Almost Famous – NY Times #2

Slump Vexes Creators of ‘Almost Famous’

HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 18 — “Almost Famous,” a critically praised film that was widely expected to match the box office success of previous hits from the writer and director Cameron Crowe, goes into its sixth weekend with a cumulative box office of just $27 million, less than half of the film’s $60 million budget, and with bleak prospects of reaching even $40 million in United States ticket sales.

The movie is a lightly fictionalized account of Mr. Crowe’s own adventures as a teenage correspondent for Rolling Stone. DreamWorks, the studio that released it, and Mr. Crowe, whose last film, “Jerry Maguire,” made $275 million in global ticket sales — say they are devastated by its poor performance and struggling to understand it.

They are also reeling, they say, from a growing chorus of articles and rumors in Hollywood taking them to task for the film’s high budget and for its lack of top-name actors, and from suggestions that the experience has somehow ruptured relations between the director and the studio.

“We are hurt and despondent that it has not done more at the box — that’s our shared disappointment,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, who co- founded DreamWorks six years ago with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen.

“I am just so grateful that they made the movie and they made it right,” Mr. Crowe said. “They handled this movie with great personal care, from the very start until today.”

Then what happened?

“I think we’re still too close to the film, still too much in love with it, to be able to see clearly what went wrong,” Mr. Katzenberg said. “I think we may have been the right movie at the wrong time.”

He rejected suggestions that the film’s sluggish performance was due to its R rating, though he added that it was unfortunate timing to be releasing an R-rated film just as Washington politicians are ratcheting up criticism of Hollywood and theater owners were being especially vigilant about checking the ages of ticket buyers. Mr. Katzenberg said that the film’s release also coincided with a trough in movie attendance that stretched from early August until the end of September.

“But you can also say that there had been low box office for several weekends in a row before the movie’s release so it was a good time to release a strong, quality film,” said Walter Parkes, co-head of production at DreamWorks. “It’s hard to say. But the things that make this movie as good as it is are also the things that make it hard to describe in 30 seconds, which makes it more of a challenge to market.”

The movie was very well received at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September. It performed strongly when released on 31 screens in New York and Los Angeles on Sept. 15, and even on the second weekend when it expanded to more than 800 screens in the nation’s top 10 markets. But on the third weekend, when it expanded to more than 2,000 screens across the country, the bottom fell out. This weekend, it will be down to 1,700 screens.

Mr. Crowe said he still had hopes that an audience would discover the film, if not in this first-run in theaters, then perhaps on a future DVD in which he intends to include all of the scenes that he was forced to trim to get the movie down to its release length. “I don’t think I’m being Pollyannish about this, I really don’t,” Mr. Crowe said. “I think people who see the movie really respond to it. So I say, don’t give up. There’s always next weekend.”

The DreamWorks executives and Mr. Crowe said they were particularly bothered by Hollywood articles and rumors suggesting that Mr. Crowe felt that the studio had not done enough to promote the film and that studio executives were dismayed that the director had exceeded its budget and gone over schedule in its shooting.

Mr. Crowe, who is now in pre- production on his next film, “Vanilla Sky,” denied the rumors. His new project will reunite him with Tom Cruise, who starred in “Jerry Maguire” in 1996. He emphasized that even though he is now working with another studio he intended to return to DreamWorks afterward with an original screenplay that he is currently writing. “I would not be doing that if I was upset with the way they handled `Almost Famous,’ ” he said.

Mr. Parkes denied that DreamWorks was upset Mr. Crowe for going over schedule and over budget. “Changes were made that affected the budget, yes, but they were all made with our full knowledge and support,” he said.

The director and DreamWorks executives insisted that they were not simply making a show of bonhomie to staunch the damage and shore up the film’s Oscar prospects but were genuinely distressed by the reports.

“It was such a good experience for everyone involved in making this movie,” Mr. Katzenberg said. “At least let us have that as something we can share for having traversed this journey together.”

Courtesy of the NY Times – Rick Lyman – October 19, 2000