You probably don’t need us to tell you that Superbowl weekend has just been and gone in the US. But maybe you might have missed Ivan Reitman’s smart comedy-drama Draft Day. Following Kevin Costner as Sonny, it’s a movie that’s got a surface of sport, but isn’t really about it at all.
We had the chance to speak to its director, Ivan Reitman, about working with Kevin Costner, sports movies, marketing, modern audiences, Six Days Seven Nights, and Evolution…
I’m from the UK, know next to nothing about American Football, and got to the end understanding all the things I needed to understand.
That’s part of the magic trick of this movie. It’s a bit like that wonderful movie Margin Call. You don’t really know trading and all of that stuff, but you can still get very caught up in situations where people are under real pressure. I was pretty careful in terms of explaining the rules that had to be known.
It’s not a film about a football game. It’s about a man at a certain moment in his life where everything goes really wrong for him.
I’m an avid follower of the sports films of Kevin Costner anyway, as I’ve always found that the trick with each of them is that they’re not about sport. How closely did you work with him to get that tone right on Draft Day too?
He was a very important contributor and partner to the whole film. He’s very smart. As well as being a wonderful actor, he’s smart, he’s an Academy Award winning director, and he was the first person I called after reading the script. I could hear his voice in every line that Sonny speaks in the movie.
I knew him a little bit, and I called him up. We had a really lovely meeting about it. He liked it as well, and we worked on it together for about six months before we started shooting. He’s a great ally in the making of the film.
With Kevin Costner, he’s an actor who’s not scared of acting where he is in life himself.
I think he’s a very confident man. That’s what makes him work as a movie star. We see that confidence and we see that intelligence. What makes him so effective in the roles that he chooses is that you believe what comes out of his mouth. You believe that he’s man you can trust and would follow.
So in roles that have that core, he’s particularly effective.
You used the Margin Call analogy, and there are many films that have taught us things that we don’t know, and audiences have accepted it. But do you think there’s an audience block with American sports in particular, outside of the UK? I think that 95%+ of Draft Day‘s box office business was done in the US: do you think that’s an audience block or a marketing block?
It is a marketing issue, that’s for sure. I need people to let others know that a minor knowledge of the sport is not going to stop you enjoying the particulars of the film.
I remember seeing a wonderful soccer movie, a black and white film, when I was growing up. I knew nothing about the sport, but it was a spectacular movie, and I enjoyed it a lot. We have over the years seen sports movies from bobsledding to track and field, and all sorts of things we don’t know much about. If we allow ourselves to go see it, we’re surprised at how much fun they are, and how compelling they can be.
One of my favourite romantic comedies of the 1990s is Tin Cup, a really grown up film. But because it was shrouded with golf, there was resistance to it.
I agree with you. But with Draft Day, I loved the script and I made it. I thought that nevertheless the story was compelling enough that it would find an audience, and it has found an audience. I’m very nervous over how it plays outside of America. I think the UK is probably our best shot, because at least there’s one or two games a year that get played there!
The other film that came to mind when I was watching Draft Day, bizarrely enough, was the Clint Eastwood-headlined thriller In The Line Of Fire. I remember some of the response to that film was that it was a thriller that made people being on the phone seem exciting. It struck me that in the back end of Draft Day that a lot of your drama comes from staging phone calls. How did you go about doing that, while keeping the momentum going in the final act of the film?
I knew when I read the script that there was an inherent issue of I’ve got people spread out all over the country, talking to each other mostly by telephone. How was I going to create drama out of it, and something that’s visually compelling?
I just started thinking about playing with the frame line. I knew I couldn’t go back to the traditional Bye Bye Birdie split screen, with people on each side talking. That just wasn’t going to fly today. I had to find a new way to do it, and I’m very proud of what we did. Plus I’ve a brilliant editor, Sheldon Khan, who I’ve worked with since Ghostbusters. This is also an editing tour de force, how to make all this stuff work. I had an extraordinary editing team working on it.
So how is your relationship with your editor? Editors tend to be an unseen force in modern movies.
