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'We Bought A Zoo': How Cameron Crowe Wooed Matt Damon

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MATT DAMON
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With iTunes, illegal downloads and infinite harddrives, music has, in many ways, become too available, at least as far as grand romantic gestures are concerned. But for a certain generation that grew up with tape decks and CD burners that wrote discs in real time, a thoughtfully composed mix tape was a sure romantic first step.

Cameron Crowe, perhaps more than any other director, understands the power of music. And when he was looking to woo Matt Damon to star in his upcoming film, "We Bought a Zoo," he made sure to use the old faithful mix as part of his pitch.

As Damon tells The Hollywood Reporter, he was afraid that a story about a family coming together around reviving a dilapidated zoo could turn hokey, or "Disney-fied." Crowe, he said, insisted that he shared those concerns and would make sure to stay true to a more honest story, but it was a CD that he gave Damon that really sold his vision.

"There were all these songs I know but live versions that he got from sound boards," Damon tells the magazine. "A song like, 'I'm Open' by Eddie Vedder -- he gave me a particularly moving version that I've never heard. I kind of finished that run and went, 'That's a really good feeling.'"

THR has a full track listing, which includes a number of songs by Vedder, Tom Petty, Neil Young (another Crowe subject, in an upcoming Rolling Stone feature) and Bob Dylan.

Music also ended up playing a huge, if unexpected, role in the filming of the movie; as Crowe told TheUncool.com, he hadn't intended on playing songs during scene shooting, as he usually does, but when he couldn't help himself, Damon was very receptive to the idea.

"I'm standing out there for a scene in a junior high hallway with Matt Damon and Colin Ford. The way Matt was looking, I kept thinking about the Tom Petty song, 'Don't Come Around Here No More.' I just said, 'I've got to play it!'" Crowe told the site. "So I played the song during the next take. Matt Damon immediately soaked it up and turned to me and said, 'That was amazing. You've got to play that again. And what else do you have?' I don't think he'd ever acted with music playing during the take."

And so, it was yet another movie for Crowe that had music at its core. His debut film, "Say Anything," featured an iconic boombox scene as John Cusack sought to win back his girlfriend; he wrote and directed "Almost Famous," based on his experiences on the road with major bands while a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone; and he's helmed a number of documentaries about seminal rock acts, including Elton John, Pearl Jam and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

For more from Crowe, click over to The Hollywood Reporter.

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