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Knock, knock, it's Jason Reitman: director wanted perfect 'Labor Day' house

Director Jason Reitman is pictured in a Toronto hotel room on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

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Director Jason Reitman is pictured in a Toronto hotel room on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO - Some residents of Massachusetts were no doubt surprised when they found Oscar-nominated director Jason Reitman knocking at their front doors trying to find just the right location for his new film "Labor Day."

The movie — about an escaped convict named Frank (Josh Brolin) who seeks refuge with depressed single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) over a steamy end-of-summer weekend — required the perfect house.

Reitman was determined to find it.

"It is the longest location search I've ever done," the Montreal-born director said at September's Toronto International Film Festival. "My location manager has never looked at more locations than he did looking for the house for this film.

"I don't like to shoot on soundstages — I never do. I don't believe in building sets — I like to be in the real thing ... we literally drove the entire state. We looked in every town."

The house is indeed a key element to "Labor Day," which is based on the Joyce Maynard novel of the same name.

Over the course of their short time together, Frank falls in love with Adele and bonds with Henry, giving the boy baseball tips in the backyard and conducting pie-making lessons in the kitchen.

As word of Frank's escape spreads and his picture hits the TV news, it becomes crucial that neighbours (including one played by Reitman regular J.K. Simmons) be kept in the dark about Adele and Henry's visitor. The location of the house plays a key role in allowing them to harbour the fugitive.

"I was very specific about the look (of the house), the style, how the street needed to be — there was a curve in the street, it had to be on a slight hill, the trees, the backyard had to look to (a) forest," said Reitman.

"I mean it was very, very tricky and finally we found it."

While Reitman's previous films, including "Juno" and "Up in the Air," were decidedly modern and humorous in tone, "Labor Day" is a more classic story, something which "terrified" the director.

Still, he was compelled to do the project, saying Maynard's novel made him cry and "completely caught his heart."

"It told the story of inexplicable love, you know, complicated desire, three people who needed each other."

Part of what captivated him was that Maynard told the story from the perspective of an adult Henry. Reitman ended up choosing Tobey Maguire for that role.

"The trick was who has the right voice and who looks like this boy? And Tobey Maguire, frankly, looks like Gattlin Griffith grown up, but more importantly he has a very unusual voice," he said.

Instead of asking Maguire to record his voice-over in a studio, Reitman had the "Spider-Man" star speak his lines in the farmhouse where the shoot took place.

"It's more natural when you record voice-over on set when an actor actually is in their hair and makeup and wardrobe and you just sit them in front of a mike and they talk," explained the director.

"That was one of those moments where the film came to life for me, listening to him read the voice-over, just sitting in the corner while I listened to him."

He also tried to achieve a natural look when conveying the September heat wave depicted in the film.

"The work we did on sweat on this film, oh my God. I never want to do another sweaty film," said Reitman.

"We spent a lot of time making sure people were just the right amount (of) sweaty ... special silicons that don't mix in with their makeup that don't get melted by the heat that stay the right amount of dampness, that don't get into their wardrobe."

With the challenge of "Labor Day" completed, Reitman is reportedly already at work on his next film, "Men, Women & Children," to be shot in Texas.

So should residents of the Lone Star state expect a personal visit from the director on one of his meticulous location scouts? Well, if Reitman does come calling, they might want to take a minute to clean up first.

"You see their living room, their dining room, their bedroom, you start to think about how you could work a camera through somebody's home," said Reitman of the process, adding that he sometimes sees some strange things.

"When you have people coming over you put your things away. When you don't know when someone's coming over things are strangely strewn (about). It's unusual to just walk into people's lives. ... It's a very strange process."

He added: "But by the way, filmmaking in general is walking into people's lives."

"Labor Day" opens Friday.

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