The Uncool Exclusive Interview with Cameron Crowe

Who the Hell is Ricky Fedora?

An exclusive site interview with Cameron Crowe

Early Years/Fast Times

Who did you always want to interview or write about at Rolling Stone, but never got the chance to?

Marvin Gaye.  And Keith Richards. But mostly Marvin Gaye.  He was underground, living in Belgium, and not speaking to anybody for most of my time at Rolling Stone. Finally he came back to town, and my roommate at the time, Neal Preston, was given the assignment to photograph him for People.  I gave Neal my time-honored first-edition of What’s Going On, and asked him to tell Marvin about me (and sign the album.)  He did it, and said Marvin was blown away at the rare edition of What’s Going On, which featured a bunch of photos of his family – stuff that had been deleted in the cheaper later editions.  He said Marvin went on a big search for a gold-spangled pen, and found it.  He then wrote a long dedication, and then got a copy of his new Midnight Love album, and wrote a long dedication on that album too.  Both end with this admonition – “Keep Gettin’ It On!  Marvin!”   Three weeks later, he was dead.   If I’m not mistaken, the copy of What’s Going On is one of the images as Tom Cruise falls from the building in Vanilla Sky.   It all comes around, particularly in that movie.

Did you have a falling out with Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone over the Fast Times book?

I wouldn’t call it a falling out.  He’s a really good friend. We’ve always had a great relationship. He understood that there was a crossroads at Rolling Stone for a lot of people. There were a lot of writers at Rolling Stone who struggled with the journey of “leaving home.”  Rolling Stone was a family, and many were never able to leave home smoothly. I remember being determined to be one who could, but of course it had a bit of turbulence.  David Obst was a publisher who used to work at Rolling Stone and split off to work on book packaging. He’s the one who called me up and said, ‘Do you want to write a book about high school?’ There was a backstory, I think, between Jann Wenner and David Obst where they had discussed a series of articles for Rolling Stone based on high school.  So I was never sure if the project would be a book for Obst, or a series of articles for Jann… or both.  I just loved the idea of writing about another kind of rock and roll – the kind that happens in the lives of real people.  Real teenagers.  And I did see something fascinating almost immediately – kids were becoming adults, burdened with financial and sexual responsibilities, years earlier than their parents ever had.  It was the great vanishing adolescence.  That was the beginning of Fast Times. These days the adolescence never ends.  You can barely find a forty year-old who doesn’t believe he’s 17.   Which in a way is the point of American Beauty.   But Fast Times wouldn’t have happened without Jann.  And I had come to the end of a long period of writing profiles, and the research and writing phases had begun to take longer and longer.   I remember taking a year on a Sissy Spacek story, where earlier I’d been able to bang out stories a lot more quickly

Yeah, some of those later articles you did for Rolling Stone were enormous (Sissy Spacek, Jack Ford, Richard Dreyfuss).

I was probably reaching for a way to dig deeper in those articles.  That’s when Jann Wenner gave me a copy of Slouching Toward Bethlehem, the Joan Didion book. He said, ‘This is the future of what you’re doing now if you can hook in to a more thoughtful, more soulful place’. I read one of her profiles on Jim Morrison and saw that it was about so much more than just Morrison.  People always called their articles “pieces,” and I thought that was a little bit pretentious, but then I read Didion – and those were pieces.  Her Morrison profile ended up being about a life in California, the weather, and existence. I thought, “I get it!” This is big picture stuff. The Jack Ford interview was an attempt to write some political stuff.  At the time, writers at Rolling Stone had their area of focus (music, films, politics). I really liked Joe Klein, who was a great writer at Rolling Stone. He was inspiring and encouraged me to write about other things too,  so I did.  Joe Klein went on to write Primary Colors, and also a new, truly great retrospective of the Clinton Administration called The Natural.   Looking back, I can’t believe the caliber of writers Wenner had assembled – from Hunter Thompson to P.J. O Rourke to Dave Marsh and Ben Fong-Torres and more.  And Joe Esterhaus was around too.  He had the most character-defining beard I’d ever seen.  He looked like a human logo of himself.

Why did the title change from Stairway to Heaven to Fast Times at Ridgemont High?

