Jerry Maguire – Associated Press

Jerry Maguire’s alter-ego is his creator, Cameron Crowe

Fledgling filmmakers take note. Director/writer Cameron Crowe knows a foolproof plan for spinning box-office gold.

“To any inspiring director I would say write a part for Tom Cruise,” says Crowe, the director and writer of the Oscar-nominated Jerry Maguire, now out on video.

Cruise’s enthusiasm and love for the part of Maguire, a slick-turned-idealistic sports agent who perserves after professional and personal crises, made life on the set for director and cast a dream.

“It was my best experience by far,” says Crowe of working on “Maguire.” He also cited Cuba Gooding Jr. and Renee Zellweger.

Crowe, 39, says he and Cruise hit if off instantly. Few of Hollywood’s leading men were as eager as Cruise to play the part of Jerry – many thought the role was wimpy, Crowe says. “Cruise was the first guy to come back and say ‘I love this part … I love it when (Jerry) comes back to his wife.’ He said ‘I cried when I read that.’ We basically took off from there.”

Like a rocket. The domestic take on “Maguire,” one of the few contemporary and adult relationship movies during the winter months is close to $160 million. The combined tallies of the other films he’s had a hand in – Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Singles, Say Anything and The Wild Life – add up to less than half of “Maguire’s” total. Its success guarantees Crowe a lucrative future.

But while good box office bodes well for any Hollywood career, don’t expect to see Crowe abandon small love stories – what he does and likes best.

It’s easy to see how Cruise’s enthusiasm connected with the personable and energetic Crowe’s moviemaking style. And while Crowe is becoming one of Hollywood’s players – Premiere magazine selected him as one of the Top 100 powerful people in the biz – he comes across as a down-to-earth guy.

Crowe loves movies. You can hear his passion for them as he reveals his favorite films – Bill Forsyth’s delightful and magical Local Hero and Billy Wilder’s comic yet moving “The Apartment.” Crowe strives to accomplish what these films so effortlessly appear to do – transport audiences out of theaters and family rooms and into alternate worlds.

Since Crowe lately has been both writing and directing his films he feels a huge responsibility if they don’t live up to his own artistic expectations. “There’s nobody to blame but yourself,” he explains. “When you face the empty page and you win it’s an incredible feeling.”

His feelings for two of his earlier films – 1992’s Singles and 1984’s The Wild Life – bring up the worst memories of his career. In the case of “Life,” a bland retread of “Fast Times” terrain, Crowe – who wrote but didn’t direct – blames himself. It is what happened to the undiscovered gem Singles, a movie that a studio didn’t have confidence in, that Crowe found extremely discouraging.

“It took a year to get released,” Crowe says of the film, which follows a group of twentysomething characters in Seattle and features Pearl Jam as the alternative band Citizen Dick. When the Seattle music scene exploded, the studio decided to rush the release. “People thought I had released a quick movie (to capitalize on the grunge scene),” he says.

This bad phase in Crowe’s career led him to write “Maguire,” a story he thinks resonates with anyone who has faced a professional challenge. It’s also a credo on how Crowe survives the Hollywood rat race.

“Not unlike Jerry Maguire, you do your own work and do not surrender to the cynicism,” he says. “It’s a battle for optimism. Any job can beat you down.”

But Cameron Crowe, like Jerry Maguire, has decided he won’t let that happen.

Here are reviews of some Crowe’s films:

Jerry Maguire (3 stars): Even though it has its faults – a subplot about a women’s support group is out of place and the running time a tad too long – “Maguire” is a charming and moving story. Cruise puts his undeniable charisma to good work as a down-on-his luck sports agent whose lone client is a rash and difficult second-tier football player (a perfect and Oscar-winning Cuba Gooding Jr.). There’s a lot of heart here, so cynics and pessimists rent “Sid and Nancy” instead. (R: Language, nudity)

Say Anything (3 stars): Two recent high school grads – the poor but sweet John Cusack and the rich but brainy Ione Skye – discover true love in one of Crowe’s most heartfelt and enjoyable films. The two likable and attractive stars create screen magic. Crowe’s richly textured script shows a true fondness for the characters. Watch for indie film fave Lili Taylor as Cusack’s bitter chum. The only annoyance is an out-of-left field subplot involving Skye’s dad. Get set to be charmed. (PG-13: Language)

Singles (3 stars): Generation X marks the spot for this clever, acutely observed film about twentysomething relationships. A top-notch cast including Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick and a very funny Matt Dillon, who gives an inspired performance as a member of a grunge band, make this semi-sweet tale come to life. As in many of Crowe’s films there are flashes of perfect clarity – giving us insight to characters and ourselves through “little” but potent scenes. Put it on your video list. (PG-13: Language)

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (3 stars): Crowe wrote this hilariously observed script when he was only 21. After going undercover as a student at a Southern California high school, he wrote a book as well as this script based on what he saw. Featuring a hot-bed of then freshman talent – Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold – this funny, raunchy and painfully real look at high school captures the `80s perfectly. As a bonus, there’s a nifty soundtrack. (R: Language, nudity, sexual situations)

Courtesy of Associated Press – Randy Myers – May 29, 1997