Almost Famous – Creative Screenwriting


Untitled Cameron Crowe Article

“I went home to San Diego for a wedding recently. I stood in the doorway of my old room. It’s about the size of a closet and while I was growing up the walls bulged with albums on both sides. Somewhere in between, breathing a small sliver of air, I did most of my  writing for Rolling Stone. In many ways, I grew up on the Rolling Stone beat. I lost my virginity, fell in love, interviewed my heroes, went home.”

– Cameron Crowe, Rolling Stone, October 15, 1992

It was once said of Martin Scorsese, “He wants to make big personal movies-the best actors he can get, the biggest audience he can get, to make the smallest films he can make.”[1]  The same could be applied to Cameron Crowe, who’s just as well-known for making big-budget personal films with a lot of heart. As Crowe himself once said, “Making a big Hollywood film that really affects people is as hard as making a small movie on a credit card.”[2]

Cameron Crowe was born in 1957. He skipped three grades and graduated high school at 15. It was during his fifteenth year that Crowe was first introduced to Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong Torres backstage at a concert. It was very dark and Torres couldn’t see how young Crowe was. Crowe’s first assignment for the magazine was writing about the band Poco; the story made the cover of Rolling Stone.

Crowe was mentored by Lester Bangs, a legendary writer who raised rock criticism to an art-form. Crowe first met Bangs in 1973 when he visited radio station KPRI-FM in San Diego. Crowe was watching Bangs being interviewed through the station’s glass plate window while he was listening to the interview from his transistor radio across the street.

They later met for lunch, a scene lovingly recreated in Crowe’s film, Almost Famous. As Crowe was about to embark on his writing career, Bangs gave him a strong warning. “Don’t be one of these guys that goes to all the parties, eats all the free food, and drinks the free drinks,” he said. “They can corrupt you!”[3]

In Almost Famous, there are several scenes where Bangs is giving advice to William Miller, Crowe’s surrogate character for himself. They reach out to each other in late night phone calls; Miller needing advice on the issues he’s dealing with as a writer, Bangs needing a friend. Both Bangs and Miller are outsiders, and they eventually take comfort in that fact. “We are uncool!,” Bangs tells him in the film. “And while women will always be a problem for guys like us, most of the great art in the world is about that very problem. Good-looking people have no spine! Their art never lasts! They get the girls, but we’re smarter.”[4]  Miller tells Bangs he’s glad he’s home to listen to his problems and Bangs tells him, “I’m always home! I’m uncool!”[5] (Bangs died in 1982 at the age of 32 of an overdose).

Crowe was excited to be writing about rock and roll when most kids his age where only dreaming of being onstage, and his youth gave his writing a unique perspective. “I felt like I was a fan who had somehow found a front-row seat,” he recalled. “In many ways, I’d felt like I’d snuck in so I wanted to be true to the other fans and give them an experience I felt I was having.” [6]

Crowe’s style was to lay back, be a fly on the wall, blend in with the woodwork and write about what he saw. Artists took a liking to him, especially musicians who looked at journalists as one step below vermin. As Peter Frampton put it, Crowe was a true fan writing about the music, “He never came across as one of them.”[7]

Crowe truly had a knack for getting difficult artists to open up and talk to him. It took Crowe seven years to get Joni Mitchell to grant him an interview, but he never gave up and eventually got her to talk. Neil Young hadn’t granted an interview in five years when he spoke to Crowe. Their talk went so well, Crowe ran out of tapes. Young gave him tapes he had with alternate versions of songs he was recording so they could continue the interview. “So I have these tapes that have the names of songs on them, but it’s just him and me talking,” recalled Crowe.[8] Led Zeppelin hated the press so much, their bassist John Paul Jones once wore a “Rock Against Journalism” button to a press conference, but they agreed to speak to Cameron.

Crowe was very close to his subjects, which brought him criticism from other writers who thought he was not being objective by being friendly. To Crowe’s credit, he didn’t come off as a butt-smoocher in his stories. He genuinely admired the work of the people he wrote about.

And with his friendly approach came more openness and candor from the musicians he profiled.

