TORONTO—Jason Reitman was just someone’s kid when he made Thank You for Smoking. The movie received good reviews, but the son of Ivan Reitman—the man who made Hollywood studios millions with films like Ghostbusters and Stripes—would still have to prove himself with his next movie. Reitman chose to make a film that would cost less than $10 million, in case no one watched it. However, Juno made several times that at the box office and won Academy Award nominations for best film, best director, and best actress (Ellen Page). There is buzz that he might get even further in the Oscar derby this year with Up in the Air, which opens Friday (December 11). In an interview room during the Toronto International Film Festival, Reitman, who was born in Montreal, says his second film had a big impact on the making of his third.
Watch the trailer for Up in the Air.
“Juno changed my life,” he says. “It gave me the kind of creative freedom that usually isn’t afforded to someone who has made only two films. Any time you have a movie that is made for $7 million and goes on to gross $230 million [worldwide], people give you a certain amount of support, whether it is warranted or not. In the case of this film, I wrote a screenplay that has a tough, tricky ending, and there were points where the studio probably resisted, but I never heard one person say even jokingly, ”˜Would you consider changing the ending?’ There was a certain amount of support that they either wanted to give me or had to give me.”
The movie stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a hired gun who fires people for companies who don’t want to do it themselves. Flying all over the U.S. accumulating frequent-flier miles, he is on his way to the prestigious 10-million-mile mark. When the company he works for hires an efficiency expert named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who tells them they can save a lot of money by using virtual firing techniques, Bingham decides to show her that he needs to keep flying to be effective.
Reitman says he was inspired to adapt the book that the movie is based on because of his own travels. He says that although Bingham is alone most of the time, he is seldom lonely because, like Reitman, he is often at his happiest when he is in the air or at an airport.
“It is hard to describe, but I think there is a romantic loneliness to flying a lot. I love being in airports. There are very few places where you are unreachable anymore. It used to be the movie theatre, and I spent a lot of time as a kid in movie theatres because it was a way of saying, ”˜I am in a movie theatre; no one can reach me.’ But now you have a cellphone and you can’t help looking to see if there is a text message coming in. But in an airplane or an airport, you often feel like you are on an island. When I do publicity tours, I travel throughout the Midwest a lot, and I have learned to live out of a rollaway backpack. So I felt like I really shared the travel experiences and the opinions of the main character.”
Although he has made just three films and they are very dissimilar in plot, there are similarities in terms of style. Reitman says the link between the films is that they present characters that are strongly committed to ways of thinking that aren’t shared by most of the people around them.
“If there is a unifying element, particularly in terms of my main characters, it is that they have an open-minded point of view on something that is otherwise close-minded. [Thank You for Smoking’s] Nick Naylor believes wholeheartedly that people should be able to smoke; Juno has a very definitive opinion on her pregnancy, despite the fact it goes against cultural opinion; and Ryan Bingham throughout the film speaks very confidently about what he believes. In fact, he speaks to groups of people about the idea of being alone and emptying your life. They are not decidedly in opposition to what people naturally think, but they think of these things as being subjects that can be discussed from two points of view. Usually people look at things like teen pregnancy or cigarettes and being lonely in ways that are fairly narrow. But I like making movies about people who are extraordinarily assured of themselves.”