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'Texas Sheiks': A Tribute to Traditional Americana.

Texas Sheiks offers new versions of old blues, Western swing and ragtime music. The Sheiks are led by singer-songwriter Geoff Muldaur and the album features the guitar work of the late Steve Bruton.

05:31

Other segments from the episode on December 2, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 2, 2009: Interview with Walter Kirn; Interview with Jason Reitman; Review of Geoff Muldaur and The Texas Sheiks' album "Texas Sheiks."

Transcript

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For Reitman, The Best Characters Are 'Up In The Air'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of film, “Up in the Air”)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): (As Ryan Bingham) To know me is to fly with me.
This is where I live. When I run my card, the system automatically prompts the
desk clerk to greet me with this exact statement.

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) Pleasure to see you again,
Mr. Bingham.

Mr. CLOONEY: It's these kinds of systemized, friendly touches that keep my
world in orbit.

GROSS: That's George Clooney in a scene from the new film “Up in the Air." He's
playing a business traveler who loves what most people find most alienating and
irritating about travel: airports and plane rides. In a few minutes, we'll meet
the director of the film, Jason Reitman, who also directed "Juno" and "Thank
You for Smoking."

“Up in the Air” is adapted from the satirical novel by Walter Kirn, who we're
going to hear from first. The novel is about a business traveler who virtually
lives in what he describes as air world and has come to feel most at home
there. His ambition is to earn one million frequent flyer miles, and he's close
to achieving it. His job keeps him in the air. Companies around the country
bring him in to deliver the bad news to their employees that they're being
downsized out of a job.

I spoke to Walter Kirn in July, 2001, when the book was published, just two
months before 9/11 changed air travel, but Kirn's descriptions still ring true.
Our interview started with a reading.

Mr. WALTER KIRN (Author, “Up in the Air”): (Reading) Planes and airports are
where I feel at home. Everything fellows like you dislike about them: the dry,
recycled air alive with viruses, the salty food that seems drizzled with warm
mineral oil, the aura-sapping artificial lighting, has grown dear to me over
the years - familiar, sweet. I love the Compass Club lounges in the terminals,
especially the flagship Denver club, with its digital juice dispenser and deep
suede sofas and floor-to-ceiling views of taxiing aircraft. I love the
restaurants and snack nooks near the gates, stacked to their heat lamps with
whole-wheat mini-pizzas and gourmet caramel rolls. I even enjoy the suite
hotels built within sight of the runways, on the ring roads, which are
sometimes as close as I get to the cities that my job requires me to visit.

I favor rooms with kitchenettes and conference tables, and once I cooked a
Christmas feast in one, serving glazed ham and sweet potato pie to a dozen
janitors and maids. They ate with me in rotation, on their breaks, one or two
at a time so I really got to know them, even though most spoke no English. I
have a gift that way. If you and I hadn't hit it off like this, if the only
words we'd passed were that's my seat or done with that Business Week or just
excuse me, I'd still regard us as close acquaintances and hope that if we met
again up here, we wouldn't be starting from zero as just two suits.

Twice last October, I sat in the same row, on different routes, as 1989's Miss
USA, the one who remade herself as a Washington hostess and supposedly works
nonstop for voting rights. In person, she's tiny, barely over five feet. I put
her carry-on in the overhead. But you know some of this already. You fly, too.
It just hasn't hooked you. You just don't study it. Hey, you're probably the
normal one.

GROSS: That's Walter Kirn, reading from his novel, “Up in the Air." Walter
Kirn, how did you start studying airline culture?

Mr. KIRN: A few years ago, I was on a plane. I upgraded to first class for some
unknown reason, and I sat down next to a businessman. And to make conversation,
I asked him where he lived, and he said, well, right here. And I said, well,
what do you mean by that? And it came out that the man had no home. He traveled
on business and lived from hotel to hotel, and airplanes and airports, as in
the book, were really his turf. And I asked him after a while how he managed to
live like this, wasn't it depressing and so on, and no, he seemed satisfied and
even happy with his life. And after I got off the plane, I thought, now, what
kind of life would that be? And over the years, I sort of filled in the blanks,
and the result was this book.

GROSS: Well, you've kind of defined a whole culture as air world. Describe the
culture to us.

Mr. KIRN: Well, air world is that conglomeration of places that are no place,
including airports, the hotels that are just off the runways that serve them,
the rental-car counter, the whole sort of attempt to satisfy the flyers' needs
without any particular offense or any particular flavor. I mean, in air world,
you can come from Dallas, Minneapolis, Philadelphia or New York and know where
you are, know what's on offer, know how to get it and what you're going to get.

GROSS: And you write that the hometown papers of air world are USA Today and
the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. KIRN: Exactly. Everything is standardized. Everything goes down easily.
It's as though the only restaurant in the world were McDonald's, and the only
hotel in the world was a Holiday Inn, and you know, people have to be able to
rest and feel comfortable and feel at home at any moment, at any time. And the
result has been this kind of placeless place that I call air world.

