Speaking of Movies with Jason Reitman

In December 2009, I co-hosted (with my colleague and collaborator Kevin O’Malley) another event in our series Speaking of Movies with Jason Reitman. We created the series with Jason, our former student from the Harvard-Westlake class of 1995, to interview interesting people from the film industry in front of a student audience. With the recent release of Up in the Air, we decided to turn the tables and have Jason be our guest. We screened the film at Paramount Studios for an audience of Harvard-Westlake students, parents and alumni. The event “sold out” in 2 hours! After the screening, I interviewed Reitman and O’Malley videotaped.

It was exciting to see the film after having visited the set in St. Louis with my daughters. We had seen some of the scenes being shot and between takes Jason entertained us by showing us scenes on his laptop that he’d already edited. There was a particular scene we watched being filmed in which George Clooney’s character must fire the man he most admires, the head of the airlines played by Sam Elliott. The scene wasn’t in the movie! I ran up to Jason afterwards and asked, “Where was that scene?” and he informed me it will be on the DVD. So look for that.

The award-winning Harvard-Westlake school newspaper, The Chronicle, has posted the interview. I’ve seen Jason do a few Q and A’s now and I’m really impressed with him as a public speaker. He is charming, funny, and insightful. Check out his analysis of why we like (I do!) the TV show 24. Enjoy!

Gaulke Interviews Reitman from hw chronicle on Vimeo.

On the set of Jason Reitman’s film, Up in the Air

Cheri, Xochi, Jason, Marka
Cheri, Xochi, Jason, Marka  

Recently, during my spring break, I visited St Louis where former student, Jason Reitman, was shooting his new film, Up in the Air. The film stars George Clooney as an executive whose job it is to fly all over the country and fire people. He spends all his time in hotels and is obsessed with reaching his personal goal of 10 million frequent flyer miles.


Jason Reitman graduated from Harvard-Westlake in 1995, the high school where I teach Video Art and am Chair of the Visual Arts Department. As a young filmmaker, Jason already showed talent. I remember watching him shoot a public service announcement and thinking to myself, “That kid is a director!” It was the first time I saw a student not only guiding the concept, camera work and editing, but also the actors’ performances. He won the top prize in a contest for that PSA which was about AIDS. He also cast an openly gay student in the spot, although the point of the piece is that AIDS was not a gay thing or a boy thing or a girl thing or a…..you get the idea. Jason went on to college, graduated and made a number of short films that screened at Sundance, then commercials and his first feature, Thank You for Smoking. Around the time of his second film, Juno, he reconnected with his former teachers at Harvard-Westlake (it was my colleague Kevin O’Malley who was actually Jason’s video teacher). Jason was the keynote speaker in our 2007 Harvard-Westlake Film Festival. We embarrassed him by opening the evening with his 10th grade PSA! He was a judge in our festival the following year. Last year, Jason, Kevin and I co-created a speaker series called Speaking of Movies in which Jason interviews cool people he knows in front of an audience. We videotape the talks and plan to post them on the internet soon. Our guests so far have been Diablo Cody (Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Juno) and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (directors of Little Miss Sunshine and numerous award-winning commercials and music videos). Coincidentally, Valerie and I knew each other back in 1984 when I stage managed a performance art piece she did with Lin Hixson and Molly Cleator. 


My daughters, Marka and Xochi, spent the day with me on set in an airport hotel where they were shooting a series of short scenes with George Clooney. We learned a lot while we watched — the production designers change the room to become different cities, the director of photography experiment with still and moving shots, the prop master get the Blackberry to go off at just the right moment, the gaffers block out the windows with green screen material, the craft services guy who was also a sculptor and a founder of the amazing City Museum (if you haven’t been there it’s worth a trip to St. Louis!), and the excellent sound guy who gave me some tips. Between shots and while the crew was setting up for the next shot, Jason was a gracious host. He used his laptop to show us: clips from the film, scenes that were already edited (he’s going to premiere it in Toronto in September so his post-production is happening simultaneous to production), and some of his favorite stuff on youtube! Jason also introduced us to George Clooney and as you can imagine, the man is charming and funny (we loved listening on our headsets to the banter especially the bet between Reitman and Clooney as to whether the Blackberry would go off on cue). The day began at 9:30 a.m. and they broke for lunch at 3:30 p.m. We were exhausted and I went back to my folks’ house and took a nap! Meanwhile the film crew had another 6 hours of shooting.