Crowe interviewed Jackson Browne for Rolling Stone in 1975, which proved to be very revealing story. Browne was so comfortable talking to Crowe, eventually his image as a sensitive, white-bread songwriter began to unravel. Browne recalled the first acid trips he went on in his youth. Eating breakfast at a friend’s house, “I was just about to rub my eggs in my face because I was having a very sexual life-energy emotional trip with my food,”[9]  he said.

He also recalled a magical summer in 1968 when he enjoyed the company of groupies in L.A. “These beautiful chicks from Peter Tork’s house, they kept coming over with these big bowls of fruit and dope and shit,” he said. “They’d fuck us in the pool.”[10]

During one tour, he remembered “this one chick who was fucking brainless. We had to tell her what a douche was. “Janis, would you please tell her what a douche bag is? Please hurry, because…it’s getting bad.” You know, she’d fuck like four of us without douching and a week later man… [11]

“I can’t deny that I’m from Southern California and I dig going to get a beer,” Browne confessed. “I wanna get high, I wanna enjoy it. I don’t want to pretend I’m a spaceman, fuck that shit.”[12]  But when the story came out, Browne regretted being so candid and was extremely upset with Crowe. Crowe was caught in the dilemma of being friendly with an artist, and painting an accurate portrait of him. “That Jackson Browne piece is, in some way, at the heart of (Almost Famous),” he said. “I was hurt that he felt victimized, and yet I felt like I really captured an artist that I cared about capturing.”[13]

The Eagles were just as candid with Crowe, but in a different way. With the music business fast becoming more corporate, the band was very honest with Cameron about the trappings of success.

“It’s not just a high school game anymore,” said drummer Don Henley. “It’s a fucking business. And it’s fucking hard. I’m sure nine-to-five is just as trying, but their one advantage is that they can leave it at the office. This is a 24-hour-a-day trip. It’s like cramming 60 years into 28. I don’t know, at least we’re doing what we want to be doing.”[14]  Said guitarist Glen Frey, “We went on the road, got crazy, got high, had girls, played music and made money. If you don’t watch it, that can become your whole life.”[15]

But where many musicians falsely painted themselves as paragons of integrity who rejected worldly goods, the Eagles freely admitted to Crowe the money wasn’t a bad thing. “Money was a much saner goal than adoration,” said Henley. “They’ll both drive you crazy but if I’m gonna blow my brains out for five years, I want something to show for it.” [16] With all the great material the Eagles gave Crowe, there was only one rule laid down by Frey. “Just make us look cool,” he said.[17]

By the time Crowe was 21, he reached a crucial point in his life. He was burned out working at Rolling Stone. “I was no longer the youngest, prettiest girl on the block,” he recalled. “And it scared the shit out of me. It was like, “I’m Britney, so why did they give Christina that part?”[18]

One night, he came home to his mother Alice, depressed and dejected. “My girlfriend just dumped me,” he told her. “She’s with another guy and I’ve left Rolling Stone and it’s all over. I’m a has-been.” His mother told him, “Cameron, you’re only 21. How can you be a has-been?”[19]

Crowe then found a way to reinvent himself. At Rolling Stone, he wrote stories for “the kids.” Now he wanted to write about “the kids” and capture what being a teenager was really all about. There was also a hidden agenda at work. “I never had a senior year, and this was a chance to go back and do all those things I never had a chance to do,” he said. “The truth is, I wanted to go to the prom.”[20]

Crowe went to see the principal of Ridgemont High, William Gray, and told him he wanted to spend a year at the school undercover and write about it. Gray wasn’t so sure he was willing to allow Crowe to do this. To prove he had credentials, Crowe told him he had interviewed a number of people for magazine profiles. He rattled off a few names and mentioned he’d recently written about Kris Kristofferson. That got Gray’s attention.

“You know Kris Kristofferson?”

“Sure. I spent a few weeks on tour with him.”

“Hell, what’s he like?

“A great guy.”

