Interview: Jason Reitman (Juno)
Jason Reitman shows up at media day in a very anti-establishment, dressed-down style – an indication that this is how the next generation of filmmakers might present themselves: plain jeans, shabby shirt and non-groomed hair. I wouldn’t care how I looked either. With the wind behind his back, if the critics’ predictions turn out to be correct, Reitman and his new movie, Juno, will be hitting Oscar’s red carpet nominated in more than one category (best original screenplay?)….and besides, he has come to this New York hotel to talk about a movie whose main character has enough of a personality to not worry about what people may think about him.
Jason Reitman shows up at media day in a very anti-establishment, dressed-down style – an indication that this is how the next generation of filmmakers might present themselves: plain jeans, shabby shirt and non-groomed hair. I wouldn’t care how I looked either. With the wind behind his back, if the critics' predictions turn out to be correct, Reitman and his new movie, Juno, will be hitting Oscar's red carpet nominated in more than one category (best original screenplay?)….and besides, he has come to this New York hotel to talk about a movie whose main character has enough of a personality to not worry about what people may think about him.
Its synopsis may come across as “been there before”: teen girl gets pregnant and decides to give the child up for adoption – but as Reitman says, “the pregnancy is almost like a location to tell a story about teenagers growing up too fast and thirty year old people who doesn’t want to grow up at all“. Juno is not the usual dating-obsessed, pink-shopping, chewing-gum eater teenager but a fairly smart, confident and frank girl who is leagues more developed as a character than disgustingly cliché portraits that plagues movies about teens.
Reitman fell immediately in love with Juno, the sixteen year-old pregnant girl pictured by first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody (read our interview with her on Friday). Cody (a likely Oscar candidate herself) creates a world about a sharp, intriguing and funny teenager made astonishing brilliant by actress Ellen Page. The balance between dark comedy, witty dialogue and warmth that the whole movie emanates follows the trend opened last year at Sundance. No wonder people are calling Juno the 'Little Miss Sunshine of 2007'. And speaking of Little, Reitman doesn’t plan to jump into the big Hollywood arena, yet. “I prefer small movies” he says. But ‘small’ today have multiple meanings: he has a juicy contract with Fox Searchlight to direct and produce “my style of movies”.
I meet with Jason Reitman during media day in New York City.
Diablo Cody says Juno would have been impossible without you…
That's not true. She is an absolute genius. I was caught by her writing and all I wanted to do was to capture the feeling that I felt the first time I read the screenplay. Stanley Kubrick said that the trick is trying to always remember the feeling you had when you first read something. In this screenplay there were all those wonderful surprises, humour, warmth and directing this movie was an exercise on trying to capture those feelings.
Did you shot a reading with all the cast before production?
We called Ellen Page, Michael Cera (the father of her baby), JK Simmons and Allison Janey and we shot about 45 pages of the script in one day in front of a black backgroud, two sides, tow sizes, edited the whole thing together, showed it to the producers, to Diablo, to the studio… I said ‘this is the casting’ and they said ok. It set the tone for how we wanted to make this film.
Was it a rehearsal?
Not exactly. I am not a big fan of rehearsing and I actually haven’t found and actor who is a fan of rehearsing. Some of them say they are and then, they get to rehearsal and they are like mmmmm… but… Ellen and Michael are so good right off the cup. They go for the gut and they find the honesty in the dialog so quickly that to rehearse would be a mistake. They would lose the freshness.
Why did you choose Ellen Page as Juno?
I saw her in Hard Candy. She’s spectacular in that movie. She has this ability to turn on a dime that it is like Ed Norton in Primal Fear or Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, you could see so much promise in them. I am like a proud papa but beyond that I really believe that she is amazing, I've worked with a lot of actresses but none of them had the talent of Ellen Page. I believe her performance in Juno is striking.Then I met her and she is bright. It is funny because people say that Juno, the character, is so articulate but Ellen is even more articulate, funnier, quicker than Juno. She is from another planet. Besides, she emotionally connects with the work she is doing. I adore her. She is one of a kind.
What about J.K. Simmons?
Every director has that one actor that somehow speaks exactly their tone of humor and their type of storytelling and ends up being in everyone of his films. Simmons is that type of actor for me.
And Allison Janey?
I've always been an enormous fan of Allison work. There is a realness… I keep up using this words but it is very important to me: I look for actors that feel honest, that feel real. And no matter what she is doing she always feels very real, whether she is a chief of staff in West Wing or an American withheld mother in American Beauty. Beyond my own parents I couldn’t imagine better parents than J.K. And Allison for Juno. That’s who I want as my cool and perfect parents. That’s who I would like to be telling if I had these news.
