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Capone talks to Jason Reitman about growing up with YOUNG ADULT!!!

Published at: Dec. 16, 2011, 12:16 p.m. CST by Capone

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

I always enjoy talking to director Jason Reitman, which I've been able to do--either formally or informally--in connection with each of this four film since 2005's THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. He's an incredibly personable man, who is very aware of the bazillion or so movie sites that talk about his works in both glowing and not so glowing terms. He may have set a new world record during the press tour for UP IN THE AIR for the most number of interviews by a director for a single film, and I think the publicity blitz took its toll on him, so much so that's he has scaled back the number of interviews and appearances he's making for his latest work, the exceptional YOUNG ADULT, to a minimum.

During a recent trip to Chicago last week to speak to film students at Columbia College, I was one of only a handful of journalists who got a chance to sit down with him, and I'm pretty sure one of the reasons I got tapped to do that was because I had hosted the secret screening of YOUNG ADULT a few weeks earlier. Made when plans to make what will be his next film--an adaptation of Joyce Maynard's novel LABOR DAY, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin--were delayed, YOUNG ADULT was a real eye opener for me, and defied many expectations I had about Reitman, writer Diablo Cody (Reitman's JUNO writer), and stars Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt.

Reitman is keenly aware of how many out there see him and his works. When asked by film students for advice on getting their first film made, he answers, "First, be born the son of a famous director." The response always gets a big laugh, especially from those who know that Reitman didn't really have to trade on his name to get his movies made. But that doesn't stop people from thinking that he did.

Reitman makes movies about the human condition, not in Hollywood terms where people learn from their mistakes and shortcomings. Instead, his characters embrace their flaws, perhaps make small adjustments to be slightly better people, but in the end, they simply go on with their lives a little more self aware than when we met them. Kind of like life, I guess. His characters aren't meant to be lovable, and that makes us look a little harder for things about them to love. Please enjoy my talk with Jason Reitman, and I look forward to the next time.


Capone: Feeling okay?

Jason Reitman: Yeah, yeah I woke up at 5:00am.

Capone: I’ve got to do that tomorrow.

JR: Where are you going tomorrow?

Capone: Austin. Butt-Numb-A-Thon is this weekend.

JR: Oh really? That will be a lot of fun.

Capone: It will be. I’m noticing that you're taking a very different tactic when it comes to promoting this film than you did with UP IN THE AIR. Did that experience run you ragged?

JR: It did. UP IN THE AIR did run me ragged in a way that I regret. It rook away from the joy of making a film that was very special for me, and on this I’ve made decisions that you’re obviously already very aware of that changed it. I was selfish on this one and made it much more personal, starting with the pop-up screenings, which were the best way to ever debut a film, bring it to cool theaters and cool towns and make these posters and just feel like I have a relationship with the audience and not feel like there’s anyone in the audience who I’m selling to. It’s rather that everyone is there just to have a good time, and it’s like, “Yeah, that’s why I make movies.” And it’s not just that the movie is pure joy; this is a movie that pushed people. Still, I wanted a direct feed to my audience and it was really nice. Today I’m here, but this is really the only stop.

Capone: Really?

JR: Yeah. I did some press in New York. I did a traditional junket and I’ll do a couple of other things, but we moved up our Chicago opening date.

Capone: Right, to this week.

JR: Yeah. We brought up our dates for San Francisco, Chicago and Boston maybe. I think Patton is in Boston and actually I did a day in San Francisco last week. I showed the movie at Pixar. So yeah, this one’s been a lot different.

Capone: For all of the films that you have done, even the ones you didn’t have a hand in in writing, you really need that personal connection to it.

