Jason Reitman says as the son of “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman he felt uncomfortable about following his father’s footsteps into the film business.
“Right when I got to college I started getting nervous that I shouldn’t be a director,” he said today during a visit to the MPR studios.
“I was well aware about the presumptions about the children of famous people, that if you are the son of a famous film director, most likely you are a spoiled brat, you have no talent, and more than likely you have an alcohol or drug problem. And I thought why go into a career where these are the presumptions going in? Best case scenario I live in my father’s shadow. Worst case scenario I fail on a very public level.”
So he went to college as a pre-med student.
Then his father stepped in.
“He’s the first Jewish dad in the history of Jewish dads to tell their son ‘Don’t be a doctor. Be a film maker,’” Reitman smiled.
It turned out Ivan Reitman was following in his own father’s footsteps who had advised him against sinking money into a submarine sandwich shop he was considering.
“There’s not enough magic in it for you,” Jason Reitman says quoting his grandfather. Ivan Reitman, who was a music major who ran a film club, began developing his interest in movies and eventually became a hugely successful director. He told Jason that he would be immensely proud of him if he did decide to be a physician.
“But,” says Jason, now quoting his father,”‘There’s not enough magic in it for you. You have to follow your heart. You have to be a storyteller.’”
Three days later Jason Reitman was out of his pre-med classes in New York, and talking his way into English classes at USC in Los Angeles. He made short films, and in time was able to parlay that into feature films.
First there was “Thank you for smoking,” which was funded by David Sacks, one of the guys who had just sold PayPal to eBay, and had some money to invest in a film as a result.
“I’ve been accused my entire life of having a career that undoubtedly came from nepotism,” Reitman laughs. “And nepotism didn’t deliver. It was supposed to bring me a career and it didn’t work! Come on nepotism! It ended up being an internet millionaire from San Francisco who started my career.”
Then came his meeting with Diablo Cody.
“I remember being very intimidated to meet her. She’s covered in tattoos, and she’s kind of hyper-cool. And I’m the last thing from that,” he said. “I just kind of fell in love with her because she is just so funny and so direct. Her ability to come up with clever dialog in the moment was unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met.”
That meeting resulted in “Juno,” and a shower of Oscars.
Now Reitman is publicizing “Up in the Air,” a dark comedy about a man who makes his living travelling the country firing people, starring George Clooney. It’s based on a Walter Kirn novel
When asked about his apparent attraction to writers with Minnesota ties he responded “I really should live here. I don’t know why have been avoiding this so long. I seem to be a natural. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian.”
In all seriousness though he says he learned a lot about the trauma many people are going through as a result of the losing their jobs.
“Of the 27 people fired in “Up in the Air,” 22 of them are real people who actually just lost their jobs. They are not actors,” Reitman says. The film makers recruited the people through a newspaper ad, and then had them come in to be interviewed and then fired again on camera.
It’s a tough sequence to watch. Reitman says he had assumed that the worst thing about being fired was the loss of income.
“But it wasn’t that. It was actually a loss of purpose. The question they would ask was ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Where am I supposed to go after this interview? I get in my car but I don’t have anywhere I’m supposed to be.”
The film doesn’t fit easily into categories. It’s funny in parts, and quite dark in others.
On that note, it’s intriguing to take a look at the two trailers for the film available one line. The first one focuses much more on the tougher edge of “Up in the Air.”
The second, which is in theaters at present is much lighter, although you can still see the edge.
“Up in the Air” opens in the Twin Cities on December 4th. We’ll air the interview closer to that time.