Say Anything… – San Diego Union

Crowe up to task of directing own script on ‘Anything’

For all his experience as a reporter (Rolling Stone, Playboy) and screenwriter (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Wild Life”), Cameron Crowe admits he was “scared to death” when he was first approached to direct one of his own scripts.

“The thought of directing was pretty overwhelming,” said the 31-year-old Crowe. “Obviously, there is so much more to directing than writing. It’s basically a 24-hour job — a suicide mission.”

Because he realized the only way his words would still be his when they hit the screen was to involve himself in the entire filmmaking process, Crowe agreed to sit in the daunting director’s chair.

“Say Anything,” the result of Crowe’s first experience as a Hollywood hyphenate (writer-director), is an unlikely love story starring John Cusack, Ione Skye and John Mahoney. “Say Anything,” which opened last Friday, tells the story of 19-year-old Lloyd Dobler (Cusack), a non-comformist and eternal optimist whose dream in life is to be a kickboxer.

Then he meets Diane Court (Skye), a brilliant student who everyone — except Dobler — thinks is out of Dobler’s league . Diane’s father (Mahoney), thinks his daughter is too good for Lloyd and will eventually wound him. Yet Diane sees something in Lloyd, something singular, endearing.

Crowe calls the film “a love story for people who don’t say I love you.” The movie was inspired, he said, by a meeting he had four years ago with writer-producer-director James L. Brooks, who wrote and directed “Terms of Endearment,” “Broadcast News” and was partly responsible for a score of classic TV series, including “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Taxi.”

Brooks, “Say Anything’s” executive producer, recalls that first meeting: “We simply liked talking to each other. My life is very chaotic, and very often you have conversations that have to have a purpose, generally a business one, and I immediately felt that Cameron was a great guy to know.”

A short time after that meeting, as an outgrowth of Brooks’ firm belief that writers should have a real voice in the way their projects are made, he approached Crowe with an idea about doing a film that dealt with the dynamics of a father-daughter relationship.

Crowe found the idea of exploring such a relationship fascinating. “It was an odd subject for me, something I would never have even thought of, since I have such a great relationship with my family,” said Crowe, whose parents still live in San Diego, where Crowe grew up.

So, Crowe began interviewing young people who had had problem relationships with their parents, investigating it with much the same fervor he did the “Fast Times” piece, for which he actually returned to high school at age 22.

Brooks and Crowe began meeting several times a week, talking together and slowly building each of the characters. “I knew Cameron wanted to direct,” said Brooks, who spent time with Crowe on the project even during the most hectic days of filming “Broadcast News.” “One day I simply told him, ‘We either have to top you or you should direct the film yourself. At a certain point, all of us came to believe that we really couldn’t top him.

Crowe said it took him a while to adjust to being the man in charge. “So much of my work, when you think about it, satirizes authority figures,” he said. “I’ve been a rock ‘n’ roll journalist since I was 15 years old, and rock ‘n’ roll is about breaking down authority. And, suddenly, here I was, telling people where to stand and what to do. It was weird.”

Crowe said every day on the set of “Say Anything” was like “going to film school,” and having people such as Brooks and Cusack, who at 22 is a veteran of 13 films, helped greatly. “Particularly with John (Cusack) around, there was always this atmosphere of spirited collaboration,” Crowe said. “John’s an experienced and fine actor, and he knows exactly what he wants from a scene. We’d often have long, sometimes heated discussions about a scene, and about what he wanted to do with his character. We’d film it his way sometimes, and film it my way sometimes, and I think ultimately the product is better.”

Cusack, whose film roles include a succession of likable young men in such movies as “The Sure Thing, “Stand By Me,” “Better Off Dead” and “Eight Men Out,” has worked with such established Hollywood directors as Rob Reiner, John Sayles and John Hughes. But he said working with Crowe was “the best experience I’ve had as an actor. He (Crowe) gave me the freedom to explore the character, who isn’t a tunnel-visioned urban teen preoccupied with sex, school and his job. Lloyd is a great American character, an individualist who marches to the beat of his own drum. Cameron wrote a great script, and I’m very proud of this role.”

Crowe said he knew it was inevitable he would be asked if “Say Anything” is an extension of the characters in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” — his most identifiable work. “This film is not ‘Fast Times II,’ ” Crowe said, with a hint of justifiable defensiveness in his voice. “This is a love story, for one thing, and hasn’t the same tone as ‘Fast Times.’ The only connection I would hope there is between this movie and ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ other than the fact that both were written by me, and both deal with young people, is that each are hopefully free of any easy youth stereotypes. I’ve always tried to depict real people in real situations, from my work as as rock journalist to my work as a screenwriter. That is more important to me than anything, not to patronize or stereotype young people like so many films in the past have done.”

Courtesy of the San Diego Union – Jamie Reno – April 18, 1989