JR: They all need to feel autobiographical at the end of the day. And not like actually autobiographical, but emotional autobiographical. I have to lock into almost like an element of humiliation. I need to feel like I’m apologizing for something with the movie, and that’s the way I hook in. So with this film and with JUNO, even though I didn’t write them, they felt just as personal, and I felt like I was dealing with just as personal issues as on SMOKING and UP IN THE AIR. Otherwise you’re right, I wouldn’t know how to make it. I think I would make it really poorly actually

I’ve been asked like, “Why don’t you do a broad film or a superhero film or a big studio film?” I think I would actually do a bad job. That’s the honest to God's truth. I think if I wasn’t dealing with the material the way I guess I normally do, I wouldn’t quite know what to do, and it would end up being just kind of a very run-of-the-mill, average job of storytelling. I don’t think I would have anything new to say about those films.


Capone: What were the autobiographical elements of this story that you connected with?

JR: I don’t know yet. [laughs]

Capone: Yeah?

JR: Yeah, I kind of figure that out after. It’s only after JUNO, years after it, when I go, “Oh, I had just become a dad and I was working out how exciting and terrifying it is to become a parent,” but I didn’t know it at the time. At the time, I was just like, “I want to make this movie,” and I’m sure I’ll find out in two years.

Capone: So which movie should I be asking you about now?

JR: Oh, I get UP IN THE AIR. [Laughs] I’ve got a pretty good sense of UP IN THE AIR at this point. This film is still a mystery.

Capone: Was it important when you read Diablo’s [Cody] script for YOUNG ADULT for the first time that it was so different than JUNO?

JR: I didn’t think of it as that different. That’s the weird thing, I think everyone has a fairly superficial point of view about JUNO, and I don’t mean to say that they don’t like JUNO, I think that it’s just…

Capone: I loved JUNO and I think it has a voice to it that is very different than this one.

JR: Yeah, but there is this point of view on JUNO that her voice is about the dialog, and I never thought of that as her voice. I always thought Diablo’s voice is that when push comes to shove, her characters make really unusual decisions, and that’s the thing I’m attracted to. That’s what I’m attracted to in the books THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and UP IN THE AIR and LABOR DAY. LABOR DAY is about a woman who takes a man home. Do you know anything about LABOR DAY, my next movie?

Capone: Yes.

JR: It’s about a woman who takes a man home for no good reason, inexplicable reasons. I love that. I mean why does someone fire people for a living? Why does someone represent big tobacco for a living? For me, that’s just as interesting as the decisions her characters make, even the small ones, not just the big ones, even the little ones throughout YOUNG ADULT and JUNO. For me, that’s Diablo’s voice. For me, the third act of YOUNG ADULT and the third act of JUNO are equally powerful and equally interesting and dark.

People get so tied into the way they felt when they walked out of JUNO that they would forget that 15 minutes before the end of the movie, Juno is in the basement with Mark Loring [Jason Bateman's character], the potential father of her unborn child, and he makes a pass at her. It’s like “Whoa,” and she’s 16 years old. That’s a dark fucking moment, and they're slow dancing in the basement of his house? There’s some dark shit going on. I remember reading that and I was like, “I’m directing this movie. I want to deal with that fucking scene. That’s tough stuff.”

And YOUNG ADULT has equally tough scenes, and I think the meltdown in the scene with Sandra [the sister of Patton Oswalt's character, played by Collette Wolfe] and that love scene are kind of in the same world. So when I think of Diablo’s voice, that’s what I think of. I don’t think of someone saying whatever the blog line is… I forget the line now from fucking JUNO that everyone’s always using as an example… Something “the blog…” “Shut the blog?” [laughs]


Capone: I think it's "Honest to blog." I’ll look it up. I’ll make it look like you said it.

JR: [laughs] I don’t mind. I don’t mind that I don’t remember, it’s just nowhere as important, you know?

Capone: You’ve talked a lot a bout Charlize [Theron] and how you probably wouldn’t have done it without her.

JR: I wouldn’t have done it without her and not “probably.” That’s definitive.

Capone: That’s about as much as you can say about that, and she clearly proves your case that she was the right choice. But Patton [Oswalt] to me was a little more of a risk or a question mark. That being said, anyone who has seen BIG FAN doesn’t question the decision of putting him in a movie like this.