Titles have always been a tricky area for me.  I was adamant about Stairway to Heaven being the title. The whole school year was leading up to the Led Zeppelin concert and then Bonham died. The ripple effect that went through all these lives was everything that I wanted to write about. So to me in many ways, Stairway to Heaven is still the title.  If I remember correctly, the publisher was unshakable in the belief that the book would be confused with the movie Stairway to Heaven which was from the 40’s.  I would say, “But nobody who would read this book would ever remember a movie from the forties.”  And their response was – “Kids don’t buy books.”  I was sure that they would find their way to this book, no matter what their research said.  In the end, someone at Simon & Schuster came up with the title Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Originally I thought it was terrible, it boils down the metaphor of the book to a little bullet.  But the more I lived with it, the more I thought, it kinda works.   The book bounced around Simon & Schuster for a while.  There was a so-called genius editor there who thought it was complete crap, and the manuscript was rescued by an editor named Susie Bollotin.  She made sure the publisher’s daughter read the book.  She did – she was 16 – and said “Dad, you have to put this out.”  So it came out.

Did you meet Art Linson, who produced the movie, while doing your article on American Hot Wax for Rolling Stone?

No, I met Art writing about Nils Lofgren. He was Nils’ manager so we met back then. Art’s a really good writer and we speak all the time. He called me when Billy Wilder died and we had a great talk. Art’s the rare thing. When there were no guys in the movie business that had a rock soul, he was the one. He really got the book. He came down to San Diego and we walked around the mall and went to Bob’s. He said, ‘OK, I get the culture here, but I don’t ever want to eat at Bob’s again.’ He helped me a lot.  You can still see his rock soul on display in other movies he’s produced, like Fight Club.

Fast Times is going for outrageous prices on ebay, will we ever see it back in print?

I think so.  The rights reverted to me a while ago.  If I do re-publish it, I’d probably want to write a new introduction… but frankly, we never did a sequel and I’ve never re-published the book because I like the fact that Fast Times at Ridgemont High lives in its own era.  It’s sort of a dog-eared memory.  I like that.  I was reluctant to even do the enhanced DVD, but it was so much fun to sit down with Amy Heckerling again.  In a lot of ways, that book is probably the favorite thing I’ve written. It was the first time I’d fully shut the world out, and written something that wasn’t for an editor, or for anybody other than my friends and me.   I really related to Brad. The pain and awkwardness of sex, love and friendship. The goal was to write something that was as aching as that time of life was for me (and others), but also funny.   It was kind of a Holden Caulfield time.  My girlfriend had dumped me, and I went down to San Diego and fell in with a whole new crowd.  They were wonderful people.  I’m still in touch was a few of them.  When people say, ‘I got a beat up copy of that book, it’s really good’. It means a lot to me. For a long time, people didn’t even know the book existed or they would say, “Did you know some guy wrote a book from your movie?’ [laughs]

I know Amy Heckerling wasn’t nuts about the music, did you have any input on the soundtrack?

A lot, sometimes to Amy’s chagrin.  We talk about it on the DVD. It was basically a three way pow wow between myself, Amy and Irving Azoff.  Not to get too much into the business side of filmmaking, but the rocky road of Fast Times continued throughout the entire experience.  It was Irving Azoff (Fast Times producer) who actually taunted Universal into making the movie.  Universal had an option on the book and said, ‘we like the book, but it’s not really a movie, it a collection of vignettes. It’s certainly not Animal House.’  Which was true.  The book was written as a journal, not a treatment for a movie.  You needed a little vision to see what the movie would be.  It was Irving who said, ‘Good, let me buy it from you’. When Irving said that, Universal decided that it’s maybe something that they didn’t want to give up. Then they called Art Linson to see if he wanted to develop it.  And that’s how the movie started.  Art and I shaped the script, and then brought in Amy because of a short film she’d made called Getting it Over With.  She was funny, and loved music, and there was a lot of subversive delight in her view of the world.