GROSS: One of the things I found interesting of your whole description of air
world is that in defining this culture of air world, you've taken one of the
more alienating contemporary experiences, flying, an experience in which
everyone is a stranger to each other on the plane and everyone is
uncomfortable, and you've turned it into this community. I mean, it's not
really a community, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …you know, for the purposes of this novel, it's become this, like, anti-
community community.

Mr. KIRN: Well, it is a community. I mean, human beings are amazingly
adaptable. You bring in a new technology, or you force people to live in a new
environment, and they find ways to do it. And my character has made friends
with the people who, you know, sell the juice at the counter, the person who
gives the little chair massages in the terminal. He knows the flight attendants
by name. I talked to a traveler once who said: I knew I was in trouble, I knew
I was flying too much, when I walked through the Minneapolis airport and found
myself waving to everyone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I managed to read your novel “Up in the Air” while in the air.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: In my air-flight magazine on the same day I was reading your book, the
back page - I was shocked. It had an ad for enhancing your breast size and
another one for male virility enhanced guaranteed. I thought that was – were
kind of shocking for airline magazines.

Mr. KIRN: Well, that's an odd syndrome. I think when people get on planes, they
start to think about improving themselves. They start to think about and get
reflective and meditative about where are they going in life, what are they
doing in life, and they're prey to these ads for, like you say, you know,
breast-enhancing creams and vocabulary-enhancing tape courses. And you'll see
those magazines are often aimed at businessmen who are insecure about their
negotiating skills. And there'll be an ad for a seminar on negotiating or
whatever. I think people get a sense of possibility when they're on the plane,
even romantic possibility, wondering if the perfect person is going to sit down
next to them or something.

GROSS: Because your character is surrounded by this culture of advertising and
franchise food and how-to cassettes and self-improvement stuff, did you have to
immerse yourself in some of that, too, just so you could get all the language
right?

Mr. KIRN: Yeah, I did. I mean, we're immersed in it anyway. Really, all I had
to do was notice how immersed I already am. Once you're alert to it and not
filtering it out, it's sort of the air you breathe. And this was a book that
really came about not through doing research or digging, but through waking up
to the fact that I lived in this – lived in this sort of miasma of messages and
images, which I often felt superior to and ignored, but suddenly I decided to
wake up to it, sort of like Andy Warhol became…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIRN: …comfortable with the Campbell's Soup can. You know, it wasn't as
though he'd never been to a supermarket. He just suddenly looked at a
supermarket and went wait, art can happen here, too.

GROSS: So what were some of the things that started to strike you as
interesting instead of filtering them out?

Mr. KIRN: Well, one thing that struck me about air world is that it's a class
system in a way that most of America isn't. We like to think of ourselves as a
democracy and egalitarian, but you get to air world, and there is a rating and
a level for everyone. You know, you see the cards they whip out at the ticket
counter. I'm a gold medallion member.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIRN: Or I'm a gold medallion member plus, and that entitles me to X, Y, Z.
And there are all these distinctions being made out there between types of
people and better and better customers, and you know, the kind of pillow you're
going to get or whether you'll get your glass cup or your plastic cup. And that
class system in air world I found interesting.

GROSS: That's so true, and they even call it class. I mean, it's like first
class or coach class. I mean, you know what class you're in and what privileges
that class allows you or what miseries you're in store for.

Mr. KIRN: Well, I mean, the higher classes sort of allow the miseries to abate
somewhat though not disappear.

GROSS: Well, shrimp cocktail will do a lot to abate misery, yeah.

Mr. KIRN: Exactly, and people cling to those little perks when…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right.

Mr. KIRN: …they're traveling in a sort of horribly pathetic way. You know, I've
noticed that the few times I've traveled first class myself, you've already got
your drink, and your coat has been taken by the time the rest of the passengers
file on, and it's hard not to feel sorry for them. They're sort of trooping
past you like cows to slaughter…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIRN: …and you're sitting there in your, you know, wide-body seat. And the
funny thing about that class system is it's not really based on money. You
know, some of these guys don't make more money who ride in first class. They
just fly a lot, and so the airplane – you know, the airline puts them up. And
so it's the one time in their life they get to feel on top of the heap, and
they take it for all its worth.

GROSS: Walter Kirn, recorded in July, 2001, after the publication of his novel,
“Up in the Air." A new paperback edition has just been published.

Coming up, we talk with Jason Reitman about adapting the novel into a new film
starring George Clooney. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest, Jason Reitman, directed the new movie adaptation of Walter
Kirn's novel “Up in the Air." Reitman also directed "Juno" and "Thank You For
Smoking." “Up in the Air” stars George Clooney as a business traveler who feels
most at home in airplanes, airports and hotels. He travels for his job. When a
company is laying people off and they don't want their own VPs or HR people to
relay the bad news, they bring in George Clooney's character to tell people
they're fired and to try to convince them this is an actually an opportunity
for growth, even if that's not true.

