Festival Daily

By Ghita Loebenstein


This time last year, Jason Reitman was feeling just a little nervous. His first film, Thank You for Smoking, had debuted well at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, sold in a bidding war and done nicely at the box office. In Juno, he knew he had a solid comedy with a distributor attached, but he wasn’t too sure howit would be received.


“I thought it would be this sweet independent film about teen pregnancy and have a similar success to Thank You for Smoking,” says the Montreal-born filmmaker on the line from his Los Angeles office. But the reaction at the Ryerson Theatre was nothing short of amazing.


“After the birth of my daughter, my Toronto screening is the second most extraordinary experience of my life. There was a standing ovation at the end of the film, and my heart swelled so much it nearly shot out of my chest. It was an unbelievable experience.”


For a director who considers the Ryerson crowd to be “his” audience, the reaction to Juno was particularly flattering. Reitman remembers going to the Westwood Village in L.A. every weekend as a kid and lining up for two hours to see the movies. “That’s how I think of the Ryerson crowd. There’s a rock-concert-like environment to the screening. They show up two hours early, they line up and they’re ready to have a good time – and if it’s comedy, they’re ready to laugh. It’s why you go to the movies – to have that kind of collective experience that you don’t often get in a regular theatre. At the Ryerson, you feel like everyone’s going to take their lighters out and put their hands in the air.”


The reception at the Ryerson was an accurate forecast of the trajectory Juno was about to take. “The whole filmmaking experience was kind of romantic. We thought we’d made a small film that a particular crowd would embrace,” says Reitman. “Then we played TIFF and there was interest toward our release.” Suddenly, the “tiny little film” he’d made in Vancouver for US$7.5 million had grossed US$230 million worldwide. “It was one of those things where the film started to do well, the soundtrack started to sell like crazy, nominations started to come in, and it just didn’t let up. It’s probably the one time in my life that I was involved in somewhat of a phenomenon,” he says.


With two successful films behind him, Reitman is now hard at work on his next feature, Up in the Air, a comedy about a high-flying professional (George Clooney) who specializes in “career transition counselling,” a euphemism for firing people. While Reitman has been carving out a reputation as a specialist in quick wit and sharp satire, Up in the Air will have even more heart than Juno. “Smoking was certainly a satire, but Juno was more emotional than that. Up in the Air goes even further in the Juno direction. I love satire and there certainly isn’t enough of it around, but I don’t consider myself a satirist. I like to do comedies about tricky, serious subjects.”


Though be began writing this latest project before Thank You for Smoking, Reitman only finished the script a month ago and already has Clooney attached. This new-found haste smacks of the sound of newly opened doors. Juno, Reitman agrees, changed his life as a director – in mostly good ways. “As a director, a good, successful movie allows you at least a couple more films. Coming off Juno, I knew I was probably going to choose whatever my next one was. That’s an exciting feeling, when you feel as though your career is in your own hands. The downside of Juno is that it was so financially successful, and that creates a strange expectation when you want to make the kinds of movies I want to make – smaller movies that don’t need to make that much money.”


The challenge now is to keep Up in the Air on the straight and narrow. “When I went to make Juno, my intention was to make another good small movie in a series of good small movies. That’s the kind of thing I want to do as a director. The danger of its becoming as big a success as it was on all fronts is that it creates this expectation that this is what I want from my movies. Really all I want is for them to be good.”


Up in the Air will begin production early next year. The Ryerson crowd awaits.