“Well now, I think I can trust you. Maybe this can work out.”[21]

From September 1979 to June 1980, Crowe attended Ridgemont High under the name Dave Cameron. Only the principal and the teachers knew who he really was. Crowe spent a lot of time hanging out with his classmates, eating fast food and cruising after school. Whenever he saw or experienced anything interesting worth reporting, he’d run to the bathroom to jot down notes or talk into a micro-cassette recorder when he was alone.[22]

After the school year was over, Crowe revealed who he was to the people he was going to write about. They were surprisingly eager to cooperate and be interviewed further (Crowe changed everyone’s names but the people and events in the book stayed true). Crowe’s rock and roll connections helped his gain the trust of his classmates. One said to him, “Now that I’ve told you everything, you tell me something. What are the Who really like?”[23]

Universal had bought the rights to Crowe’s book, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, before it was published by Simon and Schuster in 1981. Crowe was hired on to write the film as well. “I basically went straight from the last draft of the book right into the first draft of the screenplay,” he said. [24]

The film was directed by Amy Heckerling and featured many stars in breakthrough roles including Anthony Edwards, Eric Stoltz and Nicholas Cage. It also featured a classic performance from Sean Penn as the endearing stoner bud, Jeff Spicoli. Being a method actor, Penn lived the role. Even off the set he would only answer to “Spicoli,” “Jeff,” or “dude.”[25]

At a time when teenagers in the San Fernando Valley was gaining national prominence, Fast Times was a slice of life that loudly rang true. All the characters were people you went to school with: Jeff Spicoli, the endearing stoner bud; Brad Hamilton, the big man on campus who thinks he’s got it all together; Damone, the guy who constantly bragged of his expertise with the ladies and in reality knew next to nothing about women; Mark Ratner, the nice guy who always finished last and Stacy, the good girl who always wanted Ratner in her heart but ends up getting heartbroken by Damone instead. With the popularity of Fast Times, “dude” became the all-purpose noun, pronoun, verb and adjective in teenage vocabulary.

Universal had little faith in Fast Times. They refused to book the film during the summer, instead putting much of their promotional money behind The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which turned out to be a huge flop. Fast Times opened to limited release in two hundred theaters with little advertising in August 1982. There were lines around the block opening day, and the studio couldn’t believe they had a potential hit on their hands. In a panic, they rushed the film into wide distribution, already reeling over the fact they missed the summer season. The film was indeed a hit, grossing $27 million at the box office.[26]

Reviews for the film were very mixed. One critic called it “a plotless film degrading to teens,” and said it made “Porky’s look like Ingmar Bergman.”[27]  But the critics who got it, really got it. As New York Magazine critic David Denby noted, “From the ads, you might get the impression that Fast Times at Ridgemont High is another raucously blue, beer and party celebration of raunchy teens, like the repulsive big success Porky’s, but it’s actually very sweet – a fresh, funny exploration of adolescent anxieties and confusion.”[28]  In a retrospective on the film for Entertainment Weekly, Glenn Kenny wrote that Fast Times was ‘Funny, moving, compassionate, and smart. It struck a chord both with teen audiences tired of being pandered to and adults who could handle its frank, nonjudgmental observations.”[29]

After Fast Times, Crowe wrote The Wild Life, which was released by Universal in 1984. The film was an unfunny attempt to recapture the humor and magic of Fast Times and was a huge bomb. Crowe was saved from writing the chronicles of dudes for the rest of his career by James L. Brooks, who like Bangs, also became a mentor. “I owe a lot to him, because, no offense, I was headed towards Encino Man,” said Crowe.[30]

Brooks met Crowe when he was researching the film Broadcast News, interviewing journalists. They hit it off and Brooks encouraged Crowe to direct his next screenplay, Say Anything. The film was a tender and sweet love story that many unfairly lumped into the “teen movie” category. The film wasn’t a hit when it was released in 1989, but it later developed a cult following.

The studio didn’t quite know what kind of movie they had or how to market it, a problem Crowe’s had with all of his films. As he put it, “I can look back at the movies I’ve written and there’s always that point where the studio executives say, “Well, it is what it is, it’s a story about real people.” And they’re always so fucking disappointed about it until it comes out and then people say, “Wow! It’s about real people!” [31]

At this point, Crowe claimed he was ready to stop writing about teenage life and grow up. He swore, “This is the last film that I’m going to write where anyone wears a cap and gown.”[32]

His next film, Singles, was a project he first began writing in 1984.

