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J.J. Abrams and Cameron Crowe Talk Showtime’s Rockin’ ROADIES

Few filmmakers’ love of music is as well documented as that of Cameron Crowe, who began his career as a music journalist for Rolling Stone before crafting his own pop classics, notably Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, and Almost Famous. For his latest project, Crowe has teamed up with producers J.J. Abrams and My So-Called Life creator Winnie Holzman to create Roadies, which follows a diverse group of folks responsible for an arena rock band’s concert tour.

Like Crowe’s films, Roadies looks to combine comedy, drama, romance, and of course rock and roll when it debuts on Showtime on June 26 (with a pilot Crowe wrote and directed). Crowe and Abrams appeared at last month’s Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, along with Holzman and their cast (including Luke Wilson, Carla Gugino, Imogen Poots, Peter Cambor, Colson Baker, and Finesse Mitchell). Here’s what they had to tell us…

On how Roadies came about…

Cameron Crowe: I love music, and I love stories where music is a character, and I think over time, I was really struck by the fact that Almost Famous spoke pretty loudly to people. It was a very personal movie that I didn’t expect would kind of touch people in that way. I wanted to revisit the world of writing about music, but from a slightly different perspective, and also in a contemporary setting. And I loved our team so much. It was just a wonderful opportunity to start telling stories that didn’t end at 90 minutes, but just continued through chapters. And tell some authentic stories about people who are behind the curtain, loving music and dealing passionately and presenting music to all of us every day.

J.J. Abrams: I’ve been lucky enough to know Mr. Crowe, as he wants me to call him [laughs] since before Singles; which is quite a while. Twenty minutes with Cameron, hearing stories that he has, rivals the best possible story in music that any of us would ever have. It’s an incredible thing to know what Cameron’s done.

 Of course, Winnie is someone who I’ve been desperate to work with for so long. As soon as Cameron finally decided to start working on this project that we’ve been talking about a better part of a decade and had a script, the first thing that we did was call Winnie… who is actually an actor in Jerry Maguire, so they had met. You never know how it’s going to go, and we were incredibly lucky.

On how Abrams found the time to do the show…

JJA: Well, I’m out of a job right now. I don’t have anything.

Luke Wilson: I’m worried about J.J. [Laughs.]

JJA: The truth is that the work…in the last few years on Star Wars was enormous. Many, many years before Star Wars started shooting or even came up, Cameron and I worked on this show. In 2007 we started talking about the show. After we had done shooting, I got to go to the set… I’d never worked on anything before where I couldn’t quite tell the difference between the people who were working on the show and people in the show. It was very different from Stormtroopers, where you can clearly see that person in front of the camera. Anyone on this show could definitely be in the show in a second. But it is an honor to get to work with this amazing group of people, and I, luckily, have the time to do it now.

CC: I told him in 2007, “When you direct Star Wars, I’ll do a TV show.”

On whether the show is nostalgic…

CC: I have to tell you, I don’t think it’s nostalgic. If you just look at the outpouring of emotion over David Bowie, you know it’s not nostalgic. People are driven by music. Music takes some hits these days over the delivery process, streaming, MP3s. What about the sound? What about the quality? Why are people downloading single pieces of music and not whole albums? It’s kind of bullshit because music is always important. There’s no other way to be inspired that is like music—the way music can change a situation, a life or relationship. It’s like, I just wanted to tell these stories with people that I knew who loved music. Music is there everywhere for you to find. If you don’t find it, it finds you. 

So the premise of it is, let’s just celebrate music and the people that are so passionate about it. It happened, in a way, that all of the people working on the show feel that way, and it kind of seeps into the frames and the scenes… This is like a real thing, and we all wanted to kind of wave the flag for music as part of the show.

LW: One of the fun parts for me is, like, hearing new music from Cameron. And the other cast [members] seem kind of very up to date with what’s going on now, where sometimes they’ll, like, mention a band, and I just have to kind of look at the ground because I don’t know who it is, but I want to seem hip…I think that will be one really fun aspect of the show—seeing new talent on stage.

Roadies 2

JJA: The other thing about the show is it’s a family show. It’s about this family, and whereas [in] most family stories, the family is bound by blood, this family is bound by the love of music. In the stories that are coming, I think you will see that. That’s it’s just this kind of constant thread throughout everything. As much as it is about music, it’s about these people who populate this world, who are part of this family.

On the real musicians who will appear on the show…

CC: The opening acts have to keep changing for various reasons. And in one of the early episodes, Luke’s character, Bill, calls in a favor from Joe Walsh, who has been like an older brother, and we see he’s gotten some of his physical characteristics and business mannerisms from Joe. I just like the idea… Like, The Garry Shandling Show for example. I loved that show, and artists would come in and play slightly different versions of themselves, and you could tell that they were so comfortable and having so much fun and didn’t have a lot of pressure on them. That’s the way I want our guest stars to be on this show. You will always hear music. Some of them will be people that you know as musicians, and they’ll act a little bit, and I think it will be fun.

Winnie Holzman: [Cameron] always said that he wanted to be able to showcase young talent and talent that really needed a platform, so that’s another thing we keep in mind.

On how successful the show’s regular band is…

CC: I think they’re pretty successful. They’re a kind of The Black Keys, national, maybe a little bit more… The big thing is the songwriting is personal. It’s a fan-oriented band, not unlike Pearl Jam, where the fans could get together and talk about, “What’s this song about? They medleyed in with this song last night. That must mean this and that…” I always love when the fans are so invested in what the songs are about, and that’s the way we were making it. We’re always kind of geeking out about various stuff and different songs… I also want to say, we were really happy to be getting new faces in on the show. Like, a wonderful new artist, Reignwolf, is in episode two. It’s kind of like a great radio station with visuals that we want to present, where we can get music from all different genres and places and give them a place to be comfortable and play.

Images: Showtime

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