Director studies the hype machine

The publicity for a Hollywood movie is a machine to behold, especially from the inside.

Director Jason Reitman discovered that interviews given on the promotional tour for Up in the Air themselves became scripted

NEW YORK — The publicity for a Hollywood movie is a machine to behold, especially from the inside.

It’s a view rarely offered, but Jason Reitman, the director of Juno and Thank You for Smoking, has done just that. Reitman has spent much of October and November promoting his new film, Up in the Air, all the while documenting the process.

He has taken photographs of the journalists who interviewed him, the hotel drink carts that have surrounded him and the half-finished Starbucks cups littered about him.

He has also recorded the questions he’s been asked most frequently and organized the data in a pie chart.

The biggest chunk? “What’s it like working with George Clooney?”

Up in the Air, which will be released Dec. 4, stars Clooney as a perpetually jet-set traveller who relishes airports as quasi-homes while he traverses the country as a contractor hired to fire people.

While marketing the movie — travelling constantly from international film festivals to media hubs — Reitman’s life has mimicked the rootlessness of his protagonist’s.

“It’s really not a promotional tool,” Reitman, 32, said of his project. “It’s really for my own enjoyment.”

As the media has become more fractured, drumming up an audience for a film has become more difficult for studios.

Marketing budgets frequently match and sometimes surpass production costs. At press junkets, cast members and filmmakers are holed up in a hotel to give dozens of interviews, most timed to the minute.

Reitman noticed some trends in the interviews. In Chicago, more people asked him about his father, Ivan Reitman, the famous comedy director (Ghostbusters, Stripes). In New York, many asked him about the book by Walter Kirn that Up in the Air is based on. In Europe, everyone wanted to know about the economy (a subject in the film) and President Barack Obama.

“By keeping track of these questions, I realized that not only did I know what questions the reporters were going to ask, but the reporters often knew what answers I was going to give,” said Reitman.

“In that sense, I was acting and they were acting in a scene. We’re doing dialogue.”

Among his tallies: 119 questions on Clooney, 79 about his father, 69 of “What’s next?”

“I’m a numbers guy, I guess,” he shrugs.

Reitman estimates he’ll spend just as long promoting Up in the Air as he did making it (about six months). The process will be especially long because the film is being positioned as a contender for the Academy Awards.

“It’s a pleasure to talk about the movie and it’s wonderful there’s interest in the film,” Reitman said. “Sometimes I wonder if the balance would be better if I spent more time making movies. The only part that’s a little tricky is — and every director says this — I made the movie because I want the movie to speak for itself.”

Many journalists have enjoyed Reitman’s side-project. On Twitter, Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers applauded the director for promoting his film with “smarts and flair.”

Roger Ebert blogged about it, cheerfully comparing his own interview questions of Reitman with the chart.

Reitman plans to turn his material into a short documentary. He made something similar (though less thorough) while promoting Thank You For Smoking — a short film titled Lighting Will Guide You, that featured every airport he travelled through.

News of the pie chart has gotten out, too, especially after Reitman posted it on his Twitter feed. Thus, the pie chart has become a frequent topic in interviews — its own thin slice on the diagram.

“It’s almost folding into itself,” laughed Reitman. “It’s a black hole.”

On the Net:

Reitman’s Pie Chart:

Reitman’s Twitter feed:

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