Crowe was now living in Seattle, where Singles took place, and found himself more comfortable working there than in L.A. He told Premiere, “Living in L.A. is like trying to create under a very intense spotlight, and everywhere you go, you’re judged, you’re constantly reminded of what your status is, and if you’re sensitive at all, you feel the pain of not being where you want to be, or the pressure of being where you want to be. It’s like a high school environment-how popular you are.”[33]

After following three-act structure with Say Anything, Crowe wrote Singles in a non-linear way because he wanted to structure the film like an album. In Seattle, there was a vibrant new music scene just bubbling under the surface and Crowe dove into it headfirst. He spent a lot of time hanging out with the members of Pearl Jam and many Seattle bands such as Alice In Chains granted their music for the film’s soundtrack.

When Crowe finished Singles, Warner Brothers was not impressed with it and postponed the release date at least five times. Tired of waiting for the film to come out, Epic released the soundtrack to Singles, which quickly sold 700,000 copies.[34]   With the Seattle music scene beginning to take off, Warner Brothers finally saw a way to market the film. Crowe wasn’t happy about seeing the music he loved being exploited, but he realized “the hometown music that helped inspire the script is now our best ally in getting the movie released.”     The studio even forced Pearl Jam to promote the film on MTV or else they threatened not to release it.  Crowe had to beg the band to help him, which was extremely painful and embarrassing for him to do. [35]

Singles turned out to be a flop and Crowe was crushed.  He took some time off to study other directors so he could “get the visual stuff better.”[36]  He went through “a zillion videotapes,”[37]  pigging out on the work of Francois Truffaut, Howard Hawks and of course, Billy Wilder. Crowe’s next film, Jerry Maguire, was about a sports agent coming to terms with failure and eventually rising above it. In all likelihood, writing this film could have been Crowe’s way of dealing with the failure of Singles.

Even with Tom Cruise in the lead, Sony was nervous about the picture. The studio was terrified they were making the “Cruise art-house film.”[38]  Test screenings, often the bane of unique and quirky films, didn’t alleviate Sony’s anxiety. The Sony brass griped the audiences couldn’t figure out what kind of movie they were watching.[39]  As with every Cameron Crowe film, the studio seriously under-estimated Maguire, not realizing they were sitting on a gold-mine.

Jerry Maguire would turn out to be Crowe’s biggest success. It made $154 million domestically, $275 million worldwide and was nominated for Best Picture.[40]  An amusing byproduct of the film’s success was the popularity of the phrase “Show me the money!,” which is now in the one-liner hall of fame.

Following the Billy Wilder formula, Crowe achieved what he always wanted, a personal film that could be a box-office smash. “One of the gifts of (Jerry Maguire) was to find a situation where you can work in the mainstream and still be somewhat subversive,” he said. “There doesn’t have to be this big gulf between the jewel of a small movie and the big-time vehicle movie.”[41]

There were several instances of life imitating art with Maguire. Some agents who saw the film thought it was too close to home and told Crowe they felt tremendous guilt about their careers, just as Tom Cruise did in the film. And just as Jerry Maguire rose from the ashes of failure and tasted success again, so did Crowe. Now how was he going to follow it up?

At one point, Crowe was going to make the bio-pic of producer Phil Spector with Tom Cruise in the lead. The eccentric life of Spector would have taken Crowe to some very dark corners and it clearly would have been a big departure from his previous films.

With the success of Maguire, Crowe knew he had a “credit line”[42]  to make one really personal film. Crowe had wanted to make a film about his adventures in rock and roll, but it was too personal a project to tackle and he kept procrastinating. Making a great rock and roll movie for Crowe was like Steven Spielberg facing the challenge of directing Schindler’s List. They were movies both men had to make, but it took them years to finally face them head on.

Crowe was scared to put himself on the screen completely naked. His friend Danny Bramson told him, “Every bad review will be like a dagger in your heart.”[43]   Said DreamWorks executive Laurie MacDonald, “There’s no professional armor on Cameron. That’s why his movies are so beautiful, because he gets to emotions that you rarely see on film.”[44]

Crowe spent over a year procrastinating in a way most writers would love to. Who wouldn’t want to spend a year interviewing Billy Wilder? Wilder was another press-shy idol of Crowe that he got to open up and talk. Wilder turned out to be surprisingly modest about his legendary status, and never wanted to be looked up to as a role model. “I hate to run into kids who expect that there are going to be pearls coming out of my mouth every time I open it,” said Wilder.[45]

Crowe admired Wilder as a director because he could make idiosyncratic films that were loved and respected. Nor did his work call attention to itself. “(Wilder’s) direction was invisible, but it was so powerful,” said Crowe.[46]  The resulting book, “Conversations With Wilder,” was a best-seller and received rave reviews.

