Filmmaker Cameron Crowe may be best known for such beloved big-screen teenage touchstones as "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Say Anything..." and hits like "Almost Famous" and "Jerry Maguire," but beneath his celluloid exterior the former Rolling Stone writer's heart is still pure vinyl.
So much so that when discussing his upcoming Showtime series "Roadies," premiering June 26, Crowe can't help but deploy musical analogies.
"It was like an EP, and by the time we got done with it, it was like an album," he says of the process of going from page to backstage for the dramedy that chronicles the lives of the characters — tour managers, lighting technicians, and yes, roadies — who magically, temporarily, transform bland sports arenas into magical musical venues.
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Often as colorful as the musicians for whom they work, the behind-the-scenes personnel — here played by Carla Gugino and Luke Wilson among others — are the people nobody cares about until something goes wrong, invisible in their triumphs. Crowe wanted to shine some spotlight their way. In fact, the fictional band for whom the roadies toll will mostly be unseen in the show. But real musicians will be popping up along the way including Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and Crowe buddy Mike McCready of Pearl Jam.
We sat down with Crowe, who created the series with old friends and TV veterans J.J. Abrams and Winnie Holzman, to discuss his inaugural foray into television, which he found restorative after a rocky time on his 2015 film "Aloha." "I went to Vancouver to do 'Roadies' and everything that I was dying to be reminded of about why I love directing was just waiting for me in this project."
Q. How long had this idea been gestating?
A. About eight years. It came from a conversation with J.J. Abrams. He called me and goes "You know maybe this is weird and you never want to do it, but if you ever want to do TV, let's do it together. And what if it's about music? And I was at this concert last night and I looked up and there was this young woman who was on a rigging tower…" and it just took off from there. (Laughs.) And we pitched out the whole show.
Q. You encountered so many of these unsung road crew members during your time as a rock journalist, did you get to know them?
A. Yes, they were always my favorite guys writing stories. They always helped me get interviews and they were just lovers of music and you would spend hours talking about music with these guys in a way that I was never able to talk about movies with film crew guys, it's just a different breed. But roadies are like, "Yeah, I have this bootleg from 1967."
Q. Presumably, you want to imbue the show with that kind of "Let's stay up all night and make top 10 lists!" passion.
A. I wanted the show to be like a geek out. You can love music and watch the show and there are jokes that you could feel that only you could get as a lover of music. And then you see what it is after you write it sometimes and this one became about the family they built out of their passion for music as opposed to the family they were born with.
Q. Will we see more of the band as the show goes on?
A. It's about the crew. This is a thing Winnie Holzman has been really good about, she'll say [to a story pitch] "That's a good story but that's not the crew's story." So you meet the band members as they pass through the lives of the workers as opposed to vice versa.
Q. This is your first TV show and the world of "Roadies" clearly calls out for the freedoms of premium cable. Was Showtime the first choice?
A. Showtime was the first place and we left and we were like "We love these people! They get us!" And it played out across these subsequent meetings we had that the first cut was the deepest, we liked them a lot. They just seemed so story-oriented in a great way. And I didn't have a lot of experience in this world but I learned pretty quickly that that's a rare thing and to appreciate it.