This week, Street talks to Academy Award-winning filmmaker Cameron Crowe about his latest work, Elizabethtown, and the highs and lows of his illustrious career. Elizabethtown is currently playing at The Bridge Cinemas and stars Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst.
Street Film: What inspires you to do the movies you do and were there any personal experiences that you put into this film?
Cameron Crowe: This movie, Elizabethtown, is a tribute to my dad. It is somewhat of a love letter to his home state, Kentucky, and that came from personal experience in knowing how much that was a part of our family heritage. But I found pretty early on that the most personal things are not [what] people respond to the most. Then I would read interviews with other writers where they would say it is good to bare you soul from time to time and write about the things you truly know. So sometimes that stuff comes from personal life and sometimes it doesn't. Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything is a completely fictional character; William Miller in Almost Famous is pretty close to my own experience. So it changes but generally the stuff that comes from your heart is the stuff that other people find most universally true for them too, I am happy to say.
SF: In Elizabethtown, is Drew's attempt to move on after the failure of his shoe design related to something you had to go through after the disappointing reception to Vanilla Sky?
CC: I get asked about Vanilla Sky more than any other movie probably except Almost Famous. It seems like over time that movie has become a little more understood. So that is a good thing. But really I had not gone through a fiasco of that magnitude I am happy to say. Looking back on things that have happened to me for sure I remember really believing in Almost Famous and people really loved the movie when we first started showing it. And a lot of people had high hopes for it being successful in the theater and stuff like that, but it bombed. Nobody showed up to see that movie. I remember getting a call on the Friday that it opened about six and it was nine already in New York, and it was this guy on the phone telling me, "Well, pack up your tent, it is over, nobody showed up." But it never felt like the end of the world to me because I loved the movie so much, [and] sure enough that movie found its audience. But if your whole world was depending on what somebody told you about it, yes, that Friday was not a good Friday.
SF: Many have compared Elizabethtown to last year's hit Garden State. How do you feel about critics comparing your films to other filmmakers' works?
CC: I loved Garden State. I did not see it until we were pretty much finished with the basic edit of [Elizabethtown, but] I guess I knew I would probably love it because I had read enough about the inspiration for the movie and that Zach Braff was a real music lover and was doing kind of a dark character comedy about love and loss. I knew Elizabethtown certainly dealt with some of those themes, but when I finally saw it I loved it and knew how different it was. To me there was more kinship [in Garden State] to Mike Nichols' The Graduate. But yes, I think the world is big enough for two movies about loss and a journey back home for a funeral. Especially two movies as different as that.
SF: At the Toronto Film Festival, Elizabethtown got panned because it was too long. Did that upset you?
CC: It is funny, the story of Toronto is almost myth at this point. We got an incredible standing ovation from our big screening with 1,100 people there. That was the public screening of the movie with the biggest audience of moviegoers and stuff. I left Toronto feeling like the movie was still a little too long, which is why I called it a work in progress. I was sort of following my own instincts because I wanted the movie to be a little shorter. It wasn't based on anything a critic said, I felt it could it be just a touch shorter.
SF: In the film, Kirsten Dunst's character Claire talks about what she thinks names mean and that "Ben" is predictable and that she has never met an "Ellen" she liked. What would you say a "Cameron" would be described as?
CC: I don't know. The only other Cameron that I really met (besides Cameron Diaz) is a girl that I really liked who wouldn't go out with me. That was a long time ago. She seemed really different from me. I don't know if there is a Cameron description really, [but] as far as I am concerned I would hope it would just be someone who is trying to follow their instincts. That is sort of what I am always trying to do in life or in the pursuit of making a movie.
SF: Do you plan on releasing a longer cut on DVD like Almost Famous: The Bootleg Cut?
CC: I might. I mean this is the version that it was meant to be. But there are things...I don't know. I haven't made up my mind up.
SF: Why did you choose Orlando Bloom to play the shoe designer from Portland?
CC: I liked that he was surprising in the way he dealt with some of those things like failure and feelings of suicide and stuff like that. I like that he kind of masked a lot of the obvious side of that but if you looked in his eyes you could see what he was going through. I loved that he was sort of a stranger in a strange land in Kentucky, which was a big kind of thing that I wanted to represent. He also worked really well with the music I wanted to use. He's a big music fan, and it shows, I think.
SF: Your dialogue is always unique and quirky. Do you draw inspiration from your own conversions? Or from conversations you wish you had?
CC: Really conversations I wish I had. Or sometimes you hear things in life. I mean remember as early as Fast Times, when I was researching Fast Times I overheard this conversation where the girl said to her boyfriend, "I don't want to use sex as a tool." I just thought that was so funny, and I built a whole scene in the book around it and then it ended up in the movie too. Keep a notebook, you know? It is so good to just write things down.
SF: How do you decide which songs to include on your soundtracks?
CC: Music is constantly surprising and viable to me as kind of a background for making movies because when you can match the right piece of music with the right piece of film, both get stronger. It is not easy really because a lot of the great pieces of music don't need film. They are a better movie on their own and it plays in their mind. But every once in a while the right piece of music can really match something you filmed and scratch at your soul in a way that as a music fan and a film fan you feel like both are enhanced. [The] music in Elizabethtown sort of serves as the voice of the deceased father, particularly the Elton John song "My Father's Gun," which gave voice to a dead character.