Film director offers career advice

Jason Reitman’s father told him that sincerity and candor are crucial for success in art and in life, and the writer-director told Yale students the same thing at a Branford College Master’s Tea on Wednesday.

Reitman, who wrote and directed last year’s comedy noir “Thank You For Smoking,” told jokes and shared the story of his career path in front of an audience of about 40 students. In discussing the elaborate process behind production of his most recent film, Reitman gave students advice about how to break into the movie business.

The son of comedy filmmaker Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman said his initial life plan was to go to medical school, but instead he found himself at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television.

“I saw myself as a movie fan, not a moviemaker,” Reitman said. “I was terrified of following my father’s footsteps.”

Reitman said he believes the film festival system is completely democratic. He said anyone who works hard can participate in a film festival, an opportunity that could lead to future successes.

“If people like it, it will get awards,” Reitman said. “If they don’t like it, they’ll just never talk about it again.”

“Thank You for Smoking,” a comedic independent film about a tobacco industry lobbyist who tries to remain a role model for his 12-year-old son, came from a script that was perfect for him, Reitman said. The story, based on a novel by Christopher Buckley ’75 — a former magazine editor for the News — commented on social and political problems while maintaining a sense of humor, Reitman said.

But Reitman said buying the rights to the movie in the first place carried a number of frustrations.

“Hollywood studios would rather eat the debt of a film than watch someone else make it,” he said of his attempt to convince Warner Brothers Studios to sell the properties that he said “they didn’t even want.”

Reitman said he had as much fun seeing people’s reactions to his “libertarian comedy” as he did in actually filming it.

“It was a film that told people to relax,” said Reitman. “We just wanted to knock political correctness around. … We all know that smoking is very dangerous. The point of the film was not vilifying cigarettes but rather educating people to make the decisions for themselves.”

Students asked Reitman for advice about surviving in the movie business today.

“You are alive at a very special time,” Reitman said. “With Final Cut Pro and YouTube around, there’s no excuse anymore for why you can’t be making films.”

Many students said they enjoyed the discussion’s casual and candid format.

“When you can make an audience of students laugh for an entire hour straight, you’ve had a successful Master’s Tea,” Will Gurman ’07 said.

Some students said Reitman’s laid-back style helped him to relate to Yale students.

“He acted like a college student himself,” Kathleen Borschow ’10 said.

Other students said they enjoyed having a professional writer-director explain the movie business from behind the scenes.

“It’s always interesting to have people from the entertainment industry come speak at Yale because we’re somewhat removed from Hollywood,” Gurman said.

But while Reitman focused discussion on the process behind independent movies, some students said they were looking for more information on other aspects of show business.

“He could have expanded more on rising though the mainstream studio industry rather than just independent films,” Jakara Mato ’10 said, “I also would have liked to hear him talk about movie-making in comparison to theater, especially as theater has such a large presence here at Yale.”

Comments