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At first look, WE BOUGHT A ZOO marks a departure for filmmaker Cameron Crowe, whose previous films, including Jerry Maguire and

Almost Famous, told deeply personal stories. Almost Famous, for example, was based on Crowe's experiences as a young reporter at Rolling Stone magazine. WE BOUGHT A ZOO, on the other hand, is based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee, titled We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Broken-Down Zoo, and the 200 Animals That Changed a Family Forever. "It's a different kind of movie for me, in that it wasn't meant to be personal,” Crowe affirms. "WE BOUGHT A ZOO was generated from the desire to tell Benjamin Mee's story.”

But the experience of co-scripting and directing the film led Crowe to a surprising revelation. "In the end, telling Benjamin's story ended up being as personal as anything I've done,” he says. "One of the reasons I wanted to do the movie was to put some joy out in the world. I love that WE BOUGHT A ZOO is a movie that allows you to feel joy – to feel what it is to be alive, and is about turning loss into something inspirational.

"The story infuses you with a love of life – human and animal,” Crowe continues. "And it's about taking risks; a lot of the greatest things ever accomplished came from incredible risk. The story and characters are everything I love in movies.”

Before Crowe became involved in the project, Benjamin Mee's memoir had caught the attention of producer Julie Yorn, whose production company is based at Twentieth Century Fox. "I was immediately intrigued,” she recalls. "What does that mean, ‘We Bought a Zoo'? Who bought a zoo? I learned this was a man who, through a series of circumstances and sort of on a whim, ended up at this zoo with his family. It was a really heartwarming and inspirational story.”

After reading the memoir and watching a BBC documentary about Mee's experiences, Yorn says she approached Mee personally and "implored him to trust me that I would find the right way to tell his story,” she says.

After securing the film rights, Yorn and the studio selected Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses) to adapt the story for the big screen. McKenna says she found Mee's story compelling, inspiring and heartwarming. She recalls that the second she saw the cover of the book she envisioned the entire movie. "I love workplace movies and what a great, amazing workplace…a zoo! The second I read the book, I had this instinctive reaction.”

Mee's predicament as an inexperienced, unexpected zoo director created opportunities for rich characters and storylines. McKenna says that his experiences make for an "amazing human story. It was always a little funny, and always a little heartbreaking. It's also a classic fish out of water story. Benjamin is in this place that he knows very little about. It was a crazy thing that he did, but crazy in such a great way. You get to go backstage at the zoo and see what somebody deals with when they live on a zoo, day-to-day. Having the zoo as your backyard is sort of a fantasy. It's such an exciting idea that you would be able to have all these animals become part of your extended family.”

After McKenna submitted her first draft of the screenplay, Yorn and the Studio began a search for a director. It quickly became apparent that acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe's writing and directing sensibilities were a perfect complement to Mee's funny and poignant tale. Crowe's ability to blend comedy, drama, family, and a spirit of optimism are unparalleled, as evidenced in such films as Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous.

As much as Yorn was thrilled with the idea of Crowe taking the helm of WE BOUGHT A ZOO, she didn't hold out much hope he would be interested. "I knew Cameron had never made a movie he didn't originate,” Yorn observes. "But I felt the story's themes of loss and healing spoke to some of his previous work – and I knew he had children – so I felt like there was something here Cameron would connect to. Still, I thought it was an incredible long shot to get him. So we were delighted to get a call saying, ‘Cameron Crowe really likes your script.'”

"They called me and said they were going to send it to Cameron Crowe,” McKenna recalls. "Among contemporary directors he's really one of my idols and inspirations, not just as a filmmaker but as a human being. For me the word that springs to mind when I think of Cameron's films is ‘humanity.' He has such empathy for characters, is such a great observer of the culture, and is funny and insightful about how people live their lives.”

After meeting with Crowe, Yorn knew the story had gotten under Crowe's skin. "There was something about Benjamin's will and determination, and the magic and poetry of the place, which resonated with him,” she says. "The imagery started to speak to him as a filmmaker.”

"Aline's script was a character-based story that reminded me of my favorite movies, and I really enjoyed it,” Crowe relates. "It was the combination of her script and Benjamin Mee's book that brought me all the way in; together, they were filled with promise. I could hear ‘music' and feel the love of the Mee family.”

Crowe took the script and "ran it through his own filter,” Yorn explains. "He really wanted to honor the version of the film that Aline had conceived, but go back to the true story even more. Cameron wanted to dig deeper into the character of Benjamin and what made him tick and also give the film a little more soul and poetry. There's something soulful in Cameron's work that connects to the Mee family. Who could do this more soulfully than Cameron Crowe?”

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