In the book, the character's goal is to get one million frequent flyer miles.
In the novel, that's been upped to 10 million. In this scene, George Clooney is
at a hotel bar, flirting with a fellow business traveler, played by Vera
Farmiga. They're comparing their elite status cards from airlines, hotels and
car rental agencies.

(Soundbite of film, “Up in the Air”)

Mr. CLOONEY (Actor): (As Bingham) Oh, Maplewood card. How dare you bring that
into this palace?

Ms. VERA FARMIGA (Actor): (As Alex Goran) Hilton offers equal value and better
food, but the Maplewood gives out more cookies at check-in.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bingham) (Unintelligible) cookies.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Goran) I'm a sucker for simulated hospitality.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bingham) You know, there's an industry term for that. It's a
mixture of faux and homey: fauxmey(ph).

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Goran) Oh my God. I wasn't sure this actually existed. This is
the American Airlines…

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bingham) It's a concierge key, yeah.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Goran) What is that, carbon fiber?

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bingham) Graphite.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Goran) Oh, God, I love the weight.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bingham) I was pretty excited the day that bad boy came in.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Goran) Yeah, I'll say. I put up pretty pedestrian numbers,
like 60 thou a year domestic.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bingham) It's not bad.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Goran) Don't patronize me. What's your total?

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bingham) It's a personal question.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Goran) Oh, please.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bingham) And we hardly know each other.

Ms. FARMIGA: (As Goran) Oh come on, show some hubris. Come on, impress me. I'll
bet it's huge.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bingham): You have no idea.

GROSS: Jason Reitman, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Why did you want to adapt “Up
in the Air” into a film?

Mr. JASON REITMAN (Director, “Up in the Air”): Well, I'm attracted to tricky
main characters. You know, I've made three movies. My first one was about the
head lobbyist for big tobacco. My second one was about a pregnant teenage girl,
and this one's about a guy who fires people for a living and wants to live
alone, with nobody and nothing. And I like humanizing these kinds of
characters. But in addition to that, I collect air miles myself. And while I
think when Walter wrote this book, he came at air world with a sense of irony,
I read the book and said oh, someone else out there understands me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: How much do you fly?

Mr. REITMAN: I fly about 100,000 miles a year.

GROSS: Wow, impressive, very good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Better you than me.

Mr. REITMAN: Oh, that didn't sound mocking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITMAN: Wow, impressive.

GROSS: No, it is. It is. Like I said, better you than me. Now, Walter Kirn's
book was published just a few weeks before September 11th. So it's before all
of the 9/11 security rituals were put into effect. What are some of the things
you wanted to emphasize about air world, even about just, like, the airports
and getting onto a plane?

Mr. REITMAN: Well, I think that airports and airplanes are the last refuge for
those who like to be alone, and that's why I like them. I think I enjoy being
on airplanes for the same reason that I first enjoyed being in movie theaters.
It was a place to unplug from real life. When I'm on an airplane, there's no
Internet, there's no cell phones. You know, the only person I know is the
person in 17-J, and you know, with strangers, you can end up having the kinds
of conversations that you would never have with people you know well.

GROSS: There's a scene at the beginning of the film that I really love. It's
the first time George Clooney is at the airport, and he goes through the whole
ritual. And you photograph it so ritualistically: the collapsing of the handle
on the carry-on luggage so it can be put on the, you know, security conveyor
belt and then, you know, slipping off of his shoes, putting them in the little
box, putting his shoes back on. Can you talk about shooting that to get a
ritualistic flavor from it?

Mr. REITMAN: Well, certainly. I choreographed all of the way that George packed
his luggage and the way he went through security. I was very specific about the
kind of Tetris of how that all works. And you know, we were the first movie to
ever shoot in the real TSA. Normally, if you see a film that has a scene of a
person going through a security checkpoint, they just threw up a metal detector
in a hotel hallway or at a convention center hallway, and we were the first
film to be allowed to shoot in the real thing.

It was actually very tricky to shoot. I choreographed every single shot. I
storyboarded it out. We went out to the security checkpoint at Lambert Field in
St. Louis, and we did a trial run, where I shot the whole thing on video,
edited it together, refined it again and then – because we were given basically
a slot, from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m., when there were no passenger going through,
where they basically closed down one side of security and let us use the other.
And it’s actually the hardest night of shooting I've ever done.

GROSS: Why?

Mr. REITMAN: Well, because it was – we had, I don't know, 30, 40 shots to get
done in six hours, which is just insane, and every one is very specific and has
to be done in a very specific way. And so many times, the camera is either
looking straight up or straight down. So you're re-reading the camera so that
it can remain stable during these shots. And we were changing the shutter angle
on certain shots, which means opening up the camera and adjusting something,
and it was just simply exhausting getting all these exact. It's like doing
tabletop shooting for commercials. It's just tricky stuff.

