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In the closing credits, the producers thank Childreach/Plan, Julie Ginsberg and Kathy Sheppard of the Omaha Film Commission Office, Laurie Richards of the Nebraska Film Commission Office, the Omaha Police and Fire Departments, Double Tree Guests Suites in central Omaha and Winnebago Industries. The closing credits also note that The Private Navy of Sergeant O'Farrell film clip was used courtesy of Pearson Tevlevision, "Guiding Light" footage appeared courtesy of Proctor & Gamble Productions, Inc., and "The Rush Limbaugh Show" outtakes were courtesy of Premiere Radio Networks. Intermittent narration by Jack Nicholson, as "Warren Schmidt," is heard throughout the film as Warren writes letters to "Ndugu."
In December 1998, according to a Daily Variety news item, Columbia optioned Louis Begley's novel About Schmidt with Alexander Payne attached as director. In July 2000, however, Daily Variety reported that Columbia had passed on the script, deeming it, according to a September 2002 Premiere article, "too depressing." The Daily Variety article noted that Fox Searchlight and Universal had expressed interest in the script, but it was eventually acquired by New Line, and produced on an estimated budget of $30 million.
As noted in the studio press materials, Payne had started writing a script entitled The Coward in film school, later completing it for Universal, which declined to buy the final screenplay. Years later, when Payne began collaborating with co-screenwriter Jim Taylor on the adaptation of About Schmidt, they planned to borrow certain elements from The Coward and "found themselves using more and more material from the earlier script, including Schmidt's lengthy correspondence with Ndugu." Many reviews noted that the final film bears only a slight resemblance to the novel, which focuses on a man named Albert Schmidt who retires from a Manhattan law practice, opposes his daughter's upcoming marriage to a Jewish man and carries on an affair with a young waitress. Payne stated in a May 22, 2002 Los Angeles Times interview that the only elements of the book remaining in the picture were "the character's last name and the idea that he has an only daughter who's about to marry a boob, a guy who has something of an overbearing mother." In December 2000, Begley published a sequel to his novel entitled Schmidt Delivered.
Although a April 16, 2001 article in US Weekly states that Nicholson rewrote the dialogue in one scene to echo that of a famous scene from his 1970 film Five Easy Pieces (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1961-70), in which a waitress informs Nicholson's character that there are "no substitutions" for his order, that scene was not included in the final film. An December 18, 2000 Daily Variety article states that Nicholson took a pay cut to star in the film, allegedly in exchange for "a big share of any profits." As quoted in the Entertainment Weekly review, Nicholson asserted that he "rooted the character of Warren Schmidt... in the man's comb-over." Reviewers agreed that Schmidt marks one of the strongest performances in Nicholson's long career, due in part to the actor's success in putting aside his trademark mannerisms.
For About Schmidt, Payne assembled many of the same crew members with whom he had worked in his two previous films, Citizen Ruth and Election, including Taylor, production designer Jane Ann Stewart, cinematographer James Glennon, editor Kevin Tent, composer Rolfe Kent and casting directors Lisa Beach and John Jackson. As with his previous films, Payne shot this film primarily in Omaha, Nebraska, his hometown. He stated in studio press materials that he cast many locals in small parts, including the Dairy Queen worker, who works at the real-life Dairy Queen shown in the film. Many reviewers applauded About Schmidt's attempt to portray realistic people and places, a characteristic focus for Payne. In the press notes, Payne stated that "American life is atypical in Los Angeles and New York. There's a huge continent in between."
The film includes a commercial for Childreach (www.childreach.org), the organization featured in the film, a real-life non-profit that links sponsors with children in need throughout the world. Organization spokesperson Angela Lansbury narrates the commercial. According to the studio press materials, after the production was completed, the producers donated money to 6-year-old Tanzanian boy Abdallah Mtulu, the child (identified in a December 21, 2002 New York Times article) who represents Schmidt's "adopted" African child Ndugu. According to the New York Times piece, Abdallah receives no direct benefits from sponsors, though his community does. A January 23, 2003 article in USA Today stated that, as a result of the film, donations to the organization "soared" from three new sponsorships a day to eighty. Nicholson, Gittes and Payne also donated $5,600 to Childreach.
About Schmidt was selected as one of AFI's top ten films of 2002, as well as earning Golden Globe awards for Nicholson for Best Actor-Drama and for Payne and Taylor for Best Screenplay. The film was also nominated for Golden Globes for Best Picture-Drama and Best Supporting Actress (Bates). The picture received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Nicholson) and Best Supporting Actress (Bates). Other nominations and awards for About Schmidt include: The LA Film Critics for Best Film, Actor and Screenplay; BFCA Critics' Choice Awards for Best Film, Best Writers, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress (Bates); National Board of Review's Best Supporting Actress (Bates); and SAG nominations for Best Male Lead Actor in a Movie (Nicholson) and Best Supporting Actress (Bates).