'Say Anything' turns 20: Cameron Crowe's crazy story behind 'In Your Eyes' and Lloyd Dobler's boom box
Prepare yourselves, hopeless romantics: To commemorate today’s 20th-anniversary edition Blu-ray and DVD re-release of Say Anything…, Twentieth Century Fox will be “Mobler”-izng (apparently “mob” + “Dobler” = “Mobler” — and yes, I agree it’s a stretch) a veritable army of Lloyd Dobler lookalikes to descend upon New York City’s Times Square later today, boom boxes outstretched and hearts worn proudly on their trench-coated sleeves. Clever? Yes. Original? Hardly!
In last week’s issue of EW, I wrote of my own life-imitating-Lloyd moment to get my high school girlfriend back, which coincided with the original release of the movie two decades ago.
Today’s publicity stunt will also have over-the-emo-top-named band the Lloyd Dobler Effect playing an acoustic version of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” What it will not have, but which I have here, is the full story from Say Anything‘s writer and director Cameron Crowe on how the scene and song came together to create the iconic John Cusack moment (and, um, eventual shameless PR stunt).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the scene come about? It’s something that could have gone terribly awry, but instead is incredibly endearing and iconic and lasting. Did you just write “lifts boom box overhead”?
CAMERON CROWE: Yeah, and the music wafts down the hillside, I think was what it was. I was supposed to, not that it’s such an epic event, but I just remember the day that I was waiting to go somewhere; we were in Seattle and Nancy [Wilson, Heart guitarist and Crowe’s wife of 23 years ] and I were late to go someplace and I was ready to go and she needed some more time. I had been writing, and it’s that great thing of like, “Thank goodness I don’t have to work on this any longer and try and solve this problem because I’ve got to go.”
And then Nancy wasn’t ready, so there’s like 20 more minutes. And I went back to the typewriter and just had an idea for that scene and wrote it out, because there was a song that I was loving at the time and I just thought, “Wow, what if the song is what he uses to try and wrench his way back into her life, and it’s the song that kind of taps on her shoulder a little bit. He’s out there with the boom box.” And it felt really good.
The next time I met with Jim Brooks I told him about the scene. First thing, I walked in, I was like, “I have this scene, here, read it.” And he read it and he said, “That’s big, buddy, that’s big.”
So we always knew it was important and that’s why we kept after it to get it right. Because, as you say, one click to the right or left and you’d never see it in the movie; it would be cut and it would just be gone and that would be that. It would never be… we wouldn’t be talking about it because it would be so bad, or unnecessary, or wrong or weird or something.
You mention the song you were loving that the scene is based off of. What was the song that you were listening to?
“To Be A Lover” by Billy Idol.
Really? That’s awesome.
It was like the two days that I really liked that song. But [even] in the script I think it’s “To Be A Lover.”
Jason, really sad. Like, nothing worked but “In Your Eyes.”
When you listen to the soundtrack now does it feel kind of disjointed, and of a certain era to you? Because it’s like you have the Replacements’ “Within Your Reach,” and then you have a Satriani song. Does it feel still like a cohesive mix to you?
It feels like the movie. I might put more Replacements on there or a Who song or “Clash City Rockers” or something like that to flesh it out, but basically it feels like the movie and I dig it.
The story, and I’m sure you’ve told this a million times, but the story of how you got the song from Peter Gabriel is pretty funny because he thought it was a different movie. If you could just walk me through that a little bit…
Yeah, yeah. No song worked, especially “To Be A Lover,” or anything we were playing in the boom box in the number of times that we tried to shoot it—nothing worked. We had songwriters come in and try and write a song—nothing worked.
I was driving to work and on my way to the editing room, and I just found this tape again the other day, there was a tape that I had in the car that was the mix from our wedding and it was called “The Legendary ‘I Do’ Tape,” and I put it on and I was just listening to it on the way. I’m not that much of a wimp, but for some reason I just felt like listening to my wedding tape. [Laughs] And “In Your Eyes” comes on. And I got this chill because all the words linked up to what we’d filmed and what we were struggling to find a score to or a song.