GROSS: What kind of lighting did you want? I mean, the lighting in airports and
airplanes tends not to be very flattering.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITMAN: Says you. No, well, look – I think actually, particularly in
modern airports, there is some beautiful, atrium-style lighting. Often, you get
these giant windows, and if you are there at the right time of day, light will
kind of cut across the entire airport, sending these giant shadows and, you
know, beautiful colors that are coming off of the horizon. So – and then other
times, you are in these dank, fluorescent-lit holes, and you feel like a
prisoner. So we wanted to create an arc over the course of the entire film, and
this went through all departments, where at the beginning of the film, the
world is beautiful, and we are seeing Ryan's version of air world. The lighting
is, there's a lot of half-light, there's a lot of contrast, there's a lot of
muted colors and tones. We used a lot of wide angles and moving camera. Even
the extras were picked because they were kind of more fit and more attractive,
and they were – you know, we tailored their clothes better. The production
design, there was not a scuff on anything. Everything was shiny and perfect.
And over the course of the film, the colors became warmer, and the shooting
became more handheld and long-lens, and the film stock was grainier, and even
the extras were picked because they were sloppier.

GROSS: You also have some great aerial shots of what you'd see from flying in a
plane. How did you get those?

Mr. REITMAN: Well, you know, I wanted to see the world from two perspectives:
one from 20,000 feet in the air, and the other one, the world is two inches
away from your face and nothing really in between. You know, I think that's the
way that Ryan sees the world. He can claim to have been to every city, but he's
never actually seen any of them. So the trick is to get footage from that high
up. You know, normally when you see aerial footage in a film, it's done at
5,000 feet up, which is helicopter height. No one shoots from up in the sky the
way you see outside a plane when you're up, actually up there.

And I figured, you know, we'd just throw a plane up and point a camera down,
and it would be as simple as that, but it was a lot trickier, in fact. We tried
once with a jet, with a camera shooting down through a little glass dome, but
the atmosphere was wrong, and the film grain was wrong, and the optics weren't
quite good enough. So we went back up with a propeller plane, but to get it
that high, the pilots had to wear oxygen masks, and this time, we put a digital
camera on the wing. And then if you can imagine this, the camera would only go
down, let's say, 75 degrees. It wouldn't go down 90 degrees to point straight
down. So to get it to go straight down, they would then put the plane into a
dive, and that is how we got straight-down footage.

GROSS: Wow, that's really a lot of effort. I mean…

Mr. REITMAN: Yeah, well, look, it's funny because I have been – you know, when
I do publicity with my films, I'm often with my actors when we do Q&As, and my
actors are asked: What is Jason like to work with? And the line I hear the most
is: Well, he knows what he wants.

And it's kind of a funny thing to hear because, you know, in a certain sense
that's good. As a director, you do need to know what you want, but it also
makes me sound like a persnickety jerk, and I guess, yeah, I knew what I
wanted. I had a very specific idea in my head of how the aerial footage needed
to look. And it needed to be exquisite, and it is, but it wasn't easy to get.

GROSS: So which were the most exquisite parts of the country to photograph from
an aerial view?

Mr. REITMAN: Oh, I mean, I love the circles. I love the crop circles. I just
think they're gorgeous. I love being up in a plane and having a clear day where
there's no clouds to obstruct. And I just see the kind of patchwork of America,
these squares and circles, and I think they're beautiful. At one point, we
caught something, and we never were able to use it in the film. It's actually
in the trailer but not in the movie, which was one of these crop circles on
fire. And it was just kind of a stunning image.

GROSS: Jason Reitman will be back in the second half of the show. He directed
the new movie “Up in the Air." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with Jason Reitman. He directed
"Juno," "Thank You for Smoking" and the new film "Up in the Air." "Up in the
Air" stars George Clooney as a business traveler who’s most at home in
airports, airplanes and hotels. His goal is to get 10 million frequent flyer
miles. He travels for his job. He's brought in by companies who want an
outsider to deliver the bad news to employees that they're being downsized out
of a job.

The main character's job in the movie, the character played by George Clooney,
is talking to people who've been laid off and he has to...

Mr. REITMAN: But he's not talking to them. He's laying them off.

GROSS: He's lay - yes. Right. He's giving them the news and then he tries to
convince them that this is actually an opportunity for personal growth, that
transitions are great things, that, you know, what's the analogy he always
uses, his - the line that he's so proud of?

Mr. REITMAN: This is a rebirth. Oh, oh, that anyone who's ever set the world on
fire has sat where you’re sitting right now.

