The son of successful producer and director Ivan Reitman told the story of his journey from a teenager fearful of being overshadowed by his father in the movie industry, working his way up as a writer and director of short films and television commercials, to finally getting his big break with “Thank You for Smoking.”
Reitman’s 90-minute talk was filled with off-the-cuff jokes about his formative experiences, insider stories, and personal anecdotes about his career. When talking about his childhood, Reitman relayed that he had been on the set of Animal House, which his father produced, when he was 11 days old. His first kiss occurred on-screen in the movie “Kindergarten Cop,” which his father directed. After a brief stint studying for a medical career in college, Reitman’s father told him, “there’s not enough magic in it for you,” and convinced him to follow his passion for story telling.
Reitman talked about working with Sam Elliot on “Thank You for Smoking;” “my first and last actor to bring his own rifle onto the set.” He talked about working with George Clooney in “Up in the Air;” “the only actor I have ever met who never wears makeup.” And he talked about discussions he had with Mel Gibson, “which used to make for an interesting anecdote and now make for a pretty good joke.”
When discussing his attempt to make a living in the movie industry, Reitman proclaimed film festivals as a “strangely democratic” way to break into an artistic career. “Where is the Sundance [Film Festival] for ceramics or sculpture?” he quipped.
His success with a short film at a smaller festival landed Reitman his first agent and jobs directing commercials. “I made the worst commercials ever,” Reitman claimed.
It was several years before he would get the chance to work on “Thank You for Smoking,” a book Reitman had loved and adapted into a screenplay. Even though his screenplay was well received, it took years to find someone willing to fund the project, which was eventually saved by the former owners of the web site PayPal. Having a famous father did not help me get my movie made, Reitman said. “It was internet dudes from Palo Alto who started my film career.”
Reitman made his second film, “Juno,” for $7 million and “it blew up in a way we never expected,” he said, grossing $230 million. When talking about his third and most recent film, “Up in the Air,” Reitman discussed the challenges of making a film about a character who fires people for a living against the backdrop of the nation’s economic recession.
The audience, mostly students, was filled with aspiring writers and directors. People with dreams of a career in entertainment identified themselves with a show of hands and several later asked Reitman questions about his process for adapting a book into a movie and how to break into the industry.
Reitman suggested that college is the perfect place to read and experiment with writing. “You have to try a lot of different techniques to find your own voice,” he said. “After awhile, there is a version [of your story] you instinctively want to write but reject it because it seems too easy; but that’s the way you will find success.”
Past speakers for the Reynolda Film Festival have included Keith Barber, director of “Any Given Sunday;” Adam Burke, an animator with Pixar Animation Studios; and director Spike Lee. The festival was sponsored by WAKE TV, the University’s student-run television station.
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