Making The Scene: A Filmmaker's Diary by Cameron Crowe

The writer-director of 'Singles' traces the making of his new movie

Bridget Fonda and Matt Dillon in 'Singles.'
Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection
October 1, 1992

Andy's dead" the voice said flatly, It sounded so unlike my old friend Kelly, this dispassionate monotone on the answering machine. Kelly was one of the most excitable guys I knew. In recent years he'd become a rock manager, guiding the career of a fledgling seattle band named Mother Love Bone. It's lead singer and frontman, Andy Wood, had been successfully battling a nagging heroin problem. But the night before Wood was to meet his boyhood idols Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of Kiss, he'd scored some deadly heroin on the street. They found him comatose in his apartment, his favorite T-shirt mysteriously ripped to pieces in the washer. After several days on a life-support machine, Andy Wood slipped away."I'm still at the hospital," Kelly said with a sad sigh. "I'll be at home later."

My wife and I stared at the answering machine. Within a few minutes, we'd psychoanalyzed Kelly's voice. He was in trouble. No, worse, he was a ticking time bomb. He needed help. He needed friendship. We got in the car and drove to his house – immediately.

Photos: The Rise of Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and More 

Rounding the corner to Kelly's place, it was obvious that his other friends had the same idea. Cars lined the streets. Inside the small house were Andy Wood's friends, his band mates, members of other bands from throughout the city. The same odd look on all their faces – I've never had a close friend die before. And still they kept arriving, these dazed Seattle musicians – a breed all their own, the inspired children of pro basketball and Cheap Trick and Led Zeppelin and Black Flag and Kiss.

I was thirty-two at the time and felt a part of something. Somewhere around midnight, warming over a barbecue pit, I felt rocked by the whole experience. I'd been working pretty steadily since I was fifteen, and looking back, most of my friends were made through work. They were acquaintances more than friends. And here were these disconnected single people, many from broken homes, many meeting each other for the first time, forming their own family. In the coming years, many of the musicians in that room would see success far beyond their early dreams, beyond even the arena dreams of Andy Wood. But that night it was mostly about staying warm, pulling together. It was almost instinctual. And I thought about Los Angeles, where musicians would already have slipped audition tapes into Kelly's pocket.

I was in the process of rewriting an old script of mine at the time. It was called Singles, and that night it took a different course. I wanted to write something that captured the feeling in that room. Not Andy's story but the story of how people instinctively need to be together. Is anybody truly single? I knew I'd soon be rewriting the rewrite of my script, and I knew I had to direct it, too.

Three years later, Singles is a movie in the can. It's the story of six Seattle urbanites, their lives in and around the apartment complex where they reside. A lot of the music was provided by local musicians and bands, but contrary to some advance reports, it's not a movie about the birth of the now-hot Seattle scene or even the story of how Mother Love Bone gained a new singer (Eddie Vedder) and became Pearl Jam. It's the story of disconnected single people making their way, forming their own unspoken family. Everything about the movie screamed obsession. Making it in Seattle became an obsession. Getting it perfect became an obsession. And early on, I started obsessively keeping a journal.

Looking at the stacks of pages of diaries, I feel like the guy on The Outer Limits who revisits the home he lived in 300 years earlier. Printed journals often have a self-serving sheen over them. Like bad date talk, they're often a laundered version of reality. I wanted this to be different. Some of my earliest reading pleasures were Pete Townshend's 1970-71 essays in Rolling Stone about his work with the Who. His writing gave me the feeling that he was sending a letter to a friend, and in drat spirit, I wanted to keep a running account of Singles.

Some nights making the movie, I'd write for an hour, other times only a few minutes. (One entry reads only: "Aaaaaaaaagh!") These raw, nocturnal entries were more like a cleansing ritual than a guide to intelligent filmmaking. To anyone offended, please know that I intend to offend myself as well. So for whatever reasons, perhaps in the spirit of preventing you at home from developing a need to write and direct a collagelike movie with eighty-seven speaking parts, I present this to you now.

Readers' Poll: The Best Grunge Albums of All Time

10-15-90: Campbell Scott will play the part of Steve Dunne, the traffic engineer at the center of Singles. Everything is exploding at once for Campbell. Today he got the part opposite Julia Roberts in Dying Young. He's playing a leukemia victim who falls in love with his nurse. A problem surfaces – in Dying Young he loses his hair. Many nervous calls are traded between our movie and Dying Young. Toward the end of the day, it's resolved. Dying Young will not actually cut his hair; he'll wear a bald cap with a wig over it. Whew.

2-24-91: Campbell has arrived in Seattle. We meet for dinner. His hair is very, very short. He is pale. He looks like a leukemia victim. Sitting in a dark restaurant, my early fears slip away. We'll do something about his hair. Campbell is psyched to play the part of Steve. We're in sync. I raise a toast. "Don't jinx it," he says.

2-25-91: First day of rehearsal goes smoothly. We blast through the scenes. Kyra Sedgwick and Campbell Scott have a nice chemistry together. Around lunch time, we step out into the daylight I see problems. Campbell still looks like a leukemia victim. We still have two weeks. What kind of vitamins make hair grow?

Today, Bridget Fonda and Matt Dillon arrive in town. Matt, who will play a Seattle musician named Cliff Poncier, has already spent time in New York with Mother Love Bone's Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard and their intensely shy new lead singer, Eddie Vedder. Their new band is called Mookie Blaylock, after the New Jersey Nets basketball player. [Later they're renamed Pearl Jam] In the movie, they will play Cliff's fictional band, Citizen Dick. Matt has already got a lead singer's walk down – all attitude, chest puffed slightly out. I wanted rehearsals to begin weeks early so the cast could soak up the local atmosphere and the music.

Tonight we go to see Mookie Blaylock and Alice in Chains performing at the Off Ramp. The cast meets for the first rime in the lobby of our hotel. For a few minutes, nobody says much. ("I hope this isn't a yuppie movie," Matt announces, picking an odd conversation opener.) We go to the club. It's sweaty and packed, and the cast slowly makes friends as we sit in a corner booth.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

More Song Stories entries »