And it wasn't just because of director Jason Reitman's Nintendo DS|
by Glen Schaefer, The Province, published on Sunday, February 24, 2008
That must be some relaxed set where the director is playing a hand-held video-game between takes. And when he hands it to one of the actors to use in a scene, well, that's Jason Reitman in Vancouver last year while filming box-office hit and best-picture Oscar nominee Juno.
The L.A.-based, Canadian born Reitman was making his second feature after the indie hit Thank You For Smoking, and the result was the first-ever Vancouver-made best-picture nominee. Vancouver's Emily Perkins, who had a supporting role in Juno, says Reitman's confidence was contagious.
"He just had a colossal twinkle in his eye," Perkins says. "Whenever you run into someone that self-assured who's very young and hip and stuff, you feel relaxed yourself."
Perkins spent three days filming a small but key role as the weary abortion-clinic clerk who inadvertently talks Ellen Page's Juno out of getting an abortion.
"One thing that's telling about the spontaneity that characterized Jason Reitman's style was that the Nintendo DS that I'm playing in the scene is Jason's," says Perkins. "He just had this idea and gave it to me. Then he was all worried that I was going to lose the stylus -- 'Where's the stylus, where's the stylus.' That was the atmosphere, it was like a bunch of kids hanging out together."
The movie filmed for six weeks last February and March, with rising star Page as a pregnant teen who plans to give her baby to a rich young couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), and Michael Cera as the schoolmate who got her pregnant.
Perkins had earlier starred in the cult-hit Ginger Snaps Canadian horror trilogy, and Reitman was surprised when he first met her to find that she didn't look like that trilogy's Goth anti-hero. Director and actor then collaborated on her look.
"He was worried that I was too wholesome," Perkins says. "I assured him that I would be able to do the burned-out character he was looking for. We talked about the wardrobe, what I'd do with my hair. I was wearing punk boots -- you never see them in the film -- my own boots, and my own jewelry. Jason had a clear idea going into it what he wanted, even with a small character."
During breaks in filming, Perkins chatted with Page, who had also seen Ginger Snaps. "Ellen Page actually auditioned for the second Ginger Snaps. She said, 'Oh, I'm such a huge fan of yours,' which is kind of funny coming from someone who's now an Oscar-nominated actress."
Cast and crew had an idea that the $7.5-million production was catching all the right breaks during its tight shooting schedule. Second assistant director Josy Capkun was onset every day to help organize filming. The story required scenes set during each of the four seasons, and the nimble crew were able to act quickly when they woke up to a rare snowfall in March.
"That was a welcome addition," she says. Schedules and locations quickly changed for a scene set at the White Rock house that served as the rich young couple's home. "Once we got there and realized how much snow there was, we went outside and shot what we could get."
The real snow over the whole neighbourhood meant prettier, wider snow scenes. The young cast and crew were amenable to quick schedule changes, says Capkun.
"Michael and Ellen are the most humble, easy people to work with," says Capkun. "There was none of that ego around, or a sense of urgency because you don't want to upset the actors. If you could steal (shots) because the snow fell, you just did it. Ellen was a half-hour in hair and make-up, which is not normal for a female actor. Normally you're looking at an hour and a half.
"Jason and the producers they're all young, around 30," says Capkun. "We were all friends, everyone was in it because it was a great script, a fun project to work on. Definitely a more light-hearted environment than some of the movies I've worked on."
It helped that Reitman, whose wife, Michele Lee, is from Vancouver, specifically wanted to film here after having worked here on TV commercials, and not because he was told to for budgetary reasons.
"That happens all the time," says Capkun. "But Jason is very comfortable in Vancouver."
The Vancouver connection helped actor Valerie Tian get another key role in the movie, as Juno's high-school classmate protesting outside the abortion clinic. Says Tian: "When I went to the audition, Jason mentioned that he recognized me from the Mina Shum movie (Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity) because his wife forced him to go watch it at Sundance."
Reitman, the son of director Ivan Reitman, was born in Montreal and raised in Los Angeles. But when it came time to party after the last day of filming, he went all Canadian.
"Our wrap party, a curling match," says Capkun. "Jason Reitman wanted to do it, we went someplace off Southwest Marine Drive for the wrap party. Ellen was definitely curling, Jason and his wife were avid curlers."
Now the locals are catching the reflected glow of Juno's Oscar run.
"I'll have people calling me up saying I can't believe you worked on that, congratulations," says Capkun. "When you work on a movie that you really appreciate, it definitely makes you proud if it does well."
Adds Perkins: "It's always a different thing when you see a fully realized film as opposed to reading the script. The film is about female solidarity in the end. Totally unexpected, even though I knew what the outcome would be."
Perkins, Capkun and Tian have another thing to remember Juno by. During the final days of filming, Reitman took time to film cast and crew dancing against a mylar curtain, he added music and edited the results down for a souvenir DVD for each of them.
"The actors were all vamping it up for the camera," says Capkun. "Ellen, Michael and Olivia (Thirlby), the grips, the electrics. It's thoughtful -- the crew usually gets a present like a jacket, but this was kind of neat. You look back on it and smile, remember how much fun you had."