GROSS: And I mean it's really a lot of hooey, but he kind of knows it hooey but
he kind of believes it too - is the impression I get. But anyways, you started
this film in 2003 and this was a few years before the big financial meltdown.
So the number of people being laid off increased exponentially, between the
time you started the film and the time of the film's release. Were you still
working on it when the financial collapse started?

Mr. REITMAN: Yeah. I mean two things happened. One, you know, when I first
started writing this script, we were basically in the tail end of an economic
boom and I was a guy in my 20s, single, living in an apartment. And by the time
I finished writing it, I was married, I had become a father, I had a mortgage
and we were in one of the worst recessions on record.

So what started out as a story of a man who simply fired people for a living
and was really a contrarian satire, became a movie about a man who was trying
to figure out who and what he wanted in his life.

And in addition to that, I had to cut out all these kind of satirical firing
scenes that made sense when I first started writing the movie, but in this
moment, don’t make any sense. And it’s not to say you can't have dark comedy in
dark times, you certainly can, but it didn’t make sense for this movie. And
that, as a director in approaching this film I had to make one big change, and
that was how I approached these firings and I wanted to...

GROSS: Tell us of how you decided to handle that.

Mr. REITMAN: Yeah. I wanted to treat these firings with as much authenticity as
possible. I thought there was enough people who were experiencing this that I
didn’t want them to watch the movie and think that it was in any way fake and
not paying tribute to what, you know, a million people have kind of experienced
in the last year.

So I reached out into the community - and we were shooting in St. Louis and
Detroit, which were two cities that really got hit hard in this country. And I
was location scouting and I was constantly confronted by these abandoned
buildings. You know, one of the reasons we shot in St. Louis, there was so much
- there were so many offices available to shoot in because these were companies
that ceased to exist.

And we put an ad out in the paper saying that we were making a documentary
about job loss. We did this because I didn’t want actors trying to sneak their
way into this film. I really wanted people who had - with no on camera
experience, who wanted to lend their story. I got a stack of responses from
which we picked 60 people to go on film, 22 of which who are in the finished
movie.

They would show up for an interview where we'd sit them down at a table. And by
this point they knew were in a movie. You know, we weren't, you know, lying to
them at this point. And we would interview them about what it’s like to lose
their job in this kind of economy, how did they find out, who did they tell
first, how has it affected their live?

And once we realized that they were comfortable on camera, we would tell them
that we wanted to actually fire them on camera. And we wanted them to respond
with whatever they said the day they lost their job, or if they preferred, what
they wished they had said. And this would begin an unusual improv scene.

And look, I'm a director. My job is to get people to be honest on camera. And I
know how hard that actually can be, even with trained professionals. But what I
saw was astonishing. These 22 people who, again, had no on camera experience
would start to use sense memory. We would read them this document that I had
gotten from a friend I know who works in HR, that was a kind of boiler plate
firing document.

And when they would hear the legal verbiage in it, they would start to
recognize the kind of language they had heard the day they lost their job, and
they would immediately change. They would their body language would change,
their eyes would turn. One girl broke out into hives, visibly, and they would
begin to say the kinds of things that I would never think to write as a writer.
and they would act in a way that...

GROSS: Like what? Like what?

Mr. REITMAN: You know, the one that really stands out - and this is in the film
- was a guy who said - he started questioning the interviewer saying what are
you going to do this weekend? You have money in your bank? You got gas in your
gas tank? You going to take your kids out to Chuck E. Cheese?

When I think of Chuck E. Cheese, I think of a less than mediocre pizza
restaurant with a guy in a rat costume. I've never in my life thought of it as
a luxury and I could've never written that down without thinking I was trying
to be cute in some way. But when he said it, it was incredibly honest and it
was heartbreaking. And people see this guy and they think he's the best actor
in the movie.

GROSS: Yeah. I thought he was a really good actor. I didn’t realize...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...until afterwards that he was actually unemployed. I mean that he'd
lost his job and that's why he was there.

Mr. REITMAN: Right.

GROSS: So, you know, you said that you read - the people who had actually been
fired - you read them this boiler plate document that shows you how to go about
firing somebody. Do remember the language in that document?

Mr. REITMAN: Um… Yeah. Look, I couldn’t recite it, verbatim, but it basically
spoke to the idea that it's nobody's fault and that you know, this was merely a
function of the economy and the time, and that they hadn't been picked out for
any reason that was personal. And it's strangely cruel in its lack of
specificity.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Jason Reitman and he directed the
movies "Juno" and "Thank You for Smoking." Now he's directed and co-written the
new movie "Up in the Air," which stars George Clooney.

Let's take a short break here then we’ll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Jason Reitman and he directed
"Thank You for Smoking," "Juno" and his new film is "Up in the Air."

Now George Clooney stars in your film and he's so much fun to watch in it. Was
it hard to get him to be in the film? I mean he's so in - he's in three movies
right now. He's in your film "Up in the Air." He's in "Fantastic Mr. Fox." He's
in "Men Who Stare at Goats." So I think everybody wants him. Was it hard to get
him?

