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Up in the Air: Opening Sequence

by Anne Thompson
December 11, 2009 9:06 AM
9 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

One of my favorite opening sequences from a movie is Jason Reitman's for Up in the Air, which sets the tone perfectly for the movie. It's a swinging cover of "This Land is Your Land" and was designed by Shadowplay. It was devilishly hard to shoot. I asked Reitman about this; his full answer is on the jump (and the full interview is here).

JR: I have always enjoyed opening title sequences, all three of my films have prominent ones. I like there to be a separation between the commercials and the movie. The opening title sequence, in general, has gone by the wayside, because many directors like the movie to end with ‘directed by me,’ an ego kind of thing. Anyhow, I have a team called Shadowplay who were short film makers at the same time I was. They did the Smoking and Juno titles, and came up with this idea of vintage moving postcards, the most complicated element of which was getting this aerial footage that seems like film. I figured you put a camera in a plane, you put it up in the air, you point down, you get aerial footage, right? I really thought it would be that simple. It was so complicated. Every time you see aerial footage in a movie it’s from a helicopter at 12,000 ft. To get it from 25,000 ft, first we went up with a jet and we had a camera that was going through this bubble system, except the optics weren’t good enough and atmosphere was giving us trouble. Then we went up with a propeller plane and the pilot had to wear an oxygen mask to get up that high; we took a camera out on a wing, we went digital instead of film, and then the camera would not go straight down, so they’d have to put the plane into a dive to get the camera to go down. I mean it was just like unreal how hard it was to get this footage. But I’m really happy with the results and of course it made for fun opening titles.


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More: Video

9 Comments

  • Remy | December 13, 2009 9:51 AMReply

    "obviously not an expert in aerial filming."

    Having never done aerial filming before, how could he be? Maybe he wasn't an expert before, but based on the evidence in the film, he became quite good at it during the process.

  • DavidC | December 13, 2009 7:15 AMReply

    It is truly amazing what some people dig up to complain about. A testament to human ingenuity.

  • Who cares? | December 13, 2009 7:10 AMReply

    Okay, so if you listen to what Reitman is saying he hired another company to make the title sequence. In which case, he probably just gave them some notes. So he didn't shoot it, he didn't edit it, he didn't do anything but take credit for it with the standard director taking credit for everything using "we" which really means "they" (i.e. someone else did it). Any time a director says "we" and not "I" your bullshit detector should be going off, especially if the person doesn't have a credit for doing the job he or she is taking credit for (and we know Reitman isn't shy about taking credits, since he took four of them on this film). Unlike the Coen brothers who humbly credit Roderick Jaynes in order to avoid looking like they are total egomaniacs.

    But who cares! If you are watching the aerial photography and not watching the film, something else is wrong. So I figured it out. Basically the film is a Nora Ephron film, only not as good. Like "You've got Mail". Quirky dialogue, modern situation (evil bookstore owner trying to take over a small book store, similar to guy whose job it is to fire people -- cute, and relevant but not too political), cutesy opening title sequence, the same type as UPIA only better. Brilliantly choreographed in the Ephron case though and acted well by Hanks and Ryan, unlike UPIA which is clumsy with bad acting and what looks like pretty standard coverage like something from a first year USC film. Ephron would never have been thought of for a "best picture" nomination and dramedies are her specialty. So a man coming along and doing a poor version of a dramedy has more of a chance of being taken seriously than a woman who has mastered the genre? Why? It's not that good of a film.

  • jl | December 13, 2009 4:16 AMReply

    @Remy, "made by an expert" ... obviously not an expert in aerial filming.

  • Remy | December 13, 2009 1:49 AMReply

    "Up in the Air" is very much a movie made by an expert.

  • jl | December 12, 2009 10:50 AMReply

    Uh, hard?

    Yeah, hard for someone like Reitman who doesn't know what the hell he's doing trying to film aerial footage. Sounds like he was unprepared and not well informed.

    This makes him sound (unfortunately) like an ignoramus.

  • Remy | December 12, 2009 10:43 AMReply

    I absolutely loved the beginning of this movie - it's just about perfect. Not just the stunning opening credits sequence, but also the montage, with George Clooney talking about his lifestyle, and why he is so enamoured with it. I immediately thought, "This is going to be awesome", and the rest of this great film didn't let me down.

    Quote:
    "How hard it was for Reitman to get that footage? What, was he the one piloting the jet? Did he parachute out of a plane with a camera in hand? No. If he was even anywhere near the plane (which he doesn’t specify), he was at most, sitting inside the plane comfortably looking outside a window or at a monitor."

    He wasn't holding the camera himself, but a director is very much involved in figuring out how to solve the logistical nightmares that surface during filming. He's not saying he was physically involved in the moment of filming, but that, from a technical standpoint, it took a lot of hard work and testing to figure out how to get the footage they needed.

  • Dan Dassow | December 12, 2009 6:00 AMReply

    Anne,

    You know you have been flying too much when you recognize the aerial footage from much of the opening sequence. These are great shots. It would be interesting to see more of the original footage from the eight days of aerial shooting, only five days of which were useful.

    It is interesting that Jason Reitman comments about separating the film from the commercials, considering that he started out making commercials and shorts. What influence do you believe that making commercials and short have on Jason Reitman and Dana E. Glauberman’s editing of the film? I do not recall anyone asking Mr. Reitman this question in interviews.

  • Anonymous | December 12, 2009 1:49 AMReply

    Ha ha ha! That is so funny! How hard it was for Reitman to get that footage? What, was he the one piloting the jet? Did he parachute out of a plane with a camera in hand? No. If he was even anywhere near the plane (which he doesn't specify), he was at most, sitting inside the plane comfortably looking outside a window or at a monitor. In which case, wouldn't that be akin to saying that George Bush had a "really hard time" doing his aerial survey of Hurricane Katrina? It sure "looked hard". Ha ha ha ha! "Hard work" or "hardly working"? I say.

    And as for Reitman complaining about other directors who put back end credits because of "ego"... are you kidding me? The guy has FOUR front end credits attributed to himself, including "A Jason Reitman film" just in case you missed his name the other three times, all for doing basically the same job, directing a film based on someone else's idea in a book, produced by his rich and fomous daddy. Puh-leaze. Spare me!

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