Irving definitely had his bands. Bands that I loved and it was not quite Amy’s thing. Amy was more about the dawn of KROQ. She didn’t care much for the whole singer songwriter group of artists. She threw her hands up a little bit because she didn’t feel some of this stuff in her heart.  To her, heaven was Elvis Costello and hell was some long-haired balladeer singing about being an outlaw while living in a mansion in Bel-Air.  She had a point, though I loved the Eagles and Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell and also Elvis Costello.  Amy was really anxious to end the movie on Oingo Boingo’s “Goodbye Goodbye” which was a beautiful call. I really loved Jackson Browne’s song “Somebody’s Baby”.  To me, that was a California song about yearning.   I thought let’s try “Somebody’s Baby” on the part of the movie where Damone comes too soon. It worked.  This sunny song scoring the cocky guy’s utter pain of coming in a second.   I remember going to a Jackson Browne rehearsal after the movie came out and Jackson Browne said, ‘Hey, thanks a lot man, I didn’t know I’d written an anthem for premature ejaculation!”  I said, “Well, if you can help one person out there.“  (laughs)  I also really love Don Henley’s “Love Rules” and think it works just great. The music is really a reflection of the times. The only thing I would have wanted more of was Cheap Trick and Zeppelin.  And yes, we all knew that “Kashmir” was on Physical Graffiti.  There was a publishing problem that kept Zeppelin from being able to give us something from Led Zeppelin IV.  So we sort of happily took “Kashmir” and figured that The Rat just couldn’t get any of the advice quite right.  I remember sitting in an audience for the first time, seeing The Rat get up off that bed, not being able to follow-through with Stacey.  I’d never seen an audience erupt like that… it was like the entire audience had tried to get him laid, and when he chickened out, they felt betrayed!  It was a communal experience, girls and guys yelling at him, “Go back in there.”  I saw the movie on Times Square in New York once, there was hardly anybody there, but when The Rat left Stacey’s bedroom,  one guy stood up, this huge black guy, and bellowed, “PUSSY!”   (laughs)   It’s a rare and hilarious thing when an audience gets involved like that.

Say Anything…

It’s a great DVD, but I really wished they had left the three dots on after the title.

Yeah, what’s up with that? Put me down as wanting the dots back! That was another big title drama, you know, what to call that movie.   I miss the dots, the dots are what makes it for me.

Did you see the recent update on the site where the German DVD title translation was Teen Lover?

Yeah, it’s hilarious. That would be John Cusack’s very real nightmare from 1988, if the movie was called Teen Lover somewhere. I think in Denmark, the movie was called Everybody Loves Lloyd.   I love the fact that somebody in an office in Germany decided to call the movie Teen Lover.   I think, in the spirit of post cold-war cooperation, we should change the title of Das Boot to Underwater Lovers.  [laughs]

How much was actually filmed in Seattle?

Three days of mostly second unit shots. It was very valuable stuff, and set the visual tone of the movie. I love Tapeheads being on the marquee of the Guild 45th.

I still can’t find Stone Gossard’s (Pearl Jam bassist) cameo in the film?

You’re right, he’s not in the movie. I went back and looked again and I don’t know where that film is. She (Ione Skye) is reacting to Stone. He was great, very natural. Her reaction on the close up is her reacting to Stone.

Singles

Was Johnny Depp considered for Cliff Poncier (Matt Dillon’s role)?

No, Johnny Depp was considered for Campbell Scott’s role. He said to me that he wasn’t ready to say ‘I love you’ in a movie the way he would have to say it in Singles. But I thought Depp would be great for Singles.. Johnny Depp and Bridget Fonda. I wrote the part of Janet for Bridget Fonda but I really loved the idea of the two of them in the movie together because I thought they’d be a great couple. But Depp was reluctant and Bridget didn’t want to move from the part of Janet, even though it was smaller.  She knew I’d written it for her.  And Janet was the soul of the movie.  So Bridget stayed, and I drove down to San Diego and asked Campbell Scott to do the movie.  He was doing Hamlet at the Old Globe Theatre.

How did you get Tim Burton to do a cameo?

It happened because Tim was in the same building at Warner Bros. when we were putting the movie together. He was upstairs and we were downstairs. He was doing Batman and I went there and asked him to do the part. He said, ‘Hey I would love to come to Seattle and do it’. You’ve never seen a film crew more on their game when Tim Burton showed up to do his cameo. It’s like they were all auditioning for Batman 2 or Edward Scissorhands or whatever. He was great. He was down the hall when we were mixing Vanilla Sky, so we had a little reunion.

You mentioned that Jim True (Bailey) had always been shortchanged in the past and you wouldn’t let it happen, but it did! You’ve also mentioned no obligatory rubber scene, but there was one in the script. Lastly, there were all the additional scenes/romance with Janet and Bill Pullman’s character. Did you film all of this?

All of it got filmed. I really didn’t want to shortchange Jim True’s character, because I loved that character. Bailey was a real booster rocket, the one who looked after his friends and brought them all food from the restaurant where he worked.  But when we put the movie together, the flaw of the movie was that it was too episodic. Looking back, that’s the thing that I would love to change about it, to incorporate the story lines a little better. I know I’ve said it before, but when I saw Pulp Fiction it was like getting hit with a blinding freight train light coming right at you. That’s how you intertwine stories with real electricity. Hannah and Her Sisters was like that too. It was not to be with Singles. When we starting to show the movie there was a kind of exhaustion that happened in the audience in the third act, so Jim suffered the blade.