Mr. REITMAN: In the end no. Certainly, while I was writing this movie and I
wrote with him in mind. I never was arrogant enough to presume he would be in
the film because he does get 20 screenplays a day. But it got to a point where
I was almost finished with the screenplay and his agent knew that I was writing
it for him.

And he called me one day and said how's it going? I said oh, I'm really close
and going to Italy with my wife on vacation and I’ll send you the script
probably right before I leave or right when I get back. It’ll be one of the
two. And he says well if you’re going to Italy, you’ve got to go see George.
And I said I don’t know. That doesn’t really seem like a good idea you know...

GROSS: He lives in Italy?

Mr. REITMAN: Yeah. And I thought what if he hates the script, or you know, why
don’t I just - I'll send it to you when it’s done and if he like it, you know,
I’ll get my chance to meet… And he said no - his agent said no. You’re crazy.
You got to go see him. He loves to see… He loves having visitors. You got to
definitely go spend time with him. I said well look, I'll just make sure I get
you the script before and if he really wants to meet me while I'm there I’ll go
down and see him.

So at this point, you know, I'm in Italy with my wife and I call George's
agent. I said so, should we drop by? He said yes, yes. Go spend a few days with
him. Here's the address. Go see him. He read the script. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Just
go. So my wife and I go to George's house. We get there and one of the first
things George asks me is so what are you working on these days?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITMAN: I said it’s a screenplay. It's called "Up in the Air." Oh yeah.
Yeah. I, yeah, I Brian talked - I got to read that. I got to find it. I know
it's somewhere around here. I'm going to read that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITMAN: I said oh no. And I think he was just as terrified as I was. You
know? Now I'm staying in his house, wondering what he's going to think of my
screenplay; and thinking oh great, I got this guy in my house. What if I hate
his screenplay and, you know, I got to lie about it or kick him out? And for
two days I just spent my time trying to impress George Clooney, trying to man
up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITMAN: You know, at one point he asked me to play basketball with him.
You know, I'm Jewish, I haven't played basketball since eighth grade. I say
yes. Of course. Certainly. He played college basketball… And at one point he
wanted to, you know, he was like let's drink tonight and I never drink and, of
course, you know, he pulls out four bottles of wine for the three of us and I'm
surprised I didn’t die that night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITMAN: But after two days of wondering, he walks into the room that my
wife and I were staying in and he just said - I just read it. It's great. I'm
in.

GROSS: Oh. Wow.

Mr. REITMAN: It was as simple as that and it was a life-changing moment. It
was, you know, I was about to work with a movie star now, for the first time in
my life, a guy who was - couldn’t be more perfect for this role. And the next
thing he said was I can tell that people are going to draw comparisons between
my persona and this role and I'm ready to stare them straight in the eyes. And
that was the last conversation we ever, oddly, had about that.

GROSS: And by the connections, he means that this is a character who has
intentionally cut ties, is intentionally alone, and people will think that
that's Clooney's life - or that it was Clooney's life.

Mr. REITMAN: I think he was aware that people would presume that this was some
sort of self examination on his part.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. REITMAN: And we didn’t even really get into whether or not it was. But it
was encouraging that he was ready to do that and make a film in which that is
what people were going to talk about. And it was a movie where he was going to
be forced to be vulnerable in a way he had never been on camera before -
vulnerable romantically.

I mean this is a man who has made a career out of always being cool, always
being in control. And over the last few years, he's shown vulnerability in
different ways - in "Michael Clayton," in particular - in which he was
brilliant in. But this would be the first time in which he would be vulnerable
to a woman, that we'd see him in a scene in which he shows incredible longing.

And I suppose I thought, well, this is going to be - that's the day I'm really
going to really have to direct him and I'm going to have to yank this
performance out of him. And we got to that day and I told him that this is the
day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITMAN: And this is the moment, and on take two he just gave it to me.

GROSS: Did you shoot him differently in that vulnerable scene - that we won't
go into because we don’t want to give away the story – but…?

Mr. REITMAN: You know, not really. I mean it shot at, you know, the camera was
a little lower looking up at him, but not really. You know, he wears the same
suit in the entire movie and that presents an interesting challenge. You know,
he has the same hair. He has the same look. He never wears makeup so it's not
as if you’re going to, kind of, adjust how his face looks. So George Clooney is
George Clooney and it’s really up to him. But he's very good at articulating
himself in very subtle specific ways.

GROSS: People are really curious about, like, how product placement works in
movies now. Where, like, you see a certain brand of product, and what happens
often is that the that company has paid to have their product in the movie. Now
I know that American Airlines has kind of partnered with you on the movie and
that they let you use some of their facilities. Is that a product placement
thing or something different?

