Ivan Reitman has been one of the most important filmmakers in comedy for nearly forty years. From producing National Lampoon’s Animal House, to directing Ghostbusters, Reitman has earned his place as a legend. With Draft Day, he’s given himself new challenges as a filmmaker, and in doing so delivers one of the best directed films of his career.
I got a chance to sit with Reitman and talk about this movie, but considering that he recently announced that he would only be producing Ghostbusters 3, I though it better to focus my energy on another of my favorite movies of his: Stripes.
With this movie it is ostensibly a sports film, but I kind of thought of it as a con movie like The Sting in the sense that it’s all building to the last main machinations.
Ivan Reitman: That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about. It’s not a con movie, but it’s akin to a sporting event that you watch in that there is a touchdown in the last seconds the way they have in great sports movies, but it’s all done through negotiations and character, and character drama. I think there’s a real sense of the ticking clock through it.
It feels like you’re pulling back the bow for a good chunk of the movie. Does that make you as a filmmaker nervous as you’re building and building on set up?
Ivan Reitman: It’s nervous-making in the early going and in the test screenings because I thought I knew what I had but you don’t really know it until you see it with a real audience. And it starts intentionally a little slowly or carefully, because there’s an enormous amount of characters and things that are getting set up both personally and professionally, I think by the last act it’s a bat out of hell.
You let the arrow fly.
Ivan Reitman: That’s actually a fabulous feeling. I remember seeing it, I saw a screening of it a few weeks ago, and about halfway through a guy yelled out “god this is getting really tense!” I said “yeah, this is great!”
Have you had many instances of people yelling like that?
Ivan Reitman: In a big theater there’s cheering in a regular movie house. We tested it and I was knocked out how many times people applauded, and dealt with it as a sporting event instead of a moviegoing experience.
When then did the idea of the inventive editing come in?
Ivan Reitman: While we were shooting it. I knew I had to do something to make the phone calls. I couldn’t just do it traditional. I couldn’t just sit two people on either side of the screen like a Doris Day and Rock Hudson movie. It had to be dynamic. We felt like you had to be in the phone call, because phone calls are really interesting if you’re on the line, they’re not all that interesting if you watching someone talking on the line so I said “I’ve got to make this an opportunity for us” so we just built these rules for our split screens that we kept discovering a step at a time.
Ivan Reitman: It was that none of the traditional rules apply. There is no Fight Club. (laughs) It’s to be really be free about it and edit as needed. I think the biggest thing I learned was that I didn’t have to stay in the split screen once I started it. I could pop out of it at will and go with more traditional editing and just that the contemporary movie audience is sophisticated enough about all that stuff that Eisenstein so carefully talked about is really involved. And that computer watching has changed everything. Things are so f—king fast and short so you can really play with screen directions. And if you do it in an effective it actually increases the tension, increases the focus, which means that people get more involved.
Perhaps the reason I was thinking of a con movie is because of the opening of The Thomas Crown Affair, which has a similar jigsaw puzzle approach.
Ivan Reitman: That’s right. Well, you’re watching a lot of things happening simultaneously. Here what we’re trying to do is bring two people who are different places together for us so when we’re watching the screen what makes that the most satisfying is what I’m after.
You’ve directed a number of huge hit movies, but you’ve also produced a lot of material as well. What makes you choose to put on the directors hat as well?
Ivan Reitman: I, frankly, I wish I had chosen the director’s hat more often, it’s one of the speech I had given to my son as he was starting his career as he’s made four or five movies in a row all in the space of four or five years. I think it’s that real desire to be involved with it on a minute by minute basis, instead of a more global basis and when I read this draft I described it as a middle of the night event. I knew before I turned to the last page I was going to direct it. Boom, it happened that fast.
I’m guessing that on the page – no matter how many revisions it went to get to the screen – that central end sequence was there.
Ivan Reitman: Yeah, I remember thinking “how the hell are we going to resolve this?” and being so invested, and thought “wow that’s rare.” There’s a reason it won the Black list.
It’s one of those moments where you realize that machinations are beneficial to everyone involved. It all makes sense.
Ivan Reitman: It’s real football, though people are talking about the salary cap more and more as a real important invent. You can see people cutting great players to make room for hopefully better players.
We’re also in this fantasy league and moneyball era of people trying to apply mathematical whatevers to the game. But sometimes it’s all luck.
Ivan Reitman: It’s luck and instinct. And from the player’s point of view the one’s that seem to do the best combine skill with character.
I was looking over your career, do you ever think about the early films, the shorter films, do you think about Cannibal Women when you’re working on something like this?
Ivan Reitman: It comes up all the time somehow. Not so much as a source of inspiration because you accumulate things as you get older and you try to learn from the mistakes and the successes you’ve had. And that’s how something like Cannibal Girls, they weren’t women then…
They are now (we both laughs).
Ivan Reitman: But that’s how it comes into play. I still see Eugene Levy around.
You spend time in Canada?
Ivan Reitman: He lives in Los Angeles now most of the time. And we were both at Harold (Ramis)’s funeral and we had to commiserate over him. And we talked about Cannibal Girls right then.
Ivan Reitman: I have to think of Bill’s remarkable performance, I think it’s one of his better films, and how quickly we did the famous “boom chucka-lucka” scene. We shot that in one day, and how great that turned out. I love that whole movie, it’s one of the most fun times I’ve had on a film set.
Have you experimented with choreography since?
Ivan Reitman: I have a little bit, I did it in No Strings Attached strangely in that musical number at the beginning of the film.
The High School Musical parody.
Ivan Reitman: Yeah, I’ve done it a few times but I’ve got a musical background. Maybe I’ll do a musical next. I’d like that.
What’s your favorite memory of Warren Oates?
Ivan Reitman: Just what a generous professional he is, he’s such a cool guy, he’s so cool. He just held all these young punks together. I love that scene where he has a fight with Bill after that thing, it’s one of the first time we get to see Bill as an actor instead of a comedian and he’s really good in that scene. It’s a dramatic scene, it’s not a comedic scene at all even though you laugh at the end of it. And Oates just pulled it out of him. I’d like to think it was my work, but it was working with Warren that did it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has brought up Triplets a lot recently. I know you’re not doing Ghostbusters 3, are you attached to that?
Ivan Reitman: I was never going to direct that. It always felt like a bit of a gimmick to me, but a delightful gimmick if it works. We have a draft, we gave it to the studio, we have no idea if they want to make it or not. It’s pretty early in the gestation stage.
It feels like I’ve heard about this for a while now. But how long were you attached to Draft Day?
Ivan Reitman: I got it very early, I was one of the first producers/directors who got a chance to read it, and I met with them two days after reading it, and I got Paramount to buy it so the whole process started a year and a half ago. It took about six months to get it started after buying it, and then about a year of production.
Well, It’s just that so often you hear about movies that take seven years, ten years.
Ivan Reitman: No, this was a fast production, I mean I worked on the development of it, but it was quick.
Draft Day hits theaters April 11.