Director Jason Reitman gives Aspen spot in the credits
ASPEN – Jason Reitman is, one hopes, in the very early stages of his career as a film director. He turns 32 later this month, and when his next movie opens nationally, later this fall, it will be just his third feature-length film.Still, Reitman sees a discernible pattern that has developed. The main character in his feature debut, 2005’s “Thank You for Smoking,” was an unapologetic lobbyist for the tobacco industry, played by Aaron Eckhart. The title character in 2007’s “Juno,” was a wise-cracking, barely apologetic pregnant teen, played by Ellen Page. And now comes “Up in the Air,” which stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, an executive who specializes in corporate downsizings, and who has an unhealthy obsession with collecting frequent flier miles. It is a crew of characters who might, in the end, turn out likable, but certainly don’t start out lovable.”I think they all involve tricky main characters. I like to humanize tricky main characters,” said Reitman by phone from his Los Angeles office, where he was going over art and liner notes for the soundtrack to “Up in the Air.” (No small task, perhaps, given that “Juno” shed much light on the band the Moldy Peaches and its lead singer Kimya Dawson, and spawned not only a hit soundtrack but a special two-disc deluxe version.)Reitman continues by observing that his attraction to pregnant teens and cigarette pushers might be what separates him from his father. Ivan Reitman, who has been busier in recent years as a producer, has a rsum as director that is heavy on straightforward comedies – the “Ghostbusters” films, “Stripes,” “Kindergarten Cop” – that don’t require much judgment of its characters.”Since my father’s a director, I’m always asked how I compare to him,” said Reitman. “My father wants to take a song you love and play it better than you’ve ever heard it before. I want to take a song you hate and play it so well, you love it.”Reitman says two further projects are in motion with him as director: One is an adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel “Labor Day”; the other features a script by Jenny Lumet. Reitman is mum on further details about those films, except to say that there are a few more hard-to-hug characters in his future. Maynard’s story revolved around a friendless, horny 13-year-old; Lumet earned acclaim as the writer of last year’s “Rachel Getting Married,” about an unstable addict who leaves rehab to attend her sister’s wedding.••••”Up in the Air,” with a screenplay by Reitman, was adapted from Walter Kirn’s 2001 novel. Kirn’s story was a satire of modern-day corporate America, but with a narrow focus on Ryan Bingham. Kirn’s protagonist is ruthlessly efficient and condescendingly self-assured in his day-to-day business dealings, but when outside factors – sibling’s problems, romance – creep in, Bingham is less cocksure. A major source of Bingham’s confidence is his utter mastery of his domain – that domain being Airworld, a sanitized, indistinct landscape of airport terminals, airplane cabins and efficiency suites.Aspen audiences get an advance look at “Up in the Air,” which premiered last month at the Telluride Film Festival and opens nationally in November. The film will be screened at 6 p.m. Friday at Aspen Filmfest, with Reitman in attendance to receive Aspen Film’s New Directions Award, and to participate in a Q&A following the screening.Aspen audiences have also been privy to a preview of Reitman’s notion of Airworld. Four years ago, when Reitman attended Aspen Shortsfest, he brought along the five-minute short, “Lighting Will Guide You.” The short, which was retired after its one and only screening, in Aspen, comprised footage that Reitman shot in all the airports he visited on his promotional tour for “Thank You for Smoking.” Reitman calls the film “a strange little short,” and though he was already at work on the screenplay for “Up in the Air,” he says it was “oddly prescient.””I was always in love with airports, in love with their look, and was thinking about filming them on a larger scale,” he said. “It was footage of airports, set to music, and it was a reflection on how beautiful I find airports. And how much walking I did in them.”Another place Reitman has spent much time is Aspen. His family came here often for vacations when he was young, and as Reitman grew up and began following in his father’s footsteps, he returned repeatedly to participate in Aspen Film’s Aspen Shortsfest. The experiences here were formative: Shortsfest, he said, was the first place he got to meet and mingle with fellow upstart directors, and the place where it first dawned on him that he might have the talent to distinguish himself in such company.”Aspen Shortsfest is quite unique for a filmmaker. It was the only festival I’ve been to that emphasized filmmakers talking to other filmmakers,” said Reitman, who first attended Shortsfest in 1999, and returned for two or three additional visits, usually with his regular collaborator, Daniel Dubiecki, a producer on “Up in the Air.” “You feel like you’re either at summer camp, or graduation day for that year. There are many directors I met that I still know, and even work with.”Reitman became a multiple award-winner at Shortsfest: “In God We Trust,” a comedy about escaping death, earned the Audience and Jury Awards in 2000; and “Consent,” a satire on our over-reliance on lawyers, took Best Short Short honors in 2004.”That led me to think, OK, maybe I am good at this,” he said.”Juno” offered a whole new layer of proof. The film earned Reitman an Oscar nomination for best director, and took the Oscar for best original screenplay, by Diablo Cody. It also was up for Best Picture, losing out to “No Country for Old Men.” Perhaps just as significant as the artistry was the commercial appeal: Made for an estimated $7.5 million, it took in over $143 million. (Both figures are taken from the film site, imdb.com.)The success of “Juno,” said Reitman, “gave me an opportunity to make movies on my own terms. Before that, I had to fight to get the opportunity to make a movie.” “Up in the Air,” he added,” was the first film on which he had “final cut” – filmmaker’s lingo for having the last word on a movie’s content.Reitman said he had no idea “Juno” would have such an impact. “I thought ‘Juno’ would be a smart, thoughtful comedy that would reach the independent audience, maybe do a little better than ‘Thank You for Smoking,'” he said. Reitman offered a few theories for why “Juno” connected with a mass audience: Ellen Page’s memorable performance as a sweetly cynical teenager; the fact that it was an especially dark year for the Best Picture nominees, which included “There Will Be Blood,” “Atonement” and “Michael Clayton” in addition to “No Country for Old Men”; and the fact that Reitman had just become a father himself when he was making the film.One of the advantages of such success is the opportunity to attract top acting talent. Reitman has directed Robert Duvall and Katie Holmes in “Thank You for Smoking,” but “Up in the Air” is a different experience.”George Clooney is on a whole other level than I’ve worked with,” he said. “It certainly gives me more control, because he backed me. There’s a little more energy on the set, the general interest level.”For me, the big difference is George personally. He’s a lovely, sweet actor who thinks like a director. He takes care of the director and makes things easy.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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