trip. An aging alcoholic drafts his son to drive him from Montana to Nebraska so the old man can redeem his winning sweepstakes ticket. The son goes reluctantly, suspecting his dad’s winning ticket is the same personalized form letter sent to millions.

Nelson penned the script while he was a writer-performer on a local Seattle TV show. Since then, he has moved to L.A., signed with agents at BWCS and made a blind script deal at Warner Bros. with “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman.

Nelson gave his “Nebraska” script to exec producer Julie Thompson, who showed it to Berger and Yerxa, the Bona Fide duo who just produced “Cold Mountain” and are producing “Bee Season,” the Richard Gere/Juliette Binoche starrer that shoots in January with “The Deep End” directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel.