From Jason Reitman, the Oscar-nominated director of Juno, comes Up in the Air, the timely odyssey of Ryan Bingham (Oscar winner GEORGE CLOONEY), a corporate downsizer and consummate modern business traveler who, after years of staying happily airborne, suddenly finds himself ready to make a real connection.
Ryan has long been contented with his unencumbered lifestyle lived out across America in airports, hotels and rental cars. He can carry all he needs in one wheel-away case; he's a pampered, elite member of every travel loyalty program in existence; and he's close to attaining his lifetime goal of 10 million frequent flier miles - and yet . . . Ryan has nothing real to hold onto.
When he falls for a simpatico fellow traveler (VERA FARMIGA), Ryan's boss (JASON BATEMAN), inspired by a young, upstart efficiency expert (ANNA KENDRICK), threatens to permanently call him in from the road. Faced with the prospect, at once terrifying and exhilarating, of being grounded, Ryan begins to contemplate what it might actually mean to have a home.
The film is directed by Jason Reitman. Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner. Based upon the novel by Walter Kirn.
In his first two feature films, Jason Reitman established a distinctive talent for taking provocative anti-heroes - a tobacco lobbyist in Thank You for Smoking and a pregnant teenager in the Oscar®-winning Juno - and telling deeply human, funny and appealing stories in which these tricky characters defy expectations. He continues in this vein with the well-timed tale of Ryan Bingham, who, on the surface has a rather disagreeable job: he fires people when corporations downsize.
And yet, Ryan's story is also about a man who is instantly, poignantly recognizable - a charming, decent man who has enthusiastically embraced our world of speed, technology, comfort, individual ambition and material perks; a man who leads a smooth, enjoyable life; a man who has it all and yet, finds something vital is missing. His tale raises intriguing questions: in an age of global travel and machine-mediated conversations, how do we get to the real, lasting connections that once sustained American communities? And what happens when we avoid them?
Those questions lie at the heart of the screenplay for Up in theAir which, after an earlier draft by Sheldon Turner, Reitman took in a new direction tapping into how Ryan Bingham's story reflects how we live now, in an intersecting moment of technological advances and communication breakdowns.
"I saw it as a story about a guy who has to deal with the fact that, even though he thinks his life is complete, he's been ignoring something very important, which is the responsibility to be part of something larger," says Reitman. "Ryan Bingham is so scared off by the burdens of joining a community that he's been missing out on the value of that."
He continues: "It's something I think we're exploring as a society right now. We're all using our cell phones and twittering and texting and it seems as if we are more connected than ever - while, in reality, people don't look each other in the eye much anymore, and we have fewer real relationships. Ryan's life in airports is a metaphor for that. You can go into an airport anywhere in the world and instantly know where everything is; they have the same shops, the same restaurants, the same newspapers. We're comfortable everywhere, yet nowhere really seems to be home. We're so global that we've lost that sense of local community."
Reitman's inspiration for Up in the Air began with the novel by Walter Kirn, which Reitman used as a jumping off point for a screenplay that evolved into its own journey. "The book spoke to me on multiple levels," says Reitman. "I love Walter's language which I used a lot. But as I was writing, my own life changed. I met my wife, fell in love and had a child. And in that process, Ryan Bingham also started to mature and look for more in life. The script grew into being about how imperative connections are in our daily lives."
Kirn recalls that his novel's subject matter originally arose out of a chance encounter. He was flying to Los Angeles, when he asked the man in the seat next to him where he was from. "He said, 'Oh, I'm from right here; right from this seat, in fact.' When I asked what he meant by that he told me he used to have an apartment but, because he was on the road 300 days a year, he traded it for a storage locker and called extended-stay hotels home. When I pressed him, he said, 'You know, there are plenty of me around.' I realized as I talked to him that he had adapted to a global landscape that's entirely composed of airports, hotels, chain restaurants, gift shops and magazine racks. But I also realized how lonely he must feel."
Thus was born Kirn's central character, Ryan Bingham, who has managed to reach his mid forties without forming any true personal attachments other than to his elite travel programs - and who spends his days quite literally "letting people go."
"I gave Ryan the job of taking away other people's jobs," explains Kirn. "He is like a masseur who comes in and sort of rubs your shoulders while rolling your desk chair into the elevator. Terminating employees has become an art and a legally perilous situation, and Ryan has mastered that."
Bingham emerged as a keenly current twist on the classic American salesman, selling dreams to those devastated by the sudden, impersonal loss of their careers, as he crisscrosses the nation. This intrigued Reitman. "Instead of going door to door, Ryan goes from hub to hub," says the writer/director. "And yet there is something very emotional in the idea of a man who in mid-life has no real permanent address."
Kirn was thrilled when he learned that Reitman wanted to direct the film. "Thank You for Smoking was so unconventional in its attitude, it caused me to immediately trust him as a kind of co-conspirator," says Kirn. "And when I received the script, I felt that Jason had added a fourth dimension to it for the screen. I bowed my head in gratitude for the fact that it had been done so well and by a person with skills that I simply don't have."