Crowe had kept in touch with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan over the years and often told him about one day making his rock and roll movie. Crowe kept putting it off and one day Kasdan asked how old he was. When Crowe told him 40, Kasdan said, “Geez, I always thought you were younger.”[47]  Crowe realized time was running out. He hunkered down and got to work.

Writing the screenplay was a very painful process for Crowe to go through. He called his friends, groaning about how tough it was for him to face his past. His wife, Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson and his mother kept pushing him to write the film. Cameron often lost his confidence, and Wilson often lost her patience, but she kept providing her support.

The film would focus on a teenage journalist named William Miller, a surrogate character for Crowe, touring with a fictional band that never quite broke through in the 70’s named Stillwater. Stillwater was a composite of a number of bands Crowe toured with. “There’s a lot of the Eagles in there,” he said. “They craved the spotlight, saw it coming, got scared, ran from it.”[48]

The film was almost called Untitled, which was a truly rock n’ roll moniker for the film. After all, Led Zeppelin’s classic fourth album that featured “Stairway to Heaven” was untitled as well. DreamWorks wasn’t thrilled with the idea, and after going through a number of potential names (including calling the film The Uncool), Crowe settled on Almost Famous, a reference to the people on the fringes of celebrity. “I used to go to concerts and I would see Mick Jagger, then off to the side are these people standing by the amplifiers,” he said. “You look at them, and you think, who are they? Are they groupies? Are they friends of the promoter? Are they married to the bass player? Because they’re almost famous.”[49]

The film takes place in 1973 and Crowe saw that year as a last age of innocence for rock and roll.

“It was actually a really passionate time,” said Crowe. “Sex before AIDS, music before MTV, the 70’s before disco and mirror balls. I felt like somebody just needed to say a word or two about the way it used to be.”[50] After 1973, “It was becoming much less personal,” continued Crowe. “Corporate take-over, marketing. less and less for one person and more for global audiences. Stadium concerts, everything becomes huge.”[51]

Not only is Almost Famous one of Crowe’s best scripts, but it allowed him to flex his directing muscles a great deal as well. Watching the film’s concert scenes was the only time I ever saw a rock and roll film and felt I was there on stage with the band. Many of the concert scenes were inspired by album covers. As one writer noted, “Crowe cuts to a shot looking out into the cavernous arena. A rose rests on the lip of the stage, caught in the glare of a flashbulb. Though it lasts only a few seconds, it’s a precise recreation of Neil Young’s 1973 album Time Fades Away. Seconds later, the stage is suddenly awash in the same saturated reds as the inner-sleeve photos of The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East.”[52]

Most of the film is based on his real life experiences on tour with musicians. One of the best scenes in the film (and one of the best set-pieces I’ve seen since the firecracker scene in Boogie Nights), has Stillwater enduring a tumultuous plane ride. Thinking the plane’s going to go down, everyone on board makes a last confession to each other, and are completely embarrassed when the plane is all of the sudden out of danger. Crowe had to endure two plane flights he thought would be his last, and people on the plane started confessing hysterically. “Afterward, I couldn’t believe that the embarrassment could be so large that living was almost second prize,” he recalled.[53]

Some have called Almost Famous a fairy tale of the rock and roll life, but many who were from the era found the film to be a very accurate recreation of the time.  One of the first people who saw the script when it was finished was rock photographer Neal Preston. Preston shot such legendary bands as Led Zeppelin and Queen, and worked very closely with Crowe as they grew up together on the road.

