Crowe at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival promoting Elizabethtown, photo by Tony Shek
|Born||Cameron Bruce Crowe
July 13, 1957
Palm Springs, California
|Spouse(s)||Nancy Wilson (1986-)|
Cameron Bruce Crowe (born July 13, 1957) is an American screenwriter and film director. Before moving into the film industry, Crowe was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine, for which he still frequently writes.
Crowe has made his mark with character-driven, personal films that have been generally hailed as refreshingly original and devoid of cynicism. Michael Walker in the New York Times called Crowe "something of a cinematic spokesman for the post-baby boom generation"  because his first few films focused on that specific age group, first as high schoolers and then as young adults making their way in the world.
Crowe's debut screenwriting effort, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, grew out of a book he wrote while posing for one year undercover as a student at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California, USA. Later, he wrote and directed one more high school saga, Say Anything, and then Singles, a story of Seattle twentysomethings that was woven together by a soundtrack centering on that city's burgeoning grunge music scene. Crowe landed his biggest hit, though, with the feel-good Jerry Maguire. After this, he was given a green light to go ahead with a pet project, the autobiographical effort Almost Famous. Centering on a teenage music journalist on tour with an up-and-coming band, it gave insight to his life as a 15-year-old writer for Rolling Stone. Also, in late 1999, Crowe released his second book, Conversations with Billy Wilder, a question and answer session with the legendary director.
Crowe was born in Palm Springs, California, USA. His father owned a real estate and phone service business, and his mother, Alice Marie, "was a teacher, activist, and all-around live wire who did skits around the house and would wear a clown suit to school on special occasions." She worked as a psychology professor and family therapist and often participated in peace demonstrations and causes relating to the rights of farm workers. Crowe had two older sisters, but one died when he was young. The family moved around often, spending time in a desert town called Indio, best known as the site of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which is held every year at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio. Crowe commented that Indio was where "people owned tortoises, not dogs". His family finally settled in San Diego.
Recognizing that Crowe was gifted, his mother pushed him to excel. He skipped kindergarten and two grades in elementary school, and by the time he attended Catholic high school, he was quite obviously younger than the other students. To add to his alienation, he was often ill because he suffered from nephritis. This made him something of an outcast in the tanned surfer culture of Southern California.
To compensate for his lack of social contacts, Crowe began writing for the school newspaper and by age 13 was contributing music reviews for an underground publication, The San Diego Door. He then began corresponding with Lester Bangs, who had left the Door to become editor at the national rock magazine Creem, and soon he was also submitting articles to Creem as well as Circus. Crowe graduated from the University of San Diego High School in 1972 at age 15, and on a trip to Los Angeles, met Ben Fong-Torres, the editor of Rolling Stone, who hired him to write for the magazine. He also joined the Rolling Stone staff as a Contributing Editor and then became the Associate Editor. During this time Crowe interviewed some of the most influential musicians of the era, including Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and the members of Led Zeppelin. Crowe was, and remains, Rolling Stone's youngest-ever contributor.
Crowe's first cover story was on The Allman Brothers Band. He went on the road with them for three weeks at age 16 and interviewed not only the whole band, but also the entire road crew. On his last night with the group, Gregg Allman asked Crowe to his room and told him to bring identification to prove he was not a police officer. Although Crowe showed him his identification, Allman nevertheless confiscated all his tapes. Two days later, the president of the Allman Brothers' Capricorn Records label called Crowe to let him know he was returning all the tapes. Allman later said he did not recall the incident.
Because Crowe was a fan of the 1970s hard rock bands that the older writers did not like, he landed a lot of major interviews. He wrote predominantly about Yes and the band members, and also about Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, King Crimson, Linda Ronstadt, Rory Gallagher, and more. "He charmed a lot of people," Fong-Torres told Rachel Abramowitz in Premiere. "He was the aw-shucks guy. 'I'm glad to be backstage. I love this band.'" In an interview with Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle Fong-Torres remarked, "He was the guy we sent out after some difficult customers. He covered the bands that hated Rolling Stone."
When Rolling Stone moved its offices from the West Coast to New York in 1977, Crowe decided to stay behind. He also felt the excitement of the career was beginning to wane. Crowe appeared in the 1978 film American Hot Wax, but then returned to his writing. Though he would continue to freelance for Rolling Stone on and off over the years, he turned his attention to a book.
At 22 and still boyish, Crowe came up with the idea to pose undercover as a high school student and write about his experiences. Simon & Schuster gave him a contract, and he moved back in with his parents and enrolled as Dave Cameron at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California. Reliving the senior year he never had, he made friends and began to fit in. Though he initially planned to include himself in the book, he realized that it would jeopardize his ability to truly capture the essence of the high school experience.
His book, Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story came out in 1981. Crowe focused on six main characters: a tough guy, a nerd, a surfer dude, a sexual sophisticate, and a middle-class brother and sister. He chronicled their activities in typical teenage settings—at school, at the beach, and at the mall, where many of them held afterschool jobs—and focused on details of their lives that probed into the heart of adolescence. This included scenes about homecoming and graduation as well as social cliques and sexual encounters.
Before the book was even released, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was optioned for a film. Released in 1982, the movie version lacked a specific plot and featured no major name stars, and the studio did not devote any marketing effort toward it. Nevertheless, it became a sleeper hit due to word of mouth. It owed its popularity in large part to its uncannily realistic portrayal of teenagers.
Though reviews of Fast Times at Ridgemont High were mixed, the film ended up launching the careers of some of the previously unknown actors, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Eric Stoltz, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, as well as now Oscar-winners Nicolas Cage (who appeared in the film under his given name, Nicolas Coppola), Forest Whitaker, and Sean Penn.
