5 Things You Didn’t Know About Meatballs

Director Ivan Reitman shares his movie-making recipe

Director Ivan Reitman shares his movie-making recipe.

Meatballs was not only Bill Murray’s first movie, it was one of the first jobs for director Ivan Reitman. Murray and Reitman would go on to make classics like Stripes and Ghostbusters. Reitman also made last year’s No Strings Attached and created Jason Reitman (director of Juno and other movies your girlfriend loves). In honor of the new Meatballs Blu-ray, Ivan reminisces about the movie and what it took to make a camp classic.

It Was Animal House for Kids

It’s my second movie as a director. The first was Cannibal Girls, which I did for about $11,000 in Canada. I originally thought I was going to direct Animal House after that, but I never got the chance. Because I had only made Cannibal Girls, the studio wasn’t comfortable letting me direct Animal House, even though I put that whole thing together and brought John Belushi in on it. But I lost it to John Landis,

I called my friends up and said, “I have to direct again and make something funny and more like Animal House. Let’s write a script about summer camp.” That was in March of ‘79 and we started shooting in August at a real summer camp.

Bill Murray Almost Left Them Hanging

I think it was the first time Bill Murray was in a movie of any kind. He was on SNL for a couple of sketches the previous season, but not a regular cast member. He was going to be in SNL the following fall. So he was unknown when we started shooting.

I knew him because I produced a show called The National Lampoon Show and that featured John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and Harold Ramis. So I called up Bill and said, “Hey Bill, I know you’re free this summer. You’re not going on SNL until October. We’re shooting this movie…how ‘bout it?”

He said, “Well, I’d rather take the summer off and play golf.”

I didn’t know he was going to do it until the day before we started shooting, when he finally arrived on the set. There we where with all the actors, all the kids, all the crew and just hoping Bill would say yes. So this whole reputation that he’s difficult and choosy with what movie he makes really started right from the beginning, long before he was a star.

We didn’t have a backup plan.

Those Are Real Kids

It was a real camp, with real kids attending the camp. Parents paid good money to send their kids to the camp and here I am shooting a movie in the middle of it. They treated it as an activity for the campers. The kids sometimes got tired of it, but they had fun. We also had paid extras, just to be sure we could control the situation.

“It Just Doesn’t Matter” Was Bill’s Attempt at Philosophy

We didn’t have it in the script. We needed a rally scene to bring the losing group back up. One of the great things about Bill is that he has a way of taking the stage and electrifying people, even in real life.

I remember working with him at dinner the night before and we talked about the scene philosophically. At some point he said, “It just doesn’t matter.” And I said that’s it! That’s the line! Keep repeating that and fill it in with funny stuff. He came in the next morning with a few sheets of paper with dozens of lines and he would try them out.

For that scene, I shot it in a way that the cameras are capturing the real reactions of the kids. I just let them go. Those are natural reactions. The speech worked. Bill actually could do what his the character was doing.

We did two or three takes because Bill blew his voice out right away.

Jason’s First Movie

My son (director Jason Reitman) was on the set. He was six months old.

Meatballs is available now on Blu-ray.