Reitman went beyond simply translating the book to the screen. He took Kirn's main character and forged a set of wholly original dramatic circumstances around him - and he crafted two characters who shatter Ryan Bingham's well-constructed cocoon of individuality. These are: Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a gung-ho if naïve, 20-something efficiency expert whom he is forced to take under his wing even as she threatens his lifestyle; and Alex (Vera Farmiga), the woman who seems to be his business travel soul-mate, sparking his first-ever desire for more than just a fleeting link to another human being.
"Ryan goes through an interesting experience in this film, oddly taking on a father role with Natalie, who is always nipping at his heels, and contemplating the notion of becoming a husband to Alex," Reitman observes.
The screenplay took on another powerful layer of relevancy as Reitman wrote, because not only did his life change in major ways, but the country's economic situation dramatically shifted. By the time the script was nearly complete, the country was in the middle of a severe and perilous recession, which compelled Reitman to more deeply explore the story's underlying theme of job loss.
In doing so, the writer/director was inspired to take an unusual risk. Rather than script the film's collage of firings and confessions from the newly unemployed, he decided he would go out to capture real, direct, unscripted reactions from ordinary Americans who had just gone through the intensely emotional experience of losing a job in a faltering economy. It proved to be an eye-opening and moving process, tying the film's mix of human drama and comedy to a sobering reality.
Reitman recalls: "We wanted the firing scenes to be honest and true. So we thought, 'why not show the real thing?' We went to Detroit and St. Louis, two cities hit hardest by all the job losses of the last year, and put ads in the Help Wanted section saying we were making a movie about job loss and looking for people who were willing to talk about it. We got so many submissions, it was heartbreaking."
The writer/director continues: "People came in and we asked them to say what they said on the day they were fired, or what they wished they had said. What was amazing to me as someone who's constantly working with actors to attain realism, was how these people, who I presumed would be uncomfortable on camera, came off so honest and real. It's now one of my favorite parts of the film."
Finally, Reitman adds: "Every day you see news stories about job cuts but it's usually about a number, so it's easy to forget who these people are. What I'm most proud of is that the movie puts real faces to those numbers."
The film's producers found the final screenplay as uncategorizable as it was laced with original comedy and visceral emotion. Says executive producer Tom Pollock: "This is a serious movie that is very, very funny. That's one of the reasons I love it so much: it's a movie that's beyond genre. It's perfect for Jason because his work is never classifiable. His first two films were completely unique and so is this one."
Also coming on board as a producer was Pollock's partner in the Montecito Picture Company, a man who perhaps knows Jason Reitman as well as anyone, his father Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), an acclaimed director in his own right. "Speaking as both a producer and a dad, this was one of the best screenplays I've read," he says. "Taking Walter Kirn's idea about a man who loves to fly and fires people for a living, a whole new story was created that is very timely to what is happening right now. What's interesting about Jason is that he manages to tell really serious, emotionally charged stories with a unique comic bent. Up in the Air has a fresh kind of humor that helps us see things that are going on around us on a daily basis and finds a way to create an edge about them. He has made a movie that really comes equally from his brain and his heart."
The creative synergy between the two Reitmans became another unique element of the production. Pollock explains: "Jason has found a way to be himself without in any way living in his father's shadow. The two men make very different kinds of movies, but they have a wonderful working relationship full of mutual pride and respect."
Joining the two Reitmans as producers are Jason's long-time partner Daniel Dubiecki, who produced both Juno and Thank You for Smoking, and Jeffrey Clifford, who runs production for The Montecito Picture Company.
Clifford notes that what hit him right away about the screenplay is "the way that Jason has an acute sense of how people really operate in the world, their mannerisms, gestures, language and the very specific way they think. What makes him so interesting is that he's able to use those things to tell stories that are very much about something, but also connect easily to a lot of people."
Dubiecki adds: "Jason brings fun and style to difficult things that people want to talk about. Up in the Air is sophisticated filmmaking that has a light air about it but keeps getting deeper and deeper as the story goes on."
As in his previous two films, Jason Reitman knew that Up in the Air would hang on the bones of its tricky central character, a man who had to be charming, sharp and relatable while hiding an unrecognized sense of emptiness behind his confident swagger and his supposed joy at being "baggage-free."
So, from the beginning, the story was written with Academy Award® winner George Clooney in mind. "If you're going to make a movie about a guy who fires people for a living and wants to live alone, he better be a darn charming actor. And there really isn't anyone better at that than George Clooney," Reitman explains. "The role was tailor-made for him and it was probably one of the most exciting moments of my life when he finished reading it and said to me, 'Jason, it's great.'" Read more
FASTEN SEAT BELTS
Ryan Bingham's journey really starts to tilt when he is invited to his sister's Wisconsin wedding - forcing him to confront the family he has largely ignored his whole adult life and spurring his unexpected hunger for something deeper.