Are you exploring a new Singles DVD?

Yeah, Scott Martin [at Vinyl Films] has talked with Warner Bros about it. There’s certainly a lot of footage and great music/concert stuff. Now, particularly with the passing of Layne Staley, that really should be seen. Pure, peak, early Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.  And Chris Cornell actually recorded all those songs on the Cliff Poncier solo tape that is seen and talked about on the movie. That music is amazing. I hope Cornell puts that out sometime.  “Spoonman”, “Seasons” and a couple other now-classic Cornell songs began as titles that Jeff Ament came up with for Matt Dillon’s fictional “solo” tape.   It was a communal experience, a lot of band guys working with actors in the art department and behind the camera.

What scenes did you reshoot and why?

We redid the phone booth with Campbell Scott because it just didn’t have the right quality and I think there were a few other little pieces.

Jerry Maguire

Did Showtime/Sony consult you before adding Rod Tidwell’s Rebook commercial back into Jerry Maguire when it first aired on Showtime?

Yeah, there was a lawsuit that was about to happen. I was ready to go to court over the whole thing. I thought that was an important line not to cross, letting a shoe company dictate what stayed in or was cut from a movie. I liked the commercial, but for some reason, the emotion of the story and “Shelter From the Storm” just felt like the end of the movie. When we test screened it with the Reebok commercial at the end, people took the movie less seriously and it punctured your ability to take the movie to heart. Jerry Maguire turned out the most like I imagined it and the most like the script of any of the stuff I’ve done. But the one thing I didn’t count on was the cumulative emotion of the movie and I thought the Reebok ad was working against us. However, Reebok felt because they’d given us equipment and stuff like that, they were owed that fictional commercial for Tidwell.  But Tidwell had already found his success in the story, it was unnecessary… so it was cut.  I was really anxious to fight it, but in the end Sony settled the case rather than go to court.   Part of the compromise was to show it on Showtime, I believe, but I didn’t want it as part of the movie forever. Looking back it was a very blurry line, but I think it was worth fighting it as much as I could. The ultimate home for it is where it is now, as an extra on the DVD.

Did you film the Two-Headed Corn Snake and Karaoke Bar/Jerry Goes Home scenes?

No, I didn’t film the Two-Headed Corn Snake.  He died.  Loved that scene, though.

Almost Famous

OK, casting rumors. Natalie Portman for Penny Lane?

Yeah, somewhere there’s some fascinating audition footage of Brad Pitt as Russell Hammond and Natalie Portman as Penny Lane. That would have been a completely different movie.  One were Penny Lane would have been a kind of protected child and her naïveté was so important to all of them that they all protected her.  Russell would have been the guy to break that spell and mistreat her. That was a version that would have been completely different from the version we have.  Kind of a sadder Breakfast at Tiffany’s.   I’m not sure it would have been better, it just would have been different.   It would have been more of a fairy tale.  That’s one of the amazing things about the casting process because you get to see all these different versions of your movie. Kate Hudson was the Penny Lane who was completely fresh, but you believe she had a past, which was perfect for the movie I wanted to make.  That mix and match happens a lot and you have to make these huge casting decisions on the spur of the moment and they last forever. It’s funny, there are a million different versions of every movie floating around because the actors all come in and audition and work on the parts.  So you have many different alternate realities to choose from.  Hats off to Gail Levin, our casting director, who keeps us all on track.

Tobey Maguire for William Miller?

No, Tobey was a possibility for the manager who comes in. Scheduling was the culprit there, but I just loved what Jimmy Fallon did with it. I’d love to work with Tobey Maguire sometime.  My writing is sort of deceptively natural to read, but tricky to do with the right rhythm.   Tobey knows the rhythm.  So does Cusack, and Jason Lee, and a number of others.  Lili Taylor really hit it just right.  So when you find someone who knows how it’s done, you don’t forget.  Tobey’s one of those guys where you say, ‘You know it’s gonna happen, we just have to find the right place’.

Yeah, Jimmy Fallon was great. You could barely recognize him in that role.

I know. Jimmy did an interview with Mick Jagger in Interview Magazine after he’d already done the film. Mick Jagger never even knew that he was the guy in the movie who told the Mick Jagger joke!  Jimmy’s another one who knows that very particular rhythm.  By the way, so did Frances McDormand.