JR: Exactly. He did that table read. He came to my house for the table read and that was it and it was like “Oh.” He was a friend, so it was like “Hey, can you come read this?” And there were bigger names that wanted to play that part and prototype big actors who wanted to play that part, and as soon as I saw him read I was like, “Oh this is done. This is his.” When I saw him read with Charlize, it was magical. I mean all of a sudden it was like, “Oh, I want to watch this movie.”

It was the same way when I had Ellen Page and Michael Cera, I brought them down to Panavision. I didn’t want to do a casting process. I didn’t want to have to deal with studios going, “Well you should consider this Disney star,” and I shot a bunch of scenes with them as a screen test, and when you watched the two of them it was like, “I want to watch this movie.” When you watch Charlize and Patton it’s like, “I want to watch these two together.” They're just magical together.


Capone: And having seen it a second time now, you still kind of pull a little slight of hand somewhere in the middle of this story, which you think is about this woman going after this ex-boyfriend, but really what you are setting up is this other story of these two really damaged people.

JR: I think that’s kind of the move of every one of my films though.

Capone: Is it?

JR: Yeah, like UP IN THE AIR you think you are watching a movie about a man and a woman falling in love, and with THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, you think you're watching a movie about the head lobbyist for big tobacco, and you realize you're watching a father-son story. I like that move. I like using the conventions of one story to get people comfortable with the fact that they are watching a movie, particularly if it’s about someone like a guy who fires people for a living or someone who acts like Mavis and then using those conventions to trick people.

For instance, when Ryan Bingham in UP IN THE AIR is running in the airport to go see this woman in Chicago, I’m using very specific conventions about the man trying to catch a plane. And this movie is the same, and I think the convention of her waking up with Patton and walking up to that breakfast table and you think, “This is the moment where she’s going to change and be a better person,” and it’s all quiet and she’s pouring coffee for the sister and the way she’s dressed, the way she looks, the quietness of the scene--these are all devices to make you think you are watching one scene and then you realize “Oh fuck, we’re watching something completely different.” You’ve already put on clothes for a cold day, but it’s fucking hot out, you know?


Capone: That one shot of Mavis that haunts me still is quick glimpse of her yanking her hair out and realizing that there is something much darker going on in her head. You didn’t have to include that to make that point, but it adds such a dark layer to her.

JR: This is what’s great about Diablo’s writing: she finds a way to get all of these ideas in your head with very minimal detail work. So it’s like, “How do we know that she’s an alcoholic?” Did she have a long scene? No. She drinks, not a crazy amount--people think she drinks a lot more than she actually does in this movie and if that's the case then everyone I know is an alcoholic. [Laughs] But she goes, “I think I’m an alcoholic,” and her mom’s like “Oh, you silly…” And that’s it and it never gets touched again.

With the hair thing, it’s just one shot of her pulling it out. Every once in a while, she goes for it, but it’s in the middle of a scene. There’s no conversation about the hair, there’s no nothing. There’s little stuff like that that she does throughout the film, and again those are the kinds of things where I go, “God, she’s a good writer.” She conveys so much information that you don’t even know that you are picking up on. I still look back and both JUNO and YOUNG ADULT and find things that she feathered in that I didn’t realize even though I was directing them. She’s just a really smart writer.


Capone: I noticed this more the second time, the physical stature difference between Charlize and Patton…

JR: I know, it’s amazing. [laughs]

Capone: They are so wrong for each other, they don’t even fit together.

