“Up in the Air” is only Jason Reitman’s third feature, but the film’s deft handling of complex themes and conflicting emotions belies his age.
Achieving that creative maturity, says the young director, was the biggest hurdle he faced in getting his screenplay (co-written with Sheldon Turner) to the screen. “It’s as much a personal film as a mirror to the global economy and the millions of people who’ve lost their jobs, and it had to be honest and true and accurate,” he explains.
He also wanted it to be “both funny and dramatic,” and finding the right tone was tough, he adds. “It’s easy to fall on either side of that line and make it satirical or overtly dramatic, so writing it was tricky, directing was tricky and editing was tricky, as you’re constantly trying to hold that balance.”
Reitman acknowledges that the film has a very unusual plotline. “It’s supposed to surprise you at every turn, and it doesn’t follow the traditional three acts — or the book. It takes a character and philosophy from the book, and then it paints a new story that really follows my own personal trajectory over the seven years it took to write.”
He stresses that those seven years were an “essential period” of personal growth that he needed “in order to do it justice and get the script exactly the way I wanted. Of course, I wasn’t locked up in a writing room for seven years. I’d write, and then I went away to make ‘Thank You for Smoking,’ then I’d write more, and then I made ‘Juno,’ and then I’d write some more. And I needed to grow up over that period. I had to learn things, find my own place in the universe, and I feel all of that is reflected in the final film.”
By contrast, the film’s modest $25 million budget “wasn’t an issue, even though it’s bargain-basement compared to most films,” Reitman observes. “If they’d told me I only had $15 million, I’d have made it for that. But any budget’s irrelevant if you’re not creatively happy, and there’s no part of the film that doesn’t feel as though it’s the one that was in my heart and mind.”