Was Badfinger music, album covers and references part of your initial thoughts for the film?

No, that one’s not true. Stillwater was always a bastard child of the Allman Bros. Band. All those Stillwater album covers are pretty much down the line references to the Allmans Bros, with exception of “Farrington Road”, which was our own creation.   A lot of the detail work in the movies comes from Andy Fischer, and Scott Martin, and Clay Griffith.  We’re all big detail fans, and sort of have to pull ourselves out of the details and back into the big picture from time-to-time.

When Penny Lane is driving William to the hotel to meet Stillwater, is thata reflection on the windshield of Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon?

Yeah, it’s a billboard they were passing. It’s really hard to redress Sunset Strip as the way it used to be. We tried something where we put up a fake billboard and tried to do it in miniature, but it really didn’t work out. So I went back to what the feeling was at the time where you were kinda being enveloped by huge versions of these album covers that you have at home. That’s what Sunset Blvd. was at the time. All your favorite album covers…HUGE! So you were kind of lost in a gargantuan museum of the music that you loved. So it boiled down to that reflection on the windshield. There were three others, but we didn’t have time. The others were Gregg Allman’s  “Laid Back”, Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away” and Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy”.   It’s also the way Fellini used the windshield in Roma… a character reflecting on the environment while covered in a reflection.

Any significance having Stillwater from Troy, Michigan?

Yeah, I went to Troy, Michigan with Lester Bangs. We went to see The Tubes together. This is part of the beautiful contradiction of Lester, who said, ‘Never make friends with the rock stars.’  Then I go to visit him and he tells me ‘My friends The Tubes are playing in Troy, Michigan.  Let’s go.’ He was big buddies with Bill Spooner from The Tubes. So I’ve always had this memory of Troy, Michigan being this secret rock bastion, with a Lester Bangs connection.  Plus, I had a big crush on Jaan Uhelszki’s (from Creem Magazine) little sister Joanne, who went with us to Troy.  I really liked her a lot.  We went for a walk, and somehow I ended up with her Driver’s License, and I still don’t know how I got it.  I think she already had a boyfriend, but gave me her Driver’s License as a consolation prize.   How this all amounts to a romantic connection with Troy, I’m not sure, but it’s definitely the birthplace of Stillwater.

When Penny enters the hotel room, she says, “Time to put the lampshade on.” What does need to be the one to do that?

She’s the life of the party.  The one who does something silly/memorable.  She’s expected to put on the lampshade.  She’s gonna be the one they talk about.   It’s her personality, and it’s her job.  Even if it means embarrassing herself, she knows her role is to be the center of attention.

My Back Pages, The Uncool, Something Real, Stillwater, Vanilla Sky, Untitled and Saving William’s Privates. Any other titles under consideration?

Those were the main ones. Song titles would come up from time to time. The Jackson Browne song “My Opening Farewell” should be on that list. For me it worked out fine, because the movie gets to live on with Untitled. The Uncool was the closest that any other title came.  For better or worse, I didn’t want to exploit Lester’s speech for the title.  I wanted his speech to be a surprise.   Almost Famous was an early title idea, and the name of Stillwater’s tour. It’s fine now; it can roll off my tongue without a shudder.  And The Uncool found it’s best home – as the name of this site.

Are you aware of the script Ricky Fedora?

No, what’s Ricky Fedora?

The roots of Almost Famous start with a script called Ricky Fedora, which was written for John Cusack and Parker Posey in the early nineties. They played two rock journalists who take an all night car ride to go from Ohio to New York City. Cusack was a former rock journalist on a book tour and Parker Posey is a writer from an Ohio rock publication who’s interviewing him. It’s Cusack’s last interview of the day, it’s happening at the airport before a red eye flight to New York. So Parker starts asking him about a guy he used to write about, Ricky Fedora, an English guy, kind of a Peter Frampton/Jimmy Page character.  Fedora is obviously a personal issue to Cusack. The flight gets cancelled. She offers to give him a ride to New York City and they talk all night long. On that car ride, Cusack tells the story of how he crossed the line as young journalist and became friends with this English rocker, Ricky Fedora. This is like a 180 page script. The only thing that survives is the idea of a young journalist and the ‘I’m gay’ plane scene. Everything else is really based a lot on Led Zeppelin and Peter Frampton.

