Opening in limited release this weekend is director Jason Reitman’s (Up in the Air) great new movie, Young Adult. Written by Diablo Cody (Juno), the film centers on an alcoholic young adult novelist (Charlize Theron) who ventures back to her hometown in order to pursue her now-married high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). Patton Oswalt co-stars as Theron’s former classmate. While Young Adult could have easily taken the familiar steps of “bad person goes home and turns everything around”, I’m happy to report Reitman and Cody have crafted a unique movie that should not be missed. It’s definitely one of my favorites of the year and I’m pretty sure Theron is going to get a nomination for her portrayal of Mavis Gary. Watch the trailer here and some clips here.
Anyway, I recently got to speak with Reitman in New York City. During the interview he talked about why he wanted to make Young Adult, how tough it was to get financing, the ’90s music, the way he directs, and deleted scenes. In addition, with Reitman currently doing a very cool “Live Reading” series at LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), he talked about how he got started with the series and what’s coming up. Hit the jump for the interview.
Jason Reitman: I’m glad you asked! I’ve got about twelve minutes on that. This morning… No, I’m doing well. I’m really proud of this movie and it’s fun to finally show it to people.
You are one of those filmmakers where I have thoroughly enjoyed all of your movies. It’s really hard to hit that level again and again and again. What’s the secret?
Reitman: Wow, thank you! There certainly is no secret in that there are plenty of people who don’t like plenty of my movies. Each one of my films is personal; each one of my films is emotionally autobiographical. And I like directors who do that. With each one of my films, I’m exploring one of my own issues and I try to expose myself a little in the film. That’s kind of it. I’m sure I’ll make a film soon enough that will disappoint you.
Let’s talk about getting this film off the ground. Was it a struggle to get financing?
Reitman: No. It was embarrassingly easy. Diablo [Cody] and I have been fortunate with our success together. Our films have, fortunately, made money and Charlize [Theron] is a huge movie star. So, we were fiscally responsible; we made the movie for $12 million, we shot it in 30 days. There was a confidence in our ability to do this movie, despite the fact that the third act is…tricky. The third act is designed to make you uncomfortable; it’s designed to make you cringe and that’s the feeling you have as you walk out of the theater, which is not always what a studio wants. But I’m thrilled that they let me do this, because we need movies that make us uncomfortable.
There’s also a lot of stuff in the film that generally doesn’t get portrayed very often in movies, especially with a huge movie star being so exposed, if you will, and not being a great person all the time. That’s one of the great things about the material. Is that one of the things that drew you in and said, “This is why I have to make it?”
Reitman: The reason I had to make it was the third act. It was three consecutive scenes: the breakdown on the lawn, the love scene with Patton [Oswalt] and the breakfast table scene with Sandra (Collette Wolfe). Everything leading up to that is just groundwork for those three scenes. It’s about this emotional breakdown that leads us to think that the character’s going to change and then she doesn’t…and finding humanity within a character who misbehaves greatly and understanding that she’s not just a mean girl, but a deeply flawed human being who wants to be loved and wants to find her way in life, which is something that I think all people feel, I certainly feel, and find a way to do that so she’s not just some caricature.
The music in the film is very effective, a lot of 90s stuff. How much of that was Diablo, how much of that was you and how tricky was it to get the music rights?
Reitman: Music rights weren’t too hard. It was a real mix. There was a lot of stuff in the screenplay, [like] “Teenage Fanclub.” Obviously, in the screenplay…Diablo has great taste in music and she’s very explicit in her screenplays about all kinds of detail: production design, clothes and music. Diablo and I are basically the same age. We came out of the same era of music. I threw in Cracker’s “Low” and the 4 Non Blondes’ song and a whole bunch of others. Then we also did this fun thing, I’m not sure if you caught this, but the muzak in the movie is all 90s music.
Reitman: Yeah. It’s also kind of a symbol of aging when the pop music of your youth has become the sad, sedentary music of shopping. When you hear Guns N’ Roses on K-Earth 101 on the Oldies station. “Here’s another Oldie from 1989!” You’re like, “Oh, fuck.” Twentieth anniversary of “Nevermind?” What?! Twentieth?
How have you changed as a filmmaker in terms of coverage on your movies? Did you, say “overshoot” when you first started? Do you now know exactly what you’re looking for, or have you always known, in terms of coverage?
Reitman: I’m really specific in the way that I shoot. I’ve always had a very good sense of what I need in the editing room. I used to shoot in a way that drew more attention to the camera and I’ve tried, in each film, to draw less and less attention to the camera. I think when you pay attention to the shots, you’re aware of the fact that there’s a director. Really, it’s the director’s job to disappear and allow the movie to just feel. On a movie like this, where the writing and the acting are so good, I really wanted to disappear and just make sure that I was creating a framework for them.
