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Jason Reitman: A real human being on the campaign trail

Jason and Michelle Reitman

Talking with Jason Reitman is uncannily like talking to a real person and not the director of an Oscar contender. He's not on autopilot. He's not using sound bites. He's just talking.

When he went on a PR tour to promote "Up in the Air" last year, he counted the questions he was asked over and over again, and produced a pie chart. Question #1: "What was it like working with George Clooney?" Reitman should have simply answered differently every time: "Like working with Lady Gaga." "Like working with Glenn Beck."

Now "Up in the Air" is tied with "Avatar" at nine Academy Award nominations, and Reitman and his wife Michelle have flown to Chicago to do the Oprah show, the most valuable TV exposure in existence. I said his life has become like the Clooney character's. The director of an Oscar nominee lives in airports and on planes. Then I realized that observation no doubt gets a giant slice of his new pie chart.

"No, I'm finished with pie charts. I'm working on my new screenplay. I started on Monday and I'm on Page 40. I'm just having an amazing week."

On the advice of his wife he's also stopped reading what bloggers say about him on the internet. Jason Reitman is a blameless man, you understand, who is happily married and has a much-loved daughter and gets along fine with his parents and has made three movies that were all extremely good. What's for a blogger not to like?

"I was at the Broadcast Film Critics Awards," he said, "and we won for screenplay. I accepted the award and then I took a step back for Sheldon, the co-writer, to talk and they turned the music on. So some bloggers blamed this on me as if I'd slighted him, when really I just kinda took a step back. In that moment I realized how much it's like running for political office. Everyone is watching your every move. Every little gesture can be interpreted incorrectly.

"When I was a kid there was one night and it was the Oscars. Now, I realize it's three months of award shows and you get to know everyone. I see Kathryn Bigelow every other day, I see James Cameron every other day, I see Lee Daniels every other day. They're all lovely. But there's this strange line between being proud of your film and feeling as though you're running for political office."

So he's cut way back on Google. "There are a few bloggers I think are thoughtful in their approach. But some of them are really snarky. If the internet is supposed to show humanity for what it is, it's a little scary. Because given a chance to say anything you want and given anonymity, we can become really dark and scary people."

He said it's frightening that Twitter now renders an instant verdict on a movie while the credits are still playing. "I remember when I went to Sundance in 1998. I was 19 years old, I brought a short film and someone said, “we're putting short films on the internet.” And I remember looking at him like he was crazy. By the time I played “Up in the Air” for the first time, it was assumed it would have been decided on whether my film was good or not within five minutes of the film ending at Telluride.

"I remember running into Anne Thompson at Telluride." [Respected veteran film writer--RE] She said, “I'm exhausted. I used to have the weekend. On the flight back I'd start writing my round-up. These kids, they don't sleep. After the first showing they walk out already writing, they're up all night, they're gonna see a movie at 7 in the morning, they're gonna see a movie at midnight.”

Reitman said it was true. "It's a strange thing to have your film decided on that quickly. It'll be scary the day I make the film that just doesn't work. It'll be dead on arrival. They're gonna be tweeting in the middle of a movie."

The blogosphere outdid itself with "Avatar," I noted. It declared the film dead months before anyone had even seen it. Then there were all these articles saying, "Gee, it's good, once you see it."

I asked Michelle what it was like being the candidate's wife. She smiled. "Well, I've tried to smile and be supportive. But I'm crying a lot because I'm just so proud when he wins an award."

Jason said, "It's tricky, though. You also told me not me to read press, particularly the online stuff."

Michelle said, "It gets into your head and it's just one person's opinion and you don't know whether it comes from malice or envy or what. I'm just looking out for Jason. That's what I kinda think what my role is right now. I want to make sure he doesn't read a review that's just nasty or malicious. I want him to be enjoying this right now."

But Jason still Tweets, I said.

"Yeah, I gotta admit," he said. "What'd you think of the iPad? I'm a sucker. Michele's come along with me a couple of times to wait in line for things coming out and she thinks it's ridiculous."

Michelle laughed. "I have a business degree and I'm loyal to the Dells and the PCs. It's a battle in our house. I'm Blackberry, Jason's iPhone. I'm PC, he's Mac..."

"This is what keeps it spicy," Jason said. "Okay," she said, "I admit. I just asked for an iTouch so we can download little cartoons and show our daughter."

"Next I'll be making films with a iPhone. Canon has a new camera called the 5Dmark2 and it shoots 24 frames 1080 HD on it. It looks beautiful. I shot some footage on 'Up in the Air' with it."

So after Oprah, he said, he would fly back home and go back to work on the new screenplay. He's adapting Labor Day, a 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard about a 13-year-old boy, his unhappy mother and his growing pains. Maynard was in the news after the death of J. D. Salinger; she had a now famous affair with the reclusive author. I asked Reitman how, as the director of "Juno," he might approach filming Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

"Oddly," he said, "the trick to The Catcher in the Rye is not making it. It is the perfect experience within itself. I don't know how you make that experience any different or any better."

Holden Caulfield might have thought, well, he might be an adult, but at least he isn't a phony.

Videos from my chat with Jason Reitman are here:

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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