By Esther Zuckerman
Jason Reitman â95 sits in the waiting room of his company Hard C Productions. It is 4:30 p.m., but he is still wearing the gray suit that he wore to attend the Academy Awards nominee luncheon to accept his nomination certificate for Best Director for the film âJuno.â Surrounding him are oversized posters from his first film, âThank You For Smoking.â
He erupts in a laugh.
âNo itâs not. Really?â he asks.
He has just been told that âThank You For Smokingâ is in the AP United States Government curriculum at his alma mater, Harvard-Westlake. Students can watch the film, write a report and get up to 10 points extra credit.
âCome on,â he continues. âI wonder if they know I could have never gotten into AP U.S. Government to save my life.â
He is astonished.
âThatâs cool,â he says. âI hope someone fails on âThank You For Smoking.ââ
Reitman has come a long way from his days as a self-professed âloserâ in high school. âJuno,â a comedy about teen pregnancy written by a former stripper, Diablo Cody, has grossed over $100 million. He has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. His film is up for three other awards including Best Picture of the Year. He is also on the shorts jury at the Sundance Film Festival.
His nomination: âInsane. Insane,â he said. âTotally insane.
âMy first thought was âOh my God they made a mistake,ââ he continued. âMy wife burst out crying and my dad called and he was crying.â
That âdadâ is director Ivan Reitman, whose resume includes the hit âGhostbusters,â among others. To think, Jason Reitman almost did not become a director. Afraid of following in his fatherâs footsteps, he matriculated from Harvard-Westlake to Skidmore for a semester as a premed student. After some persuasion from his father he came back to Los Angeles to attend USC, but as an English major.
âIt was always in my heart, but I was scared,â he said. âI saw the way that children of famous people, particularly famous filmmakers, were treated. The presumption is youâre a talentless spoiled brat with a drug problem.â
Reitman created a desktop calendar company, selling ads to local businesses and distributing the calendars to dorm rooms at USC to fund his first short film.
By the age of 19 Reitman had a short film screened at Sundance. Still, Reitman had his successes as a filmmaker even in high school. A public service announcement he made about AIDS awareness while at Harvard-Westlake won a KCET competition. The ad was shown before Reitman spoke at the Harvard-Westlake Film Festival last year.
âItâs astonishingly bad in retrospect,â Reitman said.
Video art teacher Cheri Gaulke, who never taught Reitman, said she knew he was going to be a director when watching him direct that ad.
Gaulke said Reitman said something to a girl who was supposed to deliver the line âItâs not a girl thing,â that allowed her to alter her performance for the better.
âIâd never seen a student able to direct another student,â Gaulke said.
Back in Reitmanâs office he asks, âThatâs how she knew I was a director? Thatâs wonderful. I mean I still feel like Iâm learning how to direct, so Iâm surprised that she was seeing something in me that young.â
Years later, after Reitman wrote and directed âThank You For Smoking,â based on the Christopher Buckley novel of the same name, to critical acclaim, he started Hard C Productions with friend Daniel Dubiecki.
And then a 16-year-old pregnant girl whose favorite bands are Patti Smith and Iggy and the Stooges, who loves horror films and who says things like âporkswords,â walked, or rather, waddled into Reitmanâs life. A close friend asked him to read the script of âJuno,â advertising it in the worst possible way. His friend said it was âa teen comedy written by a former stripper.â
Because Reitman began having success at Sundance with his short films when he was 19, he was offered to direct a lot of âhigh school movies.â
âWhen I think of high school movies I think of âCanât Hardly Wait,â things like that which I didnât want to do,â Reitman said. âAnd I turned down a lot of movies like that just to make âThank You For Smoking.ââ
Soon after Reitmanâs friend urged him to read âJuno,â a messenger showed up at his house with the screenplay.
âI opened the package and started reading the screenplay and I was still standing in my kitchen on page 10 because I was loving it so much and I was like âI gotta sit down,ââ Reitman said. âIt just knocked me out.â
Reitman was so intrigued he decided to put his own screenplay, which heÂ was planning to direct, on hold to make âJuno.â
The Feb. 8 issue of Entertainment Weekly called âJunoâ a âbona fide phenomenon.â Reitmanâs said heâs not sure.Â
âRight now I feel very fortunate,â he said. âI look at what has happened to the movie, both with the critics, the awards, I see how people have really taken it. You know what is fun? Iâll be on YouTube and Iâll see kids singing the songs from the movie and thatâs really cool. Thatâs almost more special than anything.â
Reitman credits the resonance of the film among teenagers mainly to Cody and stars Ellen Page and Michael Cera, but he also attributes some of it to himself.
âIâm kind of a kid myself,â he said. âI think Iâm somewhere between a 12-year-old boy and an 80-year-old man. Iâm both things but nothing quite in between.â
Â Dubiecki emerges from the room across the hall.
âHi,â he says to Reitman. âAmanda.â
âJust like that?â Reitman says, leaning forward in his chair.
They just got actress Amanda Seyfried (of âMean Girlsâ) for Hard Câs next project, Codyâs second screenplay âJenniferâs Body,â a horror comedy that Reitman and Dubiecki are producing. They start production in six weeks.
Reitman will also be receiving the DVD with the submissions for the Harvard-Westlake Film Festival soon.
âLast year I just came and spoke,â Reitman said. âBut I was amazed by the short films. I was really knocked out by how impressive the filmmaking was.â
Before he spoke at the Film Festival, Reitman remembered Rugby stage from the countless assemblies he sat through.
âI think the last time I was on that stage would be the grandparentsâ day play in like ninth or 10th grade forgetting my dialogue and realizing I never wanted to be an actor,â Reitman said.
Reitman said he was probably not very memorable at Harvard-Westlake.
âI was on the eighth grade basketball team, but they only put me on in one game,â he said. âI did high jump,â he paused, âwhich always makes you popular. I was a video nerd. I just kind of hung out in the video room.â
In Reitmanâs office there is a large banner for the âDancing Elk Condors,â the school mascot from âJuno,â and the âMost Fruitful Yukiâ comic book prop (Yuki is a pregnant Japanese superhero and the comic book is given to Juno in the movie), among other paraphenalia.
Reitman takes out the certificate he just received, declaring him a bona fide Academy Award nominee, and the 80th annual Academy Awards hoodie sweatshirt he also just got. He takes his suit coat off.
âItâs so silly,â he says. âI just want to try it on.â