The locations and the set design are really good…
I used the same production designer from my first movie. He is tremendous. He is the guy that when we were in preproduction for Thank You for Smoking look at the blinds in the academy of Tobacco Studies and thought ‘why we dont make these cigarettes’? He has an amazing sense of humour. But this was a movie in which a lot of information came from all the people involved. Diablo had a lot of insight about how Juno’s world was and I had a lot of insight about the adoption parents house's world. We all had very strong first hand relationships with what is going on in the movie and I believe you can feel it. Jennifer Garner, Jason Bates and myself we all had babies nearly around or after this movie. We all had this new first hand experience of desperation, the fears of becaming a new parent. And then you had Michael Cera, Ellen Page and Olivia Thirlby, this really unique bright kids who are just coming out of their teen years who were outsider kids and they identify themselves with those three kids from the script.
Could you talk about the music choices in this movie?
The most important input came from Ellen Page. She was sitting in my office one day and I asked her what kind of music Juno would listen to and she said, right away, Moldy Peaches. She jumped on my computer, download the song ‘Anyone else but you’ and I called Diablo to tell her that I wanted to finish the movie with it. Then I hear more and used it some of their songs but the credit is Ellen’s. I chose the Belle & Sebastian. I am a big fan, I love the first album Tigermilk, I love the songs that have to do with two people singing to each other. They also sing a lot about the drama of being in your high school years.
Why does Juno like Patti Smith and Iggy Pop and Jason Bateman's character likes grunge?
From the beginning he was into grunge but she was into glam rock and I didn’t like that. I always thought that glam rock is not authentic music and I wanted her to be into music very real and authentic, like punk music. I liked the idea that he was into pseudo fake punk music which is grunge. I like grunge but it is a softer, less authentic version of punk music. It made perfect sense.
What about the animation of the opening credits?
They were done by Shadowplay Studio who also did the opening credits for Thank You for Smoking. That was one of their first jobs. They did the credits of that movie in the living room of one of their mom's homes. Now they do all kind of work. It took five months to do these credits. They shoot Ellen Page with a high speed camera from different angles, then print out each frame, then run it through an old xerox machine to get it all crummy and then hand – drew each frame, rescanned it and then created stock motion with the computer and then the whole background. They cut leaves and photos and pasted it… it took forever. But it was worthy.
Were you worried about being perceived as a movie that has a slightly anti-abortionist?
Not really, because the movie is not about abortion. Pregnancy is just kind of a location to do a movie about growing up, about what constitutes a family and how that idea has changed and it is gone from these parents- two kids idea to stepparents, stepchildren, adopted children, single parents situations and this screenplay looks at all of those. And there is also a recurring theme in our society about girls growing up too fast and 30 year old guys not growing up at all.
How did you balance the warmth in this movie?
If I have an aesthetic is the tonal continuity. Thank You for Smoking had that and this film too. I am ruthless with my cut, I cut scenes before anyone wants to cut them because it’s either too silly or a little too dramatic and if it is not in that very fine line that I consider puts the tone on the film, it’s just gone, I don’t care how good the scene is.
What did you learn from your father as a director?
The best advise my father ever gave me was: when you are watching a take don't worry about trying to make it funny or dramatic, that is out of your hands. Worry about the take being real. Tonally we seem to do different things. As far as the aesthetic goes, my father is very aware of what the majority of people likes and I don’t know if I know that. I am good at knowing how a film festival audience is going to react to a movie but I couldn't tell you what a whole country is gonna like. My father knows about the choices of the majority. The first time I listened to La vida loca I thought: this song sucks. My father said ‘I think it has some charm’. It became a super hit. He has a feeling for what people like. This is a guy who was a holocaust surviver that end up in France and lived on a farm with French kids and he would do puppet shows for kids because he didn’t know French.
Do you think you have a “Jewish sensibility”?
Jews are the greatest storytellers in history, that’s the only reason we survived. We cannot win wars. I guess is part of my genetic make up and that’s why I can tell stories.
What are you going to do next?
I am producing Diablo’s next movie, a horror comedy (Jennifer's Body) and I am going back to the script I put on hold to direct Juno, I will be back to writing as soon as the writers strike ends and hopefully, I'll direct it at the end of next year.
What about Bonzai Shadowhands?
I run into Rainn Wilson from The Office TV show and I said: I want to make a ninja movie with you one day. I came up with the concept and he has written the screenplay. It is about a former alcoholic ninja living in San Fernando Valley. He is an amazing ninja but he hates life. Imagine Midnight Cowboy meets Crouching Tiger…
So it is not a comedy?
Honestly it is really serious, there is humour but there are no jokes on it. (Laughs).
Fox Searchlight releases Juno in theaters today, and will expand the film in more thaters in the weeks to come.