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UP IN THE AIR

Cabin Service
Up in the Air is a movie that cruises, like its lead character, from city to city, hub to hub, airport to airport, never quite grounded, always speeding towards an uncertain destination. Jason Reitman says that, when it came to the look of the film, this proved to be an intriguing design challenge. "I think a lot of people like to think that a hard production design movie is one that takes place in 17th century England. But, realistically, the average person wouldn't know if you were off by a hundred years. A movie like this, on the other hand, needs to be completely accurate,” he comments. "You look at it and right away you know whether you believe it or not. Is that really your home town, is that really your city? Is that really what your office looks like?”

He continues: "We shot in five cities but we were portraying twenty. And Steve Saklad, our production designer, was just a genius at setting up five different cities in one building sometimes. We'd literally just go from floor to floor, scene to scene, and we'd be crossing the continent. At the same time, I wanted to really feel the changes, every time Ryan lands somewhere new. One moment you're in Miami, on the water, the next moment you're in Detroit in the middle of the snow. I wanted to feel those climates, I wanted to see them breathing the air, so everything had to change from city to city: the lighting, the production design and the clothes all change.”

There is also a larger visual change going on that echoes the shifting landscape inside Ryan Bingham. "As we begin the movie, everything is pristine. You walk into an airport, it's perfect and spotless and all the people are well tailored, and you can't imagine a more heavenly place,” Reitman says. "But by the end of the movie, as Ryan's life changes, his point of view on airports changes, and suddenly everything is handheld and chaotic and a mess.”

Adds Daniel Dubiecki: "As Ryan begins to subtly shift and alter you feel that in every element of the movie, in the colors and textures. The changes are not just happening in character and in dialogue. They're happening in the music. They're happening in the production design. They're happening in the costumes. They're happening in the lighting. The shifts are part of Jason's overall vision.”

The cities where Ryan Bingham travels to do his "career transition counseling” were carefully chosen to spotlight those that have most fallen prey to downsizing, bankruptcies and foreclosures in recent months. They include Detroit (home to the auto industry), Phoenix (a health insurance hub), St. Louis (a bottling center) and Wichita (securities finance firms).

When Reitman put his production team together, he called on a team who had worked with him previously, including director of photographer Eric Steelberg, production designer Saklad and costume designer Danny Glicker. He also reunited with location manager John Latenser, whose talent for tenaciously searching out locations had been demonstrated on Thank You for Smoking. "Although it's a lot more work, I love the fact that Jason likes to shoot on practical locations,” admits Latenser. "Filming in a practical location brings a realism that can't be duplicated on a stage.”

Latenser first had to narrow down the primary locations. The analysis pointed to St. Louis, Missouri as the logical home base for the production, because of its wide variety of architecture. Detroit, Omaha, Miami and Las Vegas were subsequently added. Those five cities would double for locations including Phoenix, Wichita, Chicago, Houston and Waupaca, Wisconsin. Many of the St. Louis neighborhoods resembled areas in Chicago and Omaha and the production eventually shot at more than 30 different locations throughout the city. In addition, the film includes more than 50 scenes in various airports and planes

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