Young Adult Q&A With Director Jason Reitman

Young Adult Director Jason Reitman and lead actor Patton Oswalt take questions from Eddie Izzard and an audience. London 2012.

Eddie Izzard: Question asked to Jason Reitman concerning the tagline for the poster.
Jason Reitman: When we were looking at posters for a film they send you 40 different styles. As they show you the 40 different styles they have 40 different taglines and you are trying to assemble something that will work. One of the taglines that I always loved but I didn’t end up using was “The Girl You Hated in High School is 37”. I thought that was really clever and I think it speaks to the idea.

Eddie Izzard: And you were going to use it but you didn’t go for it in the end?
Jason Reitman: No, I think there is something lovely about “Everyone Grows Older but not Everyone Grows Up”.

Question asked to Patton Oswalt on whether being a military child made him creative?
Patton Oswalt: My dad was a Marine and was in Vietnam for three years.

Eddie Izzard: Military child!
Patton Oswalt: A military child yeah.

Eddie Izzard: Is your first name linked to this?
Patton Oswalt: Yes it is, being WWII nerd my dad loved General Patton and gave me that name. My mom wanted to call me Andy but he wanted to give me something unique and I think maybe aspirational. It must have thrilled him at 23 that I’m going to tell jokes to drunks with my amazing world conqueror name. Because my dad was in Vietnam for three years his whole thing was, “I never want you joining the military. I never want you to go to war!” He was like “I’ve been through this military family and I don’t want you going through that”.

Jason Reitman: But then he names you Patton!
Patton Oswalt: Yeah, that I can’t figure out.

Interviewer: But then was he in Vietnam when you were at zero?
Patton Oswalt: My first year of life he was in Vietnam.

Eddie Izzard: Does the military affect your creativity because you grew up on those bases?
Patton Oswalt: I did spend a little bit of time in bases. My dad remembered going to 5 different high schools and the minute we got to first and second grade, he took a job as a test pilot. Took a job in Washington where he could stay at one place and just evaluate other young test pilots. He would say, “I don’t want to move these kids around because it was a nightmare and they are going to hate it. I don’t want them to go through it”. He was a great guy. He flew F4 Fighters.

Jason Reitman: So did he test crazy planes?
Patton Oswalt: He flew F4’s and then he tested the thing between the F4 Fighter and the F8 whatever.

Question asked to Jason Reitman on whether the movie is a comedy?
Jason Reitman: Ghostbusters is a comedy. I never wanted to make a comedy. The films that make me want to make movies were these films that came out of Sundance in the ‘90s and then as I grew up a little bit more or there were these films that I saw that came out of the ‘70s. I think those are the films I am trying to immolate; specifically I was trying to immolate those movies. I don’t think those are comedies. Is Shampoo a comedy?

Interviewer: No, see I think those are dramas and sometimes I’ve heard your films being called comedies, and I think they’re quirky dramas.
Jason Reitman: I hate that word too!
Patton Oswalt: I think the word quirky you are talking about is within dramas that were very comfortable embracing the obscurity of life. Something like 5 Easy Pieces, Unmarried Woman, and Night Moves – despite being dramas – had very bizarre, funny sequences in them. They were comfortable doing that. And Young Adult is very much in that kind of world.

Audience question to Jason Reitman: Is the end of the film more upbeat in the script than in the film?
Jason Reitman: The first time I read the script, the ending was a little bit more upbeat and I pushed it further in the direction you are saying here. I mean that was the most important thing, I even edited a version in the film once where literally Mavis says to Sandra: “You’re good here”, she nods: “Oh” and we cut to credits because for me at that point the movie is done. You know this is a movie about pulling the audience into thinking they are seeing one movie – manipulating them into thinking that this woman is going to change – and then she doesn’t. Like most people she doesn’t, you know I think Diablo and I, were both very frustrated by the amount of film in which characters make these 180 degree turns which I never see. I think people make two percent or 5 percent changes tops. Even my therapist, once told me… yes, I’m in therapy.

Patton: A Jew! In show business! In therapy? I’ve seen everything. I’m done, I’ve seen it all, wow! (Laughs)
Jason Reitman: Crazy right? A Jew in therapy! I asked him once, I said: “I worry that if everything you do works, I won’t be able to write anymore.” He said, “No don’t worry, you’re only capable of about 5 percent improvement!” So what I loved about this film – and the reason to make the film – was to be about a character that doesn’t change. You see this all the time in ‘70s cinema but it never seems to happen anymore. I’d never read a character like this and I really wanted to make sure she didn’t change. So it was very important for me for the ending to be dark, honest and for there to be a moment where the audience could look up at the screen and it almost serves as a mirror.

Audience question to Jason Reitman: How similar was the final film to the script?
Jason Reitman: I think the biggest change from the original script (the script was written by Diablo Cody, who I collaborate with on Juno) was that the parents were different. In the original script, the parents were worse. You looked at them and went, “Oh these two were kind of horrible”. You could see why she became the girl that she did and it became easy to pin that on the parents.
When I worked with Diablo just for a couple of weeks on it, my biggest goal was to remove anything you could point to. So if the alcoholism was too high, let’s pull back on that. If the parents are too mean, let’s pull back on that. Let’s remove every easy thing you can point to and make this a normal person. She is a narcissist. She’s lost her way. She wants to be loved, she’s broken and vulnerable like anybody else. Throughout the movie, as an audience you are going to want to point to her and say, “Oh this woman is completely messed up”. Or “She is crazy”, but she’s not. I know so many people who share so many characteristics.
The biggest changes were how to normalize the film and how do we shoot in a way so that the world would always seem real. So we shoot on digital, shoot hand held and create this colour pallet that is very muted. We make every choice so that you can never look at this and go, “This is a movie, and that is a character”. And then it really fell on Charlize and Patton to create characters that were as human as possible. Which is tricky when you are saying and doing the things that both are. I think honestly what’s so brilliant about Patton and Charlize in the way they did this. Normally an actor who says or does horrible things, they develop little ticks, they do an accent, and they do something to let the audience know, ‘Oh by the way this isn’t me, this is a character, I’m acting right now’. What’s really brave is when you don’t do any of that and you play it very honest. It’s very difficult and it’s really gutsy.