“When I read the script, I was in tears,” he says. “It was very emotional for me. Cameron and I lived through a lot of stuff in this movie. I was with him on his first rock tour. I’ve fallen in love with groupies. I know what it’s like when a band fucks you. It was very hard for me to read.”[54]

Preston also shot the still photography for the film, to capture a true rock and roll feel. Like all of Crowe’s films, every detail had to be just right. “The challenge was to shoot something in 1999 for an album cover, yet make it look like it was shot in 1973,” says Preston. “Cameron gave me four or five albums to use as reference points. We looked at some old Allman Brothers albums, the first Doors album, various things. We used shots of film pushed at three stops to make it look really grainy and washed out. If you look at the labels inside the album jackets, they’re 1973 labels. It’s very rich in detail.”[55]  Having a film rich in detail also proved costly. According to one published report, getting the music rights for Almost Famous cost $3.5 million of the film’s budget.[56]

Along with truly capturing the feel of rock and roll in the 70’s, Almost Famous is one of the best films that deals with the struggle of being a writer. Having written about music myself, there were many moments of the film where I sat in the theater and said to myself, “Boy, ain’t that the truth.” Often when a movie’s “too close to home,” we’re disturbed because we’re forced to confront things about our lives we don’t want to deal with. Crowe does it in a gentle way. It’s like a friend sharing an experience, and all of the sudden, you feel okay that you weren’t the only one who went through it.

In all of Crowe’s movies, he makes sure there’s a happy ending. In Almost Famous, William’s sister and mother have a falling out, yet are reunited by the film’s end. In real life, Crowe’s mother and sister were estranged for years and only until the movie came out were they starting to speak to each other again. It was Almost Famous that helped bring them back together, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Crowe made the film solely for the purpose of reuniting his family.

Like the Who’s rock opera Tommy, Almost Famous does a good job at showing the dangers of idolatry. As Crowe wrote in the introduction for Conversations With Wilder, “Heroes usually belong at an arm’s length, on a bookshelf, in a record collection. At a heroic distance.”[57] In the film, guitarist Russell Hammond gets Rolling Stone to pull a story the magazine was going to run on Stillwater leaving William Miller devastated after all the hard work and trauma he went through to write it. Eventually, Hammond feels a tremendous sense of guilt and by the end of the film, he makes a good deal of effort to reconcile with Miller and the character Penny Lane, a groupie he discarded after having a fling with her.

In Crowe’s films, there is usually a hard-ass that needs softening like Mr. Hand in Fast Times, Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire, and Russell Hammond in Almost Famous. Crowe never patronizes or judges his characters, and he allows Hammond to redeem himself by the end of the film.

Yet in Crowe’s real life, it would take decades for some musicians to see the error of their ways. In 1973, Crowe went on the road with the Allman Brothers for a Rolling Stone cover story. The band had recently lost two members. Duane Allman, one of the best rock guitarists in history, had died in a motorcycle crash in 1971 at the age of 24. Bassist Berry Oakley also died in a motorcycle accident a year later (Oakley’s death occurred three blocks away from Allman’s accident).[58]  The band hadn’t granted any interviews since Duane’s passing, and nerves were still close to the surface.

Yet the band took a liking to Crowe and he spent several weeks on the road with them, interviewing all of the band members and people on the road crew. Then without warning, Cameron received a late night phone call. It was Greg Allman, telling Crowe to come to his room at once and to bring his interview tapes with him.

Crowe went to Allman’s door with tapes in hand, nervous and shaking. As he recalled, “He answered the door, looking like he was just in another place. “Fucked up” doesn’t do it justice. He looked like he’d seen a vision.”[59]

Once inside, Greg gave Crowe the third degree like a cop grilling a suspect. There was only one light on in the room. Crowe couldn’t believe the way he was being treated. He spent weeks on the road with this band and looked up to Greg like a brother. Now Allman was turning on him, just as Hammond turned on William Miller in Almost Famous.

Allman demanded to see Crowe’s I.D. When Allman realized Crowe was only sixteen, Cameron tried to defuse the situation by saying, ‘It’s about as young as you were when you used to sneak into clubs to play with your brother Duane.”[60]  Allman blew a gasket.