Reitman: I certainly don’t think so. I don’t know the purpose of that shot and it’s certainly not the most interesting shot in Goodfellas. The shots I remember most from [Martin] Scorsese’s movies are the shots that were not impressive, but the shots that made me feel something. Yes, the Copacabana shot did make you feel something. It really gave you a sense of this guy’s world and the seamless nature of being a successful mobster. I’m never going to do one of those long shots because I’m too big a fan of rhythm and editing. I’d much rather my editing be brave than my shooting.
Talk a little bit about deleted scenes in Young Adult. Did you have a lot, almost none?
Reitman: There are always a few deleted scenes. They’re less interesting. The deleted scenes in this movie were less interesting than the deleted scenes in my previous films.
Are you the type that includes them on your Blu-rays?
Reitman: Yeah, I always include them. I’m a believer that people need to understand that filmmaking is not a perfect process for anybody. [David] Fincher overshoots. It is a process in which you find the film and the film finds you. And that is every film. Too many people believe in that [Alfred] Hitchcock thing that he only shot exactly the shots he needed for the dialogue he needed and I think that’s bullshit, even if that was true for that singular filmmaker. Filmmaking is finding a piece of granite and you start to chip away and then you have the shape of a head, the shape of the arm, you can see the shape of the face and the face starts to gather character. You have to find it. I believe that including the deleted materials promotes that idea.
You are known for premiering your films at Toronto, but you didn’t with Young Adult. What was the motivation for that? Did you want to premiere it there or did you say, “I’m going to do a different one this time?”
Reitman: Toronto was the first place we showed the film, but not during the film festival. Just a couple months later. This is a different film and it required a different showcase. I think once you’ve seen the film, you get that this movie does very different things than my previous films and I didn’t want people going in expecting a film similar to the ones I’ve already made. It needed to have its own unique showcase and selfishly, I kinda wanted to do something that had nothing to do with business. I wanted the premiere of this film to be simply a showcase for the fans. The way that we brought it to those six theaters, which are all fan theaters…we brought it to Alamo in Austin, we brought it to the New Bev in LA, we brought it to the Music Box in Chicago; we brought it to theaters to show it to fans first. It was almost like a spiritual cleanse just to not be thinking about selling the film, not be doing press, just to be like, “If you’re a movie fan, come see something that’s really different.”
Reitman: Of course I do.
Are they framed or are they just rolled up?
Reitman: They are at the framing place now. Literally.
You’ve been doing live readings and I know you just did one last night. How did this all get started and what determined the two that you’ve done?
Reitman: I did a table read of one of my scripts and I thought, “Why don’t we do this all the time? It’d be great to table read some classic screenplays.” You know, plays, you get to see various versions of plays; movies, there’s only one version and the writing is so good on some of these scripts. Elvis Mitchell took over the film program at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and he’s a friend of mine and he said, “Do you have any ideas?” and I said, “Oh my God. I have something I’ve wanted to do forever. Let’s do this table read idea.” And he dug it. So we started brainstorming on what to do and we came up with six that we wanted to do. We’re doing six spots; we’re doing one a month for six months.
We started with The Breakfast Club because A) we wanted the idea to take flight and we wanted something that was going to draw attention to it. We wanted something populous where everybody knew the dialogue, we wanted something with not that many characters that took place in not that many locations and that was deeply emotional and funny and Breakfast Club has all those things. And then with the second one, we went for a classic. We thought if we could secure people with the first one, let’s do a second movie that is just one of the greatest written movies of all time. What was interesting about The Apartment was unlike Breakfast Club where everyone had seen the movie like a hundred times, for the audience for The Apartment, a large portion of the audience had never seen The Apartment and this was their first experience with the movie, which is crazy. It carried a lot of responsibility and fortunately we had an unbelievable cast.
It’s a wonderful thing to just hear the words and not look at the pictures. I’m not sure if you’ve seen photos, but we have a giant screen behind the actors and on the screen, we do photos of all the locations in the film. We’ve painted out the actors so all you see is the location the characters are in, and then sitting at chairs with stands are the actors reading it. It’s just been wonderful. We’re doing The Princess Bride on December 15th. Do you know how fast it sold out? We announced the last one without saying the movie or the cast and it sold out in thirty minutes, a 600 seat theater.
The Princess Bride is one of my all time favorites.
Reitman: I can’t tell you the cast, but it’s going to be fucking crazy.
Have you already figured out what the next three are going to be and just haven’t announced it? Or are you still figuring that out?
Reitman: We know the six.