VOD Spotlight On Ivan Reitman (MEATBALLS)June 12, 2012
Twenty-three years ago when he created MEATBALLS (1979), premiering June 12th on Blu-Ray and On Demand, Ivan Reitman was just happy to be directing again. Nick DeNinno spoke to Ivan about his career, MEATBALLS on demand and the possibility of GHOSTBUSTERS 3.
Before Meatballs, Reitman directed a small movie called CANNIBAL GIRLS (1973) with Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin -- which he self-financed for $11,000. Next, Reitman started a musical called “The Magic Show” (1974) that ran on Broadway for about five years before he decided call up Matty Simmons, the publisher of National Lampoon magazine. “Originally, I found his name on the masthead of the magazine,” said Reitman, and “I called him up to say I would like to do comedy movies with you.”
But Simmons wasn’t ready to do comedy movies quite yet, and wanted to do something called the “National Lampoon Show” (1975). Drawing from his stage experience, Reitman agreed to put it all together and produce it. That show gathered for the first time on stage some of whom would become the cast of “Saturday Night Live” (1975) -- John Belushi, Gildner Radner, Bill Murray, and and “SCTV” (1976) -- Harold Ramis, and Joe Flaherty. “These kids were totally unknown,” said Reitman, “but one thing I knew when I saw them work together was that this was a remarkable group of comedians. Their language was a whole new language, a whole new comedy language.”
Eventually, Reitman teamed with actor and writer Harold Ramis to begin working on the script for NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), a movie which Reitman was hoping to direct. However, Universal Studios ultimately was not comfortable with letting Reitman, who had only one Canadian movie to his credit, direct the movie. Universal went instead with John Landis, who had a few movies under his belt already including KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977). So Reitman instead produced ANIMAL HOUSE, and found himself ready to take matters into his own hands to start directing again.
Nick DeNinno: This was a truly ‘independent’ film in every sense of the word, wasn’t it?
Ivan Reitman: I self-financed MEATBALLS with my Canadian partners, and that was how I was able to move so quickly. I called up some of my friends in Canada, Len Bloom and Dan Goldberg. I had gone to college with them and I knew they had gone to summer camp, as I did, for a number of years in our youth. “Let’s do a Summer camp movie and let’s do it right way, in a real summer camp, and let’s get shooting by the time ANIMAL HOUSE comes out.” So we talked our way into a real summer camp and began shooting in the middle of August.
Nick DeNinno: It’s amazing that this the first film appearance of Bill Murray in a starring role.
Ivan Reitman: One of the great things [about directing MEATBALLS] for me is that I got to meet Bill Murray. I knew him already, but I got to work with him as a film director and really it was the beginning of a wonderful relationship, and one that changed my life.
Nick DeNinno: How was making MEATBALLS different than putting ANIMAL HOUSE together?
Ivan Reitman: ANIMAL HOUSE was a development deal that went through about a dozen drafts until they finally agreed to make it on a certain budget. Everything was lined up for it by the time we started shooting. MEATBALLS was totally independent and we had to scramble to write a bunch of drafts very quickly in a few months. We then created another draft while we were shooting and then created the final version of the movie in editing. Then we came down to Los Angeles, and screened the movie publicly with a real audience in which we invited the various distributors to come to see if they wanted to buy it. So we got into a bidding war and Paramount finally won out because they were the most aggressive about wanting to distribute it.
Nick DeNinno: You can’t think of MEATBALLS without hearing the song, “Are you ready for the summer?” in your head.
Ivan Reitman: That was written by Elmer Bernstein and conducted by him with a group of kids from Toronto. And it’s just this great theme song for the film. It was a period when using music in film was very important. I knew I was going to work with Elmer Bernstein -- he had worked on ANIMAL HOUSE and I showed him the first cut of the movie and he fell in love with it. He did this beautiful part of the score and he also wrote a number of songs that were part of the score. When we knew were going to go with Paramount, we quickly pulled the songs on the movie into an album.
Nick DeNinno: When you released the film theatrically, did you think that 25 years later there would be still be a market for it, on demand?
Ivan Reitman: The theatrical market is so tricky right now and it's over just as quickly. There's so many people who get interested in so many movies they don’t get to see when they come out theatrically. Movies that people hear are good do particularly well in on-demand in the aftermarket. So that’s just a theory of my mine and the key is to always make good movies because they stay around forever.
Look at MEATBALLS. Look at ANIMAL HOUSE. Look at GHOSTBUSTERS (1984). These are all films that are twenty-five to over thirty years old, and are still of interest to people in a real way.
Nick DeNinno: Well, since you mentioned it, is GHOSTBUSTERS 3 coming soon?
Ivan Reitman: There is no animated GHOSTBUSTERS movie in the works. However, there is a big time feature in the works with Sony and Columbia, who we made the original movies for. It’s not real yet. There’s no go. The screenplay is being written now by Eton Cohen (TROPIC THUNDER, MIB3).
Nick DeNinno is a producer based in Carlsbad, CA. DeNinno worked for National Lampoon from 2001-2007, is a member of the Producers Guild, and was inducted into the Friars Club in 2011. Follow Nick on Twitter @nickdeninno.
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