“My Brother? My brother’s in this room right now,” he said. Allman than pointed to a chair. “You see that empty chair? My brother is sitting there right now, laughing at you!”[61] Crowe left his interview tapes behind, shattered. Several days later, Allman had no recollection of the incident, or why the tapes were in his possession. Neal Preston got the tapes back to Crowe and he was able to write his story. When Preston was shooting Allman for a photo session in 1999, he asked whatever happened to Crowe. “We really put that kid through the ringer,” Allman lamented.[62]  (Ibid. p. 70)

Clearly, Crowe went through a lot during his journalism career. Fredric Dannen, author of the best-seller Hit Men, had once written he never envied the celebrity journalist and couldn’t believe the stories he heard from his colleagues about “the circles of publicity Hell”[63]  you needed to get through to get an interview with a movie star.

In Almost Famous, we see how many circles of hell Crowe had to go through to get his interviews and get his writing career going. Yet we also see that he remains an eternal optimist, choosing to look back on his career with love instead of rancor or bitterness. It’s truly one of the greatest accomplishments any writer can hope to achieve.

Despite the open-ness of his films, Crowe is often uncomfortable speaking to the press and was unavailable to be interviewed for Creative Screenwriting. Early in the year, I spoke with Crowe briefly. My impressions were that he seemed very down to earth, centered and secure and there was never anything false about his modesty. He never even said no to my interview request. He just politely told me he was still editing the movie. Even though it’s only two letters and one syllable, I had the feeling no was a word he had a hard time saying.

A sad post-script to Almost Famous is that in spite of rave reviews, strong word of mouth and Oscar buzz, the film has proven to be a major disappointment at the box-office. DreamWorks tried opening the film in a number of cities and building slow like they did with American Beauty, yet Famous was never able to catch on with an audience.

Blame for the film’s failure has gone around and around. According to a recent report in the L.A. Times, the executives at DreamWorks complained they had to pay $60 million for “an art film.”[64]  As with all of Crowe’s films, the studio had no idea how to market it. “The things that make this movie as good as it is are also the things that make it hard to describe in thirty seconds,” said DreamWorks executive Walter Parkes.[65]  And many feel Almost Famous would have performed better if it had a wide-release on opening day instead of a slow build. Who, if anyone, is at fault for the film’s monetary failure is unclear. What is clear is that Almost Famous is a terrific movie that deserved to do better than it did.

As for the future, Crowe can usually take years in-between projects so it was surprising to hear as Almost Famous was getting ready for release, he had a whole new screenplay ready to go named Vanilla Sky for Paramount. As with all Crowe films, the script is tightly under lock and key but it was recently revealed the film is a remake of a Spanish thriller named Abre Los Ojos, or Open Your Eyes. According to a report in Variety, the film is a “complex story that combines romance and revenge with a Matrix style twist.”[66]  Clearly this is all new territory for Crowe. He’s never made a dark mystery before and this is his first adaption of someone else’s material instead of writing an original story.

“I’ve come of age,” he said recently. “It’s time to sort of move on. I have kids now, and there’s something challenging, as a writer to tell yourself. “Even if you love those kinds of stories, you’ve got to push yourself and build other muscles.  “I still want to make movies about adults and adult problems. I want to try other stuff out.”[67]


[1] Edited by Peter Brunette, Martin Scorsese Interviews (Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1999) p. 197

[2] Nancy Griffin and Holly Sorensen, “Forty Under Forty,” Los Angeles, March 1997, p. 78

[3] Jim DeRogatis, Let It Blurt, (New York: Broadway Books, 2000), pp. 84-85

[4] Cameron Crowe, Almost Famous, (Screenplay, December 1998) p. 155

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cameron Crowe Interview By Vera Anderson

[7] Patrick Goldstein, “This Time, It’s Personal,” L.A. Times, August 27, 2000, p. 84

[8] The Editors of Rolling Stone, The Rolling Stone Interviews 1967-1980 (New York: St. Martins Press, 1981) p. 376

[9] Cameron Crowe, “A Child’s Garden of Jackson Browne, Rolling Stone, May 23, 1974

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ben Greenman, “Dept.of Former Lives: A Film Director’s Back Pages,”  New Yorker, September 11, 2000

[14] Cameron Crowe, “The Eagles,” Rolling Stone, September 25, 1973, p. 91

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid. p. 94

[17] Mark Olsen, “Uncool,”  Film Comment, September / October 2000, p. 66

[18]  John Powers, “People Are Talking About Easy Street,” Vogue, September 2000, p. 450

