Elizabethtown – Cinema Confidential

Interview: Cameron Crowe on Elizabethtown

One thing about Cameron Crowe: He plays music on the set of his movies. Music before takes, music during takes, music at the day’s wrap-up. It keeps the actors in-line with the story’s feeling and boosts the morale of the crew, he says. It was reported that he did this an awful lot during the making of his latest movie.

Is “Elizabethtown” the most personal movie Crowe has ever made? Yep, it’s a personal movie about topics that are very important to the filmmaker. But “Almost Famous” – a semi-autobiographical portrait of Crowe has a youth Rolling Stone reporter – was a personal movie too, and so was “Jerry Maguire,” with its compact idealism. So it’s an argumentative. Still, we led off our Q&A with Crowe with that question when he appeared in Los Angeles to promote the movie.

Q: So is this your most personal movie?

CAMERON: Hmm, I think it is. Yeah, I think it is. I can’t imagine how it could get more personal than this in a way. Except home movies ever.

Q: The actors have had nothing but praise for the music-playing environment you’ve had on set. Is this something that has evolved? Did you have music playing on set when you started out with “Say Anything”?

CAMERON: No, I was too chicken! They all felt like such big film people. ‘Well, this is how we do it in the world of film!’ And I think [John] Cusack was a big music fan, so we’d have our own conversations on the side. He demanded to play Fishbone. He loved this ban Fishbone. He actually wears a Fishbone T-shirt in the movie because he just had to promote them. He’s playing a song called ‘Bonin’ in the Boneyard’ by Fishbone in the boombox scene. Did not work in the finish movie! In fact, it was obnoxious. [LAUGHS] So there was a whole over story of how we got to ‘In Your Eyes’ by [Peter Gabriel]. But it did feel like rock had a lot less of a home in movies way back then.

Q: When did you start feeling more comfortable on set?

CAMERON: “Jerry Maguire.” It happened in the kitchen scene when Jerry and the little boy hugged. Because it felt so right. I had ‘Secret Garden’ by [Bruce Springsteen] playing in the scene. And to me, it was just like a huge victory. I felt I could do this! You may never get to be Stanley Kubrick or whatever, but you can learn to tell a story off of the page and on film. I was just sort of giddy. I remember everybody around me kind of breaking down the equipment going ‘Get over it, man. It’s a little scene in a kitchen.’ But that was a big breakthrough though, on “Jerry Maguire.”

Q: Do you feel a big boost of morale on set as a result?

CAMERON: I do. I think it’s good, you know. Particularly if you know it’s going to be a music-filled movie. It’s good to get it playing on people’s faces early. I never want to use it as a crutch. I think that’s the goal, to like, honor music but never lean on it too hard. So this movie probably pushes the envelope of that for me.

Q: Do you see any similarities between this and “Jerry Maguire”?

CAMERON: Yes, I do. In the beginning of the movie it is sort of a nod towards the success and failure derby. I then I wanted to take a sharp turn into life and death [themes]. The shock when that sort of enters your life instantly when you realize how much time you waste when you’re involved in the more ephemeral stuff. It’s like, God, this is how lives change and not so often for the better. In that split second when you get news that your loved one is dead.

Q: Can you discuss the casting process of how Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst were selected and why?

CAMERON: Couldn’t really imagine of who could play the part of Drew. My wife and I used to make the joke that it was an un-castable part which I thought was great until… I tried to cast it! Orlando was the first guy that came to my mind because I did a commercial with him. And I liked him because every take was different. So I went to him first. I told him about the casket scene. He was in the middle of doing “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He wasn’t sure about the part so I’d yell, ‘Man, that’s your dad in the casket!’ I read with a few other actors, but came back to Orlando after I already hired Kirsten. She came into the audition and was IT, so I gave her the part.

Q: What was this commercial you filmed with Orlando? Was it something you played overseas?

CAMERON: No, it played here briefly. It was a black and white commercial for the Gap. The Coen Brothers and Roman Coppola did one, so I felt like a big-time guy.

Q: What’s the excitement with shooting a commercial?

CAMERON: You do it in one day. [LAUGHS] And nobody ever says, ‘What are we going to do tomorrow?’ It’s all about today, man.

Q: You always seem to have a good story about a song and the journey to get a song into a movie. Is there a story that happened in the making of this one?

CAMERON: Well, I tell you this once. I always loved the song ‘Jesus was a Crossmaker,’ The Hollies version. The original version was by an artist named Judee Sill. But the Hollies version felt like a real pop ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ song, and a really good song to start the movie and feel like an ending. I just wanted to honor the song in the greatest way, because I love it. But we couldn’t find a copy of it that was anything other than a crackly vinyl copy which I almost went with. I finally got a copy and it was so great. We got a copy that Terry Sylvester, the singer from The Hollies was in Toronto and wanted to come see the movie. So anyway we invited him. I never met him but we got a very short email from his manager later saying, ‘Really enjoyed the movie, it’s too long though.’ I’m like jeez where’s the love for ‘Jesus was a Crossmaker.’ You get spoiled sometimes from artists who say ‘thank you’ for using my song. But he had a bigger picture in mind.

Q: What did you cut from the film after it’s premiere in Toronto?

CAMERON: Yeah, well it’s 18-minutes [shorter]. What it is – it’s a public version of what we do all the time. We show the movie and sees how it plays with an audience and then you can either make it longer or make it shorter. I had another cut before we went to Toronto and I asked that it be characterized as a work in process and it was. I kept working on it even while we were over in Toronto. It’s kind of like deadline days where I always worked on stuff right up until the deadline. I think, like everything else, it’s the case with this one. Five or six days ago [from interview date], this movie was finally finished. Pressure didn’t come from anybody other than me. I could have easily gone to the studio and said, ‘They gave it a standing ovation in Venice and Toronto – that’s the version I’m going with!’ I think they would have been fine, but I kept pressing for the version that let that road trip play best. Which is to not overstay our welcome before it. Because what I didn’t want to do is short-change the idea of an ending that you didn’t expect it. The film never worked until I had “Elizabethtown” at that length that I have now.

Courtesy of Cinema Confidential – Sean Chavel – October 13, 2005