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Director Series-Jason Reitman-Juno

September 7, 2007 | By

By Mark London Williams
Director Jason Reitman has struck indie gold with his breakout hit Juno, the film about a world-wise, pregnant 16 year-old (the accolade-gathering, X-Men alum Ellen Page) that has been nominated for Best Picture and is drawing audiences of all age groups. Below the Line recently caught up with Reitman, who has been nominated for an Oscar of his own as Best Director, to ask him about the genesis (we don’t dare say gestation) of this singular, humorous, and perhaps – in the bridges it builds between its intergenerational characters – even healing piece of work.

BTL: How did you find this script, and this story?
JR: Do you know Diablo Cody’s story? She was a blogger, and somebody told her she should write a script. She wrote Juno in two months! It’s infuriating. But someone said, “You gotta read this!”
BTL: Were there crew head conversations before there was cast?
JR: A lot of the crew were people I’d worked with before. I’d worked with [cinematographer] Eric Steelberg before [on Consent, Uncle Sam, and Gulp], and I’ve know the producer [Daniel Dubiecki -Thank You for Smoking) since high school.
BTL: Tell me about working with production designer Steve Saklad.
JR: Basically we started to grab books and magazines and get ideas. When Juno flips that Buddha light plate, where the switch looks like it’s his penis – that’s something I saw in a magazine. We wanted the look to be low-fi and real.
BTL: And the hamburger phone, famously, is Cody’s.
JR: That was her phone in high school!
BTL: There’s a timeless aspect to Juno’s world, in terms of clothes and cars. It’s now-ish, but not necessarily.
JR: There’s a story [director] Alexander Payne told us about working on Election. The studio wanted Jim McAllister’s [the Matthew Broderick character] car to be the new VW Bug that came out that year. But he said no, it wouldn’t be right for the character, and stuck with that nasty, blue two-door thing. And thank God he did. I wanted [Juno] to look real and a bit retro. We didn’t want the characters to all be on cell phones.
BTL: What conversations did you have with your costume designer, Monique Prudhomme?
JR: Costumes were infinitely important on this. Everyone collaborated. [Juno’s] iconic look with the striped shirt and the hoody over jeans was a combination of everyone’s efforts. Monique thought there would be humor in horizontal stripes over a growing, pregnant belly. The hoody and jeans may even have belonged to Ellen.
BTL: Even the track uniforms seemed familiar. They reminded me of the ones my high school wore in the 70’s. Maybe it was the color scheme.
JR: Well, I went to USC, so read in to the colors what you want. [Laughs].
BTL: When did you start cutting with your editor, Dana E. Glauberman?
JR: Dana’s on the Avid most of the time. She starts cutting while I’m shooting. She’d send me files that I would look at at night. When we were done shooting, she and I cut very quickly. I think we had our first cut done in six or seven weeks.
BTL: She stayed in LA?
JR: I suppose if we had a bigger budget, I’d love to have her with me. But we did this [film] for $7.5 million.
BTL: What about shooting with film instead of digitally?
JR: Film and digital basically cost the same – it was an aesthetic choice. Digital gives a hyper-real look. We wanted it to look like a Hal Ashby film.
BTL: Were there a lot of references for things? Did you look at a lot of Ashby films for this? Or Robert Altman’s?
JR: We looked at Harold and Maude, Election, The Virgin Suicides, Elephant and a couple of others.
BTL: Was that with Eric? Is the cinematographer the first crew head conversation that you have?
JR: It all happens at once. There’s never enough time to put [the discussions] in order like that. Everything evolves. A film begins with an idea, and it keeps evolving and changing – it evolves with your instincts.
BTL: On that note, how did you decide what Juno’s town looked like? You shot in Vancouver, but it isn’t supposed to be Vancouver.
JR: For me, it looks very much like Vancouver. We looked at locations all over the U.S., but I love Vancouver, and I love the crews and actors there. I’m Canadian! I grew up in Los Angeles, but I have my Green Card. 90 percent of the crew is Canadian. So I wanted to shoot there. But I also wanted a type of suburbia that I thought Juno lived in, and a different type for the Lorings [the couple played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman].
BTL: The Reitman heritage! For you it’s natural to shoot in Canada. I suppose the anomaly would be to come down here and work with American crews.
JR: The crews are great. And Canadians are just great actors. You can get people to come in and do these great two-day scenes.
BTL: There are visual effects credits. Where did effects come in to play here?
JR: The main effect was Juno’s pregnant belly! We used a shop that mostly does gory prosthetics. You go in there and there are severed limbs everywhere, and bloody alligator bite victims. A very morbid setting for a new life! But they did a great job with that belly.
BTL: And what is life like after Juno? What’s the next step?
JR: I’m producing another Diablo Cody script, and I’m taking a whole bunch of people with me that worked on Juno. We like to think of [Juno] as a movie about a family made by family.

Written by Mark London Williams

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