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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.