Mr. REITMAN: Well, American Airlines actually gave us no money. What we did was
- it was a bit of a trade - that they gave us access to their gates and their
checking counters. They even flew in a 757 for us to fly on, which is unheard
of. When you shoot a plane in a movie, you’re always on what's called a mock-up
which is fuselage that's on a stage and we were shooting on an actual plane
half the time. And in trade, you know, Ryan exclusively flies American.

I thought a lot about this because I'm as sensitive as any one else is to
product placement in the film, and I really did not want my film to come off as
some sort of shill. But the truth is, Ryan’s greatest friend on Earth is his
airline. He knows American and Hertz and Hilton closer than he knows any
individual person. And this is the world we live in, where we are surrounded by
logos, because I had the choice to actually make it fictitious. But if it was a
fictitious named airline like Sunshine Airlines or something like this, all of
a sudden the movie is a satire, it doesn’t take place in the real world, and I
wanted this film to be set in reality. And American ended up being this
wonderful partner to us. I mean, one, you know, they flew was everywhere we
shot. And they gave us the chance to create a sense of reality. And you know,
most notably, got us into shoot the TSA. I mean, I said earlier that we were
the first film to ever shoot in the real security checkpoints in airports. And
part of that reason is American Airlines paved the way for us.

GROSS: The downside of them flying you everywhere is you probably got no miles
for those flights.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITMAN: Terry, I’m slowly falling in love with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But you didn’t, right?

Mr. REITMAN: No, you’re absolutely right. That’s exactly right. The frustration
of getting free flights is you don’t get miles, and one of the reasons I don’t
use my miles to travel is when you use your miles to travel, you don’t get
miles.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That’s right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, boy.

Mr. REITMAN: But you’re the first person, I - honestly, you know, if I wasn’t
married, I might be off to LAX after this, getting flight to Philadelphia.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: We could just fly all the time. That would end the marriage – it would
end the relationship immediately.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I have such a hard time flying. So the last time we spoke, which was the
first time we spoke, you had just made “Juno.” Our listeners hadn’t seen it yet
because it was just on the verge of opening. That film was so popular and so
acclaimed. How did “Juno” change your life?

Mr. REITMAN: “Juno” changed my life a lot. Frankly, I made “Juno” for NPR
listeners, you know? I made it for people who have an appreciation of kind of
independent cinema, and I thought people who go to film festivals would like
it. But it was supposed to be a small movie, a movie we made for $7 million up
in Vancouver, and everyone saw it. That’s a very unusual thing for me. I really
never saw that for my career, and particularly on that film. It made it easier
for me to make my next movie. You know, certainly going to “Up in the Air”
there were really no questions. They just said yes, we’re making this. I get
offers to do movies that I really should not direct. I’m kind of blown away by
the kinds of movies they will offer you, sci-fi films, horror films, giant
effects movies, purely based on the fact that my last movie made money. It’s
not to say that I’m incapable of making those films, but it’s hard to think
that you would look at “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno” and then offer that
director a superhero film. But it’s happened, more than once. I got to go to
the Oscars.

GROSS: Hmm.

Mr. REITMAN: That something that I dreamt of my entire childhood and I hoped
one day I’d be lucky to do. Certainly I didn’t think it would happen as early
as it did. I got to take my father to the Oscars. You know, my father, who is
63, and has made, you know, dozens of movies, had never been to the Oscars. And
I got to take him as my date.

GROSS: Your new movie, “Up in the Air,” ends with a song that sounds like it
was sent to you because it’s – the song starts with the songwriter saying, Hi
Jason, here’s a song I wrote hoping that you’d use in your movie. And I think
he says that he was laid off too. What’s the story behind that recording?

Mr. REITMAN: Yeah, it wasn’t sent. It was actually handed to me. I was speaking
at a university in St. Louis. And I should say that I’m used to teenagers
sending me songs at this point because of “Juno,” hoping that I use them in
movies. But this is the first time a guy in his 50s handed me a song. And he
gave me a cassette tape, actually, which presented one problem and that was -
how do I listen to this? And we found a car with a cassette deck and we put on
the song and there he was. There was his voice, Kevin, talking to me, saying,
Hey Jason, which is kind of strange.

And he explained the situation, that he had lost his job and that he had
written a song about what it’s like to search for a purpose on a daily basis.
And what followed wasn’t the greatest song ever written. It was beautiful. Most
importantly it was authentic. And for the same reason that it was important for
me to use these real people who had lost their jobs to act in the film, it
became very important for me to include this song in the credits. Voice of a
group of people that I rarely hear from, and here was a guy singing in an
honest, authentic way about what it’s like to search for purpose.

And this was the question that I heard most when I talked to the real people
who are in this film. If you would ask me at the beginning of this process,
what is the hardest part about losing your job in this type of economy, I would
have probably said your loss of income. I mean, I made a movie about white-
color people who went college and went after a career and in the middle of
their life had their job taken away from them, usually in a city where there
was zero opportunity. But no one actually brought that up, not a person that we
interviewed said, I don’t know where to find money.

