Up in the Air - Directo Jason Reitman
Up in the Air - Director/co-writer/producer Jason Reitman on the set © DW Studios & Cold Spring

The son of director Ivan Reitman, who helmed such classic comedies as Animal House and Ghostbuster, Jason Reitman has found is own unique voice, being nominated for an Academy Award for Juno.

His new movie, which is produced by his father, Up in the Air is a timely odyssey spotlighting Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a corporate downsizer, who after years of happily flying the friendly skies, suddenly finds himself grounded when a new efficiency expert, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), insists the work be done with computers from the office.

When Jason Reitman entered our room, he was carrying his cell phone and immediately started photographing each one of us at the roundtable, before sitting down to answer our questions.

Is this the first time you’ve worked with your dad professionally where he’s produced something of yours?

Up in the Air - George Clooney and director Jason Reitman
Up in the Air - George Clooney on the set with director/writer/producer Jason Reitman © DW Studios & Cold Spring

Officially, yes. I’ve been obviously showing my work to my father my entire life, starting with my math homework all the way down to my short films and everything I’ve done. So I’ve always relied on his advice on these things, he’s the greatest storyteller I know and he’s obviously read all my screenplays and he’s given me advice on everything – those first five horrible original screenplays that I wrote that taught me how to be a writer, and then the actual stuff that I made into movies.

By the time we were doing Up in the Air, it’s like we knew how to do the job together. It’s not as though it was like, ‘Okay, how do we figure out how to work together?’ In your producer you want someone you trust in and I don’t trust anyone more than my father.

Were those people who did the short scenes about losing their jobs real people who really lost their jobs?

Yes, they were real people. I started writing this movie seven years ago. When I started writing it, we were in an economic boom and, by the time I finished writing it, we were in one of the worst recessions on record.

The biggest change I made in approaching actually directing the movie was that I realized the scenes I’d written were not adequate. They weren’t authentic. I realized that I was surrounded by the realities of this recession and that it was important to reach out and see if we could actually find some people who had lost their jobs to talk about their stories on camera.

Were you worried about the film coming out at this time because of the economics now with so many people losing their jobs or scared of losing them?

No, for a couple reasons, one is this is not a movie about job loss. It never has been. The reason why this was just as appropriate a movie in 2002 when I started writing it, as it is now is that it’s a movie about human connections.

It’s about a guy trying to figure out who and what he wants in his life, who has a philosophy about living alone, that is challenged by his family, by a woman romantically, by a young upstart girl who is biting away at his ankles the entire film.

Could you talk about casting Anna because she brings something really spicy and spunky to this film?

Up in the Air - George Clooney and Anna Kendrick
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) meets Alex (Vera Farmiga) © DW Studios & Cold Spring

Spicy and spunky? I look forward to telling her that. She’s like a tortilla soup! I saw Anna in Rocket Science and I was just knocked out by her and the role of Natalie grew from there.

It was seeing her, hearing her, the rapidity with which she spoke, her sense of wit and timing. She reminds me of Veronica Lake in Sullivan’s Travels.

I mean, she’s just from another era and she’s different from every girl of her generation.

Vera Farmiga is incredible in this movie and that’s such a complicated part. Did you see her in something?

Up in the Air - Anna Kendrick and George Clooney
The arrival of Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) complicates Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) work life © DW Studios & Cold Spring

I saw her in Down to the Bone and thought she was fearless in that. I saw her in The Departed and knew that she could really go toe-to-toe with some charismatic men. But it was really in meeting her that I went wow, this girl is really something.

She was pregnant through prep. She had a baby right before we started making the movie and I remember going to her and saying ‘You can’t do this. I don’t see how this is humanly possible,’ and she came back so confident.

It was like, ‘No, don’t worry about it.’ She refused to even entertain the conversation. It was one of those moments where I realized wow, this woman really is Alex. She’s so cocksure and so fearless and such a gamer. Yeah, it was just perfect.

Is some of the real George Clooney in his character? He refused to get married again or settle down. Do you think you changed his point of view on his life?

Up in the Air - George Clooney
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) © DW Studios & Cold Spring

Do I think I helped change his own point-of-view on his own life? Absolutely not. The only time he ever spoke about this was literally the second thing he said. The first thing he said was, ‘I’m in.’ The second thing he said was, ‘I know people are going to draw comparisons between this character and my persona and I’m ready to stare them straight in the eyes.’

I loved that. I just thought what a brave, self-aware thing to say and then to do. It didn’t require further conversation. We both understood and that was kind of it.

We went and made the movie.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.

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