Reitman's Thanks for Smoking

I tried coming up with an opening statement that reflects my feelings for the production of THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. Perhaps I was overwhelmed, but I couldnt come up with anything profound – certainly not after reading Buckleys piece on creating Nick Naylor. I mean, f***, how am I supposed to follow that Instead, I have decided to present you with five moments of making this film that I will never forget.

The moment I discovered the book:

I was standing in a friends living room. The book was a gift from a six-foot woman with a degree from Yale. I opened the book and read the first sentence. Nick Naylor had been called many things since becoming the chief spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, but until now no one had actually compared him to Satan.

Its said that when a woman meets her future husband for the first time, she can see their entire life together – Love, marriage, kids, the whole thing. Thats the only way I can describe the first time I read that line. I saw Nick spraying out words like a machine gun. I saw him hitting a home run in the middle of the night. I saw him offering a light to the world while draped in the American flag. It was love at first sight.

A call from way upon high:

After begging for the job and writing the first act on spec, Mel Gibsons Icon Productions hired me to take a crack at THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. They paid me scale. They could have paid me nothing. I turned in my draft and received no notes. Not a thing. This may seem like a good thing, but what it really means is they dont know what to do with it.

One day, my cell phone rings. Its Mel. Calling from his plane. He tells me how much he enjoyed my draft. He then goes on for about twenty minutes on the virtues of digital filmmaking. He tells me how excited he is to make my film. I never speak to him again.

I meet my white knight:

I knew two things about David Sacks before I met him. He orchestrated the $1.5 billion sale of his company PayPal to eBay and he loves my screenplay. I went to meet him at his new place in the hills. He had bought the house featured in the film Pulp Fiction, but had yet to buy furniture. Just so were clear, after arriving in Los Angeles, he had gone shopping for a screenplay before shopping for a bed.

We sat on folding chairs in front of an infinity pool that carried views from Downtown to the Pacific. About halfway through the meeting, he started peeling off the loose rubber from the soles of his shoes. I made some remark about him using his newfound fortune to go down to Rodeo and buy a new pair. He looked back at me and said, Hey, what you see is what you get.

Lunch with Sam:

Halfway through the casting process, I receive word that Sam Elliott is willing to sit down and discuss the character of Lorne Lutch. I had written him a letter, expressing my admiration for him and passion for him to play the part. I basically wrote that I could never be happy with the film, knowing that another actor was in his role.

I went to meet him in Malibu amidst the heavy rains of late 2004. His neighbors roof had caved in the middle of the night and he had spent every hour since then fixing it. He is the closest thing to the noble cowboy that Ive ever met. He is Shane. For close to three hours we debated whether or not his character should take the money. I almost found myself in the role of Nick Naylor, trying to convince him to do it. After a while, we settled on his character taking the payoff as written. With one stipulation. Instead of Lorne carrying a shotgun, as described in the book, he preferred the character to have a rifle. Fine.

We get to the day of shooting and I have completely forgotten about the choice of firearms. Im eating breakfast, when Im told that props would like to see me per choosing the gun. I get to the prop truck and the property master is standing above two shotguns and a rifle. Thank God. Sam happens to be there as well. He picks up the rifle.

I asked, Will this work for you
He responds, Sure.
I continued, Do you need them to show you how it works
He gives me a look, then says Of course not. Its my gun.

Guerilla filmmaking in nations capital:

Directing commercials has afforded me the chance to shoot around the world. Ive shot in the suburbs of London, in the back alleys of Capetown, and a defunct mining village in rural Mexico with one telephone. However, nothing is quite like shooting post 9/11 D.C..

At one point during our location scout, I saw a building I liked as a possible exterior for the Academy of Tobacco Studies. Against my location managers wishes, I had the van make a sudden impromptu stop. We hopped out and started taking photos. We were about to leave when six men in flak jackets surrounded the van and began to question us. A man in a khaki overcoat took our location manager aside and began violently scolding him.

The building was the Department of Energy. Theyre like my uncle Barry. They dont like to be photographed with out being asked. That said, we ended up shooting there. The D.O.E. did in fact become the Tobacco Academy with a clever use of CG to redo the sign out front. If you look closely at the scene of Nick entering the building after returning from Winston-Salem, youll see a young woman in a blue jacket walking through frame. You see, the man in the khaki overcoat was the head of security for the D.O.E. And his daughter wants to be an actress.

