Elizabethtown – Mad Blast

Exclusive Cameron Crowe Interview

I don’t usually run straight Q&A transcripts of my interviews, but I got along so well with Cameron Crowe that I just have to share it in its most authentic form. Knowing that he was a veteran journalist before becoming a successful filmmaker gave me a lot to live up to in an interview. Each time he told me I asked a good question, I melted a little.

His latest movie, Elizabethtown, tells the story of a man (Orlando Bloom) who causes a billion dollar catastrophe in the shoe industry. When his father dies, he goes to the funeral feeling like a failure, but meets a local girl (Kirsten Dunst) who makes him appreciate the country around him.

I met Crowe at the end of a full day of interviews. At six o’clock, he had so much energy left, it’s scary to think how he operates at his peak. Or maybe he was just warming up for a wild night. In any event, here’s my interaction with Cameron Crowe:

Fred Topel: Lester Bangs said you can’t be friends with the star. Does that mean we can’t be friends?

Cameron Crowe: I’m not a star so we can be friends.

FT: Why shoes?

CC: Why not? I met a shoe designer. He thought shoes were the whole world and it just struck me that this guy has his head looking down most of the day checking out what you would wear or what I would wear. I like the idea that Kirsten Dunst’s character would kind of lift his head up to look around at the world. It worked for the metaphor of the movie.

FT: When might you have felt like such a colossal failure?

CC: I guess Vanilla Sky did pretty well. Almost Famous, nobody really showed up to see that movie in the theaters. I remember getting the call at 6 p.m. on the Friday that it opened, and it was one of the guys from the studio saying, “Sorry, man, it’s over.” Nobody showed up. They all went to see The Exorcist, a movie from 1973. And I called home and I was like, “Wow, I guess the movie’s a bomb.” It was only over time that people discovered it on video, on DVD and now I get asked about it more than anything else. But at that time, it felt like a colossal failure. I didn’t feel like I needed to end my life over it because the movie felt successful storytelling wise. But if you were one of those guys that really believes that your whole life is wrapped up in the success of that one thing in that way, yeah, that would be a time to build the suicide bike.

FT: Was that the shoe incident for you?

CC: No. The fiasco was in some ways inspired by a friend of mine who had a project he really cared about and it went down in flames and people scoffed critically at it. It was a film. The other thing is personally there are failures that you feel you try to accomplish things in your family that just became hideously off the rails unsuccessful. That was the other thing that was in my mind about the fiasco. It wasn’t all business. The feeling is indelible.

FT: Why is secrecy so important to your projects?

CC: Part of it is as a writer, you don’t like to talk about your ideas until they’re finished because that sort of dissipates the energy in a way. The other part of it is ideas get in the wind and it just feels more special if you find out about something when you see it, more than a year and a half before you saw it.

FT: Do you ever feel you might lose some of the audience because they don’t know what they’re going into?

CC: No, because we have time like now to talk about it. That’s a good question though.

FT: How about when something blows up like the Ashton Kutcher story at least a year ago?

CC: The Ashton thing was kind of similar to Brad Pitt who was almost in Almost Famous and Tom Hanks who was almost in Jerry Maguire. The almost cast of the movie and most movies have them. Ashton wasn’t the guy of destiny for the movie. It’s weird that it got out. There was some weird untrue things that got out. I would totally work with Ashton. I think he’s completely underrated as an actor. It almost worked but didn’t quite work and it was a mutual kind of “maybe see you next time.” So none of the crazy stuff that you might have heard really happened even. And Orlando was the first guy I went to and came back when he was available for it. But I don’t think they knew the story of the movie, which is good. I like that the story is fresh now as people hear about it.

FT: Is there a way to tell the industry that a lot of us don’t want to know everything about the movie?

CC: Good question. Yeah, and it’ll happen when somebody releasing the movie without a big budget is able to do a trailer themselves on a smaller scale that doesn’t give much away, and if that movie does well then other filmmakers can point to that and say, “Check it out. Look at this movie that was able to communicate to an audience without giving everything away.” Then it will start the trend going in a different direction. But right now, the marketplace is so voracious in terms of eating up all elements of a movie so quickly. I think the good thing about movies that I’ve tried to make is there is a feeling that hopefully they give you that the trailer can hint at and give you a sense of, but the whole movie is going to give you an emotional experience that you can’t quite give away in a short period of time.

FT: What do you think of music today?

CC: Love music today. Just there’s so few outlets for it. Because there’s such a narrow playlist on radio and so many great artists like Ryan Adams and Josh Ritter and Kathleen Edwards. Where are you going to hear it? Clubs maybe. They play something on The OC or in a movie.

FT: What about pop stars and hip hop?

CC: Loved 8 Mile. Love when somebody reaches out and says, “Let me show you what’s great about hip hop.” That’s cool. And it’s new music. You’ve got to keep listening to new music which then becomes the souvenir of you life and that becomes the music that’s your life’s blood at that point. That’s how music stays important.

FT: Would you ever set a movie to Britney Spears and Nsync?

CC: No.

FT: What do you think of teen movies today?

CC: I like ‘em. I’m just kind of a sucker for movies that give teens dignity and tells their story with a certain amount of seriousness along with the laughs. I dig The OC. I dug parts of Felicity which was actually older than teens.

FT: You’re talking about television.

CC: And I’m talking about television. Teen movies, what would that be? I like American Pie. The American Pie movies are good. The American Pie movies have heart. And I like when there’s some heart mixed in.

FT: How do you stay in touch with the youth?

CC: I don’t know. It’s the culture of everything around us, so you either pay attention or you don’t. I think it all stems from music with me because there’s too much good music to miss a wave. You’ve just got to stay out there on your surfboard and just ride the waves and have fun. It all comes from music.

FT: Would you ever do an action movie?

CC: Sure. If it had great characters.

FT: I’m trying to imagine that.

CC: Indiana Jones is a big action movie with great characters. It would in my wildest dreams be something like that. Would you go see a movie like that?

FT: On the tagline of “Cameron Crowe Action Movie” alone.

CC: Cool, man. I’ll try and serve one up for you.

FT: Do you have your own ideas or would you take a franchise?

CC: I thought about it. It all is about the characters. James Bond to me is like the greatest character. So yeah…

Courtesy of Mad Blast – Fred Topol – October, 2005