There was one character I’d written for David Bowie .  He was based on Derek Taylor, who was the publicist for the Beatles. When I first started writing for Rolling Stone, I met the great Derek Taylor. And the thing they said about Derek Taylor was ‘Don’t ask him about the Beatles’. ‘If he wants to talk to you about the Beatles, then he’ll talk to you about the Beatles, but don’t ask him about it.’ So this was, I thought, the best character in that script. Russell De May, the publicist, which would have been played by Bowie, gets brought on to handle the band Fedora. There was this wonderful thing where he takes them across the river and teaches them what it is to be in the business of rock. How they have to pull their shit together if they’re ever gonna survive, but he never talks about the Beatles. Then as they’re coming into New York to play Carnegie Hall, the band is in the back of the limo and they’re scared shitless. And Bowie’s character knows that he has to rescue them emotionally, so he starts telling them about the Beatles. So they start asking him questions about the Beatles.  It was my favorite thing. It was very personal and very English. It had a lot of sex and drugs, but this guy Fedora was an artist trying to negotiate his way through all the distractions and temptations, but he was weak. And he knew he couldn’t say no. So he says yes to everything and it destroys him in the end. The movie ended with Cusack and Posey arriving too late for the event that he had to get to New York for. But they go to the apartment where Fedora once lived. Now there’s a whole other life happening in the apartment. So the movie ends with the two of them in this apartment reflecting on their all night story, that they’ve shared about Ricky Fedora.  And all that’s left is the feeling in the air of that apartment, where someone new with very little knowledge of Fedora now lived.

This script was really, really personal to me, but it was unwieldy. Austin Powers had come out. Those CD Now commercials with the British roadie were also on the air. I remember saying to Nancy [Wilson] one night that they’re not gonna take it seriously because the British rock star thing had been overdone and its now stereotypical. So as heartfelt as the movie was, to truly write about the era, I reached the point where I felt I had to write about my own family and an American band. So that was the beginning of Almost Famous.

Ricky Fedora was owned by Fox. Whenever there’s a contract, it lives forever, except for this one instance.  To make Almost Famous, Fox had to give me back Ricky Fedora which was on their shelf. They actually gave it back to me free of charge. Bill Mechanic, the Fox president at the time, said, ‘I believe in our relationship and I’m gonna give your script back and we’ll work together on something else one day’. So Bill Mechanic was the unsung man in terms of getting Almost Famous made.  I think it’s important to remember how things happen, especially if someone goes out on a limb for something or someone they believe in.   The world is full of studio horror stories.  This one was actually the opposite.  On Bill’s last day as the president of Fox, he came to the mixing stage (which was ironically at Fox) and saw a few reels of Almost Famous and everyone on the sound mixing crew gave him a standing ovation and he got in his car and left the lot. I’m not sure if he’s been back since.

Vanilla Sky

What was the third Radiohead tune that you wanted to include, but the band wanted to preserve solely for its own releases?

“True Love Waits” which was on their recent Live EP. They didn’t want to give that up.

Will Nancy’s score ever see the light of day?

We gotta do that. Her bootleg versions of her score get used in temp tracks all the time.  I’m always running into people who sort of openly say, “I ripped off Nancy Wilson in my score for…”  And they say this like it’s a compliment to her, which in a way it is… until we release her music and she gets full credit for what she does.  Her stuff is the connective tissue for my films.

Were you happy with the marketing campaign in the U.S.?

I know marketing just well enough to know how destructive a knack for marketing could be.   Usually my stuff confounds marketing departments, and they age rapidly trying to come up with one-sheets and trailers.   I was happy with Vanilla Sky’s trailers, and one-sheet, though it’s a thin line… you want to say that the movie is a unconventional mystery, but in a way, that’s the hardest thing to say of all without sounding pretentious.  So we all worked together to find a way to say – this movie is a head-trip.  Which it was.  I always take it as a badge of honor that my stuff is hard to market.  The one time a studio said, “We love it, we know exactly what to do”… it was The Wild Life.  [laughs]

Did KD Lang and Mike McCready work on the Vanilla Sky soundtrack?

McCready worked with Nancy on the score, played some blazing guitar.  KD Lang was in the next studio, and I think they posed for a picture together.   McCready was also the man who played Russell Hammond’s solos for Almost Famous.

In the sequence where David is making love to Sofia and she transforms into Julia. We hear Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends”. After we hear the chorus, the very next lyric is, “We awoke from our dream/Things are not always what they seem” but the soundtrack cuts off abruptly before we can hear that particular line. Was it cut at that point to suggest that David continues to not awake from his dream?