Audience question to Patton Oswalt, coming from a comedy background, what is your drive to do drama?

Patton Oswalt: When I read Young Adult, I was like, ‘How are they going to pull this off?’ I want to do the kind of movies that are either going to really work or fail spectacularly. There are just as many comedies, science fiction films and horror films that roll the dice – exactly the way that this movie did – to try something really new and have no expectations of our audience. I think that’s what makes your career more interesting.

Eddie Izzard: But you must notice, coming from the comedy world, when comedians lean into a drama, they lean on their comedic muscles. But you do not.

Patton Oswalt: Yeah, I think especially in this film I worked with an acting coach for two months. I saw how great Charlize. Just like Charlize, I didn’t want to constantly be looking at the camera and be like, “You guys know I’m really OK, right?” I wanted to go as deep into this character as I could.

Audience question to Jason Reitman on casting Charlize Theron

Jason Reitman:
I was at the academy awards two years ago. At the Oscars you have to arrive early, go through security, you are sent to kind of a holding pen. I was down there and got a tap on my shoulder. I looked around it was Charlize Theron, who in heels is about 6’6” and completely intimidating. I was completely smitten and she said she wanted to make a movie with me. It put the idea into my head and I started looking for things. When I read this script I just really thought of her and her alone. So I made my decision that if Charlize wants to do this I will make the movie. If she doesn’t want to do it, I won’t make the movie.

I had already written a movie called Labour Day. I was supposed to actually already have shot it but it pushed back until next year. I think I ran into her at a restaurant and said, “Oh I found our script”, and I sent it to her. She was a little spooked out by it. She hadn’t done a movie in three years. We talked about it and finally she said yeah, “Let jump off the cliff together!” Those were her words. The startling moment was when I did a table read at my house. Patton was there and Collette Wolf who played ‘Sandra’, was there. Watching Patton and Charlize – who had never met each other – they had this chemistry that made me understand their characters way better. I suddenly realize this is a romance. I didn’t get that when I read the script but when I saw them together, their chemistry and the way they made each other upon seeing each other, it was like “These two people should date.” It was so obvious. Their rhythms were so good and the movie became more heartbreaking. As we sat there reading it at the table you start thinking why these two people are not together and you know they are not going to wind up together. There is kind of a sense of impending doom throughout the film that it’s not going to work out. It made me fall in love with them more.

Audience question to Jason Reitman: Can you talk about the dog in the film?
Jason Reitman: The reason why I chose a Pomeranian was because it’s the only dog that is genetically always smiling. I thought I’d be funny if Charlize was being so cruel to this dog all the time and all it could do back physically was smile. It’s in it’s DNA to smile back. I couldn’t find the right dog. We looked at a lot of trained dogs but nothing was right. Finally my producer was in Manhattan, saw a dog on the street, took an iPhone photo of it and emailed it to me and said: ‘What do you think of this one’. And I was like, ‘That’s the dog!’ We cast it and sent it to Minneapolis. We made a star out of this Pomeranian!

Audience question to Jason Reitman on the dog surviving at the end.
Jason Reitman: People think all the time that the dog is going to be dead. I think the ending is tough enough. I don’t think we need a dead dog! There were more stuff we shot where she was coming back and dumping food for the dog but it just didn’t make the cut.

Audience question to Jason Reitman asking if the studio wanted it to be a darker story.

Jason Reitman: No, usually what we’re asked is whether the studio ever asked us to go lighter. But that never happened. It was actually really wonderful the way Paramount’s stepped up and they saw exactly the movie we wanted to make. They never told us to make it any differently, they stood by us. It was very reminiscent of Paramount in the ‘70s. We made it for cheap. The movie was made for $12 million and we shot it in 30 days. I get scared saying ‘cheap’ because now there are independent film makers who make a picture for $10,000 and you pay $12 million.

Question to Jason Reitman on Patton Oswalt.
Jason Reitman:
I had a very short window to make the decision on whether or not make this film. I just asked a bunch of friends to come over and read it. I asked Patton to come over, just play one of the characters, just to hear it. Two things were very clear by the end of the read; one I wanted to make the movie, and two Patton needed to play this character. Because of Diablo there was interest from a lot of actors to play that role but I never waited for a heart beat as soon as I heard Patton say the words, they felt so natural and so real. It was wonderful as a director; these are the few moment that you live for. You fall in love with the screenplay for whatever reason and now you want to see it come to life. Often you have to wait until the movie is done. But every once in a while you get this moment, a moment like watching Charlize do the scene where she breaks down on the front lawn after the baby naming ceremony. Or I remember watching George Clooney at the end of Up In The Air. It was like take two of the phone call with Verra Fermiga when he finds out the truth about her. Watching Patton bring this character to life was one of those special moments for me as a director.

Young Adult is at cinemas now.