It may have been six years since the release of his last film, but Cameron Crowe hasn't been taking a break. He's just wrapped three films almost simultaneously: an Elton John/Leon Russell documentary called The Union, a Matt Damon feature called We Bought a Zoo and a Pearl Jam doc called Pearl Jam Twenty.
"I'm going by the Scorsese grid," Crowe told Rolling Stone – referring to how the industrious Marty took on a documentary and a feature film at the same time: The Departed and the Bob Dylan biopic No Direction Home.
With any luck, all three of Crowe's pictures will be out this year. The Pearl Jam documentary is due in September; We Bought a Zoo is slated for December; and The Union, which premiered Wednesday as the opening night feature of the Tribeca Film Festival, is currently searching for a distributor. "We'd shoot one during the week, and edit another on the weekends," Crowe said. "It kept it all very exciting."
Crowe had very different approaches for the two documentaries. For The Union, he filmed John and Russell from the first day of recording their album. For Pearl Jam Twenty, he was given the band's own archival footage and then had to find the story in it. "It was like The Union turned inside out," the director said.
Capturing the sessions for The Union was simpler because it was just "one creative burst," Crowe said. Pearl Jam Twenty, as the title indicates, encapsulates 20 years. Crowe was handed close to a thousand hours of performance footage – plus 18 to 20 hours of home and personal footage – to whittle down, and then he added new material shot over the last year and a half.
"It's the best souvenirs of the past," Crowe said. "Some fabled footage you've heard exists but have never seen, and some interviews. So while The Union was, 'How do we buff up the cinéma vérité?', Pearl Jam Twenty is, 'How do we do The Kids Are Alright of Pearl Jam, and sonic blast the best stuff?' It's a wider scope."
The subjects for each doc also have different relationships with the camera. "For Elton, the camera is a buddy," the director said. "Pearl Jam is not prone to opening the curtain the same way, and that is the challenge and delight of it."
So does he have more music movies in mind for the future? "I can't stop!" Crowe said, laughing. "I just love music."