Payne wanted to make his finely honed adaptation of Rex Picket’s novel — a screenplay that’s already won a Golden Globe and just earned an Oscar nom — without being second-guessed on content, casting and costs. That’s why he and producer Michael London took a circuitous route to get the film made, ending up at boutique shingle Fox Searchlight.

Fox Searchlight chief “Peter Rice was pretty much accepting what I was proposing,” Payne explains. “And I got a lot of freedom there to do what I wanted.”

Payne had past commitments to Universal, so its Focus unit had an early look at “Sideways.”

But Focus executives were hesitant about Payne’s casting decisions — he’d eschewed interest in the script from high-profile actors including George Clooney in favor of lesser known talents Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Focus also thought the budget should be reduced. So Payne and London shopped the project around.

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Several majors appeared willing to back the movie and put it through their marketing/distribution pipeline.

“Those were very seductive proposals,” London says. “But we decided to go with Searchlight because Alexander wanted to save himself from the heartache of having his film micromanaged.”

In the end, Payne cut the budget anyway — the pic was allotted $16 million, but it came in at $14 million.

The film garnered five Oscar noms last week, including one for director. As for Payne’s casting, Church and Virginia Madsen have each been tapped by the Academy for supporting thesp.