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Listen: Jason Reitman Explores the Unanswered Questions Posed by ‘The Front Runner’

PLAYBACK is a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films. New episodes air every Thursday.

Jason Reitman is having a big year. Two major festival debuts from the Oscar-winning director have hit screens in 2018: Sundance player “Tully” in the spring and this week, Telluride selection “The Front Runner.” Together the two films represent an interesting evolution for Reitman, and they were made virtually on top of each other. In fact, he was in the editing suite with both at one point. A shot from “Tully” even ended up in “The Front Runner” when Reitman realized he needed something for the fall release, which tells the story of disgraced politician Gary Hart.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

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“It’s been an exciting year,” Reitman says. “To have two films that I’m equally proud of, that are different and personal and independent and movies that I made for the right reasons, at a time when it’s really hard to get movies made and really hard to make personal movies — the idea that I get to make two in a year, that’s really cool.”

With “The Front Runner,” the Canadian Reitman took a dive into American politics in a search for the kernels of where we are as a consumer society today. For some it’s maddening film that never takes a stand on Hart’s transgressions (he was caught in an extramarital affair just as he was set to become a major presidential candidate) and leans heavy on the press establishment’s role in stirring it all up. But for Reitman, the unanswered questions it leaves are precisely the point.

“That is who I am as a filmmaker, and if that frustrates you, I get it,” Reitman says. “I think it would be bullsh*t if I said, ‘Oh, it’s one or the other.’ I hate movies that do that. Politically, where the hell are we going? This is what’s on our minds, and no one has the answer on that. Both sides think the other is absolutely crazy. No one is in the center anymore. We’re leaning to the edges of each party, and there is a fraught relationship between journalists and candidates … I’m interested in what we want to consume, how we want to consume, and this bigger idea of what’s actually relevant. What is important versus what is entertaining.”

Reitman endeavored to work that thematic construct into the film’s aesthetics. He and longtime cinematographer Eric Steelberg gave “The Front Runner” something of a Robert Altman feel, moving into conversations happening on the edge of the frame, utilizing camera movement and zooms with a certain intent, with Michael Ritchie’s 1972 film “The Candidate” serving as a sort of North Star throughout.

“What we’re trying to tell the audience right from the beginning is you’re going to hear things overlapping, three, four conversations,” Reitman explains. “You’re not going to be able to listen to everything or look at everything, and right from the beginning of the film, you have to make decisions. What do you want to listen to, given the choice? The real key to that style is oddly sound. It’s Steve Morrow, our production mixer, working with him and how your ears can point your eyes. You’re moving through the crowd watching a journalist do a stand-up to camera and you’re already hearing another conversation off-camera and you’re already starting to look that way, even though there’s no one to look at. I feel like that’s what happens in life, is your ears start to take you to different places.”

For more, including why Reitman thought actor Hugh Jackman was perfect for the role of Hart and some discussion of “Tully” as well, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link below.

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Jason Reitman photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast
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