- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

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, director of “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking,” has done just that. Mr. 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 have interviewed him, the hotel drink carts that have surrounded him and the empty Starbucks cups littered about him. He also has 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 Mr. Clooney as a perpetual jet-set traveler who relishes airports as quasi-homes while he traverses the country as a contractor hired to fire people.

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

“It’s really not a promotional tool,” Mr. Reitman, 32, says 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 and give dozens of interviews, most timed to the minute.

Mr. 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 about the book by Walter Kirn on which “Up in the Air” is based. In Europe, everyone wanted to know about the economy (a subject in the film) and President 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,” Mr. Reitman says. “In that sense, I was acting, and they were acting in a scene. We’re doing dialogue.”

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

“I’m a numbers guy, I guess,” he says with a shrug.

Mr. 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,” he says. “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 Mr. 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 Mr. Reitman with the chart.

Mr. 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 traveled through.

News of the pie chart has gotten out, too, especially after Mr. 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,” Mr. Reitman says with a laugh. “It’s a black hole.”

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