Interview: Jason Reitman. Deleted scene from “Up in the Air”

The Oscar-nominated director of Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air talks to Leigh Singer about romance, redundancy, and his father, Ivan (Ghostbusters) Reitman.

Leigh Singer: You were working on Up in the Air for several years – how did the length of the process change your relationship to the film?

Jason Reitman: I basically became a man making this movie. When I started, I wasn’t married; I wasn’t a father. When I read Walter Kirn’s book, I thought I could make a really interesting, dark satire about a guy who fires people for a living. As I wrote the script, my life changed. I grew up. I made it to answer a whole load of questions I had about life, questions about whether to be alone in the universe.

LS: The main character lives and travels alone. Does that lifestyle make sense to you?

JR: I started enjoying flights for the same reason I enjoyed going to movie theatres. It’s a chance to unplug from your normal life, and a chance to be surrounded by strangers. You find out about lifestyles and jobs you would otherwise not know. I get most of my reading done on planes. I have my routine, I’m pretty good at it actually. I have my wheel-on. And, yes, I collect miles; I collect miles like crazy.

LS: George Clooney has a public persona as a charmer unconstrained by family life – was there a conscious decision to play off this?

JR: We didn’t need to because it sort of went without saying, you know? George said straightaway “I know what people are going to say in connection with my [private life] but let’s go in there and stir it up.” It was one of the most clear-eyed reflections of a character I’ve ever seen. That fearlessness is something amazing.

George Clooney in Up in the Air

George Clooney in Up in the Air

LS: And you apparently wrote the part specifically for him?

JR: I wrote specifically for eight of the cast, actually. I was fairly confident that JK Simmons and [Jason] Bateman would be in, and with Anna [Kendrick] and Vera [Farmiga], I thought I had written some strong female roles. But with George, I actually went to his house in Como and waited while he read the script. One of the best days ever when he told me he liked it and wanted to do the movie.

LS: Given the current economic climate, how wary were you of tackling the issue of unemployment?

JR: When I started writing the script in 2003 we were coming out of an economic boom, so I had those firing scenes as fairly comic set-pieces, like if Nick Naylor from Thank You For Smoking was firing them. And then the recession happened and I was like: I can’t do this. And we were shooting in Detroit and Omaha, two of the worst affected cities for unemployment and I had this idea to use real people, so we put out an ad.

LS: How did you go about involving them?

JR: We’d interview each one for about 10 minutes on how did you lose your job, what was it like, who did you tell first, how has it impacted your life. And after about ten minutes of that, we’d say, “And now, we’d like to fire you on camera. And we’d like you to either respond the way you did the day you lost your job, or if you prefer, the way you wish you had.” Each one would turn into an improv scene, where they would either get angry, or sad, sometimes they were funny. I wasn’t prepared for how good they were.

LS: You were dealing with some very personal experiences, so did you feel an extra responsibility to these people?

JR: Basically your job as a director is to get everyone to be as real as possible. That’s it. And these people were so good, they asked questions of our interviewer. I think you realise that you’re not alone, that this isn’t something personal, it’s happening to a whole group of people. And that sometime the wheel will turn and things will change for the better.

LS: The film differs quite significantly from Walter Kirn’s original book …

JR: I added the two female characters, the online subplot, the wedding subplot, the workers testimonies. The book was about a man and a philosophy that really interested me. Sometimes it’s the whole thing, sometimes it’s just a kernel of an idea that you want to use. But I’m lucky in the experiences I’ve had with the writers of the novels [I’ve adapted]. And I call them each time and show them the screenplay and then show them the movie. And so far it’s been OK.

Jason Reitman on the set of Up in the Air

Jason Reitman on the set of Up in the Air

LS: Your father is one of the film’s producers. What was it like working with him?

JR: It’s a lot of pressure. I was all set to go pre-med and become a doctor and my dad gave me the courage to pursue filmmaking. He’s been reviewing me since homework. He’s the greatest storyteller I know, and he’s read all my screenplays. He’s given me advice on everything, including those first five horrible original screenplays that I wrote, that taught me how to be a writer, and then the actual stuff that I made into movies. It gives me a great sense of pride to see our names up there together. And we get on really well.

LS: He directed both Ghostbusters films – how about you taking on Ghostbusters 3?

JR: I wouldn’t do Ghostbusters 3, that’s kind of his territory. My version would be so boring. I’d be going off on weird little tangents. But I spent my entire childhood on sets and Ghostbusters is the first one that I really remember. It was a lot of fun as you can imagine.

LS: What was the best thing that the success of Juno and your Oscar nomination brought you?

JR: More opportunities, I guess. But some of the screenplays they send you, people are so desperate to get a movie made that they’re even prepared to get it made the wrong way. Stupid stuff, romantic comedies, superhero movies and you think: Really? You thought I’d be a good fit for this?

LS: So you’re not interested in directing blockbusters like your father?

JR: Not right now anyway. Maybe in 10 years. Let me get through my 30s and make all the personal stuff first.

LS: And finally, according to Ryan Bingham’s theory of travelling light, what’s in your backpack?

JR: My wife, my daughter, my dog … all the films I’ve never seen.

LS: So it’s more of a trunk than a backpack?

JR: Yeah, it’s more of a freighter.

source: guardian.co.uk

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