IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Reitman is ‘Smoking’ hot at Toronto film fest

Film created a bidding war between Fox Searchlight and Paramout Classics
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jason Reitman tried to listen to his father, whose first piece of advice was not to go into the family business.

But the younger Reitman loved movies too much not to follow the lead of his dad, Ivan Reitman, one of the most successful comedy directors of the 1980s and ’90s with “Ghost Busters” and its sequel, “Stripes,” “Twins,” “Kindergarten Cop” and “Dave.”

After an early career in commercials and a series of short movies that played to acclaim at film festivals, Jason Reitman premiered his feature debut, “Thank You for Smoking,” at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Reitman, 27, knows his father was just trying to look out for him when he advised against a movie career.

“It’s a cruel business with a lot of nasty people in it. At the end of the day, there’s a beautiful outcome. You get these fantastic films, but to get them made, you have to sometimes go through a lot of rejection, a lot of cruelty and meet a lot of frightening people,” Reitman said. “I tried to take his advice. Why go into the film business? I’ll just be compared to my father. I’ll never be successful. Then one day, I realized, this is what I love. This is what I have to do.”

From the buzz at the Toronto festival, it was a wise move. Reitman’s “Thank You for Smoking” was received heartily by Toronto audiences and prompted a fierce bidding war among distributors that two outfits, Fox Searchlight and Paramount Classics, ended up squabbling over which one had acquired the rights to release the film. (Fox Searchlight was declared the winner of the film adapted from Christopher Buckley’s satiric novel about a tobacco-industry spin doctor.)

With a hilarious screenplay adaptation he wrote himself, Reitman landed an impressive cast, led by Aaron Eckhart as the wily lobbyist who concocts a scheme to bribe Hollywood players to put cigarettes front and center in big studio movies.

“I think Jason’s going to have a huge career,” said Eckhart, so impressed with Reitman’s script that he backed out of a studio film to do “Thank You for Smoking.” “He’s so assured already, totally mature. He doesn’t lean on anybody. He stands on his own two feet and makes his own decisions.

“There were times on the movie where I did something one way and said, ‘No, Jason, I think it’s better this way,’ and he would say, ‘Aaron, I know comedy. Do it this way.”’

Dark comedyThe cast includes Robert Duvall as a patriarch of the tobacco industry, Katie Holmes as a reporter doing a cigarette-lobbying expose, Rob Lowe as a Zen-headed Hollywood agent, William H. Macy as an anti-tobacco senator, Maria Bello as an alcohol lobbyist and Sam Elliott as the former Marlboro Man, now dying of lung cancer.

Reitman read Buckley’s novel in the late 1990s and angled his short films over the next few years as calling cards to prove he could tackle “Thank You for Smoking” as his feature debut.

The project had languished for years with Warner Bros. and Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions when Reitman came on the scene, begging to make the film. He wrote a screenplay, but it would be years before he got the chance to make the movie after Icon and Warner parted ways.

PayPal founder David O. Sacks was just entering the film business with proceeds from the sale of his company to eBay and stepped in to secure the rights and produce “Thank You for Smoking.”

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

Reitman — who had small roles in several of his father’s films and was on the set of “Animal House,” which Ivan Reitman produced, when he was 11 days old — said his upbringing gives him a huge advantage over other young filmmakers, who can feel daunted by some of the trappings.

Being around filmmaking all of his life, he said he felt comfortable and confident on sets from the start when he began directing himself.

His filmmaking lineage also has made Reitman uneasy over the publicity he draws compared to other young filmmakers.

“I certainly get an undue amount of attention because of my dad, and I was embarrassed about that,” Reitman said. “I felt shame about that at one point. And then one day, I realized: You know what? It is what it is. I’m my father’s son.

“At the end of the day, people are going to judge me on the movies I make, and believe you me, when I make a really crappy film, nothing about my father is going to save me. I’m going to get my heart ripped out that day.”