Almost Famous – Rochester Democrat

Cameron Crowe’s Love Song

The writer, director, journalist and music lover talks about his latest project

With Jerry Maguire, writer-director Cameron Crowe elevated his career beyond the quirky, interesting filmmaker who wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High and directed Say Anything. Jerry Maguire made “Show me the money” a cultural catch-phrase, and Crowe a big-time Hollywood player.

He figured it was time for his movie of personal passions — and he finally had the clout to get it made.

The result is Almost Famous, an autobiographical tale about a teenage boy who lives a dream. He goes on the road with a rock band in 1973 and writes a cover story for Rolling Stone. That’s exactly what Crowe did.

I caught up with the 43-year-old filmmaker for an interview, just days before he took Almost Famous to the Toronto Film Festival for a gala screening. On the phone, he’s personable and seems eager to avoid sounding “canned.”

He says that attitude comes from his years as a music journalist. “I always got upset when I worked real hard on an interview and then I’d see the same rap in some other story. I was a product of stock answers, so I try to be in the moment whenever I’m interviewed.”

To what degree is Almost Famous the Cameron Crowe story?

It’s painfully close. I thought about calling it semi-autobiographical, but the “semi” is a little coy. It all happened. This is definitely from the heart — it’s a love song to family and music.

The character is me. But I changed his name in the film because it would be too weird to call him Cameron. And it would help me direct (Patrick Fugit) if I didn’t have to call him Cameron.

The family stuff was hardest, because it’s true. There was pain in my family, and my mother and sister haven’t quite reconciled, though they’ve gotten closer.

How much is Fugit like you were?

I was more of a prankster, a clown. What he captures, though, is fandom, a pure kind. He’s very real.

In your film, (veteran critic) Lester Bangs is depicted as a mentor.

He was my sponsor. He was the first real hero professional who said my writing was damn good. That got me out of thinking about law school.

What drew you to select (Fairport native) Philip Seymour Hoffman to play Bangs?

I read a ton of actors, but I hired the one guy who didn’t audition at all. He just came in to meet us. He says a nice hello, and it was very much him. And, I’ll tell you, my original cut of the film was four hours long, so nearly everybody felt the editor’s blade. But not Phil. I used everything he gave me, because it was pure gold.

In several of your films, you focus not only on certain characters, but also on their world, a segment of society. Do you view your function as a filmmaker to also be a social commentator?

Absolutely. I’m always a journalist. I’ll build up a story sometimes just on a pair of glasses I see on somebody on the street.

Jerry Maguire started with some guy I saw on a plane … just the way he rubbed his face. He was so beyond tired. Then he got back to work.

Much later, on the set, I told Tom Cruise about that gesture that inspired the story and he said, “Got it.” We built the character from that.

As you say, Almost Famous is a love song to the music. What does rock ‘n’ roll mean to you?

It’s probably my best friend. I think my wife, Nancy (Wilson of Heart) would agree. It’s our best friend. It’s a living diary and a constant inspiration.

If you could only take three music albums to a desert island, what would they be?

Something/Anything? by Todd Rundgren, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, and, if I can take a box set, Biograph by Bob Dylan.

And now that you’re a filmmaker, what would be your desert island movies?

Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero and Francois Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses.

How did being a writer and critic prepare you to be a filmmaker?

It’s helped me with dialogue, but that’s only one part of it. Transcribing all those tapes of interviews helped me understand the rhythms of speech. (Legendary director) Billy Wilder was also a journalist, and he’s so good with rhythm and cadence.

Billy Wilder is obviously a hero for you. You’ve recently published an impressive, book-long interview with the 94-year-old director (Conversations with Wilder).

It was like a film school masters’ class, and the best interview I’ve ever done. His biggest influence on me has been how he’s lived his life. He’s still so curious and interested in everything and everybody. I want to be curious my whole life, too. If there’s anything bigger, I don’t know what it is.

Courtesy of The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle – Jack Garner – September 22, 2000