‘Up in the Air’ director on filming in St. Louis

For a young director, Jason Reitman has an impressive resume: He directed Thank You for Smoking, Juno and the film that set St. Louis abuzz — Up in the Air.

Reitman, 32, who is Jewish, also co-wrote the darkly comic film about a frequent-flying corporate downsizer, played by George Clooney. Up in the Air is getting a great deal of Oscar buzz and is set to open locally Friday, Dec. 11.

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The Jewish Light recently spoke to Reitman, son of director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), about filming in St. Louis, some themes in the movie and what he learned from watching his father.

What were the advantages and disadvantages to filming in St. Louis?

There were a lot of advantages. It is a city that has not been shot, so there are a lot of original locations that I could take advantage of. The climate change was wonderful because I got to show a lot of different seasons. It is a mid-American city that can really ‘act’ as many other American cities. There was a terrific tax credit here, which I hope Missouri stays with. And most importantly, the people were lovely. I had great actors, I had great crew and locals who made me feel at home. I was here for four months and I was sincerely sad to leave.

Any disadvantages?

Uh … it gets f—ing cold here in January!

Was it hard to get George Clooney to come to St. Louis to film?

No, we had a great time. He’s a guy who gets bothered everywhere he goes, and people were really easy-going. He got to go out in St. Louis more than he normally gets to go out because people were so good to him.

The film features a song by a local man, Kevin Renick. How did that song make it into the movie?

Kevin bribed me. No, the truth is that I was speaking at Webster (University) and he walked up to me. I am used to teenagers walking up to me to give me songs after Juno, but this is the first time a man in his 50s did. He had recently lost his job, he had written a song about it and he handed me a cassette tape. And a large problem I had was finding a place to listen to it. But I found a car with a cassette deck and we listened to the song. And it opened with him talking to me, which was unusual but we used it in the film. It was a very authentic song about the idea of looking for purpose in your life and lent a voice to the enormous number of people who have lost their jobs in this country.

Since your father was also a director, how much time did you spend on sets as a kid?

I spent a lot of time (on sets) but I probably spent more time in editing rooms. And it is in editing rooms that I learned to be ruthless with my own work, because that is where stories really come together.

It seems like you were kind to St. Louis — the film makes the city look good, whether the scene is supposed to take place here, or if the city is standing in for somewhere else.

I was kind to St. Louis because they were kind to us. I wanted to make, in general, a love letter to travel. I didn’t want to make a movie about ‘flyover’ cities and I didn’t want to make a movie about the homogeneity of America. When most people think, ‘Oh, you’re making a movie about travel,’ these are the concepts that are going to be entertaining, like you are going to make Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, where every city starts to look the same. That’s not how I feel. I wanted to make a movie that kind of spoke to the beauty of middle America and identified cities as unique, and kind of show what is special about travel.

The film raises a lot of interesting philosophical questions, but at the end of the film it is not clear what George Clooney’s character (Ryan Bingham) is going to do. Did he really learn anything?

Well, I think half the audience thinks Ryan Bingham is going to live the same way for the rest of his life and half the audience thinks he is off to a city to find a woman to share his life with. And that is perfectly fine with me. I do think Ryan comes to an epiphany. I think he was closed-minded to the value of human companionship and he sees that. But there is kind of nothing wrong with him taking either path. The end of the movie is really a moment to look back at the audience and ask them, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’