The Production:

Based on Christopher Buckleys acclaimed 1994 novel of the same title and adapted for the screen by Jason Reitman, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING is a fiercely satirical look at todays culture of spin. The hero of THANK YOU FOR SMOKING is Nick Naylor (AARON ECKHART), chief spokesman for Big Tobacco, who makes his living defending the rights of smokers and cigarette makers in todays neo-puritanical culture. Confronted by health zealots out to ban tobacco and an opportunistic senator (WILLIAM H. MACY) who wants to put poison labels on cigarette packs, Nick goes on a PR offensive, spinning away the dangers of cigarettes on TV talk shows and enlisting a Hollywood super-agent (ROB LOWE) to promote smoking in movies. Nicks newfound notoriety attracts the attention of both tobaccos head honcho (ROBERT DUVALL) and an investigative reporter for an influential Washington daily (KATIE HOLMES). Nick says he is just doing what it takes to pay the mortgage, but the increased scrutiny of his son (CAMERON BRIGHT) and a very real death threat may force him to think differently.

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING marks the feature film directorial debut of Reitman, the accomplished director of such award-winning shorts as IN GOD WE TRUST and GULP, which screened in more than 100 film festivals worldwide including Toronto, Sundance and New Directors / New Films at MoMA. In the five years since Reitman began directing television advertising, he has received honors from the Cannes commercial awards, the Addys, as well as the highly coveted One Show.

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING features an all-star cast including Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, J.K. Simmons and Robert Duvall. The film was produced by David O. Sacks via his shingle Room 9 Entertainment. ContentFilm's Edward R. Pressman, John Schmidt and Alessandro Camon served as executive producers, along with Michael Beugg, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Max Levchin and Mark Woolway.

Fox Searchlight Pictures acquired distribution rights to the film following its September 9 world premiere at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Jason Reitmena's Career:

Jason Reitman was born in Montreal on October 19, 1977. He was on his first film set (ANIMAL HOUSE) 11 days later. The son of director Ivan Reitman, he spent most of his childhood on or around film sets, surrounded by the funniest human beings on Earth. He even appeared in cameos in many of his fathers films (TWINS, GHOSTBUSTERS II, KINDERGARTEN COP, DAVE, and FATHERS DAY).

By 10, he was making the typical short films with his dads home video camera. At 13, he got his first job on a film crew, as production assistant on KINDERGARTEN COP. At 15, Reitman made an AIDS public service announcement with actors from his high school that went on to win many awards and play on network television. Reitman graduated high school in 1995 and went on to USC to study English. There, he became a member of the comedy troupe Commedus Interuptus and held a short stint as co-host of a morning radio show.

During his sophomore year in college, Reitman created a small collegiate desk calendar company that provided the budget for his first short film, OPERATION. The short comedy about kidney stealing went on to premiere at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. At 19 years old, this made him one of the youngest directors ever to have a film at the festival.

This began a string of short films, including H@ (premiered at South by Southwest 1999), IN GOD WE TRUST (premiered at Sundance 2000, went on to play Toronto, Edinburgh, US Comedy Arts, New Directors/New Films at MoMA and won best short at many festivals including Los Angeles, Aspen, Austin, Seattle, Florida, Athens, the New York Comedy Festival, and Bumbershoot Festival), GULP (premiered at Sundance 2001), and CONSENT (premiered at Aspen Shorts Fest 2004 and won awards at Aspen and Seattle). Reitmans short films have played in over a hundred film festivals worldwide.

In early 2000, Reitman signed with the commercial production company, Tate and Partners. In the five years since he began directing television advertising, he has received honors from the Cannes commercial awards, the Addys, as well as the highly coveted One Show. Selected clients include Heineken, Honda, Nintendo, BMW, Kyocera, Asics, Amstel Light, Baskin Robbins, GM, Burger King, and Dennys.

In beginning his professional career, Reitman fulfilled a life long dream by joining the Directors Guild of America; at that time he was the guilds second youngest member.