Say Anything… – Seattle Times

A New Direction for Cameron Crowe

Rock journalist, novelist, screenwriter (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) and, now, movie director Cameron Crowe bounced into his suite at the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel, banged out a few notes on the grand piano in the corner, and then quickly settled down to share some of his excitement over his feature-film debut, “Say Anything,” which opens here Friday.

“We tried to get a Seattle mood into the movie,” he said during a recent visit here to promote the film, “and you wonder if all the details are right. You have to log a certain amount of time in a place before you can see some of the things in it.”

The 31-year-old filmmaker is married to Nancy Wilson, of the rock band Heart, and has divided his time between Seattle and Santa Monica, Calif., for the past eight years. Wilson, a Seattle native, had some input on her husband’s movie in several ways: in putting together a sound track for it, in supplementing Crowe’s knowledge of the Seattle area and in acting as a sounding board for the developing script. “I was always dashing off to visit her on the road and saying, ‘No, we can’t hang out after the show – I have to read you some new scenes.'”

The movie, which is set in Seattle, was produced by James L. Brooks (“Broadcast News”). Crowe originally was slated only for writing the screenplay. When two potential directors weren’t able to take on the job, Brooks turned to Crowe. “He’d seen a documentary I’d done on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which he didn’t care for much, and a video I’d made for a friend’s bachelor party – just two guys talking on a couch – which he did like.”

Although it was Crowe’s first time as a director, Brooks didn’t hover over his shoulder. “He was always available by phone and he saw the dailies. But there wasn’t any ‘Holly Hunter would have done it this way.’ He steps away, lets you guide your own steps.”

What Brooks shared with Crowe was a faith in character, maintaining that “we’re not the storytellers of the century, so let’s concentrate on character.”  The script-development process was leisurely. Brooks first had Crowe write the story – about Diane Court (Ione Sky), a high-school graduate who in rapid succession wins an overseas scholarship, falls in love with an eccentric kick-boxing classmate (John Cusack) and learns that her father (John Mahoney) is under investigation by the IRS – as a 90-page novella in the voice of Diane. “He read it and said, ‘Great – see you when you have your script.’ The story was always set in Seattle.”

In order to get inside Diane’s character, Crowe interviewed as many high-school “golden girls” as possible. “I approach things from a journalistic background. Details make everything. Get them wrong, and you’re in trouble.” The research paid off: Skye, as Diane, is delightfully convincing as the honor-role student who isn’t entirely comfortable on the pedestal where her father and school have placed her. As Crowe puts it, “You don’t go, ‘God, she’s beautiful – in fact, she’s an actress!’ She’s not perfect, but seems like a girl who would come from here, a realistic golden girl.”

Lloyd’s character was inspired by a neighbor of Crowe’s in Southern California. He’s a refreshing change from the thuggish screen heroes who make romance look like an endurance test for their hapless screen heroines. Lloyd is optimistic, reliable, considerate. He’s also as vulnerable as Diane, a bit jittery and eccentric, with a nervous speech pattern (caught perfectly by Cusack) that makes the character come to life. Crowe says, “I loved the rhythms of Lloyd, the way Lloyd spoke. That powered the movie.”

If the details of character are right, some of the details of Seattle are askew, particularly the worrisomely Californian mountain that appears outside the window of Lloyd’s sister’s apartment. Filming was split between Seattle and the Los Angeles area. “I wish we’d done the whole thing in Seattle,” Crowe commented. “And if I wasn’t a first-time guy, we would have been able to. Some of the crew couldn’t have worked on the movie if we’d done it all up here. You can work with great people if you work with them in Los Angeles, where they’re able to go home at night. It’s a trade-off.”

Crowe preferred filming in Seattle to Los Angeles for another reason: “When you’re in the middle of L.A., people honk, they don’t like to get out of the way, they ask, ‘Who’s in it? John Cusack? Who’s that?’ But when we were filming by the Fremont Bridge, people asked, ‘Hey, you’re doing a movie? What’s it called? What’s it about?'”‘

When asked about his plans, Crowe modestly says, “Another chance (at directing) would be great.” An admirer of Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” and the films of Bill Forsyth, Crowe would like to keep working on a small, intimate scale. “I like writing about characters from their point of view. If that means smaller, so be it.”

Courtesy of the Seattle Times – Michael Upchurch – April 11, 1989