Well, you have to stay in the room – co-editing was a woman named Dana Glauberman, who was his assistant on Ghostbusters, and has become an editor in her own right. My son really hired her to edit Thank You For Smoking, Juno, all of his movies. She’s become a fabulous editor, and I used both of them on this movie.
On one hand, the director is the boss, and finally, the director has to get what they want. On the other, they have to be smart enough to see that when they have people as talented as Sheldon and Dana, you have to give them their head to at least try things. Particularly with this movie, where so many things are happening at the same time. Playing with the rhythms was very, very important. It’s a very musical thing, and my background’s music. I think it was very helpful to me with this film, and in all the films I’ve made, frankly.
I have to ask with regards Jason, your son. Obviously he’s now an established writer and director, but how does he look back on the cameo you gave him in Kindergarten Cop? It’s him kissing when the fire alarm goes off!
It was his first real kiss! And he was only like 12 years old. And he’s doing it in front of his father, and an entire crew! It’s something he now speaks about humorously, but I think it was a strange kind of experience for him!
I’d like to be the first person to interview you of late who doesn’t ask about Ghostbusters. So what else beyond that and Triplets do you have on your upcoming slate?
We’re doing Baywatch. I think Dwayne Johnson’s going to be the star, and we have a very exciting co-star that I’m not allowed to announce yet! I think that’s going to be a fabulous picture, very, very funny.
And there’s another movie called Bastards, that we’re very close to getting started on. There’s at least three movies that look very real. But I have to find something to direct myself, now that I’ve given up directing Ghostbusters and only producing it. I find myself without a film to direct myself!
On Baywatch and Bastards, is the plan to get both of them moving this year?
I’m a big fan of a couple of films you did a while back, Six Days Seven Nights and Evolution. I think neither of them quite got the appreciation they deserved at the time. I sensed in both cases that they were pigeonholed to a degree. When you get to the end of the process, and you’ve made a film that in your heart of hearts is satisfying, how do you find the release process? And was it particularly tricky with those two features?
Well Six Days Seven Nights was an extraordinarily satisfying movie both for myself and for audiences. I think it was that moment in time though where Anne Heche had fallen in love with Ellen DeGerenes. So the press was dominated by a lesbian conversation at the point where she’d done this romantic comedy with Harrison Ford. And people couldn’t see past that.
Of course, she broke up with Ellen just after the movie came out. But just exactly at the time, it muddied the waters, so people didn’t actually watch the movie. They were looking at the gossip.
Evolution was one of those movies where three quarters of it is quite successful and I think we mucked up the ending a little bit. That’s my personal opinion. I’m proud of every movie I make. I put a lot into them. I’m proud of them all.
No Strings Attached, the movie I made before Draft Day, got lost I think. Ashton Kutcher is very easy to make fun of, but I think he’s really quite spectacular in that film. His relationship with Natalie Portman is fresh and fun and very effective. I think people tend to not see that until they watch these films for a second or third time.
I’m really happy about it now. The movies from the first half of my career keep being shown as evergreen, from Stripes and Animal House to Ghostbusters. All of them got mediocre reviews. They all sort of got that two star thing. Now they’re all looked at as four star movies! I think it’s part of the problem with doing comedic films, and broad audience films that are entertaining. People tend to be condescending about them, and not appreciate just how tough a chore it is to create that kind of soufflé.
Do you think part of the problem lies with the instant nature of the movie press now? It’s spent the last month devouring an illegal hack on a company, and then there’s the rush to judge a film within an hour of the press screening finishing? Do you find the press that healthy now, or is this an evolution of what we had before?
I think it’s evolutionary. The good news and bad news about the internet is that everyone has an opinion, and it’s immediate. We’re affected by what everybody else says, so very few people are strong enough to stand up to the tide of opinion that it stated very quickly.
I find it an enormous amount of repetitive judgement. That one strong voice can really affect the voices of many others. Sometimes it does take a little bit of time, and a film requires more careful viewing. But sometimes it’s the truth. So it’s really all over the place, and if one’s going to make films, you just have to live within that system. I’ve been lucky enough to really make films that audiences have loved over the years, and so I get to keep doing it. But it is a success-based endeavour, unless you’re making very, very tiny films.
Ivan Reitman, thank you very much
Draft Day is available on DVD now.