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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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