[19] Goldstein, p. 84

[20]  Shari Roman, “Crowe’s Feats,” Movieline, April 21, 1989, p. 32

[21] Cameron Crowe, Fast Times At Ridgemont High (New  York, Simon and Schuster, 1981) pp. 9-10

[22]  Kevin L. Goldman, “He Went Back to High School to Study Life in the Fast Lane, Philadelphia Inquirer, September 29, 1981    and Dave Zimmer, “Fast Times With Cameron Crowe,” Bam, August 27, 1982

[23] “Cameron Crowe” Margy Rochlin, Interview, November 1984, p. 124

[24] Zimmer

[25] Rochlin, p. 124.

[26]  Rachel Abromowitz,  Is That a Gun In Your Pocket?,  (New York, Random House, 2000) p. 145 and Rochlin, p. 124.

[27]Tom Gearhart, “Fast Times Inane Plotless Film Degrading to Teens,”  The Toledo Blade, September 1982, p. 2

[28] David Denby, “Growing Up Absurd,”  New York, September 1982, pp. 50-51

[29] Glenn Kenny, “High School Confident,” Entertainment Weekly, December 8, 1995, pp. 76-77

[30] Susan Morgan, “Crowe’s Feat,” Details, September 1992, p. 216.

[31] Dario Scardapane, “Rock Auteur,” Vogue, September 1992, p. 330.

[32] Roman, p. 33.

[33] Peter Biskind, “The Sweet Hell of Success”, Premiere, October 1997, pp. 97-98.

[34]  Chris Willman, “Reeling Through the Years,” L.A. Times, September 27, 1992, p. 80

31 Kim Neely, Five Against One,  (New York, Penquin, 1998) p. 168

[35]  Ibid. p. 169

[36] Griffin and Sorensen, p. 78

[37] Steve Hochman, “Fast Times Indeed,” L.A. Times, December 22, 1996, p. 101

[38]  Biskind, pp. 95-96

[39] Griffin and Sorensen, p. 78

[40] Goldstein, p. 84  and Claudia Eller, “Box-Office Fizzle of “Almost Famous” Stirs Bad Blood,” L.A. Times, October 13, 2000

[41] Hochman, p. 3

[42] Derek de Koff, “Crowe About It,”  New York, September 11, 2000

[43] Goldstein, p. 83

[44] Rachel Abramowitz, “Laurie MacDonald,” Premiere Women In Hollywood 2000 Special, p. 102

[45] Cameron Crowe, “Conversations With Billy,” Vanity Fair, October 1999, p. 311

[46] Hochman, p. 101

[47] Goldstein, p. 83

[48] Jess Cagle, “As the Crowe Flies,”  Time, September 18, 2000, p. 79

[49] Anderson Interview With Crowe

[50] Steve Pond, “Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll- The Movie,” Premiere, October 2000, p. 44

[51] Bill Desowitz, “The Extraordinary Adolescence of Cameron Crowe,”  New York Times, September 10, 2000, p. 74

[52] Olsen, p. 62

[53] Anthony Bozza, “A Boy’s Life (in Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll),”  Rolling Stone, October 12, 2000, p. 104

[54] Author’s Interview With Neal Preston

[55] Author Interview With Preston

[56]Claudia Eller, “Box-Office Fizzle of ‘Almost Famous’ Stirs Bad Blood,” L.A. Times, October 13, 2000

[57] Cameron Crowe, Conversations With Wilder, (New York, Knopf, 1999) p. xvi

[58] Cameron Crowe, “The Allman Brothers Story,” Rolling Stone, December 6, 1973, p.54

[59] Bozza, p. 70.

[60] Rochlin, pp. 124-125

[61] Bozza, p. 70

[62] Ibid. p. 70

[63] Fredric Dannen and Barry Long, Hong Kong Babylon (New York, Miramax / Hyperion Books, 1997) p. 57

[64] Eller

[65] Rick Lyman, “Slump Vexes Creators of Almost Famous,”  New York Times, October 19, 2000

[66]Dana Harris, “Crowe Ready to Adapt For Some Familiar ‘Eyes,’” Variety, September 26, 2000

[67] Desowitz, p. 74

Courtesy of Creative Screenwriting – David Konow – January/February 2001