Everyone would say, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do; when the interview
was over, I'm going to get in my car and I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up every morning, not understanding my
purpose in life, particularly when I’ve been following it for, you know, 40, 50
years. And here was a guy who articulated it perfectly, and that made the song
necessary.

GROSS: Jason Reitman, thank you so much.

Mr. REITMAN: Oh, it’s a pleasure.

GROSS: It’s a pleasure to talk with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REITMAN: No, the pleasure was all mine.

GROSS: Jason Reitman directed the new film, “Up in the Air,” starring George
Clooney. He also directed “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking.”
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"Texas Sheiks": A Tribute to Traditional Americana

TERRY GROSS, host:

The Texas Sheiks offers new versions of old blues, Westerns swing and ragtime
music. This group is led by Geoff Muldaur, who’s been recording music like this
since the 1960s and features guitar work by Steve Bruton, who died of throat
cancer in May 2009, and whose diagnosis was the inspiration for these recording
sessions.

Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(Soundbite of song, “The World Gone Wrong”)

Mr. GEOFF MULDAUR (Musician): (Singing) Strange things have happened like never
before. My baby told me, I would have to go. I can’t be good no more, once like
I did before. I can’t be good, baby. Honey, because the world’s gone wrong.
Feel bad this morning…

KEN TUCKER: “The World Has Gone Wrong” in a Texas Sheiks version of a song made
famous by the Mississippi Sheiks. The slicing swing of the guitars, fiddle, and
Geoff Muldaur’s sweet–and-sour vocal make the sentiments sound at once
fatalistic and celebratory, literally fiddling while the world burns. The
vinegar in Muldaur’s voice gives lamentation a tang that doesn’t let the
listener off the hook for all the troubles being sung about. We each bear
responsibility, as another song close behind that one asserts.

(Soundbite of song, “All By Myself”)

Mr. JOHNNY NICHOLAS (Musician): (Singing) On my way all around the world, when
I get back I got diamonds and pearls, all by myself, all by myself. Don’t need
nobody help me, gonna do it all by myself. Got locked up in jail for a hanging
crime, they got boys up there doing more than 99, all by myself, all by myself.
Don’t need nobody help me, gonna do it all by myself. Got a houseful…

TUCKER: The jaunty rhythms of “All By Myself,” a Big Bill Broonzy song, are
sung here by guitarist Johnny Nicholas. It has an irresistible swing that’s
pushed along by the barrel-house piano and plucked acoustic guitar. Speaking of
guitar, these recordings really showcase the late Steve Bruton’s range. Bruton
played behind Kris Kristofferson for almost 40 years, as well as recording with
everyone from Bonnie Raitt to T. Bone Burnett. Whether he’s playing high-
lonesome country guitar, mandolin or some doom-laden steel guitar licks, Bruton
performed with a taut muscularity. His presence informs the work of other
musicians here, as can be heard in Johnny Nicholas’ vocal on the Skip James
song “Hard Time Killing Floor.”

(Soundbite of song, “Hard Time Killing Floor”)

Mr. SKIP JAMES (Musician): (Singing) Hard time is here. Everywhere you go.
(Unintelligible) Um, hm-hm. Um-hm. Um, hm-hm. Hard times, harder than they
been before…

TUCKER: The other notable presence here is Jim Kweskin, a guitarist and singer
with whom Geoff Muldaur formed a jug band in the 1960s. Kweskin made the most
of the counterculture. He survived a minor scandal when Mel Lyman, an LSD-
fueled cult leader, joined Kweskin’s jug band and Jim became an enthusiastic
convert for a while. At any rate, Kweskin’s voice has remained remarkably
supple, full of wry humor, as can be heard on the song, “Blues in the Bottle.”

(Soundbite of song, “Blues in the Bottle”)

Mr. PRINCE ALBERT HUNT (Musician): (Singing): Blues in the bottle, blues in the
bottle. Stoppers in my hand, pretty mamma. Blues in the bottle, stoppers in my
hand. I’m looking for a woman who's looking for a man…

TUCKER: “Blues in the Bottle” is a song credited to Prince Albert Hunt and his
Texas Ramblers, though I, being a rock critic, heard it first on a Lovin’
Spoonful album in the '60s. A lot of the music on Texas Sheiks is pretty
familiar. These are probably songs Steve Bruton knew by heart, as well as
knowing their history. In the end, he may be, as that early song says, all by
himself, as we each are in death. But the Texas Sheiks is superior to the usual
tribute album, because the man being saluted can be heard playing the music he
loved with an everlasting life.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed the
new album from Geoff Muldaur and the Texas Sheiks. I just recorded an interview
with Geoff Muldaur during which he performed several songs. We’ll hear that
sometime soon on FRESH AIR.

I’m Terry Gross.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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