DID YOU READ

Fall Preview: Cameron Crowe talks “We Bought a Zoo,” buying into Matt Damon and why animals make great characters

Fall Preview: Cameron Crowe talks “We Bought a Zoo,” buying into Matt Damon and why animals make great characters (photo)

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Cameron Crowe is an intimidating interview. After all, he’s the guy who was such a brilliant journalist as a kid that he was a Rolling Stone contributor before the age of 20. In other words: it’s never easy to speak to someone who’s better at your job than you are. Plus, there’s the whole part about him writing or directing some of my very favorite films, including “Say Anything…” “Almost Famous” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” For me and for most kids of my generation, these movies defined our teenage years. So, y’know, no pressure.

As soon I got on the phone with Crowe, though, I realized what made him such a great interviewer: the man is easy to talk to. He’s funny and smart, and he’s obviously excited about “We Bought a Zoo,” his first fiction feature in six years. The film, based on a true story, stars Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee, a father who buys a zoo and struggles to simultaneously care for it and his ailing wife.

We’ll have more on the film’s soundtrack and Crowe’s future projects soon, but as we wrap up our fall movie preview week here on IFC.com, let’s check out his thoughts on why he was attracted to this unusual story, and why he knew Damon was the guy to play Mee.

What drew you to the material?

We were working for a few years on a couple different scripts that I was really in love with. We were working on the Marvin Gaye movie which is called “My Name is Marvin,” but the time just wasn’t right for that movie. I was sent this script, “We Bought a Zoo,” by Aline Brosh McKenna and I read it and it really stayed with me. I read Benjamin Mee’s book and I loved that too. It just was kind of hanging there saying, “I’m not leaving your mind. You are now feeling this more than ever.” And it just felt like the time was right to do this. So I did a rewrite of the script, and really fell in love with the idea of directing it. I’ve always loved the movie “Local Hero” by Bill Forsyth and it reminded me of that. So I had to venture forward.

The title reminds me of the scene in “Jerry Maguire,” where Jerry and Ray are talking, and Jerry’s pouring his heart out and Ray just keeps asking him to take him to the zoo.

[laughs]

Are you a big zoo guy? Have you always wanted to set a movie in a zoo?

Totally subliminal! Maybe it’s just from growing up in San Diego where the zoo is such a huge deal, but I was never a zoo fanatic. I was always going to record stores. Maybe it was just there, bubbling under the whole time.

It’s really interesting to study up on animals and see that whole side of life. [The film’s] mostly about the characters, though. The animals are characters too, but it’s mostly the story of this family and how Ben — Matt Damon — throws himself Don Quixote-style into an impossible task and saves his family. I just loved the relationships between the characters and the idea of Matt playing a young father.

I went to meet him on the set of “True Grit.” Actually, they never let me near the set of “True Grit.” [laughs] Everybody in the hotel was like, “Coen Brothers movie? We can’t say anything about that. There’s no set. There’s no movie.” So I waited around the hotel and Matt came back from having filmed this big scene crossing the river. We sat and talked and I immediately knew we had to do this.

When you were rewriting the screenplay, were you writing it with Matt in mind?

I was halfway through the rewrite when I met Matt. The rest of the way, it was all Matt because I just envisioned him doing this stuff. He’s a real family man, but he’s a rocking guy too, so I liked the whole idea of how the music would work with him because he’s a real music fan. What I thought Matt would do is bring a real reality to it. So often movies about families seem like the domain of people that — “That’s somebody else’s home, that’s not mine. My childhood wasn’t quite like that. That’s a movie childhood, that’s a movie family.” But being an adult and raising children doesn’t suddenly mean you can’t do all the things you did when you were younger. In fact, you try and balance them. And Matt does that so well as a guy that I knew I could use all the music I wanted to use too.

Is a late December release date nerve-wracking at all? There’s this expectation that anything released around that time of year is going to be a big awards movie.

I’m actually honored, because every time we show the movie I keep feeling like it’s got that holiday spirit to it. It’s a little bit like when Springsteen used to do those Christmas shows and he would tell those stories about growing up, and Clarence was Santa Claus and Roy Bittan would just be playing the piano. They had this kind of soulful, almost whimsical holiday feel. So I’m really happy it’s going to be coming out around that time.

As far as the other pressures, there’s so many movies; clearly we’re David to everybody else’s Goliath. We’re there if you want to come see our movie, but there are many towering movies all around us. And I think that’s good! I think that’s a great place to be. Hopefully it’s a movie that you can discover that won’t feel like it was created for the market. It’s not. It’s a very personal movie for all of us.

“We Bought a Zoo” opens December 23 and is featured in our 2011 Fall Movie Preview Guide. Looking forward to it? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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