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Jason Reitman Addresses His 'Labor Day' Critics and Explains Why He Made the Film

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire February 5, 2014 at 12:00PM

Since first making a splash with his feature directorial debut "Thank You For Smoking," filmmaker Jason Reitman has been on a roll with critics and awards voters, garnering a steady stream of acclaim for his follow-up films "Juno," "Up in the Air" and "Young Adult."
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Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in "Labor Day"
Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in "Labor Day"

What were some of the guidelines you set?

It’s hard to answer in a sound bite, but here's an example: Two months before shooting I go to every location with my camera and my DP and my stand-ins, and I take a photo of every angle of every shoot, within the location using stand-ins, so you can actually look through this whole booklet I created for the crew. This is the whole movie. So unlike a storyboard, which is a sketch of what should be, I’ll have a stand-in and I’ll say "Alright, you’re gonna come in through this door, and why don’t you stop and lean your shoulder there. And I have camera there and once they’re talking to you, click. And then you’re gonna move there and camera’s gonna move down and then sit down. Click. And then camera’s gonna move on the other side."

If you’re an actor, you show up to set, you realize what I’ve created and you’re like, "Okay I have to come in, do this, come over here, do this, and if I’m to believe what he has in the boards, sit like this." So of course there’s no rules, you don’t have to follow that, but it’s not as though they just go into the room and go "Well I’m gonna do this and sit in this chair and turn the lamp off." You know, they get that I have a very specific vision for how it’s supposed to go.

Blocking-wise.

Yeah. So I don’t know, I never thought that it was restrained until I actually started hearing Kate talk about it and realize, oh I guess maybe there’s a strict structure to it -- even on a movie like "Young Adult," which seems, with the handheld camera, the way that it moves, that it must’ve been freewheeling. It is a handheld camera built into a structure where by the time you get to set, I figured the whole thing out and how it’s gonna cut.

Look, I don’t rehearse. When I was younger, I would give my actors way more direction before the day. We’d rehearse and then on the day I’d say "Don’t forget, your character is going through this and you come in here and you’re feeling this and you hit this moment." What I found by doing that was that I killed their instincts. And what I try to find was a happy meeting where I say, "Here’s the movie we’re operating in, but otherwise I’m not gonna give you direction for now. Know your lines. And see what happens."

And sometimes someone will just learn their lines. Kate doesn’t do that, Kate is very prepared, it works out great. But at that point, they come, they do the scene and they’re either perfect and I move on, or it’s completely wrong and at that point, I try to guide them and the guiding them and the directing them comes from understanding psychology.

Labor Day

Some critics have labeled "Labor Day" as a "woman’s picture," a "chick flick." What you make of that sort of labeling?

This is what I know. I’ve made five movies that really don’t fit easily into any genre.

The question I used to get was like, "Is this a comedy or is this a drama?" I guess by the very fact that they don’t know how to label it I know I’m doing the right thing. And I look for movies that don’t fit so easily into a genre, I look for things that challenge the traditional genre lines. I love that this movie’s romantic, at the same time, I think this movie’s challenging. It’s dramatic, it has harrowing moments. It’s thrilling, it has suspense -- all things that I was trying for the first time and I think this movie is great for women. But I wanted the audience, I wanted women to want Josh Brolin to come into their lives as much as I wanted men to feel like that boy who wants Josh Brolin to come into their lives and teach them to know what kind of a wrench a socket wrench was and throw a baseball and be a man.

Some critics couldn't accept that Kate's character would willingly let this convict into her home. She doesn't put up a fight. What's her reason, in your mind?

I don’t have a reason.

No?

And I think that’s why I liked it.

I'll admit, I struggled with it a bit, but eventually I just let it go.

Which is fine with me. I think I’m not attracted to material that is so black and white. Well she did this for this and he did this for this reason and that’s why they’re together. I like movies that, in stories, explore inexplicable decisions. And look, to a certain extent there is a big question that's contained in the movie: Why do these two people need each other? And you slowly learn who they are in the back story and then you’re go, "Oh, got it." But more than that, I think that desire is complex, and certainly I’ve made very questionable decisions in my life that had no black and white answer, that if you watch this movie, you go, "Why the fuck did you do that?" And those moments are far more interesting than the moments that can be explained.

Labor Day

Did Kate need an explanation?

No. I think she understood that it was a gray area decision. Is he forcing her? Yeah, to a certain extent. Does she need him? Yeah, you know she does. Does the boy need him? Yeah, he does. What does she see in his eyes? I don’t know. Is there that magic moment or is it just desperation? It’s a mix of all that stuff, and it’s gonna be challenging for some people, I’m aware of that. But again, it let me know I’m making the right movie.

Challenging is good.

Challenge is good.

This article is related to: Jason Reitman, Up in the Air, Juno, Young Adult, Labor Day, Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Interviews, TIFF, Toronto International Film Festival





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