Following this success, Crowe wrote the screenplay for 1984's The Wild Life, the pseudo-sequel to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Whereas its predecessor followed teenagers' lives in high school, The Wild Life traced the lives of several teenagers after high school living in an apartment complex. Filmmaker James L. Brooks noticed Crowe's original voice and wanted to work with him. Brooks executive produced Crowe's first directing effort, 1989's Say Anything..., about a young man pining away for the affections of a beautiful girl. Though it could have easily ended up a formulaic teen love story, Say Anything... got a warm reception from critics. They applauded the way Crowe crafted an intriguing and insightful tale that also involved the girl's relationship with her father and how it is threatened when she discovers he is caught up in a shady business deal.
By this point, Crowe was ready to leave teen angst behind and focus on his peers. His next project, 1992's Singles, centered on the romantic tangles among a group of six friends in their twenties in Seattle. The film starred Bridget Fonda as a coffee-bar waitress fawning over an aspiring musician (Matt Dillon) and Kyra Sedgwick and Campbell Scott as a couple wavering on whether to commit to each other. Music forms an integral backbone for the script, and the soundtrack became a best seller three months before the release of the film. Much of this was due to repeated delays while studio executives debated how to market it.
Singles successfully rode on the heels of Seattle's grunge music boom. During production, bands like Nirvana were not yet national stars, but by the time the soundtrack was released, their song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" had to be cut because it was too costly to buy the rights. Also, before they got big, Crowe signed members of Pearl Jam to portray Dillon's fictional band Citizen Dick. Crowe also appeared in this project, appropriately, as a rock journalist at a club. Tim Appelo wrote in Entertainment Weekly, "With ... an ambling, naturalistic style, Crowe captures the eccentric appeal of a town where espresso carts sprout on every corner and kids in ratty flannel shirts can cut records that make them millionaires."
Branching into a new direction, Crowe wrote and directed Jerry Maguire, about a high-powered sports agent who is fired after having a moment of clarity in which he writes and distributes a Mission Statement calling for more service to the athletes and less money for themselves. He strikes out to form his own agency. Tom Cruise played the title role and Cuba Gooding, Jr. played Rod Tidwell, the up-and-coming football player whose catchphrase, "Show me the money!", became ubiquitous for a time. Renée Zellweger also appeared as the bookkeeper who leaves her job to follow Maguire into new territory in both work and love. Crowe's earlier efforts brought him recognition, but this would send him soaring onto the A-list. Gooding won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, and the film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Actor (for Cruise). Cruise also won his second Golden Globe for his role as Jerry.
In 2000, Crowe tapped his rock-writer roots to write and direct Almost Famous, about the experiences of a teenage music journalist who goes on the road with an emerging band in the early 1970s. Newcomer Patrick Fugit starred as William Miller, the baby-faced writer who finds himself immersed in the world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, and Kate Hudson co-starred as Penny Lane, a prominent groupie, or, as the film refers to her, a "Band-Aid." She is based on a real person, also known as Pennie Lane (sometimes Pennie Trumble), who headed a group of young female music fans known as the Flying Garter Girls. Digging into his most personal memories, Crowe used a composite of the bands he had known to come up with Stillwater, the emerging act that welcomes the young journalist into its sphere, then becomes wary of his intentions. Seventies rocker Peter Frampton served as a technical consultant on the film.
Crowe's mother figured prominently in the film as well (often admonishing, "Don't take drugs!"), and she even showed up at the film sets to keep an eye on him while he worked. Though he asked her not to bother Frances McDormand, who played her character, the two ended up getting along well. Also in the film he showed his sister rebelling and leaving home, and in real life, his mother and sister Cindy did not talk for a decade and were still estranged to a degree when he finished the film. The family reunited when the project was complete.
In addition, Crowe took a copy of the film to London for a special screening with Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, who provided some of the inspiration for the feuding bandmates. Additional inspiration for the inner band turmoil was provided by Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band from Cameron's travels with them. After the screening, Led Zeppelin granted Crowe the right to use one of their songs on the soundtrack—the first time they had ever consented to this since allowing Crowe to use "Kashmir" in Fast Times at Ridgemont High—and also gave him rights to four of their other songs in the movie itself, although they did not grant him the rights to "Stairway to Heaven" for an intended scene (on the special "Bootleg" edition DVD, the scene is included as an extra sans the song where the viewer is instructed by a watermark to begin playing it). Crowe and his wife, musician Nancy Wilson of Heart, co-wrote three of the five Stillwater songs in the film, and Frampton wrote the other two. Reviews were almost universally positive, and it was nominated for and won a host of film awards, including an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Crowe. Crowe and co-producer Danny Bramson also won the Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media Grammy Award for the soundtrack. Despite these accolades, box office returns for the film were disappointing.
He followed Almost Famous with Vanilla Sky in 2001, a remake of the Spanish thriller Abre los ojos. Starring Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz (from the original cast), the film received mixed reviews but still managed to gross $100.6 million at the US box office, making it his second highest grossing directorial effort behind only Jerry Maguire.
It was announced in early June 2008 that Crowe would be returning to write and direct his seventh feature film, set to star Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon and be released by Columbia Pictures. Filming was expected to begin in January 2009., but this has since been postponed.
In an interview with Pearl Jam on March 9, 2009, bassist Jeff Ament said "... our manager Kelly has had the idea to do a 20 year anniversary retrospective movie so he's been on board with [film director] Cameron Crowe for the last few years." Guitarist Mike McCready also stated in March, "“We are just in the very early stages of that…starting to go through all the footage we have, and Cameron’s writing the treatment."
|Year||Title||Oscar nominations||Oscar wins|