It was like about following instincts. I drive off in my car. We had a car in the shot. It was like a sweet sounding but underneath the surface tough love song. A loving song, but there was a toughness to the wistful quality. It was just like I got a chill. And I just raced to the editing room and we put it on and it was perfect. It was unbelievable that we’d found something that actually worked with the shot, which we loved because, like, look at Cusack’s face. It’s all there except the song that’s on the boom box.
So I went racing into Jim Brooks’ office and said, “We got to get ‘In Your Eyes.'” He called David Geffen and David said he would do his best to try and get the song, but he couldn’t guarantee anything because Peter Gabriel had never really given anything up for movies, I think it was that, and also he wasn’t sure about Gabriel’s relationship to the song and how available the song would ever be.
We had a screening—I’m giving you the long version—and a guy from Geffen Records came and saw the movie, took me aside and said, “I’m going to tell you what nobody else is going to tell you. It’s not Fast Times. You’ve really missed with this movie. If you really want to save your career you should be doing another Spicoli movie, and I’m just going to tell you the truth right now.” I was like, “Oh f—, now we’re really not going to get the song. We’re doomed.”
Then I guess what I heard later was that Rosanna Arquette [for whom “In Your Eyes” is largely known to have been written for when she and Gabriel were an item in the ’80s] put in a good word for us with Peter Gabriel, so he asked to see the movie to make the decision. And I was given a day to call him at his studio, I think it was in Germany, and so I got up super early to make this call, they put me on the phone with him after we’d sent him a tape, but I knew he’s seen the movie and stuff. And he got on and there was this kind of you know, ethereal voice, Peter Gabriel, really nice, and he said [accent], “I appreciate you asking for the song. It’s a very personal song to me and I just hope you don’t mind that have to turn you down.”
I just remember being in the kitchen and just going, “Oh man.” I said I understood and I appreciated it and was he sure and he said yes, he was sure, and I was saying goodbye to him and I remember the phone was like on its way to the cradle, I think we’d already even said goodbye. And I just, like, was seized with this thing and I pulled the phone back up and I go, “Why? I got to ask you why. Why can’t we have the song? Why was it wrong?”
And he said, “Well when he takes the overdose it just didn’t feel like the right kind of use of the song.” And I’m like, “When he takes the overdose?” He said, “Yeah, you’re making the John Belushi story, right?” I said, “No, no, no. It’s a movie about the guy in high school with the trench coat.” And he’s like, “Oh, the high school movie. We haven’t watched that yet.” Hallelujah! “Please watch the high school movie and let me know if it works in the high school movie.” And he said, “Oh yeah yeah yeah, okay, great.” And then we got the word back that he said yes.
That’s really funny. That’s a great story.
I know, and I’m obsessed with trying to find out where it was used in the John Belushi film. I guess it’s the Michael Chiklis [one]…
Wired. So it was going to be in Wired. Anyway, that was my only conversation with Peter Gabriel until I went to see him in Seattle [years later] and thanked him for the song. But the sequence, I don’t know what would have ever happened to the sequence. It just wouldn’t have been the same without “In Your Eyes.”
Switching gears: Is there anything playing on your iPod right now that an Entertainment Weekly reader would be interested to hear about?
Marvin Gaye. I love all the kind of deluxe editions of all his albums that they’ve been putting out with the original versions of songs. Stuff from Let’s Get It On and stuff.
Do you have a favorite Marvin Gaye song?
I’ve been loving this track “Head Title,” which is the original version of “Distant Lover.” It’s hilarious because it’s him saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I know I’m supposed to have a record done right about now, but I don’t have all the lyrics done, so I’m just going to do this song and sing whatever comes, ladies and gentlemen, off the top of my head.” It’s the song that became later one of his greats. It’s the glory of expanded editions that you get the early version of this.
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