Yeah, that’s true. Another interesting voice that’s inside the sound mix in that section is Brian Wilson. I’ve got a bootleg of Brian Wilson recording “Good Vibrations” and he’s at peak, all cylinders firing, a frustrated and hungry fractured-genius. A call comes in that Al Jardine has died in a car accident, but it turns out not to be true. In the middle of this Brian has a moment where he says, ‘What’s happening man, what’s happening?’  We sampled his voice and slipped it in there.  That section of the movie is a pop-culture collision of loved ones, music, agony and romance.  And in there is Brian Wilson’s voice.  There’s also a very very very  rare song hidden in the sequence that no one’s found.  Can’t give you any hints on that one, but if you find it… you’ve found the Holy Grail.

Would you ever do an extensive world press tour like that again?

Probably not. The “Hitting it Hard” featurette on the DVD is really just a trailer for the longer version. I really do hope we go back and put that together at some time. It’s meant to be a kind of Don’t Look Back.  You need the length of time to really show the ups-and-downs.  Spain was the highlight, and it was the last day of the tour.  I loved the Spanish film community.  I want to go back.  The first night we arrived, I went back to the hotel and wrote all night.  I was inspired.  One of the directors there told me, “My new film has a twenty-eight word title and I’m not changing a word!” (laughs)   We talked about Billy Wilder for hours.  A lot of the directors and actors there had read the book.  Plus, I sang a duet with Pedro Almodovar, which is on film somewhere.  I think we sing “Controversy,” the Prince song.   There’s a little taste of it on the DVD.  Not the song, mercifully, but the evening.

Could we see another Vanilla Sky DVD in the future with the longer version of “Hitting it Hard” and the deleted shoot out sequence?

Yeah, I hope so. The DVD had to be turned around so fast. I’d love to get some of the Kurt Russell stuff that wasn’t used out there. I’d love to get Kurt on an audio commentary track and of course John Toll. John and I have a great collaboration that I would love to share on the DVD.   We are very different personalities, and I think the mix works because of that.  I read somewhere that “Crowe just works with the actors, and Toll does the visuals.”  In reality, we both work on both, and John Toll doggedly works with me to get to the heart of the story we’re telling.   I rip images out of magazines and photo books for years in preparation for the visuals, plus I know the music that I will use and John and I plot the visual style meticulously.  One of his greatest achievements, I think, was Almost Famous, in which he turned hotel rooms and buses into emotional landscapes.  For me, that flare on the lens before the band boards the bus for the “Tiny Dancer” sequence, is everything that my collaboration with John is about.  We wanted to catch the era, watched a zillion movies, and shot in the carefree style of a pseudo-documentary – it was all there in that flare.  Toll is the rarest thing. He is a master with a young man’s energy and joy of filmmaking. The true masters are like that. Haxell Wexler is like that. Conrad Hall is like that. I hope that our collaboration will continue.

Other Stuff/Rumors

What about you directing Shockproof Sydney Skate, based on the novel by Marijane Meaker, for Fox 2000.

That was a killer script by Steve Kloves, a very talented writer and director.   It had a powerful mother-son relationship that I had a lot of interest in, but after Almost Famous, it felt like it was a little too soon to tell another mother-son story.   I hope that either Kloves directs it, or it comes back to me later.

How about Empire Magazine’s 1997 rumor of a Some Like It Hot remake with you directing Tom Cruise and Jim Carrey?

Not true, I’ve never heard that rumor before.

The Seattle Times reported that country group Brooks and Dunn featured guitarist and songwriter Charlie Crowe, brother of Seattle filmmaker Cameron Crowe in concert. Is Charlie your brother?

No, he’s my cousin from Kentucky.  A great guy, great player.  He used to have a band in Kentucky called Charlie’s Garage.  He and Nancy have guitar-speak together.

Regarding your involvement on the Home Grown LP, Ron Jacobs said “And this kid who came down to the station to complain about the project wound up writing the liner notes, and it was a guy named Cameron Crowe.

I went to KGB – then the big rock station in San Diego — to complain because they announced they were gonna change dramatically and become cutting-edge radio for a new generation. Then the big unveiling day arrived and it was the same music, etc. So I went down to the station and met this red headed, bearded, freaky, cool guy who had invented Los Angeles AM top-thirty radio – Boss Radio was what it was called — and I ended up writing the liner notes.  Jacobs is sort of the Phil Spector of early rock radio.   He actually took some of our notes and incorporated them into the programming of KGB back then.

