Almost Famous – L.A. Daily News

Crowe Becoming Almost Famous Himself

Cameron Crowe always figured he’d make a movie about his days as a teen-aged rock journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. He just never figured it would take him so long.

Crowe began working on “Almost Famous,” his sweet, sunny paean to his days covering ’70s rock music, 12 years ago. Since then he has written and directed three movies — “Say Anything,” “Singles” and “Jerry Maguire” — and completed an insightful book about legendary director Billy Wilder. All the while, Crowe was working hard on “Almost Famous” — and working hard to avoid it.

Why the big delay? The answer to that question, Crowe says, can be found in reading his book, “Conversations With Wilder.”

“You can see me, throughout the book, trying, on a basic level, to get Billy Wilder’s blessing for an autobiographical movie,” Crowe says. “But he would never go for it. He would say, ‘Who would see such a picture? Maybe your parents.’ And meanwhile I’m going home at night working on this movie. So in a way, I ended up doing the movie that Billy himself would never make, something that’s sort of boldly and frighteningly personal.”

Key into that description — “boldly and frighteningly personal” — and you have the primary reason Crowe spent 12 years writing and revising his movie. “Almost Famous” tells Crowe’s story, warts and all. It’s about a talented 15-year-old music fan who cons his way into writing a Rolling Stone cover story about an up-and-coming, Led Zeppelin-like band named Stillwater. While on the road with Stillwater, Crowe’s alter ego, William (played beautifully by newcomer Patrick Fugit), learns about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, as well what happens when a writer becomes too close to his subject.

Crowe originally conceived the movie as a story about two journalists on an all-night car ride. The older writer, who was to be played by “Say Anything” star John Cusack, would, through flashbacks, tell the story of a rock star who was almost famous, a rock star he never wrote about because he became too close to him. Crowe eventually put that version aside, believing there was something ” ‘Spinal Tap’ about it,” not to mention a gimmicky structure that kept the music at arm’s length.

Two years ago, Crowe decided to take one final pass at the script and make the story revolve around himself and his family. And that’s when it clicked. Inspired by the Francois Truffaut films that he always figured were the domain of film-school snobs, Crowe intimately wrote about his life, all the while trying keep his story from seeming like a “naval- gazing therapy session.”

“Setting out to do it was a lot more embarrassing and scary than I anticipated,” Crowe admits. “It’s one thing if somebody says about ‘Jerry Maguire,’ ‘Oh, I’m not really into sports; I didn’t care for it.’ That’s different than saying, ‘I’m not really into your life. It bored me.’ ”

Says Kate Hudson, who plays young William’s love interest in the film: “You could tell how much Cameron was struggling with how to tell this story of his life. He didn’t want to make this some glorified version of his adolescent years. He kept telling Patrick, ‘I don’t want to make this character seem too cool.’ ”

But when your life as a teen-ager included jetting across the country in Led Zeppelin’s private airplane and late-night hotel room conversations with rock luminaries like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and the Allman Brothers, it’s tough not to come off looking pretty darn cool.

Crowe remains a big fan of the music; in return, the musicians still respect him. Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page let Crowe use five of the band’s songs for the film and gave him permission to include one on the soundtrack, something they’ve never allowed another filmmaker to do.

“The movie really needed Led Zeppelin music, so when we finished, I went to England with (music supervisor and long-time friend) Danny Bramson to show them the movie,” Crowe says. “I think it sort of battled back their desire not to be associated with the ’70s. It reminded them of the time. Robert Plant said, ‘Wow, we were sort of like that, weren’t we? It was all so deep and meaningless.’ And I thought, ‘That’s sort of interesting because it was all so deep and meaningful to me.’ ”

That’s Crowe, who admits he’s “sensitive too a fault.” It’s easy to see why. The last year has included the birth of twin boys, William James (named after Billy Wilder and Crowe’s late father, James) and Curtis Wilson (in honor of wife Nancy Wilson, the former Heart guitarist, and Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis, who introduced Crowe and Wilson). At 43, Crowe is a father for the first time and is coming off what he calls the “two proudest achievements of his life” — “Almost Famous” and “Conversations With Wilder.” But they were all tough births.

“I felt everything a little too much while making the movie, and I still do,” Crowe says. “There was so much stuff going on in my life while I was making the movie that I didn’t necessarily want to be raw all the time. But that’s what happens. You can’t wear a protective covering when you make a movie like this or it becomes fake.”

Says Bramson: “I told Cameron to be careful. I didn’t think it was a great idea for him to get so personal with the film because he is a sensitive guy. If it didn’t work, the bad reviews would just kill him.”

Where Crowe ended up dying a thousand little deaths was in the editing room. Crowe’s original cut of “Almost Famous” ran four hours, and DreamWorks executives had to hammer him to cut it down to its present two-hour running time. It’s not that Crowe didn’t understand that the movie wouldn’t play at a four-hour length. But cutting a life’s story in half is a tortuous process fraught with misery.

“People from the studio would say, ‘You’ve got to learn to be ruthless on yourself,’ ” Crowe says. “And I’m like, ‘Guys, why are you getting so personal with me?’ And then I realized it was because I got personal on them. It works both ways. People from the studio are immediately going to think: ‘Of course he’s going to be fragile. Of course he’s going to work longer on the edit.’ ”

Crowe stops briefly and then poses this question: “What would be the version of prejudice that would involve autobiographical filmmaking?” He comes up with his own answer: “It’s the prejudice that happens when everybody thinks you’re a little more of a skinless newt because it’s a personal movie. And you know what? There’s a lot of truth in that.”

Crowe realizes the finished product might strike some as a bit chaste when it comes to the excesses of the 1970s rock ‘n’ roll scene, but he believes that “traditional rock decadence” has been documented enough.

“VH-1’s ‘Behind the Music’ turns everybody into Spinal Tap, so why go there,” Crowe says. “I wanted to show that time in the past where your sort of had a glorious, passionate naiveté. It’s an affectionate look, but there’s a lot of pain and joy and sorrow just beneath the surface. Everything felt like life and death. And it still does, in a way.”

Courtesy of L.A. Daily News – Glenn Whipp – October, 2000