Oscar nominated director Jason Reitman is definitely a step ahead of most filmmakers in his generation. He’s a talented visionary who knows how to mix comedy and drama in a unique and non-contrived way. His latest feature, Up in the Air stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick in a tale about self imposed isolation. The film sounds like a downer but is the exact opposite.
The screenplay for Up in the Air was adapted from the novel of the same name by Walter Kirn. Even though the basic premise is there, Reitman and his writing partner Sheldon Turner were able to incorporate certain elements from the book, while adding new plot points for cinematic flare. When we spoke to the director he gave us the inside scoop on how he added his own twist to the story, while still staying true to the source material.
Check out our interview below…
Like most human beings, the writing process for Reitman starts on the page. After reading the novel Up in the Air he knew right away what he wanted to keep, what he wanted to add, and what he wanted to get rid off. He clued us in on the method to his screenwriting madness.
I pick up a book and almost immediately while I’m reading it I realize, OK this is something I’m going to want to adapt. As I’m reading it, it just kind of opens up to me like chess moves. It’s like ‘Oh I’m going to use this, or I’m not going to use this, I’m going to use this earlier, I’m going to switch this, I’m going to make this scene about someone else instead.’ Then I go through the book a second time and I put a Post It on every page I know I need something, and I write on the Post It, “use this for this.” Then I just use that as kind of a toolbox and use whatever I want.
A lot of authors are extremely sensitive when their material is tampered with for the sake of a film, but Reitman believes that honesty is the best policy when it comes to dealing with other writers.
There’s no question of faithfulness. I think there’s something in that book that responded to a question that I already wanted to ask. I use the book for everything it has and not the stuff that doesn’t fit my mold. And I reach out, I talk to the author and I say ‘Look, I love your book, but I’m making a movie not a book and I think I’m going to capture its inherent voice and there will be differences,’ and I’ve had a good relationship with everyone I’ve worked with so far.
In the case of Up in the Air, the director/screenwriter took a lot of creative license when it came to adding certain scenes and characters. After seeing the film, it’s fair to say that his many additions did work for the better of the story, and weren’t just thrown in for kicks. Everything has a legitimate purpose.
For this movie I added Alex (Farmiga), I added Natalie (Kendrick), I added firing online, I added the wedding sequence, I added the backpack speech, I added the cardboard cut-out thing that he takes on the road with him, so there was a lot of stuff. I mean there was a lot of plot that I added but I centered on a core idea from the book, which was a man who fires people for a living, who collects air miles religiously, who believes philosophically that life would somehow be better alone and with nothing.
Reitman was adamant about keeping the general premise of the film as the focal point of the story. He shared what his interpretation of the film is and asks that you come up with our own.
This is a movie about an epiphany not a decision. It’s a movie about a guy realizing the value of human connection. That doesn’t mean he needs to decide on human connection, he can easily go and live the rest of his life living as he has or he could go settle down somewhere and find somebody. Both answers are right, there’s nothing that makes one any morally right than the other.
I end the movie where I do because I don’t want you to think about where he’s going as much as I want to turn it on you. The movie ends on clouds, on this kind of strange meditative moment where you just listen to wind and it’s hopefully a moment for you the audience to think, what do you want in your life? Who do you want in your life? What connections do you have that you cherish? If you were standing in that airport what would you do?
As a second generation filmmaker (his dad is Ivan), Reitman is secure enough to know how to present a story to the public. He understands that comparisons will always be made between his father’s work and his own, so he’s come up with a theory to explain their different directing styles.
The best way I can explain the difference between my father and I is… imagine for a second that my father and I were musicians. My father wants to take a song that you love and play it better than you’ve ever heard before. I want to take a song you hate, and play it so well that you learn to like it.
Up in the Air hits theaters in limited release on December 4, 2009 and nationwide on December 25th.
***Be sure to also check out our interview with Vera Farmiga who plays Alex in the film***