Jason Reitman sees Ryan's encounter with his family as crucial to both the film's comedy and drama. "One element I always loved about Walter Kirn's book was the idea that Ryan needed to go to his sister's wedding. I hate weddings personally, so I really empathized with Ryan not wanting to go but, at the same time, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for Ryan to show that he had changed, that he wanted something more, and that he was ready to connect."" Read more
Up in the Air is a movie that cruises, like its lead character, from city to city, hub to hub, airport to airport, never quite grounded, always speeding towards an uncertain destination. Jason Reitman says that, when it came to the look of the film, this proved to be an intriguing design challenge. "I think a lot of people like to think that a hard production design movie is one that takes place in Seventeenth century England. But, realistically, the average person wouldn't know if you were off by a hundred years. A movie like this, on the other hand, needs to be completely accurate," he comments. "You look at it and right away you know whether you believe it or not. Is that really your home town, is that really your city? Is that really what your office looks like?" Read more
As production wound down, Jason Reitman reunited with another longtime partner he considers essential to his work: Dana Glauberman, who edited both Juno and Thank You for Smoking. Says Reitman of their close collaboration: "I can't imagine anyone I'd want to share an editing room with more than Dana. She understands how I shoot, she understands my visual language and she's able to get right at the tone and style that I want immediately." Read more
Academy Award winner GEORGE CLOONEY (Ryan Bingham) has gone from actor to producer to executive producer to screenwriter to director. The son of an anchorman, Clooney has also become a strong First Amendment advocate with a deep commitment to humanitarian causes. Read more
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
JASON REITMAN (Director/Screenplay/Producer) is an Oscar-nominated director who has established himself as an original, smart and funny storyteller known for his pitch-perfect commentaries on society.
Reitman recently produced the horror comedy Jennifer's Body for Fox. The Diablo Cody-scripted film was directed by Karyn Kusama and stars Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox. In addition, Reitman executive-produced Atom Egoyan's Chloe starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, also set for release in 2009. Reitman is also set to executive-produce Max Winkler's directing debut Ceremony.
Through his company, Right of Way Films, Reitman is developing new scripts by Jenny Lumet and the Duplass brothers. He is also developing a feature film based on the cult children's television show Yo Gabba Gabba.
He made his feature film directing debut with the 2006 hit Thank You for Smoking, based on the acclaimed novel by Christopher Buckley, which Reitman adapted for the screen. The film had its world premiere at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival, where it was acquired by Fox Searchlight. Thank You for Smoking went on to earn a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture, an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay and a WGA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2006, Reitman was named Best Debut Director by the National Board of Review.
In December 2007, Fox Searchlight released Reitman's second feature, Juno, which follows the story of a pregnant teenager. Juno has earned widespread praise since its debut at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, and has grossed over $230 million worldwide.
Reitman was nominated for an Academy Award® for directing Juno. The film earned one win for Diablo Cody's screenplay and additional nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress (Ellen Page). Juno won three Independent Spirit Awards and a Grammy Award.
Reitman was born in Montreal on October 19, 1977. At age 19, his first short film, Operation, premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. Reitman's short films have played in over a hundred film festivals worldwide.
Reitman is half of the mash-up turntable band "Bad Meaning Bad."
SHELDON TURNER (Screenplay), screenwriter and producer, graduated from Cornell University before enrolling in NYU Law School. Turner passed the bar in New York City and Los Angeles, but decided not to practice law and instead pursued screenwriting.
Turner wrote the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. In 2006, this was followed by his second produced screenplay The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. In addition to those scripts, Turner also did uncredited rewrites on the upcoming Law Abiding Citizen, The Amityville Horror and The Island. He currently has a number of projects in development at several studios, including Enron: Conspiracy of Fools at Warner Bros. with Leonardo DiCaprio attached to star and Robert Schwentke directing; Down River, an action-adventure film, at New Regency; Orbit at Fox 2000 with Tom Bezucha directing; the X-Men spin-off, Magneto, at Fox with David Goyer attached to direct; The Nice Guy at Universal with Ed Zwick attached to direct; The Arizona Project at Miramax with Ben Affleck set to direct; and has recently set up Paths of Glory, based on the book by Jeffrey Archer, and the video game adaptation of Infamous, both at Sony.
In addition to being a prolific screenwriter, Turner is also producing several projects that he is not writing: Man Camp at Sony, Kiss & Tell with Isla Fisher attached, and the rock & roll vampire tale Nightlife.
WALTER KIRN, author of the book on which the film is based, is a fiction writer, journalist and critic.
Raised in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota, and educated at Princeton and Oxford Universities, he is the author of seven books. His work has appeared in national papers and magazines, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time, GQ, Esquire and the Atlantic Monthly.
Thumbsucker, his second novel, was made into a feature film in 2004. His latest book, a memoir published in May 2009, is Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever.
Kirn lives in Livingston, Montana and is the father of two children, Maisie and Charlie Kirn.
THE ART OF ADAPTATION