JR: Totally, yes, yes. This is a movie about one person who is broken on the inside and one person broken on the outside, and they look completely different, and it’s an old cinema tradition of the two different sizes, and it’s part of what is so lovely. Movies all the time are trying to profess, “You don’t see the person you're supposed to be in love with at first, but by the end you do.” It’s always there’s a guy and a girl and they're best friends, and he’s trying to get that great girl, and she’s over there and he’s ignoring the best friend girl who's just sitting there, and finally he goes for her, and we're toying with that convention of, “She’s obsessed with that guy. She’s got Patton right here….” Only people are like, “Well they'll never be together” and then by the moment the audience goes “Oh, I really want them to be together,” it’s like “No, they’re not going to be together.”

Capone: Do you give a shit what the audience wants to happen?

JR: No. [Laughs] I think there’s that great Steve Jobs quote, and maybe you already know what I’m going to say, “It’s not the public’s job to know what they want.” Look, this is a more painful experience than the audience probably wants, but it’s good every once in a while to have a movie that reflects some of your negative virtues and isn’t simply a mirror to your most positive qualities, and I certainly like films that make me understand myself better even when it’s the negative side of me as well. That’s part of the idea, and we do it via a piece of entertainment that is entertaining, but yeah it is kind of fun when you know what the audience wants there and you play with them a little.

Capone: I read that this has a much smaller budget than UP IN THE AIR, and you shot it in about 30 days. Do you think you work better under those kinds of restrictions?

JR: Yeah.

Capone: Why do you think so?

JR: I just like to move. I like to get shit done. I don’t like fucking around. I just get bored. Honestly I get bored, and my mind wanders. I would rather shoot a movie in 30 days than… Sorry, I’d rather shoot a movie in 50 days. I don’t want a 100 days. I just visited a buddy on set yesterday, huge movie, big set, lots of money, and I think that might drive me crazy. I like feeling under the gun and I like feeling that nobody’s worried. When you spend $12 million, they don’t care. Like I made a $12 million movie at a studio that made SUPER 8, TRANSFORMERS, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and TINTIN. It’s like we are a rounding error for them. If we went ten percent over budget--as opposed to like if TRANSFORMERS went ten percent over budget--I don’t think they would much care, and they really leave me alone and really support me. It’s really great.

Capone: Well I think the ultimate restrictive thing that you are doing on these script readings that you are doing in L.A. Those sounds like so much damn fun.

JR: Next week is going to be amazing.

Capone: THE PRINCESS BRIDE?

JR: Right and you don’t even know the cast yet. [The cast turned out to be Paul Rudd, Mindy Kaling, Patton Oswalt, Kevin Pollack, and Nick Kroll, among others].

Capone: Well, the cast for THE APARTMENT was pretty great.

JR: Yeah. That was Steve Carell and Natalie Portman. Next week, we are doing PRINCESS BRIDE, and our cast is insane. It’s amazing. It’s fucking amazing.

Capone: Is there any chance any of these will see the light of day?

JR: No, they’re not recorded.

Capone: They would technically be remakes, right? So you could never put it out.

JR: Yeah.

Capone: That’s too bad.

JR: I know, it is. What I would love to do is stream them. We do it at a museum [Los Angeles County Museum of Art], so I’d love to stream them to like five museums, mabye San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Toronto could all watch these. I actually wonder, do you think… So let’s say this was happening. What’s the modern art museum here called?

Capone: Well you could do it at The Art Institute or the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

JR: Yeah, they have a movie theater in there, right? Do they show movies there?

Capone: They can, or at the Film Center, which is part of The Art Institute.

JR: Okay, so let’s say this was happening at the Film Center, and it was just streaming on screen. How many people do you think would show up?

Capone: It would totally sell out, without question.

JR: I don’t know. The one in L.A. sells out like that [snaps his fingers].

Capone: Jason, I could make it sell out. I would make sure it sold out.

[Both Laugh]

JR: The last one we did sold out 600 seats in 30 minutes.You should come to L.A. for one once.

Capone: I would love to.

JR: They're spectacular.

Capone: You do them once a month now?

JR: The third Thursday of every month.

Capone: I would love to do that.

JR: It was good seeing you again.

Capone: Take it easy.

-- Capone
capone@aintitcool.com
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