It was an amazing experience for me as a teacher of film and video, as well as for my daughters who are young filmmakers themselves. This weekend Xochi and I are off to Seattle where her 7th grade film screens during the opening night of NFFTY-National Film Festival for Talented Youth. Then we return for the Sunday screening of her 9th grade film in the Newport Beach Film Festival. The next generation?


Kim Abeles Transforms Trash Into Art at Harvard-Westlake School

Obama in 9 Days of Smog and McCain in 18 Days of Smog, 2008

Obama in 9 Days of Smog and McCain in 18 Days of Smog, 2008

I would like to invite you to check out this exhibition I organized at Harvard-Westlake School where I am now the Visual Arts Department Chair.

Over a period of five weekdays, nationally acclaimed artist Kim Abeles was dumpster diving at Harvard-Westlake’s upper school to collect trash without the general knowledge of students, faculty or staff. She then cleaned, ironed, and assembled the trash in her studio and transformed it into new artwork. Abeles environmental art, as well as works that were collaborations with Harvard-Westlake students, will be featured in the Feldman-Horn Gallery in an exhibition called Nature Studies, from Feb. 9 – March 6. The gallery is open 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. school days and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Please join us for two public events on Wednesday, Feb. 18. At 9:35 a.m., Abeles will do a gallery talk especially for students and staff, and she conducts another talk at 6 p.m. especially for parents and the public, which will be followed by a reception until 9 p.m.

Abeles, currently a professor of art at the California State University, Northridge, earned national recognition with her smog series in which she literally invented a way to “paint” with particulate matter. The Harvard-Westlake exhibit will feature her complete collection of presidential smog plates. Other large-scale environmentally themed works on display include The Leaf Lounge (All the World’s Leaves), in which hundreds of fabric leaves were created at five times the normal size in which Gallery visitors are encouraged to lounge!

Leaf Lounge (All the World’s Leaves), 2000

Leaf Lounge (All the World’s Leaves), 2000

Each year, the Harvard-Westlake Visual Arts Department hosts a professional artist’s exhibition in Feldman-Horn Gallery. Inspired by HW’s Green Initiative, Visual Arts Dept. Chair Cheri Gaulke contacted Kim Abeles, who is known for work that addresses environmental issues and often involves communities. Abeles began working with teachers and students to develop projects that involve the skill sets taught within the classes. Students in various departments examined the relationship between humans and the world around them, particularly our consumption-driven culture. Video students recorded Abeles as she dumpster-dove and carried garbage from the trash bins to her car. Math classes evaluated the typical consumption and waste at Harvard-Westlake based on the collected materials, like the amount of water left in discarded water bottles. Photography students investigated the relationship between the sun’s ultraviolet rays and skin tones. Sculpture students made “smog catchers” by using leaves from campus trees. Environmental-science students collected water labels and documented the trash each of them generates over two days. The environmental club and women’s studies students made connections between the environment and Native American spiritual teachings. Journalism students documented the entire process in the school newspaper.

In the spring, a catalog of the exhibition will be published that documents and examines the role of art in education and how art can be a tool for social change around issues such as the environmental crisis. The exhibition and catalog are made possible through the generous support of Harvard-Westlake Trustee Janis Feldman Horn.

For more information, contact Harvard-Westlake Visual Art Department Chair Cheri Gaulke at (818) 487-6596 or cgaulke@hw.com.

L.A. River Project screening

Tonight, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008, the L.A. River Project video (12 min) that Susan Boyle and I did with students at Wilson High will be screened at the Echo Park Film Center at 8 pm. It’s free. Come check it out if you can. Our video will be followed by other short films by local kids about the LA River.

The Echo Park Film Center is located at 1200 N. Alvarado Street (@ Sunset Blvd), Los Angeles, CA 90026. Park on the street or in the adjacent library lot. Here’s a link to their website. http://www.echoparkfilmcenter.org