Jason Reitman: "Make it funny"

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By Sean Axmaker

"Mel Gibson called me and I thought, 'Wow, I've got it made.'"

Jason Reitman, son of Hollywood hitmaker Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), joins Sofia Coppola, Roman Coppola and Jake Kasdan in a curious new wave of second generation filmmakers making their names with offbeat, individualistic films produced outside the studio system. Like his contemporaries, the Canadian-born but Los Angeles-raised Reitman was steeped in film from an early age. His childhood was spent, in his own words, "half inside movie theaters and half on my dad's set." Yet he came to filmmaking on his own terms, sidestepping film school for a degree in English from USC and making his award-winning short films on the side.

After a career in commercials, he chose a challenging project for his feature debut: Christopher Buckley's cult novel Thank You For Smoking, a decidedly non-PC slash-and-burn satire of social politics, media exploitation and the culture of spin. The hero is a tobacco industry lobbyist, Nick Naylor, a manipulative, glib, proudly obfuscating "yuppie Mephistopheles" (according to his detractors) who zealously defends the right of "defenseless" corporate giants' to market products that, when used as directed, will likely kill their clientele. The novel was already optioned and had been in limbo for years when he pitched his take, and through perseverance he revived it and attracted an impressive cast centered by Aaron Eckhart, who plays Naylor's medicine show patter and con man guile with gusto and charm, and filled out with Maria Bello, William H. Macy, Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes, Sam Elliott, Rob Lowe and others.

The resulting film is sly, smart and hilarious, a witty adaptation that keeps the satirical jabs coming fast and furious and is, if anything, even more pointed and barbed than the novel. No surprise that he had to step outside the studio system to get it made.

The following interview was conducted in February, during the Seattle stop of Reitman's press tour.

You studied English at USC. Did you study any filmmaking?

I took a couple film classes, but they weren't production classes. They were more cinema series where I got to watch a lot of movies, and that was primarily why I took them. Particularly the Kubrick class where they showed 35mm prints of all his films. I was an English major. T.C. Boyle headed up the English program there. I was writing stories. I was a creative writing major, and I went to work with him and it was fantastic. And at the same time, I started making short films. Just on my own.

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