Draft Day: Ivan Reitman on PG-13 Profanity and Split Screens

Draft Day

Sports movies generally play to diverse audiences, because you don’t really have to understand the sport to relate to an underdog winning the big game. Draft Day gets way more specific. Cleveland Browns manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) wheels and deals his draft picks, facing opposition from the team coach (Denis Leary) and skepticism from the salary cap manager (Jennifer Garner) who will have to employ his pick. Ivan Reitman directed Draft Day and we got to speak with him about various technical and aesthetic factors of the movie. For example, Sonny calls another manager a motherfucker, yet Draft Day is rated PG-13. Many of Sonny’s phone calls are shown in split screen, where the actors overlap each other’s screens and bleed into each other. We touched on Reitman’s attachment to sequels to his classic comedies too, but he began the interview with a very practical offer of assistance.

Ivan Reitman: How can I help you?

CraveOnline: You could have gotten an R just for saying MF once. Why did you risk it and how did you get PG-13 anyway?

Well, I thought we were very careful in the whole film. We could have sworn on every page and didn’t think it was necessary to do that. I decided it would be worth it to appeal and I did the appeal myself. We were very fortunate. They loved the movie. What was very helpful is they loved the movie and they could see that I was in fact being careful, and they agreed that if I would have said “pancake eating fuck” I would have gotten it, and that it’s harsher than saying “pancake eating motherfucker.” I said, “Look, comedy is my world and I’m really sensitive about how words work in comedy. It seems kind of ridiculous that you would accept the first one and not the second one. Frankly, I think the second one is softer and it plays as a comedy line as opposed to an expletive.” They thought about it for 10 minutes and agreed.

You might have just set a very important precedent.

Yes, but those precedents, by the way, don’t mean that they stay. They can be argued as precedents but it doesn’t mean they have to go with it. Really, like everything else, it depends on usage. I [think] they swear about three or four times in Philomena. I mean, they use the F word about that many times, but I thought it was perfectly fine for Philomena also to be a PG-13 and it made sense. I don’t think that suddenly is the new technical rule for what breaks the boundaries.

You hadn’t done a sports movie before. Were there ever other opportunities along the way?

Well, I did Space Jam.

As a producer, yes. I was thinking of movies you directed.

Yeah, but being producer of Space Jam was like being the director and I shot all those scenes. Let’s not forget the famous basketball game in Meatballs [laughs], but look, I don’t even think this is a sports movie. I think it’s a movie that deals with sports, that is really about very complex human interactions on a very complicated day. For me, it’s a suspense movie and I approached it like a suspense movie.

You do have to explain the draft to people who wouldn’t know how it works. How tricky was that?

Well, I think the writers did a great job of that and we demonstrate it in a simple way and explain just a few things, like how the ten-minute clock works and what the consequence of it is. It seems to work. I know it works because I think the studio’s nervousness was that it would only work for sports fans initially. In all our testing, we’ve screened it now literally for 50 or 60 audiences and have done all the marketing, non football fans who know nothing about football like it as much as football fans too. Women like it as much as men do so I know it seems to be working.

Even I didn’t know that they could trade draft picks and that it was binding.

Yes, trading is a huge thing and it goes on. It starts about a month or two months before the draft and really picks up steam. A lot of people hold everything very close to their vest until the last minute and then there’s a flurry of stuff that’s going on that day.

Did the actors get all the dialogue smoothly, because they have a lot of mouthfuls to explain?

Yes. Most of the people, certainly Costner, Garner and Leary know a crapload about sports and had no problems with it. People like Frank Langella knew nothing about football, which is strangely appropriate as the owner of a football team, and had to be explained certain things, but he’s such a spectacular actor. I think he did a great job.

No one has done split screens that overlap and bleed into each other before.

I believe it’s an innovation.

Was it complicated to explain to the compositors and artists how you wanted that to work?

No, the artists actually did a lot of the innovation to begin with. I knew I had to find some new way to do a split screen and we were going to play with it. I challenged this husband and wife team that does mostly title sequences, did the title sequences for my son’s movies, and they presented one of those and we said, “Oh, we can do this and that.” We went from there.

Was this your first digital film?

As a director, yes. We shot Hitchcock digitally. It was the first film as a director digitally.

Were you pleased by the changes in shooting it presented?

Loved it. I would never go back. My approach is totally different than, I guess, Spielberg, although I think he’s converted now, and Chris Nolan. There’s certain things. Hot sun is not a good time to shoot with digital. I would actually shoot in 35mm there, but most of the time, interiors in particular and at night, it’s just an extraordinary tool. The best thing for a director is you really see what you’ve got. The monitors are crystal clear and the lighting is very accurate and later timing in post-production, you can do so much with it and it holds up.

So Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito want to do Triplets, but do you?

Well, I’m still a producer. I never wanted to direct it. I told them that right from the beginning but I thought there was a viable commercial idea in it. It sounds a little constructed and I think there was a fair amount of suspicion about it but people are also tickled by it somehow, especially if we get the appropriate third person in, like Eddie Murphy who seems to be interested. I’m not sure where the studio is. There’s a draft of the script that’s pretty good. Universal’s thinking about it.

Would they want to wait to see how Terminator: Genesis does to see if those franchises are still viable?

I’m not sure one speaks to the other, so I don’t have an answer to that.

I understand you decided to produce Ghostbusters 3 and not direct. What is Ghostbusters 3 in a world of CGI visual effects?

Well, the second one actually had CGI in it. The first one didn’t, was all old school stuff. I think the opportunities are great because the world of special effects keeps evolving and greater things are possible. Certainly there’s been a lot of talk about doing Ghostbusters 3 in 3D as well, and I don’t think we’ll call it Ghostbusters 3 either. I think there’s wonderful things possible for Ghostbusters. It’s not a reboot. It just lives in a world where the first two movies did occur and those characters were there and at least some of them will be in this film, but it’s really a different story.

Would there have been a cameo for Harold Ramis?


Can you confirm that there are female characters for the new Ghostbusters?

I have no comment.

It seems like Space Jam 2 almost got going. Was there any real movement on that?

There was some interest I think with LeBron, but nothing much happened. I’m not involved in development. Even though I have a producer’s credit on it, I haven’t been involved in the development of that script so I don’t quite know where it is yet. It’s interesting all my movies from the’ 80s are getting remade in some form. Not remade but continued in some fashion.

Are you still attached to a Michael Jackson biopic?


What stage is that at?

Writing has commenced.

Are you bracing yourself that anyone you cast in that will be heavily scrutinized?

Yes. It’s not going to be easy, I can tell you that. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.