Nepotism, 'Animal House' and 'the Worst Script We've Ever Read': An Evening With the Reitmans

It was relatively slim pickings at the festival Monday, especially after Guillermo del Toro's live-in-person monster-rhapsodizing was pushed to Thursday and alas, we missed our 4:30 screening about transsexuals in Colorado. Plan C seemed reasonable enough: Drop by the Geffen Playhouse to see a father-son chat between Ivan and Jason Reitman, in which we figured we might catch Dad's jealous flare-up over Juno's success or Son's symbolic shove of his old man into the shadows at stage right. We got neither, though Jason did come clean about that whole nepotism thing.

"I was really scared," he said. "I know how I felt about the children of famous filmmakers; that's how people would think of me. The perception is that you're talentless, you're a spoiled brat, and more often than not you have an alcohol or drug problem. So! That was the idea going in: 'This is what people are going to think, and they'll never think I deserved it.' Most people try to break from obscurity by going to film festivals; I was looking for obscurity. I wanted to be just another tape that got submitted."

He financed his first short, the kidney-theft comedy Operation, by selling advertising for dorm-room calendars at USC: "I thought, 'Could I ask my Pa for $8,000? I probably could, but if I do this calendar thing, then one day, if I'm at a panel on a film festival...' " Zing! Commercials followed, then Thank You For Smoking — the rest is twee history.

For the first time in years, though, Ivan topped his son: The producer/director spent 15 minutes elaborating about the development of Animal House, from its National Lampoon sketch roots to the script's first pass at Universal — which apparently could have gone better. "I remember we showed the first or second draft to the studio," he said. "They read it and said, 'This is the worst script we've ever read. This is horrible.' Nobody was interested in making this movie. We wrote about 15 drafts over a two-year period, and we kept saying, 'Look, you guys don't understand — this could be the funniest movie ever made.' Because what we thought in our young arrogance was that no one's speaking this language — the language of my generation. The Baby Boom generation had no comedic filmmakers; the closest thing we could sort of identify was M*A*S*H. ... It changed the way comedy was approached."

Reitman and company eventually wore the studio down with help from another comic. "There was some Richard Pryor movie that had a very good preview and that Universal also hated," he said. "So they said, 'Well, we hated that one, and it turned out OK; let's go make this Animal House thing."

"This is how the industry works," Jason replied. And we guess we can be thankful for that.