Elizabethtown Journals – May and June

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Posted by Greg on July 8, 2005 at 10:28 am
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Please enjoy Cameron’s Elizabethtown Journal entries for May and June.

May, 2004

Where did the time go? Orlando is already coming down the homestretch on his movie overseas, Kirsten is kicking at the stall, ready to go.

June 6, 2004

Tomorrow morning rehearsal begins. Man, this movie has been a tough one to get going, it’s true . . . but if the words of my now-retired legendary assistant Director Jerry Ziesmer are true – “The tough ones are the good ones” – then Elizabethtown has a shot at being blessed. (Zeismer worked on everything from Black Sunday to Jerry Maguire and Apocalypse Now – check out his book sometime, it’s the first and last word on the subject of assistant-directing.) It’s been a long road, between finding the right cast and the right crew, but we’re now almost there. The script happened quickly, my fastest one ever, over the summer of 2002. I was traveling on a bus with my wife Nancy, who was touring with her band Heart. I woke up one early morning as the bus was traveling through Kentucky, 30 miles past Lexington. I hadn’t seen these electric blue hillsides since traveling back there for my dad’s funeral in 1989, just after Say Anything… had been released. I dropped off the Heart tour, got a rental car, got lost in Kentucky, and wrote the whole story for the script in a burst. “The roads here are hopelessly and gloriously confusing,” became one of the first lines written for the story, and it came to characterize Claire Colburn – the soul of the movie in many ways – a flight attendant who knows the ins and outs of cities all over the country. She falls for a guy in turmoil, Drew Baylor, who has barely traveled at all. From that relationship, the love story of the movie grew. Together, they became travelers in the world, partners in exploration and love. Tomorrow, it all officially starts to come to life. Usually I’m nervous the day before rehearsals, tonight – strangely calm. I’ve got a lot of music picked out and I’m going to play it during a walk-through of all the set and location photos. Figure that’s a good way to get started. Music has always been the divining rod in everything I’ve ever done. This one more than ever. Using music in the auditions with Casting Director Gail Levin, I’ve even cast the actors who worked best with the Elizabethtown songs and score.

Gail is my secret weapon as a filmmaker. Besides being a great friend it is her eye for casting that is present in every frame of every movie I’ve made since Jerry Maguire. Throughout the long hours and tireless searches for the sometimes “uncastable” characters I’ve written into the script, Gail refuses to give up, with unmatched dedication, until every face and every actor is just right . . . whether they even speak in the movie, or not. Gail and I have a credit: “Let the drama come from the comedy.” We have a soft spot for comic actors (and sometimes even comedians, like the late Mitch Hedburg) who Gail will bring into the casting room and say, “I just love this person, they’re funny and they get your stuff.” It was Gail, in fact, who first said to me, “I want you to meet this girl, nobody knows her yet, but I think she’s going to be  a star . . . you need to meet her. She’s from Texas and her name is Renee Zellweger.” From Renee to Kate Hudson and Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous and many more, though many loudly take credit for successful casting decisions later, trust me, these actors would have never walked in the door if not for the fan-like dedication and careful eye of the woman who first spotted them, and that’s Gail Levin.

June 8, 2004 

I love the crew. Many of them have also hung in a while, and made themselves available to work on Elizabethtown in spite of offers from other movies. Some of them are repeaters from our previous movies, many are new. The art of keeping a crew together and committed throughout is sometimes a tough one. It’s like being the head of a family. Sometimes fights break out, tempers flair, people need an arbitrator.

I love this actor… and his shirt

The politics of running a family like this is very very different from the politics of writing a script. Writing is solitary. You sit alone in a room and fight only battles within yourself. I’m slowly but surely moving out of the writing room – into the wide open area of being a head of this family. Fun and complex.

June 21, 2004

Because we’re trying to make the movie on a smaller, super-charged schedule, almost every waking minute is spent in meetings and preparation. Consequently, I arrive at the airport in my new regular state – exhaustion. I run into John Toll, our esteemed cinematographer, almost immediately. Though he’s been working at the same pitch, he’s energized. He’s ready to go. A master of landscapes, whether it’s a range of mountains or a close-up of an actor’s face, Toll is crackling with anticipation. It’s our third movie together, but in my heart I know this is the one we’re both most suited to make together.

