With friendly, ruddy features and whiffs of gray in his hair, Cameron Crowe certainly doesn't look like a teenage rock journalist any more, but he's still charged with as much ebullience as he probably had in 1973, when his new film, "Almost Famous," takes place. He zestfully flops down in a cushiony chair in a side room of the hotel suite and is already talking, because on the way into the room he overheard one of us mention his book-length interview with legendary director Billy Wilder.
"This is the movie Billy never made -- an autobiographical movie about his years as a journalist. I would have been the first guy in line to see that movie."
This makes a good jumping off point for questions:
|Q: So what did you learn from Billy Wilder?|
A: Anything I could! Anything I could I learned from Billy.
|Q: And Patrick Fugit must have learned a lot from you for this role. Were you nervous about having this whole thing hang on a 15-year-old kid who had never been in a movie?|
A: Yes! It was one of the many things I was in denial over. When we finished the movie, I sort of realized this is a big weight to put on a young guy's shoulders. I think we all sort of pretended he was as professional, if not more professional, than any of us and it would all be fine. It was only later, looking back, that I went, Whoa! That guy did two episodes of "Touched By An Angel" and that's it! But what he brings to it is just a real, pure, natural quality, and the wide eyes of a kid seeing a whole world he'd imagined, (now) in reality right in front of him.
|Q: How much grimier was being on the road with Led Zeppelin than what you portrayed in the movie? The movie was very sweet, but you must have really seen the ugly side of it too, right?|
A: Yeah, I sometimes saw the ugly side of it. But the funny thing is, everybody always goes to the TV-out-the-window side of rock -- instantly. Like foolishly instantly. Like a pack of wolves, journalists will always go to that. Show them a little sex, drug and rock 'n' roll, and they'll be like, "Yeah!! 'Behind the Music!' Yeah!" I think that's bulls**t. Nobody every loved a piece of music because they heard a TV went out a window around the time it was made. (Not) every band, every artist, every songwriter was involved in the furious pursuit of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Our movie isn't a white wash, but what it is about is loving music. "Behind the Music" turns everybody into Spinal Tap, and I didn't want to do that.
|Q: You wanted...?|
A: I just wanted the tour in this movie to be accurate in terms of what a band does when they see the spotlight coming their way. How do they behave? Do they dread it? Do they embrace it? What does it bring out personally in the guys in the band?
|Q: What did you listen to while you were writing "Almost Famous"?|
A: All the music that's in the movie and more. We did some homemade CDs -- there's about 25 volumes to them -- and I would just keep listening to these CD collections that were sort of made for the writing and the making of the movie. We played a lot of that stuff during takes and between takes (on the set).
|Q: You haven't made a movie in which the protagonist is north of 30, and all your movies have a rock 'n' roll sensibility. Do you envision making any films that don't come out of some...|
A: (Smiles)...youth or rock place? Well, I think we got it up to 35 on "Jerry Maguire" but you could say he behaved like an adolescent. Yeah, the next one is gonna be more adult-based. But this was my last chance to make this movie, and I'm really glad I did. I wouldn't have told you that in the middle of it, but having finished it, I'm starting to get a little perspective and I'm happy with it.
|Q: Why do you say this was your "last chance" to do this movie?|
A: (While) trying to get a director for "Say Anything," the last guy I went to (was) Lawrence Kasden ("The Accidental Tourist," "Mumford"). I spent the whole (meeting) with him talking about Lester Bangs (Crowe's mentor, played in the film by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and this rock 'n' roll movie I wanted to make. Kasden said, "That's the movie you should do, and by the way, you should direct this one too."
He called up and helped me get the job to direct "Say Anything." And after "Jerry Maguire," I heard from him again, and he said "What are you gonna do next?" I said (hesitantly), "Well, I'm thinking about a few things..." And he goes, "Get real, man!" He goes, "You're never gonna do that movie about Lester Bangs and the early days of rock if you don't do it now." You know when you somebody reads your mind and you get that pang? I'll never forget that day. And right about that time I started to realize that if I wrote more honestly about my own family, I might have a shot at telling a story that was about not just the band and not just the kid, but about music and how music affects people's lives.
|Q: How hard was it to edit this movie? I'd be willing to bet the first cut of this movie was five hours long.|
A: And you would win that bet!
|Q: So how difficult was it to pare that down?|
A: Very hard. It's funny, the one thing that didn't really happen in this movie was my mother and my sister getting back together -- and that happened about three weeks ago. Our family all got together for the first time in about 10 years, and I put in a tape of the long version of the movie -- 'cause it was the only (version) I had. It played for a few minutes and my sister's kid said "We wanna go swimming, mom!" The conversation turned to swimming, and before long nobody was watching the movie! These are the people the movie is about! So I realized a shorter version might be a little more riveting. I mean, if I can't get this audience, I'm doomed! So we boiled it down to a tighter version. The DVD is going to be longer. I think (one version on) the DVD is going to be two hours and 15 minutes.
|Q: What was the hardest scene to cut?|
A: Good question. It was the longer version of the kid talking Frances McDormand (who plays his mother) into letting him go on the road. He makes her listen to "Stairway to Heaven" in its entirety. (Laughs.) I always love the shot in "Goodfellas" where Scorsese follows Ray Liotta through the entire back of Copacabana, and they go forever. I was coming into this movie and I thought, I don't have a Copacabana shot, but I do have an eight-minute long scene where Frances McDormand has to listen to "Stairway to Heaven!" And she's incredible in it, and the kid says, "This song will change your life. It's made by blazing intellectuals..." and he makes her listen to it. But it stopped the movie because you're so ready for the kid to get out on the road. You don't have time to sit there and listen to "Stairway to Heaven."
|Q: You'll be putting that on the DVD, I suppose?|
A: Yeah. But you can't get rights to "Stairway to Heaven." So what (will happen) is the kid says, "This song will change your life," and Frances McDormand looks up at him and (the screen) freezes and we have lettering on the screen that says "Go get your copy of Led Zeppelin 4, cue up 'Stairway to Heaven' in 4, 3, 2, 1..." (Laughs hard.) So you at home can participate!
NEXT >> Patrick Fugit Q&A
Or on to.............
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