I heard you might be adapting Ethan Canin’s short story “The Year of Getting to Know Us”, about a middle aged man coming to terms with the death of his father?

I still might. Canin is one of my favorite writers.  I also love Garrison Keiller.  To anybody reading this, check ‘em out.

Why is 1.85:1 your preferred ratio?

It’s always seemed right for the movies I’ve written. Almost went 2.35:1 on Jerry Maguire, but decided to keep it basic. I ended up going the Billy Wilder route and kept it basic, let’s just tell the story. The whole experience with Wilder is a life experience that I was really lucky to have had. I’ve always had his voice in my head about camera movement, how motivated is it, how much is it telling your story. How much is the screen supporting the story you want to tell. Vanilla Sky is probably the most creative visually, but that was story-motivated. The intention of Vanilla Sky was to sort of feel like you’re downloading a guy’s brain, you’re inside his mind. It’s kind of a personal spectacle and we tried to keep to that visually. The  visual experience will have an affect on my next film, for sure.  Already has.   But my background has always been story and character, and as Wilder himself said – “the camera that tracks behind the fireplace to shoot the main characters… whose point of view is this?  Santa Claus??” [laughs]. The Royal Tenenbaums, a movie I loved, is a great example of creative camerawork and creative story-telling, all working together.

Have you read the book about Jeff Buckley called Dream Brother? Many people have written the site to say it’s a fascinating account of his late life.  The music is there.  The drama is definitely there.  The irony, comedy, etc, is all there, suggesting a possible movie.

No, I haven’t. Where can I find a copy???

What about your use of Todd Rundgren’s music in your films. You must be a big fan?

Yeah, I’ve been trying to put Todd’s music in a movie forever. It’s so funny, I’ve always loved his writing, but his music is so cinematic on its own that it sometimes fights or towers over what you’re seeing visually.   I was glad to finally get “Can We Still Be Friends” into a movie.  My sister-in-law toured with him recently, and Nancy went to one of the shows.  She told Todd that I always struggle to work his music into the movie.  He said something like, “Ah yes, the obligatory romantic Todd moment.”  And Nancy said she was laughing inside, because she’d just seen the entire murder sequence set to “Can We Still Be Friends” and didn’t tell him about it.

I hear you have a cameo in a big summer blockbuster?

Yeah, I can’t believe its still in the film. After Spielberg’s cameo in Vanilla Sky, he said ‘Now you have to return the favor.’  I’m a very bad actor, but they called me to come down on the set of Minority Report and the put me on the subway. Behind me is Cameron Diaz, though she’s sort of obscured.  Tom Cruise and Cameron both gave me acting tips. which I forgot instantly. Spielberg did a couple of little rehearsals. I’m supposed to recognize Cruise’s character from a moving-image in a USA Today from the future.  So Spielberg says “Action” and I look up over this blank newspaper that will be filled up with special effect images later and Cruise is giving me this look that is so vicious and brutal and hateful… I instantly just kind of looked away and Spielberg goes, “OK, moving on, we’ve got it!’ [Laughs]   I just saw the movie yesterday.  It’s one of Spielberg’s very best.  Not even my performance could hold him back.

Lastly, what can you tell me about your next project?

Just that I love characters, and I love getting lost in the lives of people on screen.  The goal of the next movie is to do this… the lights go down, two hours later you’ve met eight new people and you’ve really come to know them.  The lights come up,  and you feel sorry to leave them behind. One of the great things in life are those situations where you were gonna stay home, but you decide to go out and do something.  You go to a party, or wherever, and end up hooking into a whole new crowd. You glimpse out of the little box you live in and you just see life a little more clearly.  Everything becomes new again.  And you miss those new people in your life.  That’s what the next movie is about, meeting a new crowd of people.  Can I possibly be any more vague?   I’ll finish the script in the next couple weeks, and hopefully we’ll get going soon.

Thanks for you time Cameron, I really appreciate it. Any final thoughts?

Yeah, I love this site.  Particularly all the journalism, some of it even I’d forgotten about.  I can’t believe you even have Circular. Thanks to everybody for checking out the DVDs, and coming out to support Vanilla Sky.   We’ll be back soon with the new movie, and until then, in the words of Jack Lord… be there, Aloha.

© 2002 The Uncool – Greg Mariotti – June 7, 2002