Orlando almost misses the plane. The airport is crowded, and the plane is overbooked and fans cause a stir. He doesn’t travel with an entourage, or a bodyguard, though this situation may have to change. Working recently in Spain, there had been near riots. They sneak him on anyway, just before the plane starts to taxi. We sit together and rehearse the whole way. Midway through, the stewardess approaches us to point out that a tour group has recognized him – they are clogging the aisles of the plane, holding cameras. Bloom smiles and waves to them. Privately, I worry about the many scenes we have on the streets of Kentucky.

We talk about The Apartment and the magic of Jack Lemmon’s performance. Orlando can already do a pretty mean Lemmon impression. A couple hours later, he’s watching the movie on DVD in the car where he’s being taken from Cincinnati airport. One of the tires blows out and the car narrowly misses colliding with a truck in the next lane.

Orlando stranded by the side of the road. He’s stranded by the side of the road for a half hour, with his dog, waiting for Nancy and me to pick him up. The driver changes the flat just as we arrive. Ever cheerful, psyched to be in the near-South for the first time, Bloom bounds back into his car and we caravan to the Kentucky hotel where we’re staying.

Walking the streets, entering the hotel and all over Kentucky, there would be no riots… no security problems… just a lot of supportive people who are glad we’re here. Bloom buckles down and begins the next phase of work. Like Dunst, he’s a hard worker, an uber-professional.

June 22, 2004

Orlando shows up for rehearsals, accompanied by his new dog Sidi. Orlando walks the streets virtually unrecognized here, and even wandered down the street and found a free concert by the Violent Femmes. (Gotta love a music lover.) The odd thing about Orlando is also this: he’s very famous as Legolas from Lord of the Rings. In other words, he’s a worldwide phenomenon as a long blond-haired archer. But with his natural dark hair, in t-shirt and casual pants, sans the archery accessories, he’s currently just a guy in Kentucky with a dog. Something tells me this might change.

Kirsten shows up and we begin rehearsals in the lobby of the Brown Hotel. We play a lot of music on this movie, even more than usual. What makes this one different is, I’ve always known that Elizabethtown was almost a musical, with a lot of space for the music to play. Music lovers or musicians always seem to fare the best in movies I’ve written or directed – don’t know how it turned out that way, but here we are, and the two leads come packing iPods filled with great stuff. Often our rehearsals start late because we’re playing songs for each other.

Kentucky is infectious too, and Dunst finds the same thing that Orlando does . . . the city of Louisville is not quite the South, not quite the North, not quite a huge city, and not quite a small town. It’s a young adult of a city, and you’ll feel its character in the movie. “I love it here,” is what I’m hearing from everybody. It’s a relief, because I’ve also been in the situation where everybody said this: “What’d you brings us all HERE for???”

Susan Sarandon shows up and everything kicks up a notch. We begin rehearsing in the hallways in our production office building and immediately there is a stir. Women and men of all ages appear from all floors of the building. Many approach her for autographs while she’s rehearsing. Such is the great reality of her style. It’s a blast to watch, and it’s also a mini-clinic for any would-be actor of real-life based material. Even as she deals with an autograph, while continuing her work in the scene, they don’t even know Sarandon’s acting.

The E-town train is definitely thundering down the tracks . . . onward we go.

Tonight, the night before Fairenheit 9/11 opens, a local theatre lets us see a preview. It’s a powerful perspective setting experience. Somber, we all go off in different directions with a lot to think about.

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  • Almost Famous- Showtime,Amazon
  • David Crosby- Starz
  • E-Town- Amazon
  • Fast Times- Starz
  • Jerry Maguire- Netflix
  • Say Anything...- Amazon,Starz
  • Singles- Vudu
  • Vanilla Sky- Netflix
  • We Bought A Zoo- Amazon